Wednesday, January 31, 2007

My college essay-esque manifesto

I was recently asked to come up with a few new, different ways of covering sports or packaging sports coverage in newspapers and online. Might as well post them here ...

The business is changing fast, and we need to adapt (or change entirely) to keep up with the new, 24-hour news cycle.

For me, that doesn't just mean offering the same old content faster. It means giving readers more -- more than they can get from a blog, more than they can get from TV and more than they can get even from the papers that aren't willing to wise up. And as much as the internet provides competition for newspapers, it also gives us "traditional" media-types a fresh, blank canvas, unfettered by the cost of newsprint and ink and a truck's ability to get a physical product somewhere.

Of course, I don't mean we should neglect what has always been our No. 1 project -- the paper itself. Quite the contrary, in fact; I think the printed and virtual products can complement each other nicely. So, my first idea:

- Use the paper as a lead-in to the website, where space and the type of media used aren't restricted. But, on the web, there is space, and (between a talented staff and wire services), there's always high-quality content. It wouldn't take many more words than needed by a traditional tagline to direct readers to "", where longer versions of text, extra pictures and audio and video of sources or events could be posted. Think of it as a more frequent, less intensive version of ESPN's E-Ticket feature. The paper itself would remain the viable and strong product it is now, but truly intrigued readers would have access to as many web-based extras as they'd like.

Getting readers to the paper in the first place is increasingly difficult. With so many of what I call the "mundane facts" well-known to people long before the printed product hits the honor box, we have to give them a reason to keep coming back. So, secondly:

- Adopt more of an "evening paper" mentality in story choices and writing. Give people what they can't get anywhere else -- to put it in more concrete terms, take a traditional sidebar and a traditional gamer, mash them together, and turn the end result into what runs. Though limited space makes it tough, it's not impossible to feature-ize just about any story. Consistent use of unique, interesting angles in combination with the accurate basics is what makes a writer's game stories must-read material.

Blogs and web journals have given anyone with a computer and an internet connection the kind of voice that used to be reserved for newspaper columnists. Just presenting in absentia opinions about national topics isn't enough anymore -- some 300 million people in the U.S. alone are capable of doing so right now. Therefore, we should:

- Use our "insider" status as journalists to the advantage of our readers. While it's easy to use columns and commentaries as soap box pieces, it's no longer entirely effective. Anyone can do so, and there are plenty of smart people with sports blogs. Instead, the relative few with press passes should advertise what they are -- insiders. There aren't many people who can talk with the occupants of the Mets' or the Giants' locker room every day. Those who can should use the access to improve their columns with special, privileged material. These days, anyone can write what he thinks about sports. Only a few can find out what those who actually play the games think. That's what we need to be writing.

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