I’ve been chewing on this since Hickey posted about the PI’s looming closure.
Any reasonable observer knew that having a one-paper town was inevitable when they signed the Joint Operating Agreement. Sharing functions meant it would be extremely hard to break away. Having the Seattle Times Company run the parent web presence (nwsource) probably didn’t help, either. If you followed Baker, you’ve seen him pushing the Times blog into different media forms with audio and video snippets in his posts, while the PI has… blogs. One of those two had a budget (though, in fairness, it’s worth noting that the Times cut costs by not sending Baker or a Times reporter on the road for some series late in the year, which is inexcusable).
This is going to suck. I mean no offense to the guys at the PI, but strictly in terms of game coverage there’s not a lot of difference between the papers, ESPN, the wire services. This is an opportunity lost. One of the things I see blogs doing a lot better than print is following season-long developments in more depth than papers can (or are willing to do). Anyway.
The problem is first, the columnists. The print columnists do a lot more to drive discussion and define the common views of fans than almost anyone outside of the people who broadcast the games (“Oh, no question…”).
Art Thiel’s a better sports columnist than anyone at the Seattle Times. He’ll be out of a job soon, while Steve Kelley inexplicably continues to collect paychecks. Thiel wrote a must-read book for M’s fans, Out of Left Field. Thiel’s the only person to repeatedly put the screws to the M’s ownership representatives and ask them difficult questions.
Second, though, it’s the competition. I’m sure that on the Times side, this will be met with howls of protest at their intention to continue to cover all issues with integrity and professionalism. I’ll skip my side rant on the Times’ spotty record on those counts for now. But the equation now becomes
value of running story in potential papers/page views and increased reputation
damage to relationships, future access (and so on)
Here’s an example from our own experience. When the M’s were throwing up their crappy bleachers in the beer garden and hoping no one would notice, I screamed and hollered until my throat was hoarse. USSM readers wrote letters and called the M’s. Only the PI picked up the story, covering it a couple of times. The M’s backed down (mostly). The Times never covered it.
It’s a lot easier to run a story if you can say “if I don’t, Bob over there on the other paper will…” And while it’s easier for someone to favor one side over the other in terms of access, information, and so on, it’s also a lot easier to get something quashed if there’s only one person who has to be convinced.
Take payroll. Every year the M’s have made a huge deal about how they’re spending a bazillion dollars, and it’s so awful for them, so painful, but they’re willing to make the sacrifice for us, the fans. And it’s the most transparent malarkey.
Or instead, look at the team’s deal with the city, and the PFD. How is the coverage of Mariner finances, and especially complicated issues like the revenue-sharing agreement, going to get better with fewer people covering this? Jim Street’s not going to put on a fedora with a little “press” card in the band and go start knocking on doors to see if the M’s are cooking the books to avoid giving money back to the city. Who will?
Last year we also saw the benefit of competition, particularly in Felix-related coverage, where relying on one source would paint a very different picture than if you read several. The fewer perspectives we have, the more one account determines how a player or event is perceived.
I’m (obviously) a huge proponent of blog coverage, but there’s no way it fills the gap of a major paper. We don’t get press access. We can’t go talk to Wakamatsu or anyone on the team unless we know them personally. We don’t have the ability to spend eight hours interviewing people about a breaking issue and turning around something insightful for the next day. The research and analysis done here or on Lookout Landing or anywhere is done essentially for free (well, not Lookout Landing, obviously, as they get to bathe in a hot tub of Kos’ money every night). There’s a lot you can’t do as a writer when your budget is zero.
So here’s where that leaves us, press-coverage-wise:
* Times: unless the go the SF Chronicle route and bulk up post-PI, more of the same.
* Tacoma News Tribune: same. Particularly good Rainiers coverage, Times coverage.
* KIRO: Shannon Drayer’s hiring is great news, especially if they let her do some more of the KOMO-style blogging we saw last year.
* Pravada: MLB.com doesn’t break news, doesn’t say anything negative about players or teams, and the M’s team site prints what are possibly the laziest Q&A mailbags of any media outlet anywhere. Pretty much worthless.
* FSN: not a lot of value add here unless Senior Key Analyst Bill Krueger starts providing actual analysis of any kind, or something similarly crazy happens.
And then of course there’s the national press. You know how that goes.
As enthusiastic as we’ve been about the upcoming season and the prospects for the M’s future, this is bad for fandom, especially if Thiel winds up leaving town.