Vikings fire Childress; should beat writers lose jobs, too?

The Minnesota Vikings fired head coach Brad Childress today, but what has my Twitter stream fired up is whether the local beat writers should go, too.

The argument goes something like this: the local sportsfolk haven’t broken the biggest Vikings stories this year, including Brett Favre’s return, the Randy Moss trade, and now, Chili’s firing. Depending on how you parse out credit, the scoops belonged to ESPN, the NFL Network and Fox Sports. So why should, say, the Strib have three guys working the Vikings/NFL beat when they can’t bring home the biggest stories — especially when less sexy but more important news beats have one or no reporters?

This is an open thread, so chime in below. Here are my quick and journalistically incorrect thoughts:

1. The locals are getting beat by national outlets that pay the NFL millions for TV rights (ESPN/Fox) or those owned directly by the league (NFL Network). Say all you want about “mainstream” organizations paying for news, but I have to believe this is a factor. There’s a substantial business relationship here.

2. As MPR’s Tom Scheck noted on Twitter, NFL execs, players and agents care a lot more about the national platforms than the locals. Sometimes, you’re only as good as your sources. Once upon a time, locals cared about locals — that’s why Sid Hartman broke the “Bud Grant returns” story back in the ’80s. But I think as sports has become more of a national business, so has the pipelining.

3. If the Strib suddenly got religion on sports and cut the staff, would they shift money over to news? Perhaps, but not as much as you might think.

At least on the newspaper side, sports is a major driver of readership. Brett Favre’s ’09 return produced the biggest traffic day in Startribune.com history. Most of that may have been “drive-by” traffic that produces tenths of pennies per click. But over time, being the “go-to” local sports platform adds up. How many of you keep your subscription to luxuriate over the sports pages after a big win?

There’s a fair argument that if you had as many Vikings reporters as Minneapolis City Hall reporters (one), you’d have fewer readers, advertisers … and staffers.

The rub is where the marginal effect kicks in. If the Strib had, say, two pro football beat guys instead of three, would they keep all the traffic and have that extra news reporter? Perhaps, considering they also have numerous sports columnists who weigh in on the Purple. And you don’t want to give management license to hire sports staff willy-nilly.

Still, since the Strib emerged from bankruptcy, I’d bet management has added more news positions than sports ones.

4. Are we overrating scoops? Some folks ripping the locals today for not breaking the news by a few seconds (on news soon known to all), regularly blast the media for being obsessed with breaking the news by a few seconds. Scoops are part of the gig, but let’s at least be consistent in our sanctimony.

I’m not saying the local sportsies don’t have some ‘splaining to do. There have been some noteworthy screw-ups chasing sloppy seconds, and you don’t want this to be a blank check for lameness. Frankly, I think the bigger local-coverage problem is an enormous pack mentality to that too seldom gets stories that aren’t going to become common knowledge in a matter of seconds.

OK, have at them, and me.

Comments (17)

  1. Submitted by John Reinan on 11/22/2010 - 12:38 pm.

    I think your #2 is the key point. In an era when a hit network TV show gets about 1/4 the viewership of a hit 20 years ago, the NFL is bigger than ever. There are only 32 teams — so coaches, owners and star athletes are players in an ongoing national drama.

    These players — “players” in the dramatic sense — realize that they’re national figures, and act accordingly.

    They can communicate directly with fans and the media via Twitter, blog, text and other channels.

    And when they have news to leak to the media, it only stands to reason that they will leak it where it will have the most impact — to a premier national outlet.

    Chad Ochocinco, to cite one example, has garnered commercial endorsements and a TV show by making himself into a larger-than-life figure.

    He didn’t do that via his close relationship with the Bengals beat writer for the Cincinnati Enquirer.

  2. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 11/22/2010 - 12:41 pm.

    I have long been an advocate of term limits for reporters.

  3. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 11/22/2010 - 12:47 pm.

    I do think we overrate scoops by the way. In the football business, historically at least, the giving of scoops has been used coaches and executives have rewarded compliant journalists. Whenever I hear a reporter proudly proclaim a scoop, I wonder, just how many favors did that reporter do for the source of the scoop.

  4. Submitted by Tim Walker on 11/22/2010 - 12:49 pm.

    Fire the sports beat reporters? Oh heck, I don’t know.

    The mainstream media seems O.K. with news reporters who dutifully and uncritically transmit the blatant lies of politicians (Death panels!), so why have higher standards for the sports crew?

  5. Submitted by David Greene on 11/22/2010 - 01:11 pm.

    What I find frustrating is opening the Sunday sports page and seeing 4-5 pages of Vikings pre-game coverage and maybe a page of collegiate results from the previous day. Now, I know the Gophers aren’t a national powerhouse but many of us went to school out of state.

    LaVelle E. Neal III and Joe Christensen do a phenomenal job covering the Twins and they have a hack of a lot more to do when considering the minor league moves. How two people can do such a great job while an army does such a poor job on the Vikings is beyond me.

    The Vikings may be the most popular team in the state but the amount of coverage they get is very much out of proportion.

    We need more political reporters who actually do investigative journalism and critical analysis. People are getting bad information from all over and we need someone local to get us the facts, particularly with respect to state, county and city government. It’s completely lacking at the moment.

    Given all of the above, a reduction in sports reporting staff and a shift to more political coverage is warranted.

    And why do we still have CJ? There’s no redeeming value there whatsoever.

  6. Submitted by Brian Simon on 11/22/2010 - 01:34 pm.

    ” NFL execs, players and agents care a lot more about the national platforms than the locals. ”

    Kindof makes a guy wonder why the fans stay in such a one-sided relationship.

  7. Submitted by Rick Prescott on 11/22/2010 - 01:37 pm.

    David, I first heard this news of Chilly’s canning by reading your headline. As far as I’m concerned, YOU got the scoop!

    And therein lies a point. I’m going to get the news from my chosen news source, and speed is only one small factor in how I make that choice. I think this is more true than journalistic insiders may want to admit.

    Perhaps if MinnPost were DAYS behind on something like this, I might consider finding a faster news outlet. But for me, along with lots of typical readers, timeliness is measured in minutes, not milliseconds. (Cold comfort there, I suppose.)

    As near as I can tell, you were talking about it only a few minutes after the whole world knew about it. And that’s good enough for me.

    As for the Strib and its football coverage, much of it is behind a pay wall, so who cares?

  8. Submitted by Rick Prescott on 11/22/2010 - 02:03 pm.

    Wait, I just realized that if I were PAYING for the Strib’s coverage, my expectations might be a little different. If other people are getting better Vikings coverage for free, I might be upset.

    So it appears that pay walls have yet another disadvantage: they raise expectations.

  9. Submitted by Jeff Michaels on 11/22/2010 - 02:03 pm.

    Is saying you were the first comparable to saying yours is the biggest?

    I have never understood why “first” is a concern. Everyone knew Childress was going to get fired. I want reporters to tell me something I don’t know and local guys do a pretty good job of doing that.

    But if some local must be fired, I nominate Sid.

  10. Submitted by Matt Lechner on 11/22/2010 - 03:23 pm.

    These national guys can do so much more for these athletes than the local sportsfolk. For example, Jay Glazer will have Jared Allen on his national radio show and give him the opportunity to promote his app and web site. The players then pay these national guys back with inside info. Judd, Chip, Jeremy and the rest of the locals can’t compete with that.

    With that said, the locals are better at keeping readers informed about what’s happening on a daily basis with this team. This is something the national folks have never done well. For example, yesterday during the game, Troy Aikman and Joe Buck talked about how it might be time to bench Brett Favre and “see what Tarvaris Jackson can do.” These national guys come to town for a couple days and think they know everything about this team. But it’s the beat writers who are really informed.

    While breaking a story is nice, being thorough, relevant and thought-provoking is more important for the local guys.

  11. Submitted by Matt Lechner on 11/22/2010 - 03:25 pm.

    BTW-didn’t Judd break the Favre texting his teammates during training camp saying, “This is it?” I think he did. That was a big deal, locally and nationally.

  12. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 11/22/2010 - 07:10 pm.

    It’s the firing of a football coach, not nuclear holocaust.

    Football is a game.

    At best, it’s entertainment. It’s played by behemoths who, after their knees (or throwing arms) give out (5 years or less is average, I believe, for all but quarterbacks), have to find something useful to do with the rest of their lives. While the average career length will vary with the game being played, much the same could be said of ANY professional team sport. Careers are usually short at the top level, and athletes are generally young. As you age, reflexes and other capabilities diminish. Then you’re traded. Then you’re second string. Then you’re placed on waivers. Then you have to get a real job…

    In short, sports are not that important, and I don’t care who gets the story first.

  13. Submitted by John Olson on 11/22/2010 - 07:33 pm.

    The local folks have daily access and probably get a better sense of some things. But, as you also point out, these players can reach out to national (and international) audiences through satellite radio and cable.

    From the player’s perspective, if they are in the last year of their contract and are beginning to shop themselves, it isn’t hard to understand why said player is going to have a five minute cell phone conversation with folks like Peter King, Adam Schefter and/or Jay Glazier after the game. Sure, they are going to also talk to the local media, but the prospect of a national audience is probably more appealing.

    From a league perspective, the goal is to increase viewership, ticket sales, replica jersey sales, etc., etc. When a league can cultivate business relationships with the likes of Fox, ESPN, Sirius, CBS and even have their own network, they can let the locals do their own thing. Can you say “revenue sharing?” The NFL is a massive brand in today’s sports world and the league will do what it feels is in the league’s best interests.

  14. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 11/23/2010 - 09:00 am.

    Echoing Mr. Schoch’s comment I have to point out that almost nothing that happens in sports rises above the level of trivia. Sports is not news, does is matter who “scoops” trivia? The fact that our society is preoccupied with such trivia is obvious, and depressing. The fact that Bret Favre drew the most read in the Strib’s history is an appalling fact.

    As irresponsible and damaging to our society and democracy this preoccupation with sports is, one cannot blame media outlets when they cater to it. It would be absurd to fire a reporter for failing to scoop trivia. Obviously trivia consumers are not interested in such details, and will continue their preoccupation in any event, the Strib drew the readers despite not having gotten the scoop.

    If someone is making living dishing out this drivel more power to them. If people ever become more interested in news, you can always re-assign sports reporters.

    Look, when was the last time someone suggested firing any of the local weather people because they constantly and reliably fail to to accurately forecast the weather?

  15. Submitted by tom moore on 11/23/2010 - 10:43 am.

    i recently stopped reading anything vikings related on startribune.com as they’ve walled more and more of it off as “premium content”. no thanks.

    and the guys who write on the vikings beat, from my experience reading them until recently, have been very slow to question the vikings’ ownership, coaches and/or players. they may get scooped by minutes for big stories, but they get scooped by days, weeks and even months in terms of questioning personnel moves, coaching tactics, and especially how the stadium drive has tied into every move the new jersey real estate guys (wilfs) have made over their time visiting minnesota.

  16. Submitted by Bill Schletzer on 11/23/2010 - 11:22 am.

    The liberal elitist media wants to bury the truth about the NFL. That’s why we only get the truth from unbiased media like Fox. If we knew the truth about the NFL we wouldn’t be so quick to pour corporate welfare bailouts in the form of new stadiums on their heads. This is just another example of the unconstitutional takeover of our daily lives by the cabal of liberal media and the so-called Democratic party. I’m going to bring all my old newspapers to my church’s next book burning.

  17. Submitted by Andy Kruse on 11/23/2010 - 11:51 am.

    Not a big deal: Reporting first on something that everyone was going to have within an hour.

    A bigger deal: Reporting something that wouldn’t have otherwise come out at all.

Leave a Reply