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.