Monday, October 5, 2009

If They Won't Print You

This TigerBlogger recently read that his hockey team of choice, the Los Angeles Kings, hired its own beat reporter, a fellow named Rich Hammond who, until hired by the Kings, worked for the L.A. Daily News. Hammond will cover all things Kings for, the team's Web site.

Of course, one of the first questions is, how can a writer be truly independent if his bill is being footed by the team he's supposed to cover? We'll get to that in a moment, but first let's touch on why the Kings hired their own writer and what this has to do with Princeton.

In the Los Angeles sports scene these days, there is Laker season and Laker offseason. That's pretty much it. Everything else is filler, sadly, even the Dodgers. A hockey team that hasn't won a playoff series since 2001? Not high on the list.

With newspapers cutting their staffs to bare bones, who's got the time or money to send a writer to Edmonton to cover a fifth-place team?

At Princeton, whether Tiger teams get coverage has little to do with win-loss record and almost everything to do with the sports climate in the state. New Jersey isn't a big college sports state, and with Princeton being a private school with students from all corners of the Earth rather than the state's main public university, coverage is further rationed with the way newspapers are today.

If you're not the Yankees, Mets, Giants, Jets, Phillies or Eagles, good luck getting on the front page of the sports section in the Garden State.

Rather than hoping for a squirt of ink from the local papers, the Princeton Athletic Communications office took to the Web a decade ago, cutting out the middleman. The Kings may have just hired their own writer, but Princeton Athletics has had a handful of people to cover games and bring them directly to interested readers since 1999.

Want to read about how the soccer game went? It'll be on before the bus is warm. Preview stories, video, on and on, we've got it here. It's content that outside media doesn't have the manpower to cover, but we do, and professional teams are figuring that out. Not satisfied with the coverage you're getting from the L.A. Times and Cover yourself, yourself. You're able to get out the message you want, promoted as prominently as you want it in the kind of timely manner you want it displayed.

Can we be independent in what we write? Consider the difference in what we're asked to cover. We cover college kids who, as the NCAA commercials say, are likely to go pro in something other than sports. Typing up a column criticizing a 20 year-old from whatever sport when s/he goes back to the on-campus residence after the game to prepare for the next day's organic chemistry exam seems a little unnecessary. The Kings' writer is going to cover professional hockey players, most of whom have been preparing for life as a professional hockey player since before they could drive themselves to practice.

That said, the Internet provides a way for feedback, something you can exercise by clicking that comment button and sending us your thoughts. We haven't been shy about allowing criticism in the past.

So, as the professional teams pick up on the trend Princeton and many other universities began years ago, each Web site becomes its own little newspaper, digitally updated as the trend toward narrowcasting continues.

It's an era when the quaint New York Times slogan, "All The News That's Fit To Print" is as much of an anachronism as waiting until the morning paper hits your doorstep to find out the score.

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