By Mike Steffanos
Last week I wrote something in response to a column that my colleague NostraDennis sent me. It was by a local Orlando, Florida sportswriter who recommended fan sites such as this blog only to those who "want to know what's going on in a dream world." His premise, of course, was that the only place to go for solid information was the newspaper.
Today NostraDennis forwards the news item that the Orlando Sentinel is a part of the pending sale of the Tribune Co., which also owns the Chicago Tribune and the Cubs. Dennis was amused by this in the article:
Orlando Sentinel Publisher Kathleen Waltz said that from a reader's perspective the transition would be seamless, but she also said it would accelerate the Sentinel's move to the Internet, which is widely seen as the future of the industry. "We have to change to a digital world," Waltz said. "That change would have happened with or without this change in Tribune's ownership." But she added, "We will likely have a smaller staff going forward as we find more efficient ways to do all the things we do today. It's my hope that most of the changes will come through attrition."
Dennis thinks it would be ironic if the columnist who penned that piece condemning bloggers received a pink slip as a result of the "more efficient" move to a digital world. I myself was interested in this bit later at the conclusion of the article:
Internet weakens profits
Although the Internet has been chipping away at old-media revenues for years, the trend has accelerated during the past 12 months, eroding the prodigious earning power of newspaper and local television companies and weakening their stock prices.
Both newspapers and television stations are investing in their Web sites. As reporters produce their own blogs and podcasts, the old media are investing in the future of the business -- one with a still-unclear business model.
Sentinel Editor Charlotte Hall said the drive to put more news and features online will gain speed, and she said the new role of employees as owners will spur the movement.
"Every employee will have a huge stake in the company's success," Hall said. "We will accelerate the pace of innovations. We will become a newsroom that serves the newspaper and the Web."
You can't help but note the rush of the traditional media to stake their claim to the Internet. Last year we saw the embryo stage of sports blogs in the local papers. Over the last few months they have virtually exploded, to the point where nearly ever paper offers some sort of Mets news blog on their web site. Some, such as Adam Rubin's Surfing the Mets for the Daily News and John Delcos' LoHud Mets blog for The Journal News, have become examples of how to do it right and are required reading for Mets fans. Almost all of the blogs at least have their moments.
However, as with the blogs on ESPN, these newspaper blogs have co-opted the blog format while electing to ignore the spirit of blogs. The vast majority of bloggers acknowledge the existence of each other with links and references. For the most part when someone starts a new Mets blog, he or she will find established bloggers quite generous in linking to their endeavor. Not so with the blogs of large media enterprises. They are very consistent in absolutely ignoring everything out there in cyberspace that is not a part of their traditional media world. There is no brotherhood between us and them. We're amateurs. They don't trust us, nor do they take us seriously. And there is certainly an attitude in the business offices of large media companies that views bloggers as competition, pure and simple.
That's what makes SI's decision to acknowledge actual bloggers so very extraordinary in my mind. Sports Illustrated the magazine is as old media as it gets. But they have been using some of the better bloggers for articles on the on-line SI.com for quite a while, and now they are linking to actual fan blogs, including mine, from the team pages of all 30 MLB clubs. Given what the vast majority of these traditional media web sites are doing, this is a mind-boggling accommodation to the reality of the blogosphere. ESPN may be seen as more cutting edge than SI, but in reality SI is way out in front on this one.
So of course I am personally gratified that my little corner of cyberspace received some acknowledgement but, more importantly, as a blogger I am extremely grateful to SI for choosing to acknowledge that fan blogs like this one actually exist.
As noted in that article in the Orlando paper that got me started on this discussion, the way we will all receive our information is dramatically changing, and will continue to quickly evolve over the next few years. I suspect that more and more of the traditional media companies will realize that blogs like this one are no threat to them at all. We all look to them to report the news, and certainly have no way to compete with them in that regard.
Traditional media will be the first choice of the vast majority of sports fans for their news. Blogs like this one will have to continue to earn their audience one reader at a time, and once we have you we have to keep you. We have to build our own credibility by providing something of value to our readers.
With few exceptions, we don't make any kind of living from this. I figure I make somewhat less than a dollar an hour on my blog. We fill whatever niche we choose to fill because it's something we care about deeply. For traditional media companies that are smart enough to look beyond their own prejudices, there is a synergy betweens blogs and more traditional media that they can use to their advantage in the evolving reality of on-line information sharing.