Deadlines Now Mean Bad News for Sports Fans

providence_journalThis post should be filed under the category of “why  bother”…

Even with the financial obstacles facing the newspaper industry, you would think their priority is, first and foremost, continuing to produce a timely, professional product.  Well that’s not necessarily the case.  And the readers are the ones who are suffering.

I live in Rhode Island, where the Providence Journal is the paper of record.  I rarely read the printed paper anymore but still read their news online.  The changes they have made to their production of the paper over the last year has been nothing less than an insult to readers, especially those of the sports page.

Here is how the paper has devolved.  For years Rhode Island had two daily papers coming out of the capital city, both owned by the Journal.  The Journal itself would come out each morning while the Evening Bulletin would be the paper’s afternoon edition.  The afternoon paper was discontinued in the early 1990’s.

The Journal not only distributes its paper to Rhode Island, but also to parts of Massachusetts and Eastern Connecticut.  At one time the paper had news bureaus across their entire coverage area.  No longer.

Once the Evening Bulletin was discontinued the Journal produced up to five editions of the paper daily, with the early editions being distributed to the outer reaches of their coverage area and the later editions closer to Downtown Providence.  Deadlines ranged from around 10:30pm to after midnight.

Cutbacks have now forced the Journal to produce only one edition, with a drop dead deadline of around 10:30pm for the front pages of the news and sports sections.  Deadlines are much earlier if the story is to be contained within a particular section.

A lot of the news happens during the day, so deadlines, although an issue, may not play a big role too often.  Not so for coverage of sports.  Many of the games are played in the evening when deadlines become a critical factor in the amount of news that makes the paper.

The Journal still has dedicated beats for the Red Sox and Patriots, with reporters attending all home and away games for each club.  Page One sports stories have a deadline of around 10:30pm.  With Sox games starting at 7:10pm at Fenway, reporters often file game stories for the paper without the benefit of postgame quotes.  Late running or extra inning games often leave readers with partial accounts the next morning.  These are home games!

Now think about when the teams are playing night games on the West Coast.  Those games start at 10:00pm ET.  With the 10:30pm deadline the only news you’ll find in the next day’s Journal will be features and pre-game notes.   Not a mention of the game.  In the paper’s defense, even in better financial times, game stories from out west would still have a difficult time making deadline.  But there would at least be a game progress story.  Now they have no shot to do that.

Throw in games in the Central Time Zone and it’s anyone’s guess as to how much of a story readers of the paper will get the next day.

All reporters do file complete game stories which appear on the paper’s website.  Those accounts may also find their way in an abbreviated form in the print edition a day later.  Why bother?

As much as readers are getting more of their information from the web, there are still generations of sports fans who rely on the printed paper each day for their sports information.  The Journal is doing a disservice by cutting off these people from that information each day.  And with other print sources able to get game reports in their papers most days, will we soon see a time when he Journal no longer staffs the Sox and Pats’ beats?

My remedy for the paper would be to still print one edition, but set the deadline for what used to be the final edition of the paper. This way you would get as much late breaking information in the paper as possible.

The late deadline would impact delivery schedules in the outlying service areas.  I say, so what?  Your core audience is in Rhode Island, with a great bulk of the population with 25 miles of Providence.  I would rather get a more comprehensive paper a little later each day then get one on time with no pertinent sports information.

The practices that the Journal are undertaking will only hasten its demise. At this point, why bother?

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