Not sure if you’ve heard this before, but newspapers across this fine country of ours our in dire economic straights.
Most, if not all, newspapers and their parent companies have had to do something to cut expenses in the last year, which doesn’t even begin to tell the story of how far things have fallen for the industry since the glory days of the 1970s and 80s.
To some, the few (and probably old) that still like to receive the newspaper in print, it is a sad state of affairs that local and even national newspapers can’t do anything to attract talented staffers because pay and benefits, if they offer any, don’t match up with what the market can pay these people in other fields.
But to most others it simply doesn’t matter — these people get their news on their iPhone or Blackberry. They drink coffee in the morning over their laptop. This, of course, constitutes most of the people that actually breathe air, including virtually everybody under the age of 40.
The question, of course, has never been about the readership.
People still read the news. In fact, I would argue more people read the things journalists crank out than ever before. But the only place newspapers thrive, or more accurately the only place they seem to be able to stay afloat, is in areas where they can horde local news.
It’s simple: Small papers do well by covering their communities. Local, local, local. Even those smarties at ESPN know this makes good business sense.
Earlier this year ESPN launched ESPNChicago.com, which covers all things sporty in the Windy City. Brilliant plan, actually. And it’s turned out pretty well.
The test case has gone so well that the fine folks at ESPN are going to launch local sites for New York, Los Angeles and Dallas. ESPN people described the moves as the “first inning” of the company’s move to provide super-local sports coverage.
That should be fun for the staff at places like the New York Times, Los Angeles Times and Dallas Morning News. Will ESPN run these sports departments into the ground? Who knows.
But it certainly doesn’t bode well. ESPN is such a dominant brand with such economic swing — seriously, who can offer a better salary, a newspaper or ESPN.com — that it could pluck away more fantastic beat writers from newspapers in these areas to do their job for a platform that’s more financially stable.
Will ESPN destroy small papers that corner the market on local high school athletics? Of course not. Nobody cares about that on the national level.
But when it comes to handing newspapers another serious blow, this certainly qualifies.