Independent Beat Writing

The fall of the newspaper business is not news anymore. In nearly every city in the country, papers are scaling back coverage of everything, including baseball, in order to save costs. In some cities, such as Washington, the scaling back represents almost a complete removal of day-to-day coverage of the team. This is, simply, not good news for anyone. Basic capitalism demands competition to get the most efficient outcome, and even in a business where there isn’t necessarily a tangible product being sold, quality declines when people leave the industry.

To combat this, Mark Zuckerman, a laid-off writer from the Washington Times, is raising money to go to Florida and cover the team on his own. I asked Mark to sum up why he’s doing this, and this was his answer:

“Between the Times eliminating the entire sports section and leaving all of us unemployed, and the Post still searching for a new beat writer, there’s been a real lack of quality Nats coverage outside of websites owned by MLB and the team. I’m hoping I can at least somewhat fill the void and provide the kind of comprehensive coverage fans have always counted on from newspapers.”

He estimates that it’s going to cost about $5,000 for him to spend six weeks in Viera, covering the Nationals on a daily basis. If you’ve ever planned a trip to Florida, you know that $5,000 doesn’t go very far, so Mark is clearly cutting corners in order to get down there and give Nationals’ fans another option in their coverage of the team. He’s not making a profit on this.

I know there are a lot of worthy places for us to give our money right now, and the economy still sucks, but I highly encourage you to donate to Mark’s cause, even if you are not a Washington Nationals fan. It’s in the best interest of fans everywhere that the information stream about baseball news is not restricted solely to those who work directly for an organization. That Mark is willing to do this beat for such a pittance is an opportunity that we should not pass up.

As of this writing, he’s almost halfway there. If you have some disposable income, consider giving to Mark’s cause, and let’s all make sure that the Nationals fans can enjoy spring training news – no matter how mundane it may be at times – just like the rest of us.

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Dave is a co-founder of and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.

40 Responses to “Independent Beat Writing”

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  1. PaulyOH says:

    C. Trent Rosecrans, former beat writer for the Cincy Post, now writes for a Cincy sports web site called He did this same thing….raised money to go cover the Reds in Spring Training. He’s already reached his goal and then some.

    Not always a fan of C. Trent’s work, but anything is better than what the Enquirer puts out, and Hal McCoy is off the Reds beat, so you can’t get anything original from Dayton anymore.

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  2. T.B. says:

    PaulyOH beat me to the punch, and it seems to me if you want people to donate to Zuckerman, you should link to Rosecrans to show that yes, it can be done, and yes, there is support out there for this kind of journalism.

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  3. Will says:

    If you are a fan of the Nats (or Reds) than by all means contribute to the cause because you are gaining something as a result. But, if you are simply looking to donate to a worthy cause, there are hundreds of more worthwhile places to send your money than to a sportswriter spending 6 weeks in Florida watching baseball.

    Also, I don’t the decline of the newspaper business is an inherently bad thing. Newspapers have long held a disproportionate level of power, and therefore have been able to dictate the tone of coverage. With the advent of the internet, however, other sources of information have broken through the dam. With an alterntaive available, the market has spoken. The decline of the newspaper business isn’t bad for “basic capitalism”; it is the result of it.

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  4. Phils fan says:

    There are people homeless and lost everything in Haiti – I encourage everyone to donate to those causes first instead of this one.

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    • Snake the Jake says:

      Investing in the development of new American business ventures is a good cause too.

      Some web sites charge for content. The writers listed above will provide content to everyone if enough people contribute. The situations are similar.

      I gave to both Haiti relief and C Trent Rosencrans btw.

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      • Bill says:

        I agree with you, but he needs a better business plan than “Give me 5k to go to Spring Training so I can cover your team.” That being said, judging by the success of Red’s writer, it seems there is definently interest in sending independent reporters to cover teams. So, I’m thinking that a viable business plan could be devised. I wouldn’t consider giving to a writer like this charity either. People who are giving are doing so because they are interested in the guys coverage of there team. So, you shouldn’t feel any more or less guilty giving to this writer (as opposed to giving to Haiti) than you do buying anything else for entertainment purposes. So, pull the money out of the entertainment budget not the charity budget.

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  5. Keith says:

    As a DC resident, I can personally attest that it’s absurd to claim that there will be an “almost a complete removal of day to day coverage of the team.” While the Post has cut back their coverage of baseball in the last year, what it has largely meant is that the Orioles are no longer getting the depth of coverage they did when they were the only team in the region. I expect full coverage of the Nats in the WaPo once spring training begins. I don’t know ANYBODY would read the Times, which is one reason that Rev Moon has cut their subsidy so deeply, causing the elimination of the sports section. The vast majority of Nats fans won’t even realize that the Times is gone. While I appreciate the former Times writer’s entrepreneurial spirit, I’d send money to Haiti long before I would contribute hard cash to meet a need for baseball coverage that doesn’t exist.

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    • JH says:

      Yeah, I didn’t leave this comment because I don’t live in DC, but my sense is that the Mooney Times gets much more exposure as a nation-wide source of ideologically-tinted news and opinion than it does through local circulation in the DC area.

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    • Will says:

      I wholeheartedly disagree Keith. Whether you read the Times or not, it was often Zuckerman who broke Nationals news stories, which the Post or other news sources picked. Zuckerman’s work made everyone else whose job it was to cover the Nats easier.

      Furthermore, there has been no day to day coverage of the Nationals since Harlan stopped covering them at the end of the season. Besides an article or two every month, there’s been little journalism dedicated to the team. No wonder it took a WEEK for news to surface that Chris Duncan was signed by the team.

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    • JH says:

      Which isn’t meant to insult the writer, it just makes me doubt the idea that the collapse of the Washington Times’ sports page will leave the DC area devoid of Nats coverage.

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  6. Steven Biel says:

    This isn’t about the Moonies or the Times. If it was, no one would care. Newspapers across the country have laid off beat reporters covering everything from city hall to books to movies to sports.

    No, the Post won’t stop running gamers, but this year it’ll likely be a combo of Zach Berman and one or two other paid interns on rotation. We’re probably a year or two from them running AP content for gamers and maybe a dozen “features” a year. They’ll start by cutting out local coverage of away games, then home games. And where the Post goes, every other team will follow.

    This is an experiment in grassroots independent media. It might fail, but unless you look forward to the end of any local coverage of any baseball teams not located in NY, Boston, Chicago, or L.A., you should be interested in what Mark is doing.

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  7. NTPNate says:

    My favorite part of this post was when Dave said that sending Mark Zuckerman to Spring Training was more important than feeding the hungry and housing the homeless. Wait, you mean he didn’t say that? That’s what I get for reading the comments first.

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  8. Darren says:

    It doesn’t take much critical thinking to figure out that giving money to Zuckerman means it won’t go to other causes.

    I like Phils’ take. Buy Mark’s product if you like it, but as a charity, it’s waaay down the list.

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    • Will says:

      Hardly. If someone wanted to donate money to Haiti, they would have already done it by now.

      I seriously doubt there’s someone out there who’s debating on who will win their $50 of charity money. People donate money because they feel a connection to the cause not because they have some money sitting around that they figure they should get rid of. Unless they’re doing it for tax purposes, and I don’t think the IRS would look to kindly on this as a charitable donations.

      Clearly you place little value in the Nationals beat writing and that’s fine, but based on this article and the $2600+ already donated, there’s obviously many who don’t feel the same as you.

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      I liked the part about disposable income. But, isn’t that what goes into savings?

      I struggle with funding a beat writer so he can go to ST and cover the team. Given other circumstances, it’s in bad taste. Nevermind he’s covering spring training … as if spring training were all that valuable.

      I don’t know how my comments will read, I wish him luck in doing what he wants to do, but I don’t think asking for donations is the right way to go about it. Maybe I am missing something. I’m as baseball crazy as almost everyone, but I still don’t get it.

      You could help a lot of people with $5K, and for something quite a bit more important than ‘Washington Nationals Spring Training coverage’.

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      • Jack says:

        What people choose to do with their money is their business.

        (Which includes paying for entertainment, such as baseball)

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        Oh, I agree completely. I guess the biggest thing I was looking at was “Nats Spring Training”, and apparently I vastly under-estimated the interest in how the Nats look in spring training, or that there would still be media coverage of ST. I don’t value ST, so that’s where I’m coming from.

        I don’t ask people for advice on how I should spend my money, so I doubt anyone is really taking my comments to heart. I’m not that arrogant. I just thought a term like ‘disposable income’ in our current economy was kinda “out there”.

        I do appreciate a man’s passion for what he does, and if people are willing to fund his coverage, then good for him (not said in a snarky tone).

        In the end, my mind was just thinking “it’s spring training”, “it’s the Nats”, and “disposable income?”.

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      • Bill says:

        Paying for this guy to go to Spring Training so that you can get coverage of the Nats is no different than anything else you spend money on for entertainment. So, yeah the money you put down for a big screen, a night out, or to support a beat writer would probably do a lot more good going to charity, but we can do what we want with our money.

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    • PhD Brian says:

      Yes it does. This money likely comes out of the movie and candy bar budget rather than Haiti relief. You can’t deduct a donation to Zuckerman.

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  9. MsFanCarl says:

    My take, if you make this donation, that means you are spending money for improving the depth and quality for the Nats coverage and you believe so, not for charity. So the comparison to Haiti isn’t quite meaningful, since the concept of donation here is not identical at all.

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  10. Steven Biel says:

    You guys are right. We should all forget Mark and give all our money to Haiti. In fact, why are you jerk-wads reading this site instead of volunteering at the local homeless shelter? Don’t you know time is a finite resource? Any time you spend at Fangraphs is basically the same as starving a homeless child. Why do you hate homeless children?

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  11. Dave L. says:

    As a big time Nats fan, I’m definitely giving money to Mark.

    He’s the best reporter we have, without him, the Nats coverage will be horrible.

    Hell, without Mark, the team has no one covering them that isn’t already on the Nats payroll.

    I truly hope he reaches his goal.

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  12. Jack says:

    What people choose to do with their money is their business.

    (Which includes paying for entertainment, such as baseball)
    P.S.: Forgot to say solid post!

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  13. Will says:

    are the Nats going to give him a press credential for his website?

    if not, there’s no point in him going (because if i can’t get my meaningless ST quotes in as many forms as possible, I’m gonna die)

    and if they do, i’m gonna be a little miffed, because MLB has been the slowest of the major leagues to be friendly to the blogosphere in anyway

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    • Dave Cameron says:

      Mark is clearly not just some blogger off the street. He has proven his journalistic abilities over the years. They have no reason to deny him a credential.

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      • Will says:

        i’m not disputing that, but as with the BBWAA, they’ve basically only extended a respect to web presences based off of grandfathering in, rather than realizing that there is merit out there with many of these sites

        yea, he’s not a blogger off the street, he’s now a former journalist trying to have a website (I think)

        MLB’s response to the blogosphere has been, generally, scorn, and a belated attempt to make money off of it (MLBlogs or whatever). Supposedly MLB has a straight line policy forbidding bloggers from being credentialed outside of a few kids-table esque moments.

        Take this as no comment about Mark (I don’t know his work, nor anything about him, I assume he’s awesome and foreward-thinking and all that since youre rec’ing him) but I simply don’t see beat writing as an institution that needs to be saved: the questions are banal, the answers are meaningless and trending to insincere. What is the absolute best case scenario pay-off from great beat writing? An injury or trade gets broken an hour before the team issues a press release? A reporter asks a manager an intelligent question that he evades or dismisses anyway?

        I wish this man the best, but this just seems like an odd crusade.

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      • Will, I’m pretty sure you underestimate beat writing. As a journalism student, I can tell you that it’s definitely the most viable way to get INFORMATION from the teams. Without beat writing, there’s not nearly as much information for the analysts to analyze. There always will have to be someone out there dredging up new story ideas and asking questions. It may seem unimportant to you now, but it would definitely impact your ability to follow baseball.

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    • Will says:

      hemo, I understand that. ultimately however, what is the value of the information being produced? day-to-day beat reporting just seems of questionable journalistic value to me. we’re not talking about a paper decided not to cover city council meetings here. there’s value in investigative journalism, value in features, value in interviews, even value in AP game stories. there’s probably value in daily dispatches from ST, but I think its reasonable to ask just how much.

      even in a nightmare world with NO beat reporting, if team X makes a trade or sends a player to the minors or makes someone the new closer, all those great breaking stories would be self-evident in a day anyways

      moreover, the reasons for these decisions, as given in mainstream reporting via quotes from insiders, are often vague and/or mostly false. I’m not saying “down with papers” or “the MSM sucks”. I am questioning the value of a specific journalistic convention that predates radio, television, the internet, etc.

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  14. Xeifrank says:

    True, competition is good for capitalism… but it is better to let those businesses with a poor business model or with a inferior product to go under. Like mentioned above, there are much better causes to donate money to than this imo. My tax money is already going to pay unemployment benefits.
    vr, Xei

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    • NTPNate says:

      Good grief, when did this thread turn into a summer stock production of A Christmas Carol?

      “An unemployed beat writer? What? Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?”

      I know it’s the current fashion to call everything socialism, but I must have missed the part where we started talking about tax dollars subsidizing sports journalism, or government-mandated contributions to cover Mark Zuckerman’s travel expenses to Viera. Lighten up, it’s an experiment in fan-funded baseball coverage. Kinda like FanGraphs itself.

      If you don’t like the idea, don’t pony up. There’s no need to suggest that it’s taking bread from the mouths of crippled orphans and puppies.

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    • Sky Kalkman says:

      But this is a totally different business model and it sounds like Zuckerman is not an inferior product. This new approach (which has a lot of directions it could go even after the spring training experiment) could certainly fail and be a poor investment for consumers, but people might think it’s worth trying.

      Just because newspapers are failing doesn’t mean 100% of their operations are worthless. We just need to figure out which pieces are worth saving and how to implement them.

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  15. Glanzer says:

    Interesting. Leaving a winter storm and heading to Florida for over a month to watch and report on baseball seems like a dream vacation to me. If I had the reporting credentials I think I’d go into debt for the opportunity.

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  16. Johnny Tuttle says:

    This is what I fear about the interwebs: in our moving beyond some traditional business models, we’re throwing out the babies with the bathwater. As much as I still buy real cash for real CDs so that I can hear follow up albums, I still buy local papers to get beat writer’s takes on local teams. They don’t equal the analysis here and on the team-specific blogs, but they are a wonderful source of basic daily information about your favorite team. One my first favorite sports sites on the Internet was from 15 years ago: a forgotten Torornto Star subsite listing the beat writers’ work for all MLB teams. Outstanding.

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  17. Doug Gray says:

    I simply can’t believe where some of these comments have gone in reaction to this story. If Mark or C Trent decided to ask you to subscribe for $14.99 a year to their website rather than ask for “donations”, not a single person would have brought up Haiti, or homeless people or any other underprivileged or needy group of people.

    As for those who are pounding home that their money could be better spent towards a needy cause…. think about that next time you go out to eat rather than cook it at home which would have saved your family 15-20 bucks that could have gone to a needy cause. Of course its a silly way to look at it, but so is blowing a gasket over someone asking for $5-10 “subscriptions” to a website that will fund them going out and doing their job.

    It costs money to travel and cover teams. I know how much it costs because I do it during the baseball season as well as many others that post on here I am sure. Advertisments on websites only go so far to covering the costs of operating a place and getting you to places to cover your team. If you don’t want to pay for that, then you are by all means not going to have to do it. But to get all bent out of shape because other people are willing to toss $5-10-15 bucks into a very large hat so they can read internet newspapers seems a bit crazy to me.

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  18. Steven Biel says:

    OK, so we showed people will give for this. Now, we need to push it into sustainability. Don’t go away Dave–we’re going to need continued buzz to get Mark funded through the season. And when that happens, and we’ve proven that independent, fan-funded beat writing can be sustainable, imagine what’s possible!

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  19. Circlechange11 says:

    Send to me that people just offered their opinions on a subject, as we do in a variety of subjects.

    Not everything should be viewed as a ‘line in the sand’. That’s one of the best parts of being a guy … You voice an opinion and move on without holding an emotional grudge for a decade or more.

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  20. Circlechange11 says:

    “seems” not ‘send’. Geez

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  21. DaveC says:

    Hmm, as a condition, any way we could force him to talk to Dave Cameron for 3 minutes (at 4.9 words/sec that 882 words!) about why Edgar should get in the Hall? Afterall, it does say on the page that he’ll have a vote this year!

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  22. Darren says:

    David presented this as a worthy cause and there’s nothing wrong with people pointing out that it’s not particularly worthy as a cause, in their opinions. You can disagree with those people without getting all indignant that they dare consider other causes in comparison to this one.

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