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Is Newspaper Baseball Coverage Dead?

I have a question for FanGraphs readers. Have you noticed a drop in newspaper coverage for your local Major League Baseball team in 2010? I’d love to hear from at least one person (in the comments section) who follows each MLB team through the printed form.

As many of you know, I live in Ontario, Canada. The baseball market in Canada is unique because we have just one MLB team (although Seattle and Detroit are close cousins). As such, the coverage of the Toronto Blue Jays is truly a national thing. We have four national papers located in Toronto: The Toronto Star, The Toronto Sun, The Globe and Mail, and The National Post.

According to a report by the Canadian Newspaper Association (CNA), the average daily readerships for these four newspapers in 2009 were (rounded down): The Star (314,000), The Sun (143,000), The Globe (315,000), The Post (156,500). We all know newspapers are struggling. Cuts are being made almost daily as newspapers struggle to survive. Unfortunately, the sports sections around both the U.S. and Canada have seen significant cuts in most markets. Toronto is no different. I started to notice a real drop-off in Blue Jays coverage in ’09. It seems worse in 2010. So, I took to the online sports sections for each of the four Toronto papers to see if I’m correct… or just imagining things.

*For full disclosure, I used to work in the newspaper field as a reporter, editor and photographer. While training to be a journalist, I worked as a copy person for a mid-market TorStar paper, and I spent more than five years writing for Sun Media newspapers. I even had a Jays article published on The Sun’s Web sports section two years ago. It was supposed to be a weekly column, but The Sun cut its freelance budget soon after and my gig was one of those chopped.

It’s Saturday around noon when I check the sites. The Star’s baseball section’s lead article is from the Jays’ last win in Texas. It’s more than 24 hours old. The most recent game report (Friday afternoon’s Game 1 against Baltimore) is the sixth story down. All the ones above it are 24 hours or more old. Two articles are 48 hours old, one is 72 hours old. Nine baseball articles were posted on April 5, opening day (six were Jays related). It went downhill from there, including just one for Friday and no new articles for the Saturday Web page.

The Sun had 10 articles posted on April 5, but nothing new for Saturday. However, two articles were posted after the Jays’ win in Baltimore on Friday. The Globe appears to have upped its general coverage of Major League Baseball. There are numerous wire pieces from around baseball. Again, though, nothing for April 10, and one article reacting to the Jays’ win in Baltimore on April 9. The Post is also enjoying the cheaper wire stories. There are 10 stories featured on the main baseball page – none on the Jays. The lead story is that Cliff Lee will be out until May. The Jays? Oh, wait… I found a small header on the far right – “Blue Jays spoil Orioles’ home opener” – and it’s a link to… another Web site? No original Jays material at this paper.

I think we get the point. And I know the Jays are not the biggest draw in the world in Canada… but part of the reason for that is the lack of passionate (and intelligent) coverage. With all the extra coverage around the ‘Net, game reports are pretty much covered by places like ESPN, FoxSports, and MLB.com. What newspapers should be focusing on is features, interesting angles and even teams’ up-and-coming minor league stars. With apologies to the baseball columnists in Toronto, I haven’t read a truly interesting or inspired column in a year or more. Their Q&A articles, which seem to be rather popular, are usually bland and misinformed.

The cheapest way for some newspapers (especially those operating in small or mid-sized markets) to get some footing back for their sports pages is to embrace the online writer (I dislike the term blogger; there are too many negative connotations). Hiring a writer or two off the Internet would be both cheap and it could really infuse some life back into the baseball coverage. Sure, there are some lousy and unreliable baseball writers online, but there are also some great ones that produce insightful and clean copy. The exact same can be said for sports columnists in the newspaper world.

Major national sports media outlets like ESPN, Sports Illustrated, and FoxSports have embraced the online writers. You can find them all over their Web pages. Newspapers need to realize that passionate and informed “bloggers” are not going away. You cannot beat us, and we cannot beat you. The best scenario for everyone involved (especially the readers) is to join together. Otherwise, there will be no winners. Only losers.

Oh, and if you’re wondering who I think the best baseball beat writer and the best baseball columnist in Canada are… It’s the same person on both accounts: Jordan Bastian of MLB.com.