Thoughts On Baseball Media

Today, the Rocky Mountain News published their final edition. Scripps, their owner, couldn’t find a buyer who wanted into the struggling newspaper business, and so Denver has become a single paper town. This will happen shortly in Seattle as well, where the Seattle Post Intelligencer will cease printing in a month or so. The San Francisco Chronicle is in a similar position and is unlikely to survive 2009, which will leave San Francisco without a daily newspaper.

Meanwhile, yesterday, Newsday announced that they are moving away from a free web content system towards a subscriber-pay system in an effort to generate more revenue.

For journalists, the world is changing, and it’s changing very quickly. The old business models don’t work anymore, as the internet has conditioned people to expect significant content to be delivered online for no additional cost beyond what they pay their local ISP. With ad revenues plunging, media companies simply haven’t been able to find a way to make money. Without profit, there’s no viable business, and the resources we enjoy go away.

With the Rocky Mountain News folding today, it got me thinking – where is the online baseball community headed? Between The Hardball Times and blogs like ours here at FanGraphs and Tango’s work at The Book Blog, there is a remarkable flow of tremendous content being put out simply for the sake of improving the quality of baseball knowledge available. For guys like Studes or Tango, this isn’t their career – it’s a hobby, and something they do because they love it.

The same goes true, I would suspect, for most of the new analysts we’ve seen rise up in various sites over the last year or two. From guys like Sean Smith to Sky Kalkman, Colin Wyers, Josh Kalk, Mike Fast, and all the rest, there is a deep well of talent that is advancing baseball knowledge for everyone. And they’re doing it without charging for their efforts.

Much like the open source movement in software, there’s been a revolution in the baseball community. The best content available isn’t being written in books or newspapers, or even behind subscription walls that require payments to access – the best knowledge available is free to everyone who wants it.

And, while it’s sad to watch newspapers fold and business models fail, it’s exciting to be living in an age where anyone who wants to educate themselves on the game can do so.



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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.


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diderot
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diderot

Your reaction is true–there is an excitement to this era–but unfortunately, there is also a shortsightedness to it, and dare I say, even as aspect of (unintentional) elitism.
In reverse order, the fact of the matter is that less than two thirds of American homes are equipped with personal computers and broadband. In other words, for those people, we’re not talking about an option of how to receive their news (and sports), but rather, whether they will receive it or not. A common argument is that the public library offers access. But how realistic is it to carry a library with you on the bus ride to work? Or run to one on your coffee break at the paper mill? The demise of newspapers is a threat to democracy–there is no way around that.
Secondly, as you have noted on other blogs Dave, no degree of wisdom on the part of online observers can replace the value of having firsthand reporting from the clubhouse or front office–information that newspapers have provided for a century. While it’s true that for their own purposes teams may one day decide to credential online sites and give them the same access, who from those sites is going to devote the time to visiting those clubhouses, and following teams on the road? And who is going to pay them for their time and expense?
So I believe we’re dealing with two different things that should not be conflated. The rise of the Internet is a wonderful occurrence. But it in no way does it mitigate the disaster which is the death of American newspapers.

Ryan
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Ryan

Couldn’t agree more. The desolution of the newspaper is a sad state for the non-sports media. The accountability and access that can’t be attributed to blogs, online papers, etc. will be sorely missed.

I heard somewhere (maybe NPR story about this very topic) that a good business model for papers may be to move to non-profit ventures. Seemingly they could then continue to thrive (if you can call it that) without further degredation.

It’s sad to see the state of the Washington Post every morning.

Ryan B
Guest
Ryan B

“The accountability and access that can’t be attributed to blogs, online papers, etc. will be sorely missed.”

I agree somewhat with the missed access…although DSL can be had fairly cheaply ($13 Netzero). Newspapers are commonly $0.50 a day, but as I’ve never personally paid for delivery, can’t say what that amounts to in a month, but It can’t be much less than $13. Of course this is assuming ownership of a computer and a working phone line.

As for accountability, I think the trustworthiness a newspaper had is transferred to their online counterparts. And as one reads blogs, online news, etc, accountability will be earned by those sources as well. I think one of the greatest strengths of online news is that the writer is often a specialist in their field first and foremost, and second, a writer. Newspapers are filled with writers, trying to cover topics/fields that they are not necessarily proficient in.

I will agree that having something tangible in your hands, such as a newspaper or book, trumps reading off a screen.

Fresh Hops
Guest
Fresh Hops

I disagree about accountability, actually rather strongly. Social scientific research shows that open forum communications like well-trafficed blogs and Wikipedia are remarkably well-policed by the communities that use them. In terms of both accuracy and comprehensiveness of reporting, Wikipedia often out-performs sources such as the Associated Press for the simple reason that if a number of people who care are out there dig through all the sources that they can to learn about something and then contributing to Wikipedia on the subject, Wikipedia becomes a remarkably successful information aggregating system, probably the most successful, efficient one in the history of human kind. I’m not claiming that it is perfect, but it can be a very powerful resource and, for those topics that are widely edited, very accurate.

There is certainly a danger that reports and “traditional” media sources are a significant source of the information that these systems aggregate and that their demise is cause for concern for that reason as well as others. However, I would say that the internet is a more positive force for information access, free-thought, and democracy that the loss of some traditional media sources.

Tommy S.
Guest
Tommy S.

Seems to me like all of the newspapers that seem to be failing are the ones that are crammed with liberal editorials

Derek
Guest
Derek

I couldn’t disagree more with Diderot. Yes there are still people without computers but that is soon to change. At one time there were people without TVs and Telephones, however now every household has one or more. While those 33% of people will suffer in the short term until low cost computers are available (which is almost here, you can get a Medison Celebrity laptop for $150 US and free shipping). In the not too distant future computers will be as common as….well paper.

The problem right now is businesses do now know how to incorporate a proper business model for the internet. The typical american business now has a middleman whos whole job is to deliever goods. The internet cuts out this middle man for any information based company. Anyone can deliever the goods in large quantities on the internet. Once american businesses (including the newspapers) realize this and adapt a better business model they will still be making money.

diderot
Guest
diderot

Derek,
Your response is exactly the myopia I was referring to (which, by the way, I don’t apply to Dave).
In reference to computer ownership, when you say ‘soon to change’, what source do you cite? If we’ve got 35 million or so U.S. households without connected computers now, what is it that’s going to compel them to go out and buy one? Because there’s so much more money flowing through the economy right now?
When you say those folks might ‘suffer in the short term’, I would ask how you would like to ‘suffer’ without your Internet connection in the short term. There isn’t any logical way to minimize the impact of dying newspapers.
Finally, your idea that somehow there’s a business model out there that newspapers just haven’t thought of doesn’t make much sense. Do you think those people haven’t tried? That they really just blithely laid people off and closed their doors?
Yes, of course, distribution costs are minimized on the net. But where does the money come from to pay the reporters and editors? It doesn’t take much research to find that banner ads aren’t cutting it. What percentage of bloggers now are making a decent living just by blogging?
And that’s the problem with the entire ‘information wants to be free’ thinking. ‘Free’ doesn’t pay the mortgage.

Phil
Guest
Phil

You’re right. Free doesn’t pay the mortgage. If you’re a reporter, there is still TV and internet news to pay the bills. If you’re a writer, find a magazine, print or online, write a book, do what you do. But don’t use that cop-out because its free on the internet then someone’s not getting paid. On almost every site one visits there are ads, and someone’s making money.

diderot
Guest
diderot

Phil,
Of course I’m not saying no money changes hands.
What I am saying is that if enough money were changing hands, then the newspapers could shut down their print editions, save all that money on paper, ink and delivery, and just simply shift everything over to online. All the reporters, columnists, editors, etc., would keep doing their jobs as they always had–what difference would it make to them?
Do you see that happening anywhere?
This is not about journalism (sports or business or news) simply shifting from one medium to another…it’s about the death of a big part of journalism.

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