If coverage by one reporter is good, coverage by 1,000 must be awesome

If you were under the impression that news organizations are feeling financial pressure and cutting costs, consider this note from the Associated Press:

About 875 media credentials were issued for the BCS title game, and that doesn’t even include those requested by ESPN for its television purposes.”

And as a sign the economy must be getting better, that’s more than were issued at last year’s game.

If you’re wondering why nearly 1,000 members of the media — counting ESPN — needed to cover a game that was televised across the nation, join the club. Even more will descend on New Orleans next month for the Super Bowl.

When I became an editor, sports reporters expected to go to all the big games, regardless of whether they were specifically relevant to the newspaper circulation area. It was a matter of prestige to have your own people at the Super Bowl, the Masters, the Final Four. Geez, when you have the money, why not spend it?

Then, in the early days of belt-tightening, one of the first things I did was cut back on traveling to sporting events outside of the area. With all of the wire services we had, it didn’t make sense to send a reporter far afield to cover an event others would do and for which I was already paying. Would our reporter do it better? Well, of course, he or she would, I said. But, would readers know the difference? Well, of course, they wouldn’t, I thought to myself. It wasn’t a popular choice inside the sports department.

I have no doubt that every one of those credentialed media members can explain why it is vital that they attended the game. (A game, by the way, that had as much drama as watching a rerun of “Gigli.” I know, because I have. In full disclosure, I watched the game until halftime when I turned it off because it was clear that it was already a rout.)

Who were all those media members? What were they doing there? Did their viewers/readers benefit by their presence? And most important, will the game get higher ratings than the premiere of “The Bachelor?”

OK, enough with the snark. About 1,000 credentialed media at the BCS isn’t all that bad. After all, 15,000 media members covered the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte last September.

Oh, USA Today shows me why so many sports reporters were needed. Three stories on the Alabama QB’s girlfriend! (Hat tip to Shannan Bowen.)

12 thoughts on “If coverage by one reporter is good, coverage by 1,000 must be awesome

  1. Ten players in last night’s game (6 from Notre Dame, 4 from Alabama) are from North Carolina. Were their stories told on national TV? I would hope their hometown media were there, telling local stories about a national event.

  2. Well first of all “1,000 reporters” and “1,000 credentialed media” are not the same thing. Engineers, producers, live truck operators photographers all get credentials.

    Just doing some quick math in my head.. Five markets in Alabama – B’ham, Mobile, Tuscaloosa, Huntsville and Montgomery. Average of 3 TV stations, one radio station and a newspaper each.. let’s say 6 people per outlet.. 6 x 5 x 5 = 150.. Throw in a couple dozen bloggers and you’re up to 200 just from Alabama, and that is probably a very conservative estimate.

    Notre Dame is more difficult to figure out. Double it, AT LEAST I’d say to 400. Again – very conservative estimate. Factor in another 75 – 100 local credentialed from the Miami market and we’re up to 500 or so. Throw in wire services, school-based media, national publications like SI.. we’re probably up to 600 – again, very conservative estimates here..

    • I understand, and that’s exactly my point. Every station and newspaper has to send its own people. Six each, you say! That’s a lot of reporting power for a football game. How many unique perspectives do we need? Well, I mean, on something other than Miss Alabama.

      • Do you suggest stations pool resources with competitors? Or rely on networks affiliations? Not sure what the alternative is. In Alabama, this game was bigger for the news audience than twelve murders and a tornado combined.

        • I hear you, I really do. I suggest a couple things: First, that if each place sends six people, they are staffing the event the “old” way. Maybe they can afford that. Me, I’d use more extensive use of the wires. But maybe they don’t subscribe to the Times, to the Post, to McClatchy, to AP, to Reuters. Maybe TV stations need that many people, even though they can’t actually shoot the game itself. To me, it seems extravagant, particularly outside Alabama and Indiana.

          If I were a station outside of those two states and wanted to cover the event — yes, I would pool resources with stations from one of those states going there.

          What you’re arguing, I think, is that the only way to get coverage of sufficient value to viewers/readers is to be there in person. I don’t buy that 850 media people need to be there.

  3. My neighbor was a camera man for the CBS affiliate in Philly years back and he told me I was stupid for not being a sports reporter. Free food, stat sheets passed around at the end of every quarter
    Being a lifelong newspaperman on the city side I had always wondered about this. Now I know.

  4. I noticed in reading the on-the-scene coverage in my local fishwrap that the columnist who made the trip made sure to shout questions at every “media availability” possible, so he could write “I asked Saban …” For that, airfare, several hotel nights in a pricey market, and per diem.

    Last time I worked at a newspaper, the editor called an all-hands newsroom meeting to “explain” that salaries and hiring would be frozen. I made bold to ask why, then, we had just sent four reporters, a columnist and three photographers to a basketball game two states away. “Our readers expect that,” he replied.

  5. To quote myself from 2009, in a post that looked ahead to what I thought would be short-term changes in the way the traditionally media operated:

    “4. Fewer people doing the same stories: Most of the newspaper jobs lost in 2009 will not return after the recession, and while most cities will generate enough revenue to support a professional press, watch for a wave of cooperative agreements between competing media companies and the popularization of the term “our broadcast partners.” Five competing reporters covering the same routine house fire is an inefficiency the new economics will not support.”

    And once again, I grade my prediction as “Mostly wrong.” Yes, there are more local relationships between newspapers and TV stations, but these relationships tend to be uninteresting and limited. And as we learned in the discussion over the 2012 political conventions, the state of play for staffing of “big” events remains as stupidly inefficient and ego-driven as ever.

    But what has happened, and I count this an overall good, is that fewer newspapers are providing half-assed staff coverage of the closest (but distinctly not “local”) professional sports franchises. Do a good job of covering the local. Cooperate on the rest, whether that’s through pooling or subscribing or shared corporate resources or forming spinoff companies that function as virtual bureaus for multiple news organizations.

    Why didn’t this happen in 2010? Or 2012? Why isn’t it the new-normal in an industry that clearly can’t figure out what to do to secure its future?

    Because the industry, if you were to tally its policies as votes, is mostly interested in dying profitably. I didn’t believe that in 2009. I’m convinced of it in 2013.

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