Monday, March 30, 2009

Missing Media: Part One

The biggest debate at almost every newspaper in Michigan Sunday night had to be what Monday's "patch" would be. That's the big story with the big photo on the front page. A1, above the fold. It's your biggest story, the one that anchors that day's paper and sells copies on newsstands on the strength of its headline alone.

Option A: Michigan State heading to the Final Four in Detroit. Option B: The advance details of President Obama's autos restructuring plan - including forcing GM CEO Rick Wagoner to resign.

Folks in Detroit who want the answer will have to either drive to a store and buy a paper or click online. That's because neither the Free Press nor the News were delivered to Detroit doorsteps this morning.

Both papers have been losing money in recent years as more people stopped taking newspaper delivery, advertising plummeted and the demand for instant news pushed readers online - where they could find their papers' handiwork available for free. That's why they've decided to just deliver a few days a week, to cut costs in a desperate bid to avoid closing all together.

Look folks, we all know the newspaper industry is in big, big trouble. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Rocky Mountain News and Baltimore Examiner all closed this year. The Ann Arbor News, Flint Journal, Bay City Times and Saginaw News are all printing part-time. The San Francisco Chronicle and Tuscon Citizen are on their deathbeds. Staffers with Gannett, which owns the Freep, Lansing State Journal (Full disclosure: My former employer), USA Today and others, already took one furlough week this year, and have to take another during the second quarter. Those were the lucky ones - they survived 10 percent layoffs in December that axed all but one of the LSJ staffers working on NOISE magazine.

So what does all this have to do with Michigan State athletics? Plenty.

It's not cheap to cover athletics. The LSJ, for example, paid for writer Joe Rexrode and photographer Rod Sanford to go to Indianapolis this weekend for the Indy regional. Transportation, hotels, all that, plus their salaries, were covered by the LSJ. But unlike a few years ago, there was no local columnist to provide the in-depth analysis of the weekend's events. That's because Todd Schultz, who left a few years ago to pursue a church job, was never replaced - one of many cost cuts the paper has had to make in recent years.

Over the next two days, we'll take a look at the state of the media covering MSU athletics, how it has changed and what's in store for the future. What is the future of media around MSU? And if papers go away, who's going to pick up the slack?

Update: The Freep led with the autos plan. The News went with Sparty.

Coming Tuesday: Change has already come to sports media. From fewer staff to fewer stations, the size and scope of the Spartan press corps has shrunk. We look at the changes so far, and what it means for sports and coverage today.

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