Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Missing Media: Part Three

There's no better way to prove the point I'm about to make than to just list examples. So in no particular order, here's my unofficial highlight reel of MSU Final Four coverage so far:
  • For starters, I'm loving the Lansing State Journal's video coverage, including the basketball team's departure to Detroit Wednesday afternoon.
  • Their interactive Q&A with eight MSU fans - Sparty and Trustee Melanie Foster included - was a masterstroke, both in design and execution.
  • Once more with the LSJ, how could I leave out Joe Rexrode's blog, especially the live chat he did Tuesday?
  • The State News has been covering an Izzone ticketing controversy like white on rice.
  • There have been many takes on what State in the Final Four means for Michigan and Detroit. ESPN's Jemele Hill (an MSU and Detroit Free Press alum herself) has one of the better ones. Though my favorite one is by the Freep's Drew Sharp.
Six examples of great coverage. Four are online only, the other two (Sharp, SNews) were online before they went to print.

Folks, this is the future of how MSU will be covered, from here to the foreseeable future. Online. There is no going back. Only further.

For example, Elaine Kulhanek, the LSJ's community conversations editor, told me the LSJ this Friday will hold their first online pep rally via Twitter (search #spartyon - the RSS feed will run on the Green and White section of If it works, no doubt it will be repeated and copied. Trial and error, that's the name of the game. Because to try nothing is to fail.

The question, however, is not whether print media will adapt to the online world and drive coverage in new, innovative ways. Clearly they have, at least the folks who cover MSU sports for a living. The question instead is will they be able to make money off it?

Because that's the big hurdle. For most newspaper firms today, print operations account for 80-90 percent of revenues, versus 10-20 percent online. So if there's trouble on the print side, like say how newspaper ad sales nationwide fell by an average of 16.6 percent last year, the online side currently isn't remotely close to making up for it.

Hence, layoffs. Furloughs. Dramatic cutbacks in publishing. And some papers just simply stop running altogether.

Michigan State needs the Joe Rexrodes of the world, the Drew Sharps, Wojos, Shannon Sheltons and Steve Grinczels. Good reporters and analysts who, though we might disagree with them at times (or in Sharp's case, almost all the time), serve the fan above all. We can't go to all the practices. We can't pay to travel to each road game. We don't miss our son's birthday or our daughter's dance recital because there was a freak snowstorm in State College and mommy or daddy can't catch a plane flight home.

The reporters who cover MSU athletics connect us to the games, our teams, our alma mater. But if there's no money, if their employers can't pay the bills, there's no coverage.

This is the part of our three-part series where I'm supposed to write a conclusion. To tie this all up with a nice, neat red bow and tell you all how this problem could and should be solved.

Well that's not going to happen. I don't have the answer. I don't think anyone does right now.

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