Updated 10/12, 11 a.m. ET
Constantly Shifting Beats Result in Confusion and Possibility of Missed Stories
The New York Times is the paper with arguably the most schizophrenic sports section in the country.
It employs a phalanx of compelling columnists like Selena Roberts, George Vecsey and Bill Rhoden. It also has young turks like Lee Jenkins and Tyler Kepner who know how to report and write with equal flair, while graybeards like Murray Chass provide valued historical perspectives while writing about today's players.
And Times sports writers are hardly pigeon-holed. One year, Damon Hack's covering pro football. The next year it's golf. Lynn Zinser's on the Giants beat? Nope. Now she's covering the Olympics. But wasn't that Jere Longman's bailiwick. Oh, he's covering the Katrina aftermath.
Not that what he's writing about has much to do with sports, but that's never mattered much at the Times. Remember one Richard Lezin Jones, who covered the Jets last season? Now he's on the front page of Wednesday's paper with a piece on New Jersey's failed child protective services program. The Times is rife with sports multi-taskers who transitioned to hard news, and good for them (Jane Gross, Robin Finn, Joe Sexton and Michael Janofsky, for starters).
There's nothing wrong with rotating beats every now and then so reporters don't get too cozy with their players, or despise them beyond the point of no return.
But too much shuffling means there's also the danger of losing out on the good story, even the outright scoop when you play musical reporters. One day Lee Jenkins is covering the Mets. The next day, he's at the Little League tournament.
Fortunately, for the Times, the Mets folded after a few fleeting moments of playoff grandeur, and didn't lose out on crucial storylines. Also, new guy Ben Shipgel from the Dallas Morning News did a more than workmanlike job covering the late-season swoon. But the danger remains.
At least the Times covered the team. Often, it has an annoying tendency to all but ignore some teams on non-game days. Can you imagine not a single story about the Jets when they had a game on Sunday? It happened last week.
And woe to the fan of the Nets, Devils, or Islanders looking for regular coverage of their team on off days.
If the Post and News can cover those teams, so can the Times. Don't cry crocodile tears about budget problems. Every newspaper has them, and these comments are being made with full knowledge that the Time is trimming newsroom staff through buyouts.
Still, covering local teams is part of a newspaper's mission. Just do it.