Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Cranky Baseball Writers Get More Reasons To Moan, Thanks to the AP

You Really Didn't Want to Know Much Beyond the Score, Anyway, Right?

The Associated Press has raised the white flag to digital media when it comes to baseball coverage. This memo, released yesterday, details how game coverage will be revamped for shorter attention spans and tinier news holes.
AP writers will still bang out a 300-word story for quick consumption soon after the last pitch is thrown. Then comes the 600-word writethru, which has quotes and a non-hard news lede. Back when there were AM and PM cycles on the wires, a writethru might make it into a paper depending on the deadline. More often, they saw the light of day in afternoon newspapers.
Now that those are relics of days gone by, there's less of a need, at least for the longer version, or so the AP believes.
That's why its 600-word writethru is a traditional game story for the first 300 words or so, then goes to what the wire calls "chunky text," with five bullet points of notes and nuggets.
The purported benefits, as stated in the memo:

EASY TO READ: The format allows consumers to more easily see interesting content, and it can be read faster across platforms.
SPEED: The format is naturally shorter than a traditional game story and can be published more quickly, resulting in a faster turnaround time from AP to newsrooms.
FLEXIBILITY: Customers have the option of using the 300-word traditional game story, or breaking off the bullet point items for briefs on websites, mobile or in print.

And there, in the last sentence, is the heart of the matter--websites, mobile OR in print. Print is last. An afterthought. Or is it?
Take a look at how much space your local paper devotes to out-of-town games. A couple of grafs, maybe? Sure, the longer stories are needed for smaller papers in the region that don't staff a game, particularly on the road. But news holes have shrunk with circulation. You can get the job done in 300 words and not leave them hungering for more. Plus, you get the bullets, which feel like a value add, especially for papers without a beat reporter.
Still, in the end, remember this change is really all about following readers to where they are. And that's not at a kitchen table holding a paper. If they're not at a news site, they're likely on Twitter or a blog. They may not have the time or inclination for a longer piece, sad as that might be.
All this comes on the heels of a story last week from the Nieman Journalism Lab  about a study of newspaper sports reporters and their love/hate (with a slight emphasis on the latter) relationship with social media. They regard Twitter as a necessary evil, though at the same time it reduces anxiety because they don't have to worry about waking up in the morning and seeing they've been scooped by the competition. Everything's already moved online by the time the presses roll.
But at least one of the reporters interviewed acknowledged that if it wasn't for the online platforms, he'd be out of a job. Because he writes a blog--many of which are often filled with items like the AP bullets--that also drives traffic to the newspaper's website.
That's the whole ballgame--eventually, or so newspapers hope, digital ad rates will catch up to readership. It has to for newspapers to survive. If most of your readers are online, but your revenue isn't, eventually there won't be a print product. And no one to read 600-word baseball stories either.

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