Bible of Baseball No More...
August 28, 2008
The Sporting News, my "go to" magazine of choice while picking up kids from dancing class or sitting next to my wife while she watches her 7,942nd rerun of "Friends," dropped a bomb on its readers a couple weeks ago. The magazine will cease to exist as a weekly publication, instead moving to an awkward bi-weekly distribution. In addition, the magazine is now bigger and more colorful. In other words, The Sporting News is attempting to become ESPN The Magazine.
That's not good, and the first bi-weekly issue of The Sporting News didn't get my hopes up either. For starters, the cover was a shot of Terrell Owens surrounded by a group of Cowboys cheerleaders. Going by memory only, I seem to remember sports figures on the covers - not cheerleaders. I have nothing against cheerleaders, but I want to see cheerleaders at a game, I want to see Victoria Secret models in a Victoria Secret catalog, and I want to READ about in-depth sports in The Sporting News. Showing cheerleaders on the cover already tells me that the "in-depth" portion will probably be lacking.
Sure enough, the inside is littered with plenty of well done photos, but this is The Sporting News, not Sports Illustrated. There were plenty of Q&A and survey-type articles to fill the pages which are nice in small doses, but I really don't need a dozen people telling me who they think is the most exciting player in college football in a survey; I'd rather have one person tell me WHY someone is the most exciting college football player. It's called combining facts and observations and using writing skills to create an article. Unfortunately, articles by writers were sorely missing in a magazine designed to last me half a month.
Most disturbing, however, was the influx of articles, columns, and snippets "written" by current coaches and players. It felt like two-thirds of the material was written by people without a degree in journalism.
It's nice to have the insider's view (in fact, Todd Jones' "The Closer" column is often my favorite part of the magazine), but too often current players and coaches can't speak their minds or give true opinions because they are still involved in the games themselves and don't want to offend or inspire the opposition, nor can they be completely outspoken about teammates without suffering the repercussions.
In the end, it's a cheap tactic to give the reader the impression he/she is getting a true "behind the scenes" story when, in reality, it's just a way to eliminate several professional writers and let the editors clean up the work of non-writers who happen to coach football or play shortstop.
Truth be told, a professional in-depth article by a real journalist is going to include information received from the insiders anyway, sometimes with quotes, sometimes not, but it will be gathered and distributed to the reader in a manner much more interesting and entertaining than anything a current wide receiver could write about his starting quarterback.
The Sporting News did manage to hire John Feinstein, hoping to keep a little street cred with true sports fans, but too much was lost for that little gain. Trying to keep up with technology and readers' habits, the magazine started publishing a daily online publication, complete with boxscores, recaps, upcoming games, and plenty of analysis. It's a fantastic read (about 30 pages each day) and best of all, it's free. The problem is that TSN tries to convince the reader that the combination of the magazine and the daily publication complement each other and provide more information than ever. I wrestle with the way we get content now, though, because while I like everything technology gives us (immediate updates, a plethora of data, etc.), the most portable method of taking content with us is still the old fashioned magazine and newspaper.
Despite what the editor of TSN tells me, it's just not practical to print off a 30-page pdf file and carry it to that dancing class. Grabbing a magazine is a decision that can be made in 5 seconds; deciding to print off a pdf with pictures and ads can take 15 minutes. If the Cubs win the World Series the day after the latest magazine arrives in my mailbox, I'm not really going to be interested in reading the next issue with Carlos Zambrano on the cover, celebrating a feat that is 13 days old by the time I turn to page 1.
The Sporting News, in an effort to save itself in a time when no one cares about print media, is trying to be everything to everyone. In the end, that attitude may result in nothing left and no one left to care.