Another reader called this morning to find out if The Courant had cut staff again and why AP stories were being used to report on the Yankees and Red Sox. I offered him the explanation Sports Editor Jeff Otterbein has provided: "Newsday is now covering the Yankees games stories. We have decided, since we also are a Tribune newspaper, to not duplicate efforts, thus freeing Dom [Amore] up to do many other types of stories in New York and Connecticut.”
This is yet another maddening case of newspapers shooting themselves in the face to take care of a toothache. The Tribune Co., which owns both The Courant and Newsday, decided that having two papers within 100 miles of each other covering the same events was a duplication of efforts, and to save money, told The Courant — over its sports editor’s objections — to remove its Yankee beat writer. It also apparently will cover the Sox only half the time, presumably for home games.
Will the money saved be worth the scores of subscriptions the paper loses from disgruntled Red Sox and Yankee fans who can just as easily read the papers from Boston and New York on their own anyway? It’s hard to imagine so.
Connecticut has plenty of midsize dailies covering the state’s various regions — the New Haven Register, the Connecticut (formerly Bridgeport) Post, the New London Day, plus smaller dailies in Meriden, Waterbury and the like. Although The Courant brilliantly capitalized on the shortcomings of those papers to essentially become the Connecticut newspaper while I was growing up there, it’s hard to see how it can maintain that title. Those wanting local news will get it from their more locally based papers. Those wanting regional sports news can get AP stories in those papers, as well, or buy the Globe, Herald, Times, Post and Daily News — never mind the Internet. They’re all for sale at newstsands across the state. So why take The Courant, if you don’t live in the immediate Hartford area?
From a more philosophical perspective, this move simply reeks. At some point, the newspaper industry must realize that finances cannot be the driving factor in the gathering and reporting of news — even sports news. Aside from the recent studies that make slash-and-burn budget techniques seem even more wrong-headed than they are inherently, when did the duplication of efforts in journalism become a bad thing? The point of having more than one reporter from more than one news organization covering a given event is to increase accuracy by holding each reporter accountable. Likewise, each reporter can tailor the news to his or her specific readership, thus driving sales among those readers. This works in sports, as well.
Will the Newsday beat writer be able to cover the Yankees from a Connecticut perspective? Unlikely. (Heck, based on Wally Matthews’ columns, it seems unlikely they’ll get coverage from a competent perspective)! Will Kat O’Brien know what Connecticut readers want out of their Yankee coverage? Even if you can argue that beat coverage is beat coverage, the fact remains that Courant reporters have broken news missed by the big boys in Boston and New York (David Wells calling Francona a "jerk" springs immediately to mind). That ability will be lost, and the cycle — already in place among newspapers throughout the country (including the one for which I work, which might explain my passion on this subject) — will continue:
The Courant will likely lose subscriptions, causing the paper to lose more money, which will then require more cutbacks, then lead to a lower quality of news because of the smaller staff, leading it to lose more subscriptions as readers grow disgusted, lose more money, face more cutbacks, etc.
It’s a damn shame.