As Murray Chass notes, there's been a sea change in the press box this year:
- The World Series offers a startling barometer of how critical the health of the newspaper industry is in this country. It’s not yet on life support, but it’s getting there. The latest bleak picture is exhibited in the number of newspapers that are not covering the World Series.
Twenty-nine of the 60 newspapers that cover major league teams during the season on the road as well as at home are not at this year’s World Series.
“It’s a manifestation of what’s happening in America,” Bud Selig, the baseball commissioner, said Sunday before Game 4 of the World Series. “I’m saddened by it. I think newspaper coverage over the years has enabled us to succeed much more than a lot of people understand so for me this is a very, very unhappy development.”
Asked if there might be something he or baseball could do to reverse the trend as far as World Series coverage is concerned, Selig said, “I don’t know how. This is far beyond me. This transcends me and our sport and everything else.”
What is happening in the newspaper industry, he added, “is a problem far more endemic to life today. But I’m saddened by it, very saddened. Believe me, baseball will not be better off as a result,”
Selig has long been an avid newspaper reader, and as commissioner, he has regularly scoured the newspapers throughout the major leagues.
When I became a baseball fan in the 1970s, here's how it worked ...
Most of the games weren't on television, so we would listen on the radio. But of course that wasn't enough. If our team had played in the Eastern or the Central Time Zone, we could read about the game and study the box score the next morning in the newspaper. But if the game had been played in California or Seattle, we probably hadn't stayed up late enough to learn who won. The game wouldn't be in the morning newspaper, either. Sure, we might catch a score on the radio the next day, but for the real stuff we had to wait for something called the afternoon newspaper. Here were all the box scores, even from the "late games."
This was the baseball coverage that Murray Chass grew up with. The coverage that Bud Selig grew up with, and that I grew up with.
Of course, I'm not quite as old as those vital fellows. But the daily coverage and dissemination of baseball news changed very little from the 1950s through the 1970s. The first notable change came with cable television, which meant superstations -- the Braves and the Cubs, mostly -- and 24-hour sports networks, which meant you didn't have to rely on your local sports reporter for a few minutes of highlights every night at 10 o'clock.
And then in the 1990s ... Well, you know what happened in the '90s. You know what's happening now.
Selig is right: Baseball does not benefit from the decline of the newspaper industry. But even Bud Selig, who was born in the midst of the Great Depression, must know that the rise of cable (and satellite) television and the Internet has far, far more than balanced the scales.
The newspapers have served us well. But when it comes to sports coverage, their time has nearly passed. And it's only the nostalgiasts among us who will miss them.