Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Newspapers v bloggers - the unnecessary war

Keith Duggan and Tom Humphries have both tackled, though from different perspectives, the old traditional newspaper v internet/ bloggers debate in the last couple of weeks in the Irish Times. Both did so half-satirically / half-serious though the two pieces came across a little too negatively for me, with the ah-sure-what-was-wrong-with-the-old-fashioned-way argument put across. There was a sports blog in Salon recently about ignorance not being a sportswriting skill – basically on some American sportswriters putting the latest stats and techniques down as fads or gimmicks – and it’s an argument that could equally be applied here.

First, let me declare myself fully. Jumpthefence may be a blogging warrior – shouldn’t we bloggers have our own flag/ army/ land even? - these days but was very much a print journo in a different life. So we’ve two perspectives on this. Secondly, I love newspapers. When I lived abroad for a spell – and for that early period where the language gap was too great to extract any enjoyment from browsing a paper – it was possibly, genuinely, the greatest form of homesickness we encountered. Not picking up the paper every day with our morning coffee. Not getting to read about the matches every Monday morning. Not lounging around of a Sunday with two or three papers and buckets of coffee.

But there’s a wind blowing now that’s slowly and surely making them less relevant. Ten years ago I’d have lapped up every word on the Examiner’s soccer pages; now it’s nothing I haven’t seen on Sky Sports or the Guardian website maybe half a day earlier. I used to buy two newspapers every day; now I read them online. If they’re not willing to evolve here, they’re going to die. I don’t think that’s putting things too strongly.

Yep, there’s nothing like kicking back with a killer 6,000-word profile from Sports Illustrated or obscure story from the Observer Sports Mag but there’s a time and a place for the snappy, reactionary 500-word blog piece appearing thirty minutes after the game ending on a random Wednesday evening. Hankering after the old ways isn’t going to change reality. Newspapers will need to find a niche, something they’re bloody good at delivering and they’ll need to tailor it to the internet market rather sharpish.

The leaders in the sporting press are the Guardian, who’ve embraced their website and the blog so wholeheartedly that you can expect to read constantly updating news and anywhere from 10-20 quality sportsblogs every day, whether it be Jonathan Wilson pontificating on football tactics or Paul Doyle pissing off Liverpool fans. Their writing staff are expected to provide web-only work, as now are the London Times’ sportswriters. Yet Irish newspapers remain blissfully unaware or dangerously uncaring about the possibilities (yeah, yeah, we know the Guardian access a global market but there’s no reason Irish newspapers couldn’t make some effort) of getting their staff (or specially employed staff) to provide web-only work.

The Irish Times make a token effort sportswise, updating their website sporadically for news stories, but surely there’s something to be gained from a bit of initiative. Get Tom Humphries to contribute an analytical piece every week on something GAA or Keith Duggan to take on some issue of the day/ past with some serious analysis. Have some colour pieces on their website by Sunday evening of a big GAA weekend – why were Dublin so crap today?; Is that the end for Cork hurlers?; is Kieran Donaghy wasted at full-forward? The Irish Examiner could barely make less effort with their website so fresh blogs daily would spice things up. Sunday papers like the Times and Tribune can surely wring a few decent blogs or podcasts a week from all the quality writers they possess.

The plain fact is that they’ll have to embrace this new medium with full enthusiasm rather than the rather sneering tone papers are showing towards blogging and change in general. Adam Maguire has already predicted the end for the Tribune this year. The Irish Times are laying off staff again. There’s little to be lost and everything to be gained by showing some spark in the limitless potential of the website/ blogging world and sports is the obvious frontier to do battle on initially. It’ll be interesting to see if anyone makes that leap.

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