(Ed. Note: the following story is not meant as an indictment of the many fine sports reporters out there. The "traditional" media is filled with great writers and reporters. Instead, it's meant to highlight the fact that the system within which they work is teetering more unsteadily than Don Corleone in his tomato garden.)
The battle of "old" media vs. "new" media has been one of the ongoing subplots of modern journalism, with the rise of the web over the past decade. This phenomenon has democratized the dissemination of news – for better or for worse. You can decide that debate for yourself.
In either case, it's obviously changed the dynamics of the industry. Simply look at newspaper circulation and ad revenue, both of which are dropping like bikini bottoms on a Girls Gone Wild video.
But that's only part of the story. The bigger story, in the sports media anyway, is that there's simply no reason to depend upon stories filed by beat reporters who follow teams from town to town. After all, the same work – and better – can be done while sitting on your couch.
The Cold, Hard Football Facts stand as proof.
ALL THE COMFORTS OF HOME
The "traditional" sports media suffered one of its most telling setbacks to date early in March, when the Cold, Hard Football Facts were honored by the Pro Football Writers of America for writing and publishing the top NFL game story of 2007
But it's not the actual award, in which we beat out older, more established outlets, that was the setback for the traditional media.
The greater setback was this: We weren't even at the game – the 2006-07 AFC title game between New England and Indy – for which we were honored.
Instead of attending the AFC title game, the author of the story, CHFF publisher Kerry J. Byrne, watched the game from the cozy comfort of his own living room near Boston.
Instead of spending the night before the game cooped up in an Indianapolis hotel room, he spent the night before the game with his wife at Mohegan Sun, a Connecticut casino, where they enjoyed Saturday evening dinner at Todd English's Tuscany restaurant and then rocked out to the Bob Seger show.
Instead of spending the day of the game poking around the RCA Dome and feeding on hot dogs in the press box, Byrne drove back to Boston that morning and cooked a big batch of Buffalo wings for his friends and family out in the backyard.
And instead of viewing the game through the press box Plexiglass, Byrne viewed it through a humble 35-inch Sony 900 miles from Indianapolis. He didn't even have hi-def.
It proves what many sports fans and independent publishers have long known and what the traditional media has struggled so awkwardly to grasp: there's really no need to be at a game to report on it accurately.
ONE - football is better on TV
Big games are broadcast to every corner of the country, and television provides all kinds of data and insights that you might actually miss in the press box. And, as anyone who's ever watched football live and on TV can attest, it's much easier to follow the game on the tube than it is in person.
Don't take our word for it. Simply look at the past 50 years of American cultural history. The ease with which football translates to TV is the single most important reason why it and not, for example, hockey – a sport that's much better in person than it is on TV – is the national passion.
TWO - sports data is available to everyone
Game and team data – compiled in thick press packets and once handed out only to reporters in the press box before, during and after the game – are now accessible to anyone anywhere almost instantly on the web. NFL gamebooks, for example, which provide detailed play-by-play information, are available to anyone on NFL.com, usually within minutes of the final whistle.
THREE - the term "press conference" is a misnomer
Press conferences, as their name indicates, were once reserved for the press. But today's press conferences are, for all practical intents and purposes, open to everybody. Local stations in almost every NFL market broadcast postgame press conferences live, so fans can see immediate reactions without the media filter of the past. Other press conferences, whether with coaches or players during the week, are often broadcast live over team websites, on the NFL Network or through on-demand cable stations. And, if you missed a quote, the complete transcripts are usually available on team websites fairly quickly.
And, in many cases, beat reporters have no more access to players and coaches than are provided to them during these misnamed "press" conferences. For example, Tom Brady or Peyton Manning aren't sitting by their lockers handing out private interviews with your favorite local writer. Reporters, in most instances, are getting the same information, the same quotes, the same reactions from big-name athletes that every other reporter and fan is getting, too.
FOUR - "inside" human sources are overrated
Sure, there are times when an on-site beat reporter, who has carefully cultivated sources and relationships, is going to get that locker room quote or behind-the-scenes scoop when no cameras or other reporters are present.
But who cares? What value is there to this in the long run?
Even the tiniest little insightful or controversial quote is instantly repeated and republished by every other interested media outlet in the nation, to the point that the source of the initial report is instantly overwhelmed and forgotten.
Plus, how many times have we seen a false story, a misleading quote or a reporter's misinterpretation (or intentional misinterpretation) of a tidbit of information burn up the information superhighway, only to later be proven false? Reporters break "hot" stories that prove to be false probably as often as they break "hot" stories that prove to be real.
For record, it's a policy of the Cold, Hard Football Facts to not depend upon quotes or interviews for source material. The reason why we eschew this tired old media model is simple: humans are inherently flawed sources of information and often intentionally mislead reporters. Instead, we rely only upon raw, empirical data, the Cold, Hard Football Facts, as our primary source of information.
As a result, our rate of accuracy far exceeds that of any traditional reporter who relies upon flawed human sources. It's not because we're better ... it's simply that our methodology is better. Just ask the Pro Football Writers of America.
THANK GOD FOR PROGRESS
We're sure this news is tough to swallow for those reporters who slough it out in the pressbox trenches, carrying their dusty knapsacks from town to town like itinerant pied pipers of pigskin. But, hey, things change.
And traditional reporters, for one, should be thankful for this progress. If the industry didn't evolve, beat writers would still be taking the choo-choo from town to town and filing reports on the old Royal
. If the industry didn't evolve, ex-jocks would be awaiting the advent of television so they could land cushy gigs as studio analysts. If the industry didn't evolve, sports fans would be forced to follow games in person, on crackly AM radio or in print long after the action.
And if the industry didn't evolve, sports fans would still be married to the quaint old notion that you actually have to attend a game to write entertaining and accurate reports about the game.