After years of trial and tribulation, the Seattle Sounders reached the top of the soccer pyramid last December; claiming their first-ever MLS Cup. What do the residents of Puget Sound get as a reward for Seattle’s rise to the top of Major League Soccer? The removal of the Sounders beat reporter at the area’s two largest newspapers: the Seattle Times and Tacoma News Tribune.
To bring in the New Year, the Seattle Times announced last week the paper will be laying off two dozen employees at a variety of positions in the newsroom. Yesterday, Sounders beat reporter Matt Pentz that his position at the paper was one of those eliminated in the layoffs. This comes on the heels of the Tacoma News Tribune laying off their beat reporter, Don Ruiz, last summer.
Entering the 2017 regular season, the fourteenth biggest media market in the country won’t have a single dedicated beat reporter for their championship-winning team. Why? The same reason you’re reading this article online instead of in print somewhere.
How a newsroom divides up beats differs from paper. Ultimately, the major line of thought is if a dedicated beat will equate to enough subscriptions in order to offset the position. If not, then the particular subject gets left on the back burner for a non-beat reporter to get around to whenever they’re available or a major story breaks. The attention to detail is sacrificed for the good of the paper’s profits.
Within the last six months, the Puget Sound’s two major legacy news organizations decided that a championship-winning soccer team wouldn’t push enough papers on its own so the layoffs of Pentz and Ruiz were justified. The reasoning behind it is, unsurprisingly, the demographics of your average die-hard soccer fan and newspaper subscriber are polar opposites. Soccer is sport of choice for millennials. Newspapers are not. Online media is.
The birth of major beat aggregators such as Bleacher Report and SBNation over the past few years has directly impacted the bottom line of beat reporters across the country. Why bother hopping from source to source when you can aggregate all of the beats you desire in one location. That reddit-like mindset is something even major newspapers can’t handle. After all, these aggregators are often much more flexible than your standard newspaper operation.
Sites, such as landing spots for Seattle Sounders, are often 1-2 person operations. Their business model is extrinsically different than a newspaper, lacking the behemoth money maker that are daily subscriptions, so what content they seek to publish varies. In many instances, the reporter for these landing spots don’t have to be in the same part of the country as the beat they’re covering. I knew someone, while at Oregon, who was a Kansas City Chiefs beat reporter for one of these sites a few years back. I’m pretty sure, to this day, that he hasn’t even stepped foot near the state of Missouri or Kansas. Newspapers can’t compete with that in the thunderdome that is online sports media.
The Seattle Times laying off their Sounders beat reporter is sad but predictable for anyone who has followed this business closely over the last five years. It’s much more cost effective for them to assign the Sounders to their pool of freelance reporters now. That’s the short-term cost benefit though. What’s the long-term cost benefit? Surviving at its current capacity for a few more months, probably.
Sooner or later, the times are going to creep up with the Seattle Times once again and one of their extra Washington Huskies or Seattle Seahawks beat reporters will be next on the chopping block. Lord knows what’ll happen in the not-to-distant future when the city gets both a NBA and NHL team within a few years span. Don’t worry though, Bleacher Reporter will hire a college student in Alabama to cover the Seattle Sonics beat and a Zamboni driver in Ontario to cover the Seattle Metropolitans (if only) beat.