Sign of the Times

Word of further major newsroom cuts at the L.A. Times against a backdrop of a worsening economy will undoubtedly have implications for soccer coverage locally.

It may seem a small detail in the overall dire scheme of things, but it points to another challenge for a sport still struggling for media coverage.

Two weeks ago the Orange County Register stopped covering the Galaxy, a move that comes after the newspaper made a similar decision in regard to Chivas USA last season.

Last week Frank Dell’Apa of The Boston Globe, one of the best soccer writers in the nation, was pulled from the New England Revolution beat to cover the Celtics.

And the newspaper group I work for has previously suffered employee losses among those of us who cover soccer, while such other outlets as the San Diego Union-Tribune have also reduced soccer coverage in the past few months.

The Times, too, mostly covers soccer on its Web site these days rather than the printed page and Chivas USA beat writer Jaime Cardenas was recently reassigned to cover preps.

That leaves the dean of soccer writers in Southern California, Grahame L. Jones, as one of the few writers dedicated to covering the sport in the nation.

But for how much longer?

Grahame, who sits next to me in the Home Depot Center press box, is nearing retirement and is undoubtedly one of the better paid writers at The Times (he’s covered soccer since the mid-1970s), so is a likely candidate to take a severance package. Even if he doesn’t, Grahame won’t be around forever and it’s unclear whether he would be replaced upon retirement.

That would be a loss for soccer locally and nationally.

Some fans don’t like Grahame because of his criticism of MLS, but he has contributed much to the growth of the sport over the years, fighting for column inches and dealing with editors who don’t understand soccer.

At a time when soccer’s popularity has never been higher in this country, the presence of David Beckham is generating more attention (and capacity crowds in Carson) than ever before and the increasing Latino population in Southern California and the U.S. in general means an ever-larger audience for the sport, it’s disquieting that coverage by mainstream media is on the decline.

Niche publications, like this blog, are filling some of the void, (MLS recently hired a staffer solely to provide support to blogs and Web sites), but soccer needs coverage by more generalized outlets if it is to continue to grow.

The newspaper group I work for is one of only a few in the nation to dedicate space on a weekly basis to a soccer columnist (yours truly every Tuesday). There’s little reason to suggest that will change anytime soon.

I often hear from readers pleading for more soccer coverage, but with fewer bodies in newsrooms generally, that is an uphill battle.

Simply put, soccer fans who want to read more about the sport need to support those outlets that do cover it. Or soccer coverage will continue to get kicked to the sidelines.

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About Nick Green

South Bay-based Los Angeles News Group soccer columnist and blogger Nick Green writes at the 100 Percent Soccer blog at www.insidesocal.com/soccer and craft beer at the Beer Goggles blog at www.insidesocal.com/beer. Cheers!
  • http://ericpz.wordpress.com PZ

    It’s sad to hear that sports reporting (at least on a local level) is heading in that direction. One thing though, would soccer and MLS be where it is today without the exchange of information the new medium allows? Few papers in the early 90′s made any room of coverage of soccer. Outside of MLS cities, few do today. However, the internet, the same thing which is causing papers to make massive staff cuts, has allow the sport to grow to the popularity it’s achieved. Would this growth have happened if the same reporters were still only reporting on Football, Baseball, Basketball and Hockey?

    Nick replies: Fair points PZ and I agree (which is one of the reasons this blog exists). But I think general news outlets (like newspapers) perform a valuable role
    in exposing soccer to folks who won’t go looking for soccer news on the Internet. That creates new fans, something the sport needs here.

  • Eastside Girl

    I work in a library that was recently considering cutting our subscription of La Opinion. It’s mailed so we receive the paper a day late and it’s very expensive. One of the Latina girls who works there pointed out, it’s the only L.A. newspaper that covers soccer on a daily basis (albeit, mostly the Mexican league) and one of the reasons she felt it should be kept. It’s true, I hadn’t had time to find out who won the European Championship and there were the Spanish players on the front cover in full color glory.

  • BP

    I can’t stand Grahame Jones. His columns are full of errors. Not only is he anti-MLS, but he doesn’t see past Europe-Argentina-Brazil, missing out on the wide world of soccer. However, it is sad to think that even his meager coverage is headed for the trash can.

  • http://www.regularguycolumn.com Brian

    Great piece, Nick. It’s sad that some fans will rail against Grahame because they disagree with him instead of realizing that the sport needs voices regardless of what they say.

    What’s happening now is troubling, especially since soccer appeals to an audience newspapers so desperately crave.

  • Former MLS Player

    The reason that people don’t like Grahame Jones is because Jones clearly roots against Team USA in international competitions, and he mocks MLS at every turn.
    Also, he often makes grandiose declarations which have little basis in this galaxy (pun intended).

    Additionally, Jones doesn’t write for a general sports audience – he writes for an audience of other soccer writers – the same way an academian writes a history book with an intended audience of other academians.

    Zzzzzzzz.

    Team USA has had the better results in head-to-head competition against Mexico during the past several years, including beating Mexico for last year’s Gold Cup, finishing ahead of Mexico in World Cup ’06 qualifiers, and soundly thumping Mexico in an elimination game in World Cup ’02.

    Yet Jones has written that Mexico is “still” the #1 team in CONCACAF, and that ANY American who believes Team USA is #1 is someone who needs to get their head examined.

    As a former MLS player whose name many readers would recognize, I say that Jones is the one who needs to get his head examined.

    Incidentally, I can’t imagine the LA Times would keep a basketball writer covering the Lakers who makes a career out of snide remarks directed toward the hometown team and the league itself.

    Likewise, the LA Times would not keep a baseball writer covering the Dodgers who makes a career out of trashing the Dodgers and Major League Baseball in general.

    Jones is an old elitist Euro-snob.

    It’s time for the LA Times to put his whiney schtick out to pasture.