Our Daily Dread: The state of your newspaper’s sports section, from somewhere on the inside

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LAObserved.com

Any thoughts on Tony Jackson? What, the sports media guy not having any thoughts on sports media? Or is it that management said “mums the word?”
– A comment left by someone named “earteaga31″ on a blog posting Friday, which had nothing to do with the post itself.

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And how are you supposed to respond to something like that?
Let me sleep on it another night. Tony would understand.
Another collegue is asked — told — to give up a spot on a team that they love playing for, pack up his stuff, and go home. But first, come to HR and sign some paperwork. Then you can leave. Hope that Cobra insurance helps you with all the Prozac you may be needing over the next few months.
Dear emailer: There’s nothing holding back the survivors of this pending shipwreck from coming out and expressing more remorse over the fact that the people who we aim to please most — the readers, especially those who’ve stuck by us for years and years — continue to find a product that’s just not the same as it was a week, a month or a couple of years ago.
Nor is there anyone telling us not to talk, write or cry about another person on the staff who was let go because … there are many reasons, they tell us. As if throwing more ballast overboard will keep this life raft from taking on more water.
Our Dodger guy, Tony Jackson, doesn’t have to worry about killing himself any more trying to get you information. Those who decide such things have given him freedom to pursue other options.
The most frustrating feeling by those of us employed in the L.A. sports media, as we come to realize there is now only two reporters fulltime on the beat covering the Los Angeles Dodgers — and one of them works website only, for MLB.com — is that the reader gets, by far, the short end of this deal.
And we’re all the worst for it. OK? Thanks. Now go back to hiding behind your anonymous commenting about the world around you.

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Hey Tom,
Thanks for the mentions. Good things happen to good people. Not that you would know.
P.S. To think they let go of a quality columnist like Steve Dilbeck and kept the likes of you. No wonder the Daily News is on life support.

– An email from a Southern California media member, whose name was withheld to respect the privacy of the correspondence and the embarassment of the statement, after last February’s annual ranking of the best and worst of the L.A. media.

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It gets tougher and tougher, and sadder and sadder, each day to love something that doesn’t want to seem to love you back.
Or to even accept emails from those like the ones above without wanting to fire something right back, return the punch. As if it will make things better.
You take a deep breath, scratch your head, consider the source, and move forward.
Or try to, at least.

Those of us left paddling in a circle, as it sometimes feel, feel like our lifejackets keep slipping off our shoulders. We huddle up, as a good team does, and try to figure out how to tie a rope to each other and make survival last a few more weeks. Because no matter when you think that last tidal wave has come, there’s another on the horizon.
Meanwhile, don’t miss deadline, find something interesting to write about, and get those photo assignments in a timely manner — granted, if there are photographers left who can work with you on that story.

Our jobs aren’t that much different from yours, really. Hopefully, you still have one. If not, we feel your pain, anguish, fears and frustration.
Those of us still working for the sports section are here because we want to be. And we’d have wanted it more if those who we worked with on a regular basis were able to stay as well.

The sports section is very much a team project. We help each other with resources, bounce ideas off each other, argue, agree, argue more, see something that’s a great story and try to figure out how, as a group, we can cover it best.
When those pieces of the team continue to leave — either voluntarily, because it’s just too hard to take another punch in the but, or by reason of financial reality — it makes the team project even tougher to commit to. Team players, whose who are willing to do more than just cover one beat that they were hired to do in the first place, become those asked to stay, for their versatility.
Because, for example, they can copy edit one day, write another, and help try to console departed members the next.

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I’d throw up a few more well-intentioned but much-uninformed emails at this point, very similiar to the ones above, but I’m hoping you get the message by now. This is supposed to be a teaching moment, not one lamenting the mortar we have to avoid from our foxholes each day.

We grew up reading the newspaper sports section for all it had to offer. We see it now, and while it can still serve up some great information, opinions and basic information, all of which can also be found on the Internet for less than 50 cents a read, we try to understand, as a co-reader, why this doesn’t make sense.
We’re not good business people. We’re sports writers. We accept the rather low pay (despite what you may think) and what few perks there are (again, despite what you may think) for the fun of working for the reader.
What does the reader want? We don’t think of you as the consumer, or “what will sell” (again, despite what some may want you to think). We want to write about things you’d enjoy reading about.
If you see it in the newspaper, great. If you find it on the website and are able to link to more resources, even better.
If we could figure a way to do that, and keep our jobs, even better.

Because as soon as another one of us is told by someone in the management position that, unfortunately, we can’t afford to have you on our team any more, we go back to becoming just a reader instead of a contributor. And, as a reader, we also wish we could read more and find better stories to entertain and inform us. Just as we remember back in the days when we’d look forward to the newspaper arriving on our driveway with a thump.
The internet, and blogging, is an amazing resource to keep people informed as quickly as possible. The newspaper’s sports page can be the place for stories that compliment and suppliment that immediate medium of transferring information. But not if we don’t have enough players left on the team.
We’ll keep trying. Believe us. We’re in this for the good, as well as the bad.
We love this job. We keep grinding and try not to whine so much.

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It’s just tougher, every day, to feel like we’re spending most of our energy and focus on things that just shouldn’t be stuff you need or care to worry about.
We’re not going down without a fight. We care about it too much at this point to throw up our hands and just walk away.
Just so you know … or is that too much information?

Comment here or at thomas.hoffarth@dailynews.com.

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  • circlejerk

    Tom,
    Way to go. You really let your emotions out.

    Thanks for the insightful piece into what is happening behind the scenes at your paper…

  • MODEVIL

    Well said Tom, I’ll miss when Media columns like this one are no longer around because of budget restraints. We need someone to critique and report on the sports media and sadly that will be gone in the not too distant future I’m guessing.

    I’ve only got one guess on who sent you that email: How do you do?

  • 6Packed

    I am sorry to hear about all the sad news for you and your industry Mr. Hoffarth. I have appreciated you hard work and creative prose for years now – I hope The Daily News can understand that if any form of its existence is to continue – you should be a part of it.

    Again, thank you, and best wishes for success…however it may present itself.

    Jon Silber
    Irvine, CA

  • minx

    I’m a subscriber to the bitter end. Thank you for such a touching expose.

  • gregb

    Tony’s firing was the final straw for this subscriber. The DN sports section has deteriorated tremendously in the last 18 months. Wire service copy for Clippers, Kings, Ducks, CSUN and glorified “non-wire” for the Angels. High school coverage has been reduce to “junk status.”

    I cancelled the paper because I will not pay metro prices for nothing more than a glorified wire service newspaper. I have been a Daily News reader since it was the Van Nuys News and a four-day a week paper. Now it will be as a non-subscriber because ownership didn’t care about me as a paying customer.

  • Tom Hoffarth

    Thanks for the response to this so far. I almost didn’t post it — i’m not looking for sympathy, just wanted to explain things a little better. we’re in the communications business, but our ability to communicate the truth sometimes seems to get in the way of emotions, cirumstances, etc., and the reader is left wondering what the hell is going on. Even those of us working at the paper are behind the curve when it comes to decisions made, people leaving, etc., and have to find it on some other blog to stay in the loop.
    To clarify: no, it wasn’t pete arbogast who wrote that email. to his credit, he’s never responded to anything I’ve written about him. On the other hand, he’s never seemed to want to defend himself, either.
    As for the cancellation of the paper: Sorry it’s come to this. We wish you’d hang in with us longer, but honestly, we understand. I hope you make your opinions known to those who control the purse strings. We’re all the worse because of your, and other’s, decisions to feel this is the last resort, but, for what it’s worth, high school and local sports is one of the few things that you’ll be able to get from the Daily News than from any other source. Don’t cut yourself off from that so quickly. If anything, that’s where our dwindling resources have been focused more on lately. It’s why beats like the Dodgers now get the short end.
    –Tom

  • http://www.ladodgertalk.com Miguel Salcido

    Hi Tom, great post and well overdue. People were definitely clamoring for some info on the subject. As an online marketing professional and a writer I feel that I have a deep understanding of the changing of the guard that is going on right now.

    Everyone saw it coming, Diamond, Tony, and the countless others at other team papers who have been let go in the past year or so. The Internet is free, fast, and more dynamic. Its the future. The paper is outdated and dying, quickly, and everyone knows it including the Daily News.

    Papers don’t let people like Tony go because they want to or they think that allocating resources somewhere else will make more sense. They do it because they no longer have the resources to support Tony and pay his salary because the paper is losing more and more money each day. Everyone PLEASE get that straight!

    With the advent of the Blog came the ability and empowerment to get your perspective out there to the rest of the world. And without a big salary or budget, you can start a blog for free and you do not need a programmer or webmaster to do so. You don’t even need to pay for hosting!

    What do we do about it?

    That is the million dollar question. Its difficult to run a website and make enough money to support even one person with a decent salary. Most sites are not yet on the subscription model yet and rely on ad revenues. While ad revenues can be really good if well optimized they will probably not make enough to support a few writers and some technical/marketing guys. Myself and a few others are working on some ideas to pool some of the recently laid off for some sort of project.

    Do you have any ideas… anyone? Do you think that people would pay for access to a site with great Dodgers content from top writers similar to the ESPN model?