Marc Carig is the Yankees’ beat writer for the Newark Star-Ledger. He’s easily my favorite Yankees’ beat guy going,* partially because he does great work, partially because he’s a nice, funny guy and partially because you can tell he takes his job seriously and thinks hard about his craft.
That thinking is on display today over at his personal blog, where he talks about the challenges of trying to incorporate advanced baseball metrics in newspaper writing and the difference between his newspaper, web and Twitter readership.
Those of us who write only on the web don’t have to deal with this problem to anywhere near a degree newspaper writers like Marc do. Our readership came to us. They sought us out and, because they’re online like us, there is a decent chance that they’re at least moderately tech-savvy. When Marc started at the Star-Ledger, however, he began writing for an audience who had likely subscribed to the paper for years. Many for decades. It’s an audience — the newspaper audience in general, not just the Star-Ledger’s — that is far more used to a more traditional handling of baseball and baseball statistics. It’s one that, if Marc is to enlighten them about things like wOBA, UZR or other metrics — which he does and which he should — it will take time and an easing into it. Remember: to most of them, Marc’s the new guy telling them different things than they’re used to hearing. On a blog, in contrast, I or anyone else could jump right in and start fresh without having to worry about alienating legacy readers. There were none.
But maybe a bigger challenge than the audience profile is the technology. I actually love to read newspapers and on some level I’m going to be sad when they aren’t around in hard copy anymore. But think of how many things other bloggers and I explain via links, parentheticals, postersiks, tables and other widgets of technology that can’t be used in newspapers. I just did it with “posterisks.” I can say “Derek Jeter’s UZR is worse than cancer” and I need not then explain what UZR is if I simply link to a detailed explanation of it. Marc doesn’t have that luxury when writing for the paper. There are space limitations for one thing. There is the frustrating inability to insert usable hyperlinks on the printed page.
The point is that guys in Marc’s position have a pretty big challenge when it comes to moving the ball forward in terms of statistics and analysis. I don’t envy them, that’s for sure. But I have a great respect for those in his position who take on the problem and do their best to challenge their audience, however modestly, to understand and accept new ideas.
Unlike some bloggers, I do believe that there is a future for newspapers and traditional reporting the sort of which we see in them. That future is personified by people like Marc Carig, who understand the need to move forward while respecting his audience enough to not think that he can simply drag them there. Keep fighting the good fight, Marc.
*I often make critical or dismissive references to “the New York writers” or “Yankees writers.” I’m way too sloppy about this and I need to be clear about something here: when I do that, I’m not referring to the beat guys who actually go out and cover the games, I’m referring to a handful of the tabloid columnists for the most part. The beat guys — Marc at the Star-Ledger, Mark Feinsand at the Daily News, Ben Shpigel at the Times, Erik Boland at Newsday, Bryan Hoch at MLB.com and others — do a pretty damn fine job. They’ve all been nice to me and other bloggers, either in person or online, and they all reach out to readers via Twitter and through their usual outlets, doing their best to help their readers understand and get closer to the teams they love. And really, they outnumber the Lupicas, Harpers and Matthews out there who drive me nuts. I’m going to do my best to excise that lazy reference to “New York writers” from my vocabulary. But if I slip on this, at least know that I’m not referring to the beat guys when I do it.