The challenge of writing for a newspaper audience

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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.

Game 6: This is why the Astros traded for Justin Verlander

Associated Press
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Houston’s pitching has not been their biggest problem as they’ve watched their 2-0 series lead turn in to a 3-2 series deficit. It has not been good, mind you — Charlie Morton got rocked in Game 3, the bullpen collapsed on Game 4 and Dallas Keuchel was suddenly mortal in Game 5 — but even then it’s not been the biggest concern. The real problem has been the lack of offense.

The Astros led the majors in runs (896), batting average (.282), on-base percentage (.346) and slugging (.478) during the regular season and were second to the Yankees in homers. Despite that, they have scored just nine runs and have hit only one homer. The team’s ALCS batting line, those two wins included, is .147/.234/.213. As such, facing off against Luis Severino and a rested Yankees bullpen tonight can’t give them a ton of confidence.

They do have one thing going for them, however: Justin Verlander. The same Justin Verlander who received only two runs of support in Game 2 of the series but made it hold up thanks to his 124-pitch, 13-strikeout complete game victory. You can’t really expect a starter to do that sort of thing two times in a row, but that’s what the Astros acquired him for at the end of August. In a league where there are vanishingly few horses a team can ride to victory, Verlander stands as one of the few remaining old school aces. Expect A.J. Hinch to keep the bit in Verlander’s mouth for as long as this game is close and, even then, maybe an inning longer.

Is there any reason for optimism regarding the Astros’ lineup? Sure, of course. They didn’t suddenly all forget how to hit. Every team goes through a stretch of 3-5 games where the hits don’t seem to fall. There may, possibly, be some reason for hope in the man they’re facing too. Severino lasted only four innings in Game 2, having been removed early after taking a ground ball off his left wrist. Severino said he was fine and wished that Joe Girardi hadn’t taken him out, but (a) he was acting a little odd, shaking his arm out like he was trying to shake off some pain; and (b) starting pitchers almost always lie and say they’re better than they are. I’m certain Severino is healthy enough to go, but there’s at least a small chance that he’s vulnerable, somehow. At the very least Astros hitters can walk to the plate convincing themselves of it. Any edge you can either get or imagine, right?

Game 6 seems like it will have to be a matter of a small edge one way or another for both teams, really. The Yankees are rolling, but their assignment tonight is a tough one as they try to chase a guy who fancies himself — and has often shown himself — to be a rare throwback to those 1960s and 1970s aces who only seem to get better as the ballgame goes on. The Astros, meanwhile, are tasked with solving a young, fireballing stuff monster who has something to prove after his early exit in Game 2 and, even if he can’t prove it, a corps of relief aces who are among the most formidable in baseball. Add to that the notion that Major League Baseball, Fox and most commentators and casual fans outside of Houston want to see the 12th Yankees-Dodgers World Series matchup and the Astros have to be thinking everything’s against them.

Which is OK, though, right? Ballplayers love it when no one believes in them. That’s not better than six or seven runs of support, but the Astros will take anything they can get at the moment.