Chad Finn of the Boston Globe has a good story up about how baseball coverage has changed in the age of Twitter. He talks to Bob Nightengale, Peter Gammons, Adam Kilgore, Buster Olney, Ken Rosenthal and Tyler Kepner all of whom accurately and often quite illuminatingly describe how the job of the baseball writer has been transformed in the past decade and a half or so.
And, as far as that goes, it’s excellent. All of those guys, I’d argue, have done an excellent job of adapting to how journalism and technology have changed and have adapted their habits for the new age. I mean, most of those guys made their bones when it was basically just print, but we’re all still reading them today for news. The same can’t be said for some of their contemporaries.
But I do feel like this kind of story, even when well done like this, always misses part of the equation, and that’s about fan and reader expectations.
Technology has not just changed the way reporters deliver the news. It has allowed fans to have an actual voice in the way they want the news delivered and, for that matter, what news is delivered. These sorts of assessments of media trends rarely talk about that part of things. They talk about the politics of scoops and how the reporter structures his day, but they don’t talk about the primary driver to all of this, which is that the technology now gives the reader a far more direct say in what the news should look like.
Not mentioned: how, back before the Internet, the only real way to interact with the sports editor of the local paper was to write a letter. Maybe it would be read, maybe not. You could cancel your subscription, I suppose. But fans and readers were more or less passive audiences, limited to one paper in many cities, a couple of papers in others. TV coverage of baseball was always cursory and spotty. Either way, we took what we could get and there weren’t many alternatives.
With the advent of the Internet, its explosion and maturation, that has changed. Fans now can and do demand more coverage. More narrow coverage of some things, wider views of other things. Coverage at midnight, maybe, or 6am. Coverage over their lunch hours. Stats. Transaction news. You name it. It’s a demand that didn’t just spring into existence in 1994, it’s a demand that has ALWAYS been there, latent or otherwise, and either wasn’t being served by old media or was not able to be served by old media given the technological limitations. Now those demands are served by online media, be it the digital version of a long-established newspaper or a blog like this one or just the mainlining of information via a specialized, baseball-centric Twitter feed.
Technology didn’t change the game itself, however. Rather, the technology is just the tool that effectuated a change in the consumption of baseball reporting. Just as people likely wanted to be able to shop for music at 3am or watch porn in the privacy of their own home at any damn hour back in the day and finally were able to once the 90s rolled around, baseball fans wanted to consume their favorite thing in different ways and at different times than the old models used to allow and now they do.
And if we forget that it is the reader and the fans who drive that as opposed to the technology — and if we don’t pay attention to what they want and, instead, think of things only in terms of how they affect the producer and not the consumer — the next time technology changes the game, we’ll be spending another decade and a half grappling with all of this again.