Mark Cuban, the dot-com entrepreneur and Dallas Mavericks owner, has proposed a novel approach to deal with the economic stresses of newspaper sports journalism.
In essence it comes down to hiring beat specialists that would be editorially independent and on the team payroll. In exchange there would be guaranteed space --- a page a day in season, he suggests --- to display the content. Cuban argues that good sports journalism is far more helpful to pro teams than advertising and that a team needs newspapers to create and nurture a profile.
He takes the necessity-is-the-mother-of-invention route. Newspapers in the U.S. are facing difficult times, their Web site growth is slowing, and the strong journalism that propelled sports franchise brand awareness and support is under some threat.
Cuban believes the economics of such a plan are not onerous, considering the overall sports team economics.
His proposal, spelled out in his Blogmaverick site, might leave a few threads loose.
He doesn't tally the cost of travel, for instance. I think it's because he assumed the writers would only cover home games and depend on their counterparts to cover road games. But a beat specialist will tell you that the best coverage emerges from traveling with the team, because that's when you have greater access.
He is a little legacy media-oriented. The blogs, video, and other multimedia assets on newspaper sites right now suggest more than writing is needed in the time ahead, and any proposal would have to accommodate and encourage that.
A cooperative sounds like a good idea, but each outlet for that cooperative wants a distinct approach because sports newpapering is often the best brand marketing of all aspects of journalism, so blandizing coverage in a market might not be a solution.
And he assumes franchises would permit independence when it's clear their licensed broadcasters often have to bite their tongues. Would a team really permit a concerted editorial campaign to change the lineup, the management or the ownership? That would take thick skin and to date I haven't seen teams display anything but low emotional intelligence when their performance is subpar.
But is there a real harm in examining what he's suggesting? Advertising in sports sections of newspapers has never been substantial; they're reader-aimed sections and among the most costly of any newsroom. Creating a cooperative --- a wire-service, say --- to cover the NFL, NHL, NBA and MLB. U.S. newspapers, in particular, are facing considerable strain and may face bankruptcies and closures in the years to come. In that context, is any idea a truly bad idea until fully explored?