The new newspaper normal

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This was is Dave Ammenheuser, the sports editor of The (Nashville) Tennessean and a man I’ve never met (He’s the one without the blue nose I’ve replaced his photo with the newspaper-reading donkey).

A couple of months back I wrote a post here about Dave and his approach to modern sports journalism. Which, from afar, rubs me very wrongly. Dave seems to be part of a new wave of newspaper thinkers, who believe the way to save a sinking ship is to bring readers into the process. It’s no longer “us,” but “we.” As in, “We want to know what you’d like to read about …”

A few days after the post ran, I started to think that, perhaps, I was too hard on Dave. I mean, newspapers are sinking, and print editions probably won’t exist a decade from now (and, if they do, it’ll be miniscule numbers). Guys like Dave have to come up with a way to make this work, because an industry (and their careers) depend upon it. So that surely means being creative and forward thinking and crafty and creative.

Then, yesterday, someone forwarded me this Tweet …

Screen Shot 2015-04-08 at 11.55.47 AMWait.

Hold it.

Wait.

Hold it.

Wait.

OK, thanks. I just vomited, and needed a moment.

There is a guy who works for The Tennessean. His name is Josh Cooper. He covers the Predators, and covers them v-e-r-y well. Why does he need his sports editor to solicit story ide—wait. Whoa. What’s that? Ah …

Josh Cooper, in fact, isn’t the Predators beat writer. That’s because, in its Newsroom of the Future efforts, the newspaper laid Cooper off late last year. He was replaced with someone named Adam Vingan, a former Washington Capitals beat guy who is, also, quite good and (almost certainly) comes much cheaper than Cooper did. That means, in two years (if not sooner) Vingan will be laid off when his 2-percent standard-of-living raise is too much for Gannett to justify. He will be replaced by a monkey named Mooloo, who can scribble his name with a pen when the electrodes enter his skull at just the proper frequency. When Mooloo requests too many bananas, they’ll bring in a goat with three horns. When the horns break …

I digress. Vingran is the beat writer. And a good one. A hockey nut. Knows the team inside and out. Now imagine being him, and your sports editor solicits story ideas via Twitter? With “Be nice” added in?

Adam: “Dave, we have to do a profile on Shea Weber. His mother has this rare kidney dis—”

Dave: “Well, that sounds promising. But the readers really want a piece about what it’s like being the mascot …”

Don’t laugh. Really, don’t laugh. I’ve spent many years in newsrooms, and this shit happens more than you think. And, with sports editors like Dave, the future is now. Why, a few days after that Tweet, he fired off another one. This …

Screen Shot 2015-04-08 at 11.53.43 AM“Shame”? “Ugh”? Back when I was at The Tennessean, my sports editor was a guy named Neal Scarbrough. He was a journalist’s journalist, and one of his rules (an important one) was the newspaper didn’t root. We didn’t want a local team to win or lose. We just wanted good stories. Great stories. Drama. Narratives. Highs. Lows.

I have a theory, and I’m pretty sure I’m right. Print newspapers are struggling for three basic reasons:

1. People read online.

2. Because people read online, no one wants to advertise in print.

3. Bullshit philosophies and pandering to readers.

You want to stay afloat? Give me must-read content. Give me a columnist who infuriates me, and another one who makes me ooze emotion. Give me depth and detail. Instead of replacing amazing 50-year-old reporters with 22-year-olds who will work for $6 an hour, demand the best fucking product on earth. Make people need to read your newspaper, because it’s so damn good no one else—web or print—can touch it.

If that doesn’t work, hey, life sucks.

But at least you know you tried.

And didn’t pander.

3 thoughts on “The new newspaper normal”

  1. Thanks for ink again Jeff. But you really should do your homework. A good reporter knows that I’m only a phone call or email away.

    If you had called, you would have learned that I haven’t been the sports editor for about eight months. I miss the days when reporters pick up the phone and call. But, you’re right. More and more web-based reporters do that.

    I did my homework. I have heard a lot of interesting stories about you at The Tennessean, but I’m not about to tell them in this space. I’ll let you tell readers the reasons why your beat changed here several times.

    In my role as columnist, I enjoy telling stories of sports folks from behind the scenes. Yep, I’ve written a column on the mascot above. It’s good to write about good people sometimes. I don;t like your new media, the one that attacks folks without ever talking to them. I’m not a burn-and-run reporter unlike some of the new wave web reporters. I’m sure you know a few. Hmmm.

    So, yes, I solicit story and column ideas. That Tweet you cite generated several good column ideas. These are pieces that our talented hockey writer, Adam Vingan, won’t have time to do.

    And the other Tweet? It’s a columnist’s opinion. I think it sucks that a questionable official’s call could cost a team a division title. Sorry, just my opinion. Sorry if you don’t like others voicing their opinions.

    As far as the photo above, if you’d like an autographed copy, please let me know. I’ll get you one. Or, if you prefer, you may want a photo one of the billboards promoting me around Music City.

    Oh, one last thing, did you get approval to use the photo of me? I didn;t think so. Another ethical breach on your behalf.

    My life isn’t as dreary as apparently yours may be. I’m sorry about. Life is good. You should enjoy it one day.

    1. Dave, you don’t want to be thought of as any professional sports team’s mouthpiece. Unless you’re angling for a PR job. I’ve seen that happen, in which case good luck.

      But as the editor for a major metropolitan newspaper’s sports section, you’re not doing a service to your readers by being a fan. It’s admirable you wear multiple hats, but you should ever strive for professional distance.

      Also, fair use with the picture. We can discuss it over frosty cold root beers. You are buying.

  2. Dave, do you not understand the notion of journalists needing to embrace impartiality? You’re the editor of a major metropolitan newspaper’s sports section and should at least stab at some professional distance.

    It’s great you wear multiple hats in your role as editor. But you won’t want to be thought of as any professional team’s mouthpiece.

    Also, I’d argue fair use for the picture. We can discuss that over lunch. You are buying.

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