Watch Tower: Coverage Lapses Call into Question Role of Daily Newspapers in the Digital Age

Regular readers of Steel Curtain Rising’s Watch Tower know the column has been particularly harsh on the mainstream press lately. While the Watch Tower’s purpose is to cast a critical eye on the Steelers press converge, that doesn’t mean such commentary needs to be negative.

  • In fact, in many cases that Watch Tower has been quite complementary.

But there’s a pattern of non-coverage of important stories emerging here, and one that deserves deeper discussion.

Add Moorman to the List

Recently the Watch Tower took aim at both the Post-Gazette and Tribune Review’s decision to completely ignore Doug Legursky’s defection to the Bills.

And for good reason, the decision to let Legursky leave could come back to haunt the Steelers given the need to protect Ben Roethlisberger. The motives behind the Steelers decision deserve to be discussed.

  • Unfortunately, this non-coverage is not an isolated example.

Former Dallas Cowboys Pro Bowl Punter Brian Moorman signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers on April 30th. The news was picked up by a mix of professional and fan based sites, ranging from Behind the Steel Curtain to NBC’s Pro Football Talk.

However the news first appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in May 25th. In an ironic twist of word smithery, Ray Fittipaldo lead’s went like this:

The under-the-radar signing for the Steelers this off season came two days after the draft ended and barely made a ripple in the news cycle….

Was Fittipaldo attempting to make amends for his paper’s omission a legitimate news story, or was it just coincidence?

Steelers Nation will probably never know, but the issue raises some very relevant questions as to the purpose and role of the sports pages of the traditional dailies in the internet age.

If A Free Agent Leaves But The Papers Don’t Covers It, Does It Make A Sound?

The Mooreman’s signing is only the latest in a series of news stories that have gone un or under covered by either the Pittsburgh Post Gazette and/or the Tribune Review.

While much of this non-coverage involves free agent signings it extends to other areas. For example, the major dailies all dutifully reported the decision to put Justin King on injured reserve. Information on the nature of his injury was absent. (Granted losing Justin King in June isn’t quite like losing Willie Colon.)

Former Steelers coach Bill Austin passed away earlier this off season. While the Tribune Review’s Alan Robinson wrote something on his death, the Post Gazette published a Bloomberg News article written by someone else who listed Ed Bouchette as a contributor.

There’s a pattern here.

Trying to Find Rhyme or Reason

Let’s give the devil his due, and discuss possible reasons for why these stories got no coverage, because they do appear to be deviations from editorial policy.

For example, the potential and then actual departures of Will Allen and Ryan Mundy were fully covered by the major Pittsburgh dailies. Both moves were legitimate news involving minor players.

  • In contrast, however, both Moore’s departure in ’12 and Legursky’s loss in ’13 arguably represented losses of more significant contributors.

One possible explanation is that both Allen and Mundy’s departure’s occurred in heat of free agency, where as Moore and Doug Legursky left after the draft during the NFL’s only true off season when attention ebbs.

  • While that fact may mean decreased public interest in the stories, it does nothing to make them less newsworthy.

Similar (potential) explanations exist for the non-coverage of Isaac Redman and Steve McLendon’s signings. Both occurred days before the NFL Draft, an event whose coverage has taken on monstrous proportions of its own.

  • But again, does this justify non-coverage?

Hardly. Losing McLendon would have all but forced the Steelers to draft a defensive lineman in the first or second round.

By a similar token, reports indicated that their were at least some parties on the South Side who were concerned that Bruce Arians would attempt to lure Isaac Redman to Pittsburgh West. Had Arians done so at the last minute the Steelers almost certainly would have lost “Redzone Redman.”

The fact that this possibility went off the table when Redman signed his tender was news. It deserved coverage.

What Is the Role of a Daily?

Steelers fans of course had myriad other means to learn of this information, via Twitter, fan sites, ESPN and sports talk radio.

But if that is the argument/explanation for not covering stories like that then the counter question becomes quite caustic:

  • What is the purpose of the sports section of a major newspaper?

Most dailies (at least the Pittsburgh dailies) don’t offer the types of in depth analysis pieces that you find on fan based sites like Behind the Steel Curtain (full disclosure, I also write for BTSC).

Presumptively the reason is because they feel their focus should be on more traditional “news” stories that can be tied conversations with the newsmakers themselves.

That’s a defensible position from a purely journalistic perspective, although one that is likely not a sustainable digital age strategy for two complimentary reasons. First, fan bases’ appetite for “content” on their favorite teams remains nearly boundless. The second relates to the bottom line – profitability and page views go hand-in-hand in the digital world.

  • But the traditionalist journalism argument completely falls flat when dailies simply begin ignoring legitimate news stories.

Because if the dailies fail to make themselves “one-stop-shops” supplying all of the basic news about a particular team in an objective format (as opposed to team websites) then fans both can and will stop visiting their sites….

…The Watch Tower very much wants to see traditional newspapers make the transition to the digital age, and in that vein it suggests that the editors of the Post-Gazette and Tribune Review have a little soul searching to do.

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