What would you kill? Jocks?

Michael Fioritto was nice enough — and skilled at Excel enough — to compile results from my little survey that asked you what you’d kill from a newspaper’s budget. Keep in mind that it’s unscientific as hell and that respondents could pick as many suggestions as they liked. I need to do a proper survey and probably will at my New Business Models for News conference (this one was just a demo of Google Forms). In any case, when Michael did the tabulation, 425 people had responded and here’s what they wanted to ax:

Financial tables 43.06%
Sports section 21.65%
Sports columnists 8.00%
Entertainment section 3.76%
Movie critic 3.76%
Business section 2.59%
Syndicated features 2.59%
TV critic 2.59%
Music critic 1.88%
Book critic 1.65%
Comics 1.65%
Foreign bureaus 1.65%
Lilfestyle section 1.41%
Washington bureau 1.18%
Editorial columnists 0.71%
Copy editors 0.47%
Online site 0.47%
Top editors 0.47%
Editorial page 0.24%
Photographers 0.24%

Financial tables are obvious (which is why it’s all the more appalling that all papers haven’t killed them).

What fascinates me most is the large number who want to kill sports. I’m one of those who doesn’t read the sports section (you always knew I was neither a real man nor a real American). So I just throw it in the back seat. But sports sections are also expensive to produce — lots of staff — and bring in few endemic advertisers. Granted, some people buy the paper to get the sports section alone. But this makes me wonder whether sports should be a separate product. If it’s a great one, perhaps you could charge even more for it than you charge for the paper. Could it work as a free paper? Well, the lack of related advertising could be a problem there. Should sports live only online with the opportunity to have more media and interactivity? Should newspapers go out of the sports business? Those seem to be the questions to ask.

  • First, thanks for pointing out Google Forms. In the week since your first post, I’ve made use of the service 4 times, with plans for about 20 more before the end of March.

    Given the focus of my blog, the subject of cutting sports hits close to home. I too am surprised by the results, and it seems to run counterintuitive to some of the other ideas expressed here, specifically hyper-local coverage. That’s was the sports section is all about.

    Speaking only of the local Chicago area papers of which I’m most familiar, I can say that they’ve only begun to take advantage of the web with respect to sports, and they’ve yet to leverage it into a community, or develop any type of user-generated content. The future of sports is on the web, but I don’t think it will/should ever leave the print version of a well-run paper.

  • Jeff, check out the latest news from AdAge on this subject. Local biz sections are drying up.

  • Dan

    I would think you should underline “unscientific” before asking if sports should be axed.

    I’m not a sports fan, but I always scan my local rag for my high school and college’s name — and I’ll read anything in sports slightly related to them.

    Then again, USAToday.com just got rid of its NBA reporters.

    I was surprised by the low scores for TV, movie and music reviews. I didn’t realize that anyone referred to a stuffy paper to get opinions on any of those topics these days.

  • chico haas

    Amusing that the first two to go would be those which present indisputable facts.

  • I’d suspect that Sports popped up largely as the nature of your on line audience – and as with all things on line and in the blogsphere is really not very representative of the general population (at least yet).

    But as others pointed out, the Sports section is – regardless of your location – the one section of the paper that nearly always holds 1) actual facts and 2) a very local focus.

    As far as USAToday – well, if it was me, I’d just scrap the entire staff along with the NBA staff. But thats just me (I turn down the subscription at hotels and ask for my .50 cents back)

  • The problem with any sports section is that it tends to be too generic, and also misses even major minority sports.

    For instance, most UK nationals focus on football, which I appreciate. Yet they also feature rugby (which is good), cricket (which isn’t) and horse racing (which is also dull in my own personal opinion).

    They feature Formula 1, which is a procession, but don’t feature motorcycle racing (which drew the largest crowd for an outdoor sporting event in recent history, and actually boasts a British world champion).

    Specialist sports magazines and websites can do very well, and even something which covers the whole of the market, such as a motorcycling magazine, can find that Sport is a major traffic driver.

    It’s the same old story, in that a newspaper has about 30% of the stuff I want, about 20% of the stuff I didn’t know I wanted, and then 50% of stuff I neither need nor care about.

    The question is whether I have the time and effort to wade through the unwanted 50%, and whether the 50% I do want can be found online instead.

  • I’m stunned that sports ranked so high. It could be a bias of the individuals participating. But sports is a section that is loyally read by a significant portion of the readers. Just as some people will not miss it, if sports are dropped, others would drop the paper if it did without sports.

    In the online world, sports should be great for local papers. Their coverage of local teams and events is an attraction that gets people to come to their sites from around the country (or even world). Columnists who have wider followings from their books, TV and Radio appearances, also bring in wider traffic.

    Sports is a place where the local media has an edge over national.

    So many of the other top finishers (outside of Financial tables, which are a waste of paper) can be killed if there’s no local content, or better yet, refocused on the local aspects of a given topic.

    Unique content, unavailable elsewhere, is gold.

    This has been proven to me by fact that the best selling paper in Rockland Maine (population approx. 7800) is the locally produced Courier Gazette which doesn’t bother with any national content, and very little statewide content.

    It sells so incredibly well, that a credible competitor, The Village Soup Times, started publishing a few years back (having started life even further back as a web-only newspaper). My little city’s become a two newspaper town at a time when more and more major cities are becoming one paper towns.

  • Highgamma

    The average American investor owns 5 stocks. Many of these of listed in the abbreviated financial tables of local newspapers.

    More importantly, these local papers will list the stock prices of “local companies,” i.e., companies that their most highly compensated readers hold in their 401(k) accounts. (A highly compensated employee of a major US corporation cares about the price of his employer’s stock above all others.) If one local paper has these tables and the other does not, which do you think a highly-compensated reader will buy from the bin on the way to work in the morning? Which paper will be able to claim better demographics for its advertising?

    So we will probably continue to have these abbreviated stock price tables in local newspapers. The Wall Street Journal will be bought those who want more information, while Investor’s Business Daily will be purchased by the hard-core stock followers.

  • I don’t want to defend the sports section because I’m a fanatic, but, besides my normal interest in several sports, it seems to me that sports is, as has been mentioned, the one place in a local paper where strict reportage of indisputable fact, rumination of opinion, and focus on the community coexist peacefully. Whether you like sports or not, it seems to fit most nicely into the egalitarian ideal of news and journalism. Of course, the blind eye turned toward performance enhancers by most sports writers in the last 15-20 years certainly disqualifies them from hard-hitting investigative journalism.

    Personally, I check my Sunday (the last vestige of newsprint that makes into my home) sports section 4th behind the Front page section, Op/Ed, and regional news. I check out the Best Buy circular and toss the rest of it in the bin for starting fires in the BBQ.

  • Little wonder jocks got sent to the back of the class. Sports fans get their fix instantly online and in graphic detail on ESPN. Newspaper sports must target local coverage. Same with TV news sports segments. I can’t remember the last time I watched a local sports segment in the Bay Area, I didn’t already know what was being reported. Having been a TV sportscaster for 25 years…this reality hurts.

  • Wow, I can guarantee that no one from the Philadelphia Daily News took this survey. We have a kick-ass city desk that consistently scoops the much-larger Inquirer on crime, City Hall and schools story — and none of it would happen without the sports section. Without sports, we’d probably lose about 60-70 percent of our daily circulation, but actually the number would really be 100 percent, because we’d be out of business in a matter of days. I don’t know if it’s a Philadelphia thing, or a tabloid thing, but it’s for real.
    Part of it is that we don’t have a large enough staff to cover suburban news, so interest in the front section collapses once you cross the city line. But sports transcends that, it sells thousands of papers in the suburbs, including South Jersey.

  • On the contrary. Sports could be worth MORE. Straight coverage for free, then paid areas for fantasy sports, extra stats and the like. Been done successfully before in a few places.

  • anon

    When the quality of sports writing declines, the quality readership declines.

    Excellent sports writing is one of the few reasons well educated, high net worth men read the papers. Sports writing decline can no doubt be plotted directly against news paper circulation decline.

    As has been pointed out, along with the financial tables, it’s the only area that facts are actually reported. The rest of the paper is just the reporters and editors opinions – poorly written and execrably edited – at that.

  • Get rid of sports? Have any of these people worked at a daily newspaper? In my experience at a daily in Pittsburgh, the sports gets 100 times the letters to the editor and web hits that other sections do. Plus, a great way to gain young readers is through local high school sports coverage. You’re not going to do it with politics or biz news.