Two posts caught my eye this week. One, shared by Mark Coddington from the University of Texas, discusses how longtime Pittsburg Tribune-Review columnist Dean Kovacevic is leaving the paper to start his own subscription-funded website. The other, by Steve Buttry, looked at potential crowd-funding opportunities for newspapers. Both of them got me thinking about potential alternative ways to finance sports journalism.
Buttry’s idea is especially interesting to me (as they usually are. If you want to know where digital journalism is going, follow him). He discusses how crowdfunding could be used to help newspapers and other news organizations pay for beat coverage. At a time when reporters continue to get laid off and beat coverage continues to shrink, crowdfunding is an interesting alternative.
It got me thinking: Could this work on the sports pages? Could sports coverage be crowd funded?
It seems like a natural fit. Sports have a passionate following with an audience thirsty for coverage. Newspapers are being forced to shrink coverage, not send writers on the road, rethink coverage strategies, due to the well-documented economic problems. Could crowdsourcing be the answer?
I think it has potential. Steve discusses using crowdsourcing to fund coverage of an entire beat - essentially, an employee gets paid through crowdsourcing. I think that’s interesting, but I also think it could work on a smaller scale. It could work to fund a beat writer’s travel. Instead of the news organization paying for travel - which can be costly - this could be funded through crowdsourcing. Fans who want in-depth coverage of the team home and away could be interested in chipping in a few bucks, just like NPR nerds like me help fund This American Life and Radiolab.
Using my own experience as a guide: In the 10 years I covered college basketball, I traveled to virtually every road game St. Bonaventure and Binghamton University played. But this was between 1999–2009. Times are very different for newspapers. St. Bonaventure’s the biggest beat in Olean, so that paper will always emphasize coverage of that team. But it’s a small-town daily, and with all the struggles that yields, tapping into the Bonnies’ passionate fan base might be a wise idea. Binghamton basketball is no better than the fourth biggest beat in that city. So with other priorities to spend its money on, the paper might be wise to turn to readers and fans to help fund that coverage.
There are potential issues. As Steve pointed out in his post, there’s always the potential for conflicts of interest - both real and perceived. If fans are paying for coverage of a team, are they going to demand a certain type of coverage? Are they going to expect positive coverage for their money? Plus there’s a sustainability issue - is this something that could work on a recurring level?
But it’s an idea worth thinking about. It’s worth news organizations looking at. If it keeps journalists employed and helps fund coverage that would otherwise be cut, it’s an idea at least worth considering.