Earlier this month, I wrote about what I think is the pending subscription-pocalypse and the impact that could have on newspapers for the Nieman Labs annual prediction package.
That prediction primarily looks at the impact on subscription models from a business standpoint. But there’s a content and routines issue at play, as well.
My core argument is that subscription models work best for platforms that provide users with something they can’t get anywhere else. It is, as my friend Andy Billings said to me at AEJMC, the HBO model. As long as they have that one thing you can’t live without, you’ll keep subscribing.
If the implicit promise of sites like The Athletic is that they are going to provide coverage you can’t get anywhere else, the kind of coverage you can’t live without, then the traditional game story has no place in that. It’s hard to imagine many people paying for a site that heavily treads in traditional inverted-pyramid style game stories.
My prediction for 2019 is that the increase in the use of the subscription model could potentially revolutionize game coverage. It’s going to spell the large scale rethinking of game coverage, and possibly death of the game story.
OK, so a few caveats.
The game story is not dead. The AP, ESPN and other wire services still rely on it. As I’ve written before, it’s a skill for students akin to scales for a musician. It’s still the heart of most high school sports coverage (which, as I found in my dissertation several years ago, is really a different profession that sports journalism covering pro/college sports).
In my dissertation several years ago, I found that so much of sports journalism (in 2013-14, at least) revolved around game coverage. Not necessarily game stories, but game coverage. There’s been a slight shift to that over the past several years. Transactions have become the coin of the realm — The Woj Bomb is the prime example of this. But our conceptualization of the place the game story holds in sports journalism has been slow to catch up. The game story is often talked about as this sacred artifact within sports journalism. Witness the hand wringing and gnashing of teeth every time a story comes out that a computer program can write a basic game story.
But as the idea of unbundled sports media continues to grow, the presence of the traditional game story makes less sense for sports journalism outside of the AP and the national networks. News organizations need to rethink their sports coverage, and their game coverage.
Is better game coverage what our readers want?
Is it a smart use of time, energy, attention and resources to try to out-Woj Woj?
What value is there in being the first to report the final score of a game?
If the implicit promise of the subscription model is stories you can’t get anywhere else and stories you can’t live with out, then sports journalists need to think about what that means beyond our normal conceptions of the profession.
Which means going beyond the game story.