A Sports-News Analogy for Interpreting the Seattle Times’ and Other Newspaper Paywalls

At the lowest levels of organized sports, before high school, you pay to play the game: Little League baseball, Pee Wee and Pop Warner football, youth basketball, youth soccer, youth hockey. Your audience consists mostly of family members, and no one pays to watch you play.

In high school, you might still pay to play the game, but your audience includes many of your peers and a few adults from outside your family, and they’re all paying a modest sum to attend your games. At both the youth and high school levels, you might “go viral” and briefly become famous at some level by winning, say, a state championship.

In college, you will be paid, in the form of a scholarship, to play the game. Even at the lowest levels of college basketball and football, your audience expands quite a bit over high school, and the media consistently cover your games. At the highest echelon of college basketball and football, your games are regularly televised and covered and talked about in detail, you might become at least a local celebrity, people pay quite a bit to attend your games, and some fans become obsessive about how your team does. You might get illicit payments from boosters and other sources if you’re seen as a good prospect for the pros.

In the lower ranks of pro sports-the minors in baseball, the various sub-NFL football leagues, basketball’s D-League, minor league hockey-your audience might not be larger than in college, but you’re getting paid to play, and there is the lure of multi-million dollar contracts and considerable celebrity if you get to the top.

In top-level pro sports-the NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL-every player is paid well, and teams have legions of fans spending hundreds of dollars and more annually to watch you play, whether in person or in bars or at home, and to “be a fan” (buy memorabilia, paraphernalia, collectibles, apparel).

The analogy between sports and daily news media is not precise (I’m thinking this up on the fly), and it really applies only to the four biggest U.S. spectator sports: baseball, basketball, hockey, and football. But there’s an obvious parallel, with the progression in news going from blogging on various levels, to local/niche news sites, to newspapers in small markets, to newspapers like the Seattle Times with a dominant position in a mid-sized or large city, to the top ranks of the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and maybe the Washington Post: newspapers read nationwide that have global influence.

As in playing sports or music, or creative writing, there are many people who practice news blogging or reporting at some level (this includes writing about sports). Much of the time they actually pay to do this-web hosting costs for example-and in many other cases they are not paid much. It’s a tiered, sharply narrowing structure, much like a Ponzi scheme in terms of the levels at which the people who do it get compensated.

For one example: I have a blog that chronicles most of the sizable historic Northwest earthquakes, from the huge 1700 one in the subduction zone off the coast to the Nisqually in 2001. Each quake before the Nisqually is covered mostly by quoting from old newspaper accounts of the quakes. The blog is free, has no advertising, and I don’t pay anyone to send me a quake story. I think the blog is worthwhile and a good resource for people interested in Northwest earthquakes, but aside from a few interviews, it does not have much original material. When the next Big or Semi-Big One hits the Northwest, I don’t plan to intensively cover the quake on the blog as breaking news; that’s something reporters are paid to do.

Published in: Uncategorized on March 4, 2013 at 11:59 am  Comments (1)  

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  1. Another similarity is that some bloggers are really trying to build a name for themselves (a brand, if you will) with an eye towards some potential pay-day. Others simply blog as a hobby, not caring if they ever make any money at it.
    It’s the same with many athletes. Most dream about someday making it to the pros and making loads of cash. Others simply play for fun, especially before, and perhaps during, high school.
    Luckily, most of us, like myself, have (or have had) day-jobs so that while we’re dreaming, we’re not starving.
    Nice analogy,
    Bill


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