Death by 1000 cuts

Newsday, the New York daily that by far gives the most coverage to the Islanders (it's the more Long Island-focused of NY dailies and the only one to cover the team every game) announced a round of 100 staff and budget cuts, including three sports columnists. There's an interesting discussion in the comments to former Isles PR VP (now an essentially independent Isles blogger) Chris Botta's post on the topic, with even a couple reporters weighing in.

Botta suggests the Islanders foot the bill for beat writer Greg Logan to travel with the team -- a move Logan apparently has never desired, out of concern to maintain the traditional integrity wall between independent coverage and "favors" from the team. (Don't be confused by a few of the comments, though: There's no indication (yet) that Newsday is cutting the road beat from the Islanders. In fact, Newsday -- now owned by the Rangers/MSG-owning Dolans -- has noticeably increased its Islanders coverage this season.)

It's an old story we've heard before and will hear again and again until the print daily-to-digital media shakeout has fully settled into some 21st-century reality. The current economic crisis no doubt accelerates the shift yet again.

Of course in the grand scheme, sports coverage, society-wise, is no great issue. The real social loss from the decline of print media is the disappearing investigative budget the "Fourth Estate" had for keeping society's Powers That Be at least somewhat in check.

But amid the talk of whether a traveling beat writer is necessary and whether local daily coverage even matters when fans get online info easily from Newsday itself and blogs like Botta's ... well, count me among the mourners when a beat writing position goes away in any NHL market. (Again, to clarify: There is NO indication the Newsday cuts include the Isles beat.)

Despite all the great online video advances and blogging that makes following sports so much more fun today, the role of an experienced writer not paid by (nor motivated by fandom of) the team is always of value to me. Even when we bloggers are annoyed -- to put it kindly -- by the "MSM" bogeymen (and I'd argue columnists are usually the culprits), the role of beat writers knocking around the team each day, adding their own perspective, selecting their own quotes to go with their stories -- that's something that will never quite be replaced.

Team-run sites and coverage are great, but it's a fact of nature and business that those will always have at least some filter, particularly when times with a team are tough. (Can you imagine a team-paid writer calling for the coach's firing? Or selecting the coach's most damning quotes for the recap on the team site?). And of course independent bloggers can't travel wherever the team goes.

There's no way around it, of course: Newspapers in part did this to themselves by adapting to changing times with all the speed of the Big Three automakers. But that won't keep me from mourning the decline of the dedicated beat writer. In the big picture, he/she's been good to me.

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