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Sports Capture Readers, But Are Far From Sure Thing

Filed by KOSU News in Business, Feature, Local News.
January 20, 2012
 

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Thursday, we told you how smaller newspapers have maintained readership, unlike the state’s two largest papers.

Today, we look at sports. They’re a big part of Oklahoma media coverage. From expanded sections on gamedays to reporter upon reporter upon columnist at some games, sports get resources and attention.

“High school sports drive a lot of readership in a lot of Oklahoma communities,” said Enid News and Eagle Publisher Jeff Funk.

His paper, with a circulation of about 16,000, is in the high school gyms, out on the fields, because they’re often the only media outlet there. So when people want to know how the Enid Pacers are doing, they turn to the News and Eagle.

It’s a formula that’s common around the state, says Joe Foote, Dean of OU’s Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication.

“Sports and weather clearly dominate the broadcast area and they’re probably the hallmarks of print coverage as well.”

He’s not going out on a limb. This year especially felt like a turning point, because of events at  the state’s two major universities. Oklahoma State football’s resurgence renewed interest in the Cowboys, and OU’s rocky season seemed to take a different turn every day.

The bulk of the most read stories, both news and sports, on newsok.com and the Tulsa World’s website this fall come from those two schools.

“It’s funny because I’m on the Tulsa World and the Daily Oklahoman every day and I don’t think I’ve read a news story on either one in a year,” said Kyle Porter.

He runs PistolsFiringBlog.com, home to OSU sports news and commentary. This is where the good for the newspapers end.

Other options have slowly started to pop up in the state, from Kyle’s blog to Crimson and Cream, OU sports, to Daily Thunder, for all news related to the City’s NBA franchise. The problem is The World and Oklahoman have full time reporters. Kyle Porter has a day job.

“I don’t think I could ever move in and take the place of something like that, but I think blogs like mine are definitely a threat to how much money can be made by those newspapers.”

News junkies might have the hope that sports sells papers, and that money might get re-invested into news. Papers bill themselves as the record keepers, the watchdogs, and for the most part, those stories aren’t found on the playing fields in Oklahoma.

But Dr. Terry Clark, Director of the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame, says news budgets aren’t really changing.

“There’s no question that sales go up in football season. And newspapers are going to promote that because it does help sell. Will it subsidize? Phew, I’d almost be pessimistic on that.”

Despite no change in resources, Clark says most working in the newsrooms across the state still are journalists at their core. They aren’t going to allow the business side effect their news judgment.

“So they’re not just going to say okay the front page is just all sports. And ‘Oh by the way, we’ll run the City Council story on page 3.’ There may be sports on the front page, there often is, but most of these people are really dedicated to news.

That dedication could hurt them in the end though. Kyle Porter predicts consolidation. Sports could be the path to profit, but that’s not the mission of a newspaper. Porter says one paper will eventually blanket the state, not the current two.

“I think they’re heavy in areas that aren’t driving traffic. And it’s hard because you have to have integrity as a newspaper, you want to cover the things that you’re supposed to cover, the things that are more meaningful than sports, but those things aren’t driving revenue and they’re not driving people to your site or to buy your newspaper.”

Until then, his blog and others will continue to draw eyeballs. After all, the media outlet that had the first pictures of OSU’s new football uniforms? It was pistolsfiringblog.com.

KOSU Radio attempted to get comment from The Tulsa World, but no comment was offered. The Oklahoman is quoted in the first part of this two part series, and I was told only Publisher Christopher Reen would be available to comment.

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