I got a lot wrong with Pennsylvania Puck, chiefly evidenced by the fact that I often refer to it as the short-lived online hockey magazine I launched in fall 2011.
It ceased to be anything more than a Facebook page as of March 2012.
But I was right about one thing: The game story is dead.
And if that wasn’t perfectly clear in 2011, it should be now that we’ve witnessed area newspapers curb or even abandon beat coverage of minor-pro teams. The York Daily Record and York Dispatch don’t staff every York Revolution baseball game any longer.
In October, Tim Leone, who covered the Hershey Bears hockey team for 20 years, resigned from Pennlive/Patriot-News, apparently over a continued reduction in the new organization’s Bears commitment.
Leone’s resignation was the topic of the Oct. 12 episode of “The Old Barn Hockey Show,” whose contributors include Hershey Bears broadcaster Scott Stuccio.
“I was very upset,” Stuccio said, explaining that he had balked at taking a call from Pennlive’s new sports manager, Burke Noel, “and I’m not looking forward to this conversation that we’re going to have.”
Lonely press boxes
The reality is that Stuccio and his “Old Barn” cohorts had to have seen this coming. The York Daily Record, my old paper, ended its beat coverage of the Bears years ago, for instance.
In 2009, the Wall Street Journal wrote about the same trend in baseball, the sport most connected to beat reporters given its 162-game schedule.
“Baseball’s independent press corps, once the most powerful in American sports, is fading. As newspapers cut budgets and payrolls, the press boxes at major league ballparks are becoming increasingly lonely places, signaling a future when some games may be chronicled only by wire services, house organs and Web writers watching the games on television.”
Ah, the press box, that relic of a bygone era in which the “knights of the keyboard,” as baseball legend Ted Williams derided them, cranked out game stories as the eyes and ears of fans who often had nowhere else to go for such information.
But that was before the Internet and social media, when teams and leagues became publishers themselves – essentially competing with the very news media upon which they once depended for publicity.
Stuccio files game summaries on the Bears website (which Pennlive sometimes republishes under his byline), and the American Hockey League offers comprehensive game statistics. In both cases, the content is free.
How much added value can a full-time beat writer, Leone or anyone else, possibly bring to a traditional game story? And beat coverage includes not only watching games but also practices, absorbing more of a reporter’s time.
In this day of sharply smaller reporting staffs, how many media outlets can afford to devote so much of one or more reporters’ time to such a narrowly defined beat?
The Wall Street Journal noted that one reporter covering a Major League Baseball team on the road for a season, including spring training and playoffs, cost the New York Times $50,000 per year on top of the reporter’s salary.
The puck wall
My vision for Pennsylvania Puck was specifically for us not to write game stories.
Stories abounded within the Giant Center (and other arena) walls, to be sure, but we had to look in different places for them. It was a challenge, but not an overwhelming one. Sometimes we just needed to open our eyes to what was right in front of us.
A case in point: In summer 2011, I went to see Dan “Beaker” Stuck, the Bears’ long-time trainer. More than one person said he was the guy to see, so I did. He graciously showed me and my then-10-year-old son around the Bears’ dressing room.
I noticed (as if one could miss it) a gallery of pucks lining the walls. Stuck explained to me that Bruce Boudreau, when he was head coach of the Bears, created the gallery, each puck commemorating a team win.
Pennsylvania Puck wrote about the puck wall. The American Hockey League, to which the Bears belong, featured our story on its website. None of the beat writers had ever written about the puck wall.
PA Puck was undercapitalized from the start. I soon realized that promises of support mostly didn’t materialize and that, best wishes aside, advertisers rightly wanted to know how many eyeballs were looking at our stories.
The answer was, not enough, and not quickly enough, but our biggest audiences came for our behind-the-scenes features, be it the puck wall or a story about the Bears’ deluxe motor coach, which the team republished in its game program.
Teams such as the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox might be outliers because of their international fan bases and their seemingly boundless appetites for information.
But even at the Boston Globe, for instance, there’s a recognition that times have changed. While there’s a beat reporter covering games, there’s also Alex Speier, whose stories often incorporate statistical analysis.
There’s a depth to Speier’s stories that you don’t find in the standard-fare beat reporter’s coverage, which too often consists of a game summary with post-game player and coach’s comments.
Boston Magazine featured Speier in a 2013 story on Boston sportswriters, when he was with sports radio station WEEI.
“WEEI.com’s Alex Speier, who specializes in incorporating advanced stats into articles meant for the average fan—and who is therefore one of the city’s few inventive sportswriters—told me that everything has changed now that readers no longer depend on print for all their news. ‘Now you have to wrestle with whether what you’re doing is interesting,” Speier said, “or a bit of a nuisance.’ “
The typical game story certainly qualifies as not being very interesting.
The game story is dead — and should be.