Sunday, July 24, 2011

Washington Post Sports Watch #1: Swimming World Championships

In certain ways the coverage the Washington Post sports section gives D.C. sports fans (when you combine both what's available online with what's in the print edition) is better than ever. The blogs devoted to each of the professional teams gives readers much more information, and in a much more timely fashion, than we ever got a few years ago - before blogs, etc. And Dan Steinberg's D.C. Sports Bog is essential reading for any local sports fan--and if you don't know why, you're obviously aren't reading him. Yet, as the Post overall has deteriorated in recent years because of the Internet, staff cuts and bad management, the Sports section, especially the print edition, has had a similar downward trajectory in many ways--missing certain stories, running a number of boring or contentless columns by their supposedly superstar columnists, editing errors and a number of other strange decisions that I intend to regularly catalogue in this space. Today, though, I want to start by praising the Post for sending a reporter to Shanghai to cover the World Swimming Championships this week. I know some sports fans don't agree, but I love the Olympics and while I can't say I regularly follow swimming, track and field, etc. in Olympic off years, I do enjoy reading about (and occasionally watching on TV) the world championships in those sports every couple of years. I imagine that other than the New York Times and Sports Illustrated, there are hardly any other mainstream publications that sent anyone to China to cover this event.

So what's my problem? Actually, there are two. First is a problem that increasingly is an issue at the Post in general--the cuts in editors has led to paper just missing things that shouldn't be missed. The preview of the Swimming Championships today in the Post is the featured article on the front of the Sports section, with huge pictures and taking up most of the front page (on a morning when the Nats were on the West Coast and the only other sports news in the possible end of the NFL lockout, that's fine.) And yet neither in the "Sports on the Air" listings of TV sports broadcasts today nor anywhere or around the article on the World Swimming Championships is there any mention that the Swimming Worlds are actually being broadcast for two hours on NBC on Sunday? Why not? I have no idea--since the channel listings and times frequently accompany articles on other major sporting events in the Post. Does the person who edits the sports on TV listings not look at the TV grid in the Post's TV Week publcation, where it is listed? I hope not. Did NBC just not send out a press release that they were broadcasting this event? Perhaps, but I doubt it. I don't really no the reason, but it seems inexcusable to me--if you consider the World Swimming Championships important enough to send a reporter to China, you'd think someone, when putting together the piece, might have taken five minutes to say, "Hey, we sure this isn't on TV somewhere? Doesn't NBC cover this kind of thing a lot?"

The other thing that astonishes me about the Post's coverage of the World Swimming Championships is the fact that they sent a reporter all the way to China to cover this event and yet they couldn't send a reporter to cover ANY of the seven games in the Stanley Cup Finals (and three of those games were in Boston.) The Post has said before that part of their coverage decisions are based on TV ratings--well, trust me, even if the Post had promoted the NBC coverage of the World Championships today, they're still going to have a much smaller TV audience than the Stanley Cup Finals did. And considering Washington right now is a city where the hockey team is the second most popular team in the city, it seems odd that it would say it couldn't afford covering the championship of the NHL which took place in North America but could cover an event half a world away that lasts a week. Like I said, I'm fine with the Post wanting to cover the Swimming Worlds, I just don't understand how they can't cover any games in the Stanley Cup Finals.

I'll continue to cover these puzzling decisions in future blog posts.

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