Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Washington Post Sports Watch: Why the Post's coverage of the Caps Isn't Comprehensive

On Wednesday afternoon, in the middle of a Twitter discussion/argument about the Washington Post's coverage of the Washington Capitals, Neil Greenberg of the Post tweeted this:
I don't get the obsession with the term "columnist." WaPo provdies comprehensive Caps coverage. Full stop.
I don't think Greenberg is correct about that. Does the Washington Post provide the closest to "comprehensive" Caps coverage of any mainstream media organzation in the DC area? Yes, no question. But do they actually provide "comprehensive Caps coverage"? No, I don't think they do--and that has a lot to do with the term that Greenberg mentions,  the word "columnist."

The foundation of a newspaper's coverage of a team is the beat writer, who covers games, practices and everything else happening on a day-to-day basis with the team. Katie Carrera does a fine job with this, and especially in the last few weeks has been writing some really strong articles analyzing the Caps' problems--this one from Friday which deals with the team's lack of defensive depth and failure to find chemistry among the forwards was a particularly good one.

Greenberg's specialty is advanced statistical analysis, and once (sometimes twice) a week he posts on the Capitals Insider blog a piece in which he uses "fancy stats" to explore some aspect of the team. His piece, for example, on Monday, built on Carrera's piece from last week in analyzing the team's possible top-two line combinations. His sobering conclusion is that the Caps don't really have the players to create two effective scoring lines--noting along the way that some combinations don't play well together, one combination that is fairly effective Coach Adam Oates dislikes because it causes Eric Fehr to play on the "wrong" wing for a right-hander, and another that seems unlikely because it involves Martin Erat--who has asked for a trade.

This was good stuff, very good reporting and analysis of the Caps. But the final piece of what I'd call "comprehensive coverage" of the Caps is missing. That's a strong columnist that can take what we've learned from the beat reporting and analysis and goes further and deeper than a beat writer and statistical analyst can--taking a stand, expressing an opinion, asking questions in print and of team players and management, giving readers, hopefully, a perspective through which to see these developments. A good columnist looks at the Carrera and Greenberg pieces and says, "So how is it that the Caps are 50 games into the season and can't even put two good forward lines together? Is this because the players aren't playing well? Is it because Adam Oates is making weird lineup decisions based too much on what hand a player shoots with? Or is it because General Manager George McPhee hasn't put together a lineup with the right parts to fit together--or even worse, just doesn't have enough good forwards on the team who can score goals besides Alex Ovechkin?"

But the Washington Post, while having five columnists (Boswell, Wise, Feinstein, Reid and Jenkins), almost never provides this last piece of comprehensive coverage when it comes to the Caps. Besides the top-two line issue, the last couple months have seen three Caps ask for trades, the prospect the Caps traded for Martin Erat get named MVP of the World Junior Championships, an awkward goaltending situation which seems to have affected Braden Holtby's confidence, and a continued mess on defense. And no columnist has asked any questions or gone in depth on any of those subjects. Those same columnists cover such subjects and ask those questions when it comes to the Redskins, or the Nats, or, to a lesser extent, the Wizards. And they make news--a column by any of those columnists taking a strong stand or finding a new perspective to view developments around those teams can often set the agenda--it is featured prominently on the Post website and talked about on sports radio, Twitter and in offices around the area all day. Not only that, but columnist can provide external pressure on the team--in addition to the much bigger metrics of ticket sales, fan satisfaction, and embarrassment over not winning, having the most important sports outlet in town offering informed, passionate criticism of a floundering team (in other words, putting team management or players on the "hot seat") plays a role--even if a small one--in encouraging change when it might  be warranted.  But when it comes to the Caps, those columnists just don't seem to be interested in doing any of this on any regular basis. That is why when it comes to the Caps, it's just not correct to say they get comprehensive coverage from the Post--they get something less.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Totally agree. If I want to read a play by play recount with no analysis whatsoever, I have plenty of options. I need someone that questions this team like I do, like all die-hard fans do. I want accountability by GMGM, I would love a hot-seat under his ass. Good post, keep fingering Fingerman.

1/23/14, 9:40 AM  
Blogger Chevis Ryder said...

One bazillion dollars says ngreenberg has not backed down one bit despite this very well written blog which puts his silly tweet to shame. He's the worst.

1/24/14, 1:17 AM  
Anonymous Monty said...


Agree completely. In fact, I bet there are more columnist columns in the Post about the Skins in any non-season month in the past year than there were about the Caps this entire season. And just so no one considers this a rub on the Skins, I further bet there are more columnist columns in the Post about the Nats in any month of their 2013 season than there have been about the Caps this entire season. Moreover, if the Caps don't make the playoffs this season, that will cut the columnist columns on the Caps down this season by 80% because 80% of the Caps-related columns are only done during the playoffs.

2/27/14, 2:49 PM  

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