I was listening to a recent episode of Jeff Pearlman’s Two Writers Slinging Yang, and his interview with Langston Newsome, a sportswriter with the Columbia (Missouri) Tribune. Jeff talks to sportswriters and other writers about the art of writing and state of journalism.
In this episode, Jeff and Langston discussed the need for game recaps — also called “gamers” in the sports journalism biz — and whether there was a need for it.
Langston said he thought gamers were worthless because “I’m not reading the 600-word gamer on any site anymore.”
The need for gamers is an ongoing discussion in many sports departments, as sportswriters and editors struggle with whether they need to write a recap of the big plays and turning points in each matchup, or whether the networks’ and teams’ Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube accounts are filling the gap and shoving traditional gamers to the side.
As a social media professional, I can tell you that social media is not the panacea everyone thinks it is. As much as we think this is an online digital world, and we can do away with things like newspapers, libraries, paper books, and even sports gamers, we can’t. We still live in an old-school world that relies on old-school methods and old-school channels of communication.
Not everyone watches games live; they still want to read about what happened. Maybe they don’t live in the area where the game is broadcast. Maybe they don’t have cable. Maybe they had two games they wanted to see.
Not everyone pays attention to teams’ social media; they don’t see the updates that are happening in real time. Maybe they’re at work. Maybe they don’t follow the teams’ social accounts. Maybe they don’t have social media themselves.
Not everyone is online in the first place; they don’t have the ability to see those updates when they’re happening. Maybe they can’t afford a smartphone. Maybe they don’t have Internet access. Maybe they’re seniors who don’t want to deal with the Internet. (These are your biggest newspaper readers, and they’re part of the biggest demographic in the country; 97 million people born between 1928 – 1964.)
Sportswriters, don’t give up on gamers. There’s still a need for them, just as much as there’s a need for analysis and features.
Gamers are glimpses into the past, social updates are real-time, have-to-be-present highlights.
Gamers can focus on some of the smaller plays and interesting facts, social updates only focus on the big, big plays, not the little things.
Don’t Abandon the Old-School Just Yet
One of the favorite digital marketing stats that gets bandied about is that roughly 50% of the country never reads a newspaper. But that means that roughly 50% of the country still reads a newspaper, even if it’s once a week, even if it’s online.
According to a Statista.com report, as of May 2017,
- 54% of people 60 years and older read a print newspaper at least once a week.
- 44% of people between 30 – 59 read a print newspaper at least once a week.
- Only 28% of people between 18 – 29 read a print newspaper once a week or more.*
* These are the people to gear digital news toward. They’re the ones looking at game highlights online and following teams’ social media accounts.
While the need for gamers may eventually go away, that day is not today. There are still plenty of people old enough to keep reading newspapers — there are 72.56 million Baby Boomers in the U.S., people born between 1946 – 1964 and another 24.44 million born between 1928 – 1945 — and they’re not embracing digital.
So sportswriters should keep writing gamers for as long as there’s a need and an audience. Don’t go by your own viewing and reading habits to determine what’s acceptable and wanted by 97 million other people in this country.
Besides, gamers help you become a better writer in the long run.