The News’s real-time high school project seems to be delivering more readers, so by that measure it makes sense. But, as I wondered at the outset, where does this real-time deluge leave the art of sports writing? Do great stories still matter?
It’s a question that has crossed the mind of Matt Wixon, the News’s lead high school sports columnist—even if he doesn’t have a clear answer. Fortunately for Wixon, when he writes his column from one of the area’s marquee games of the week, he’s paired with a statistician who handles the real-time scoring. “My first priority is always a really good column and analysis to give the readers, even people who were at the games, something they didn’t know, or a reason to read it,” he said.
Still, Wixon sends out a blizzard of updates while he live-chats the games he covers, so he understands the concern “that being so immersed in it, over and over, and not having the time, is going to take away from your story.” Forty-year-old Wixon is no ink-stained troglodyte. He and I were among a handful of News reporters trained in the mid-aughts to shoot web video, and he credits the chats and social media with deepening his relationship with readers. “But still, the most satisfying part of my career is putting together a good story. Not the tweet that gets two-thousand hits.”
Okay, but what about the fans? Maybe for them this emphasis on real-time updates is a logical tradeoff that empowers them to get the information they want, when they want it, even if the next-day stories suffer a bit.
I called Raquel Hernandez, the Trinity fan who follows John Cobb’s Facebook posts, and she set me straight. “I still read the follow-up stories,” she told me, saying she visits the Star-Telegram’s website for game recaps. “I like to get the journalist’s take.”
So maybe my either-or attitude about the new immediacy missed the point. Fans want it all—the latest news and numbers now, and a great yarn tomorrow, all delivered with an intimacy reminiscent of a bunch of friends sitting around watching the home team.
Real-time scoring, chats, and the like are a great way to bring fans along for the ride, especially with high school sports, which are mostly untelevised. But it’s far from clear whether professional newsrooms—used to playing it down the middle and diminished by a decade of cutbacks—can deliver this rapid-fire content with the personalized touch that fans want, and do it without missing a beat on the old-fashioned game story. If they can’t, fans on Facebook and hobbyist developers may beat them at their own game.