Hidebound reporters may cry foul, but there is potentially a blessing in disguise nestled in this tale of loss. The concept of the sports beat writer needs to evolve—reporters need to be unleashed a bit to compete and remain relevant. If the rise of the blogosphere has taught any lesson, it’s that sports fans have an appetite for strongly opinionated takes on virtually every facet of their team, from performance to personality. While a daily presence in the locker room occasionally results in an intriguing story, far more prevalent are the canned clichés that even the most casual fan can recite by rote. This is not to say the sports beat writer should become just another columnist, spouting all opinion all the time. But the all-important access that those writers sought to maintain through a play-it-straight, just-the-facts approach is being lost anyway. Why not let beat writers showcase their writing—sports departments often have some of the best writers in the newsroom—and give readers the full benefit of their nuanced understanding of the team, its personalities, and the sport itself? They can still report. They can still cover the games and do the locker room interviews. The difference is how it is all put together in the final product.
The New York Islanders are helping this notion along, albeit in a surprising way. Last month, team officials announced a plan to give press credentials to bloggers who write regularly about the team, allowing them to attend games and have access to coaches and players. The game is changing, and those newspapers that still send reporters to the games would do well to loosen the reins and let those reporters compete.