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Should Sports Editors Forbid Their Writers From Helping ESPN Essentially Kill Newspapers?

tim_cowlishawIt has been well-documented in recent months that ESPN is making a push into regional markets with websites like ESPNChicago, ESPNBoston and this week, ESPNDallas. According to Fox Business, “The push by ESPN is aimed at leveraging the company’s global name recognition into new ad dollars at the still-growing local level.” This is already working in Chicago. The Boston Globe, perhaps nervous, is fighting back. Is the next logical move for sports editors to forbid their “star” columnists and beat writers from helping ESPN essentially kill newspapers?

Here’s what the New York Times had to say this week:

You can very easily envision a scenario in which ESPN comes to town, cherry-picks the top columnist and a few beat writers and quickly ends the seance between local newspapers and rabid sports fans.

The arrogance of newspapers is galling. For years, they have let their biggest names – for instance, Tony Kornheiser and Mike Wilbon of the Washington Post, Bob Ryan of the Boston Globe, Bill Plaschke and J.A. Adande at the LA Times, Stephen A. Smith when he wrote for the Philadelphia Inquirer, etc – appear on ESPN TV shows and radio shows in the name of “exposure” for the paper. In theory, this was supposed to somehow help with the branding of newspapers, but there is zero proof that it has had an impact. If anything, ESPN has helped make some of these writers national “stars” and in some cases, they have done less for their newspaper (Wilbon), or left it altogether (Kornheiser, Adande, Smith).

(Ironically, within the last 18 months, ESPN decided to forbid its “talent” from appearing on any non-ESPN radio shows.)

But now that ESPN is penetrating regional and local markets and going directly after advertising money that newspapers have been hemorrhaging for years, isn’t it time for editors to see ESPN as a legitimate, local, rival?

According to an ESPN spokesman, ESPNLos Angeles and ESPNNew York are on the horizon. It won’t be difficult for ESPNLos Angeles to have an impact when it comes to the Lakers, USC, and MLB. In addition, Bill Simmons is LA-based. Adande could be their lead columnist. When the site goes live, will the LA Times impress its readers and politely ask Bill Plaschke to give up his Around the Horn gig? Should the Dallas Morning News have asked that of Tim Cowlishaw? We pay this guy handsomely, and you’ll only find his opinion in our paper and on our website.

ESPNNew York will be more of a challenge because print media remains strong in and around Manhattan. ESPN is obviously aware of this, and knows it would need a splashy hire to generate some publicity. We have heard a rumor from two media sources that Mike Lupica has been targeted to help bolster the website’s arrival. (When asked about potential hires recently, ESPN said it was not making a move on anyone; we did not reach out to Lupica.)

If you’re the type to look ahead, type in a ESPN followed by any major city in the United States. See what you get.

For all the bad decisions newspaper sports sections have made over the years, not helping ESPN could be a step in the right direction. What sports editor is willing to step up and try this?

Does ESPN Mean R.I.P for Newspapers? (Fox Business)
Some tidbits on ESPN.com/newspaper threat, Don Ohlmeyer and Pat Forde (Walter Cronkite School of Journalism)

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