News From Terre Haute, Indiana


April 19, 2014

FLASHPOINT: Newspapers and baseball: Two great institutions are evolving

There are few aspects of American life that are the same today as they were 100 years ago. Two of them are newspapers and baseball.

While spring officially starts in March, it doesn’t truly begin for many until Opening Day rolls around and ceremonial first pitches are thrown. Whether it’s at Wrigley Field, Fenway Park or your local minor-league stadium, it’s been that way for over a century and I imagine it will continue for at least another century.

For the duration of baseball’s history, fans have turned to their local newspaper to keep tabs on their favorite teams and players. This has remained unchanged and continues today, as newspapers deliver special sections to preview the upcoming season, post daily box scores and deluge fans with coverage on a daily basis.

But baseball and newspapers have more in common than merely being a part of everyday American life. For both institutions, the reports of their demise have been greatly exaggerated.

Baseball has been besieged with the notion that the sport is fading, overtaken by football and ignored by today’s youth. Quite the opposite is true — commissioner Bud Selig predicted his league would surpass $9 billion in revenue for 2014.

If that sounds familiar, it’s because the newspaper industry has dealt with a similar perception problem, with the idea that the younger generation would completely eschew newspapers. This, of course, is not true. Of young adults ages 18 to 34, more than half — 56 percent — read newspaper content in print or online during a typical week.

Newspapers and baseball do not look like they did in 1914 and that’s why they remain essential in 2014. In 1914, it took only 19 home runs to lead the league — needless to say, that wouldn’t lead the league this year. Though the sport has the same rules, it has evolved and transformed.

In 1914, you would read a newspaper in print and that was it. Today, you can read the newspaper in multiple platforms, choosing what works best for you. There are 161 million Americans that read newspaper content in print or online in any given month. Of those, 43 million read content on mobile devices. As the newspaper industry guides the way forward, it is based upon a perfect blend of print, digital and mobile platforms to better serve our readers and our advertisers.

It is worth noting that social media wasn’t an issue in 1914, or even 2004. But in the past decade, its influence has skyrocketed and changed how our world operates. Baseball has used this to engage fans, giving them a forum to connect directly with their favorite players. For newspapers, it means access for readers to follow their favorite newspaper or reporter. And there is confluence of the two, when a fan can follow his or her favorite baseball team by following the team’s newspaper beat writer.

Despite facing the perception that baseball is a sport for the older generation, a new generation of talent has infused MLB with excitement, whether that’s Mike Trout in Anaheim or Bryce Harper in Washington, D.C.

The newspaper industry, likewise, has an excited, engaged group of college students and young reporters ready to make their mark. I saw this firsthand at NAA mediaXchange 2014, when we enlisted five talented college reporters to cover and report on the news-making conference.

The youth movement for baseball is not limited to the diamond, just as it’s not limited to the newsroom for newspapers. Theo Epstein, at 28, was the youngest general manger in history when the Boston Red Sox hired him in 2002 and, two years later, the team had its first World Series in 86 years.

Likewise, newspapers have become an incubator for innovation and change. At NAA mediaXchange, our inaugural Accelerator Pitch program featured eight startup companies with revolutionary ideas, from new mobile apps to improved social media use to re-defining how to sell classified ads. It opened my eyes to the limitless possibilities that exist for our industry as we move forward and expand our offerings across all platforms.

Spring is a time for limitless possibilities, especially after this past brutal winter that battered much of the country with ice, snow and endless gray days. The clouds are parting, the temperature is rising and the sun is shining.

By the time October rolls around, we will be crowning a new World Series champion.

We will also be looking at a newspaper industry that has continued its evolution and growth, with new initiatives and ideas that will ensure its relevance for another 100 years.

Caroline Little is president and CEO of the Newspaper Association of America in Arlington, Va.

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