Anyway, a few bits of housekeeping. I had a lot going on this weekend, so I didn't get to watch too much. I did watch Vancouver turn in another brilliant 1-0 win over Boston. The game was Friday night, but I watched it Saturday morning before I had lunch with my dad. Great, great game, not nearly so chippy as the games in Boston, just great hockey played by two great hockey teams. I'm pulling for Vancouver, but I want to take nothing away from Boston. Tim Thomas is the most entertaining goalie today. Maybe ever. I really can't wait to watch the game tonight and see if Vancouver can put it away.
You may have also noticed today's post is pretty late today. A few reasons for this, and a not-insignificant part of that was Grantland. For those not in the know, that's Bill Simmons new project, and ESPN-backed site that's not ESPN. No ESPN branding anywhere on the site, but their money makes it runs. Simmons just took some writers he deemed worthy and let them do their thing. It's taken up a lot of my time. Today (predictably, maybe), there was an excellent article about The National Sports Daily. I've seen a few pieces on that ill-fated paper lately. I don't remember as it happened, as it was dead when I was five. But, the idea fascinates me. After reading through the article, though (highly recommended, if you can't tell), it occurred to me that the very technology that would make the idea feasible is the exact reason why it would never work.
To very briefly summarize, The National had a veritable All-Star staff of writers and editors, backed by a virtually limitless money supply from a Mexican (multi?) billionaire. All that was great, but there was no business plan, and it seems everything was tried too quickly. Instead of buying pressed, they contracted out time on existing pressed around the nation. Sounds like a good plan, but they had their own schedules that didn't necessarily jive with The National's. Same for actually delivering the papers. That was bad, but even worse, the technology being used was a (at the time) virtually untested and definitely unproven satellite link where a rain storm might mean there was no paper to printed, because they couldn't transmit or receive data. They were also using very slow (and apparently also unreliable) dial up modems which hampered progress on all ends.
While it wouldn't necessarily fix the circulation and printing issues, having modern broadband would virtually eliminate all the data issues the paper had, which in turn would get the paper to the printers in a much more time-friendly fashion, which in turn very well may have eased many of the circulation issues. But, we've seen the other side of that coin. With information moving so quickly and so freely, newspapers and magazines are on life support. Information is cheap these days. And, maybe more than that, access to information is cheap. I haven't picked up a newspaper for news since I was in high school, at least. Columnists, maybe, but not news. I also haven't watched a TV news program for any reason other than to wait until it's over for whatever programming is following it. Why? Because of the internet. The same thing that made information available for the newspaper made the information available for the rest of us, which in many cases made the newspaper obsolete. The newspaper is still the best source for high school and small college sports, along with other local news, but on a national scale? We can get the same (or better) information much quicker and cheaper online.
I'm not exactly enthused about this. Do I take advantage of having virtually instant information available on, say, espn.com or si.com? I would say I abuse it, checking each several times a day. The convenience is just too much to ignore. The problem (which crops up surprisingly rarely) is knowing what information to go by. Because information is easy and cheap, that means that a lot of it is complete crap. True, that has always been a problem, but when we had newspapers (and even televised news outlets, although to maybe a lesser degree) acting as gatekeepers with paid reporters who could check their facts, it kept a lot of rumor from being reported as fact. Which is good, because we all know that most rumors lead to no good.
All that is a bit off the point, but I felt it needed to be said. The bigger idea, though, is widely available internet killed any need for The National. True, there could have been an online version, and apparently one was planned. But the Internet has proven to be an awful money-maker. It seems very telling that the only companies reliably making money solely online are ones that are more or less traditional shops (for example, Amazon or New Egg). There are fantastic ideas out there that generate buzz and attract investors for a while, but then fall out favor and leave everybody in tears. Or they attract advertisers that never make any money, so then those dollars dry up. If there was another way of making money on information on the internet, I would think that scheme would be worked out by now. Pay-walling things seems to be the closest anybody has come (for example, ESPN Insider), but those typically are either broken or people move on to free information. I'm sure ESPN wouldn't be able to maintain nearly the web presence they do without the money they make off their TV channels. Same is true for Sports Illustrated without their magazine revenue.*
*This, of course, has me a bit worried after seeing the fate of other print media. I am somewhat more confident in Sports Illustrated, though, because 1) it's kind of like the New York Times of sports media, and 2) it has Ted Turner money behind it.
Could a revived The National work? Maybe. It might even work with the crazy subcontracted printing press/delivery scheme they had cooked up before. But, you would have to print some very regionalized editions,* maybe five or six different regions with stories and covers at least somewhat oriented to that region. At that point, though, it's not really The National, is it? It seems, on top of all the issues outline above in the story, the United States is just too damn big for a national sports paper. In the Grantland story, the billionaire says they work in Mexico and Italy, as examples. England, too.** These countries are quite a bit smaller, and certainly more compact, and the United States. We're the fourth biggest nation both by land area and population. In this case, it seems the land area would be more important. Canada isn't so big by population, but I have a hard time seeing a national paper covering all of Canadian sports daily from sea to shining sea.
*Sports Illustrated sometimes does this with covers, and it's typically a hit. Though I'm not entirely happy that the Blackhawks winning the Stanley Cup merited just a regional cover.
**I believe they actually said English in the article, so I'm not sure if that really meant England, or the whole United Kingdom. In either case, though, the point stands.
I am still fascinated by the idea of The National, and at the time, would have jumped at that chance to write/work there hard enough to injure myself. If somebody were to revive the idea and offered me a chance, well, I would probably take it, but with quite a bit of hesitation. If, say, Grantland or another online presence wanted me, I would be more enthusiastic about it, though I would still harbor some trepidation just because of the internet's proven ability to sustain information outlets. Which, again, is basically nil. A print version, though, stands no chance.
Video killed the radio star indeed.