Sunday, January 2, 2011

North American online newspaper soccer coverage: The Globe and Mail

The Globe and Mail is a good place to begin this series because their soccer page illustrates the core problem with online newspaper coverage of football in North America (actually, the soccer page speaks to the problem with online newspapers full stop, but we'll get to that later).

The home page looks nice enough, but there is almost no original content apart from a generic "Globe staff" by-line attached to a few articles and a La Liga piece from the excellent Paul Attfield dated December 22nd. Almost everything here comes via the Associated Press with heavy focus on the "English Premier League." Below the main headline articles—some of which are several days old—the soccer news is categorized by region: Toronto FC, MLS, then Europe. Some of the articles in these categories date from the end of November. In almost every case, these news articles are wire reports no longer than a few paragraphs consisting of one or two sentences. While the tag line of the site boasts "post game analysis," you'd be hard-pressed to find any examples. Resident tactical man Paul James, who writes the online column "James on Soccer," last published an article on October 3rd.

The first argument you could make in defense of what is by any objective measure an impoverished soccer page is the Globe has limited resources and soccer just isn't popular enough in Canada to justify original online content. Hockey is Canada's national sport, and it is what readers come to expect from Canadian papers. In any case, staff writers have to be paid a certain amount (they're unionized), so it's not as if the Globe can hire a few eager, soccer-loving interns to give the page a unique outlook or chase after out-of-the-way regional stories. And at least the soccer news here is more up-to-date than the NHL news at the Guardian, which features news articles from June 2009.

The second argument is that the Globe soccer page is clearly not meant for  soccerphiles but rather for the regular Globe reader, who might want to catch up on what's going on in English soccer after guffawing at the latest Margaret Wente piece they were forced to read online after their paper got stolen off the front porch. This philosophy follows the old model in which the online newspaper is a sort of bonus to the paper edition instead of a unique outlet in its own right. If you're a soccer nerd, you're not going to go to your local Canadian daily for the latest news.

I would counter and say that with two more Canadian MLS teams coming down the pipe, the notion that soccer isn't popular enough to warrant the resources required to generate original content will lose traction in the coming years. Still, you can see where the Globe is coming from. Why huff and puff and spend money on covering soccer when interested readers can get it in better detail with better analysis from a plethora of English-language news outlets overseas? Unfortunately, this buys into the idea that newspapers simply follow the devices and desires of their readers, rather than crafting them. It underestimates the power of print media to shape our cultural expectations of sport. I'll be touching more on this theme as the series continues...

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