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November 19, 2008 - Image 12

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 2008-11-19

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I 4 Te icign Dil -Weneday Nve be 1, 00

I Wednesday, November 19, 2008 - The Michigan Daily



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U nlike professional journalists, Brian Cook
doesn't have to worry about the decline of print
media and the buyouts and layoffs that have accom-
panied it.
A graduate from the University's School of Engi-
neering and the proprietor of a blog about Michigan
football called mgoblog.com, Cook quit his job as
an engineer as soon as he figured out that revenue
from the website could cover rent and groceries.
Since then, mgoblog.com has become substan-
tially more popular, and Cook has begun writing
a fan-based column for AOL.com and has started a
season preview book for every football season.
Not too shabby for a Michigan fan who started
blogspot.com account as a hobby. But then again,
the story of an obscure blogger breaking into the
mainstream isn't one we haven't heard before.
To put it simply, Cook's website has become
the place for Michigan football coverage. In just a
few years, he has overthrown the ranks of profes-
sionaljournalists who cover the team, representing
a drastic change in the culture of news coverage
(in this case, the coverage of Michigan football),
a change that most major newspapers have yet to
adapt to. Traditional sports coverage is vulnerable
to new competition in its own way. As Cook has
shown, a guy in the stands can have an edge over
the big-name columnists in the press box.
With the Internet, people have come to expect
more information, something the highly analyti-
cal mgoblog.com provides en masse. The Michi-

gan football blogosphere has demanded attention,
encouraging the establishment of several other
popular sites like Varsity Blue, Maize n' Brew and
UMTailgate. Cook said that the Michigan fan-
base - with the sheer number of alumni who are
wealthy, tech-savvy, avid football fans - is the per-
fect following for blogs.
Even Michigan football coach Rich Rodriguez
has taken notice.
"It's a lot more bolder what people would say and
write," Rodriguez said in Monday's press confer-
ence. "Not you (journalists), but bloggers or what-
ever, than it used to be. We've seen it coming for a
few years."
Newspapers just can't keep up with the depth
and breadth of coverage that Cook and other Michi-
gan bloggers provide.
"WheneverI read a newspaper, they never really
went past a shallow understanding of the game,"
Cook said. "I never actually learned anything from
a newspaper about why these things happened the
way they did and what you can expect from the
Despite - or as Cook said, because of - mgob-
log.com's niche market and very technical football
talk, the site gets about 50,000 page views a day.
With circulation and page space in the print news-
paper industry dwindling across the country, and
newspapers still struggling to find a strong foot-

hold online, more and more people are flocking to
sites like mgoblog.com to get thorough coverage of
Michigan sports.
What the blogs' readers are finding is a type of
coverage that is yet to grace the websites of the
Detroit Free Press or The Detroit News.
"Our blogging and the way we do it, is we just
want to get news up there first," said Mark Sny-
der, the Michigan football and men's basketball
beat reporter for the Detroit Free Press. "But some
of these blogs are so thorough that they're break-
ing down plays and posting feeds from the game.
And that's more intricate than anything we post
Cook has a weekly feature on his blog called
"Upon Further Review," which is one of the blog's
most in-depth and popular segments. In the post,
he breaks down every single play - offense and
defense - from all of Michigan's games. Cook said
that, in order for the Free Press to do something
similar, the paper would have to hire someone in
addition to the beat reporter who has extensive
knowledge of the X's and O's of the game.
With the day-to-day grind of beat reporting, that
type of depth is almost impossible for newspapers
to imitate. Here's a typical workday for Snyder -
on the Monday before the Northwestern football
game, he attended a nearly two-and-a-half-hour-
long press conference, filing a story right there.
Snyder then stayed at the building, transcribing
football quotes and working until the basketball

presser took place at 3 p.m. After the press confer-
ence, Snyder attended basketball practice, finally
leaving after nine hours and still needing to file a
story about the basketball team. That's time Cook
can spend analyzing plays and breaking down each
game, while relying on reporters like Snyder to
uncover the day-to-day business of the team.
Nowadays, a newspaper might publish one or two
articles on a non-gameday, which isn't enough to
meet the demands of the avid fans who haved tuned
to the blogosphere.
Cook said that if his coverage of Michigan football
is one extreme, traditional newspaper beat report-
ing is the other. In order to find an effective strategy
to meet readers' needs, newspapers need to find a
happy medium between the two.
But it's not just the depth of coverage that has to
change - according to Cook, it's the whole style of
writing that needs a facelift, starting with the col-
umn. He called the 600-word, quick-hitting, short-
paragraph style that newspaper columnists use
"It's off-putting, it's arrogant and it often results
in poorly researched, poorly asserted and poorly rea-
soned columns," Cook said. "You have 600 words,
and you have to try to get your little 'Jim Rome on
paper' thing, and most of what comes out is just
Space isn't an issue on the Internet. If necessary,
Cook can write 1,000 words or 10,000 words to get
his point across. He can also use links, pictures, dia-

grams, play-calling breakdowns and bold and italics
But most important, Cook utilizes his own avid
fandom to present a column that newspaper writers
Cook and other bloggers use the pronoun "we" to
talk about the team out of recognition that they are
not syndicated sports columnist Mitch Album, but
rather they are regular fans writing to - and to rep-
resent - other fans.
"My game columns are written from the perspec-
tive of someone experiencing the same emotions you
are," Cook said. "Newspapers don't do that. They
experience games as sportswriters, as objectivity
mavens, that sort of thing. They don't say 'Fuck.' No
one at a newspaper has ever screamed 'Fuck' at a
Michigan game, and getting an opinion from some-
one who has done that is sort of empowering in a
He's not overly biased - his posts are critical of
the Wolverines when necessary - but there's no
doubt that Cook is a fan, and he believes that is one
of the blog's biggest strengths over objective jour-
nalism. Readers can automatically relate to bloggers
like Cook, because he's writing as one of them. With
journalism's rigid, albeit necessary, commitment to
objectivity, fans can have ahard time relating to col-
umnists who need to put aside personal preference
to scrutinize agame.

Cook himself may have put print journalism's
problems best on his site. Ina June 28 post entitled
"Why Does Drew Sharp Have A Job?" Cook had this
to say about the Detroit Free Press columnist whom
he regularly lambasts on hisblog:
"Sharp's a dinosaur from the days when readers
had a choice ofPaper A or Paper B, the prime nume-
ro-uno example of why lazy-ass columnists rage
against the internet: it exposes how very much they
suck and provides alternative sources of attention."
Newspapers weren't always strugglingto catch up
with media technology. Although The Detroit News
- along with almost every national paper - can't
quite figure out how to adapt its print coverage to
the Internet, it was one of the first papers to embrace
other mediums thatdrastically changed journalism.
On August 20, 1920, when the idea that radio
could be used as a household amenity was still in its
infancy, the United States Department of Commerce
accepted a requestby The Detroit News for an ama-
teur radio license. Thus, the paper became the first
in the nation to purchase and operate a radio sta-
tion, buyingthe 200-meter broadcast channel8MK,
which is now known as WWJ, the only 24-hour
commercial news radio station in Michigan.
Experimenting with how broadcast radio could
be used in journalism's future, 8MK became one of
the first stations in the country to broadcast news
reports, sports broadcasts and religious program-

ming. The paper was less than 50 years old at the
time, and the purchase of the station was an attempt
to stay ahead of the curve in information accessibil-
ity. Obviously, looking toward the future paid off -
in the'20s and'30s, radio consumption exploded.
The Detroit News made a similar move in 1947,
creating the first television station in the state of
Michigan, WWJ-TV.
But the Internet is a different story. Sure, the
major metro newspapers have their own websites,
but the content is no different from what makes the
print edition on that particular day. Free Press foot-
ball writer Snyder hasn'tever exploredcthe possibili-
ty ofvideo stories on the Detroit Free Press's website,
which doesn't offer much web-only content other
than photo galleries and links to non-competitive,
related news sources.
Whereas the Detroit-area newspapers have his-
torically been on the cusp of media technology, the
Internet simply hasn'tbeen an asset, yet.
Associate Athletic Director Bruce Madej said
that newspapers need to look back at their own
history in order to move forward. Adapting to
new technologies by exploring video and other
options the Internet presents is a given, but
Madej said the key to attracting readers online
is putting an emphasis on the coverage that has
been lost because of the dwindling size of print

The Detroit papers and the Ann Arbor News
cover Michigan football and men's basketball,
but every other sport has been cut because of
lack of space. The Ann Arbor News covered
the Wolverines' hockey team up until last year,
but cut the hockey beat reporter position after
a season in which Michigan went to the Frozen
"You know, we have Big Ten champions that,
other than (The Michigan Daily), don't get cov-
ered at all," Madej said. "There's some great sto-
ries and human interest pieces on some of those
On the surface, it would seem that most people
don't care to read about a champion cross coun-
try runner or the volleyball team, but Madej sees
it differently. These athletes are in the communi-
ty, and readers will respond positively to a local
touch, regardless of the sport. Of course, they'll
still want football coverage, but with unlimited
space on the Internet, major papers could hang
on to local readers by covering smaller, Olympic
sports like wrestling, swimming and track.
Whatever the future holds for the local papers
- less space in the print edition, tighter budget
to cover sporting events, lower circulation or
another bleak possibility yet to emerge - one
thing is for sure: The Internet is going to be vital
to the success, or failure, of each one.
It's up to them whether or not they can figure
out how to use it.

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