Local takes priority

Like many fans my age, the boxscores and statistics found within the newspaper sports section as a youngster formed my appreciation and grew my knowledge of the various professional teams and leagues.

I memorized the shorthand of each box, confident I had cracked the codes necessary for fandom. “FG” meant field goal, “EN” meant empty net. “4-14-2-46” meant four completions in 14 attempts with two interceptions for 46 passing yards ... and a certain quarterback didn’t have a very good day.

But baseball gained admittance into the club: “AB” was at-bat, “RBI” run batted in, “HR” home run, “LOB” left on base, “SO” strikeout, and, welcome, here’s your membership card, you can read the scoreboard page of any sports section in the country.

The scoreboard page has been a key component of newspaper sports sections like the Watertown Daily Times for decades, tracking the rhythm of each sports season through the calendar.

For years, I fielded phone calls and emails from readers and sports fans wondering why a certain boxscore hadn’t made the paper. Fantasy league devotees regularly made contact if an NFL boxscore was incomplete. One elderly woman called nearly every time the Yankees were on the west coast to get a report on her Bronx Bombers.

I don’t receive any of those phone calls anymore. Nor the emails. I haven’t for years.

What’s more, I don’t consult the boxscores in the paper myself much. Almost the only time I look at them is when I’m proofing the page at the end of a work shift. As a faithful reader of the scoreboard page for more than 40 years that is a hard realization. But it’s why we at the newspaper have made a decision.

Starting Wednesday, national boxscores will no longer appear in the Watertown Daily Times, Malone Telegram and other Johnson Newspaper-affiliated publications. The papers will still publish national standings and schedules. It will still run the TV glance each day. It will post local north scores and the sports briefs, basically everything that has appeared on the second page of the sports section, except national agate of each game.

This is not a decision made lightly. It was made because publishing national boxscores requires one person to work eight hours devoted to a single page of the sports section every day the newspaper publishes. With shrinking newspaper staffs across the country that is no longer feasible.

Dedicating one person to working eight hours on national agate each day is two-to-three local game stories lost, one-to-two local features not written, per week.

Our primary responsibility in the Watertown Daily Times sports department and other papers is to provide local coverage, reporting on the activities within the Frontier League, Northern Athletic Conference, local colleges and various other sports events in Jefferson, Lewis, St. Lawrence, Franklin and Oswego counties, as well as Syracuse University football and basketball.

National coverage comes second. National and world sports can be found on a host of other mediums across the internet and in traditional publications. It is apparent — from the lack of contact through calls and emails — that people who once found their information in newspaper boxscores have gone elsewhere for those facts and figures. Any fan can choose from an overwhelming number of sites, and get up-to-the-second updates direct to their phones on whatever professional game they choose.

A newspaper can’t do that. So many newspapers across the country have scrapped national boxes, and many have done so as many as 10 or 20 years ago.

In order for us to maintain our ability to offer the most complete sports coverage of the north country, we need to shift our focus, from national to local, a commitment we have made for years but something we must renew as sports media continues to evolve.

Through this measure, you will see more local game stories and features in the paper in the weeks and months to come.

Gregory Gay is the sports editor of the Watertown Daily Times

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