A Hyper-bad Idea at the Hyper Local Level

I’m not sure why I was thinking about this. Maybe it was because I was talking to some friends about how serious the world of kids baseball has gotten and maybe because I was just reading some news about the latest nonsense in corporate strategy in some publication, but this story popped into my head. I’ve changed a few names and to be fair my memory of the details are fuzzy, but this is a close approximation of what happened.

I started my journalism career at a community newspaper in Connecticut just at the time that publishers were trying to figure out how to be more relevant to their communities. The prevailing idea that infected most newspapers across the country spawned the term “hyper-local.”

See the idea went that community newspapers should leverage their assets — a dehumanizing term for reporters, photographers, editors and other staff members– to cover their communities even more closely than they already were.

It sounds good, but as some media organizations started to roll out their versions of it, it became a joke and a terrible idea. Some organizations looked to maximize profit by not only dedicating staff to covering the smallest of the small stories — one guy suggested covering things like who was mowing or not mowing their lawn and was serious — but also letting readers cover for free their own neighborhoods. Nothing gets a publisher on board for a new direction at his newspaper or news site than the prospect of free labor.

Anyway, at our little paper, we were already covering the community pretty deeply even though we had a small staff in the newsroom. The sports department was even printing little league box scores.

Well, some executive of the paper made one of the dumbest decisions I ever heard. He decided we should not just print box scores, we should actually cover games. I think the idea was to cover one game a week as sort of a special feature. We even sent a photographer.

Well, we only had one full-time sports reporter at the time on staff and the rest were stringers and the corporate wanted the staffer to cover it. This was not an all star game. This was regular league play. Local papers would sometimes cover all star teams because the level of baseball being played was considered better and more serious than regular league play, so this was a departure from the norm and we would find out with one story why it was a departure.

The staffer selected to cover the game was fresh out of j-school and took her job very seriously. When they told her what she was covering, she of course she had questions. Once she was resigned to doing it, she asked if she was supposed to cover it like a real game and they said yes.

That was a big mistake.

So she goes to the game and watches these 11 and 12 year olds play through 5 and 2/3 innings and the visitors are up by 1 run.

At this point, the home team gets two key hits and has runners on third and second, but they’re down to their last out. (I’m sorry I don’t remember the kids names, but I probably wouldn’t use them at this point anyway and you’ll see why in a second.)

So, the next batter up, hits an easy ground ball to the short stop, but the short stop muffs the play and the ball goes into the outfield, allowing the tieing and winning runs to come in, much to the joy of the home team.

And that’s what our reporter wrote. It was something like this:

“An error in the sixth gave the win to the Major League Dragons Saturday night saddling their rival, the Crosstown Stinkers with their first loss of the season.

With two outs and runners on third and second, Stinkers pitcher Jimmy Jimjim, got Marty Goodguy of the Dragons to hit an easy groundball to Little Johnny Sadsack playing shortstop. Sadsack, however, misplayed the easy roller allowing it through his wickets and into left field, while Stinkers runners, Speedy Sam Shepherd and Fast Freddie Watson score the key runs in this city little league battle.

And so on.

The phones, oddly, were still ringing in our office when I came in to work that afternoon on my municipal government beat.

By the way, that was the last little league game we covered. We just went back to the box scores.

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