Skip to content

The challenge of writing for a newspaper audience

Nov 12, 2010, 6:33 AM EDT

Jeter error

Marc Carig is the Yankees’ beat writer for the Newark Star-Ledger.  He’s easily my favorite Yankees’ beat guy going,* partially because he does great work, partially because he’s a nice, funny guy and partially because you can tell he takes his job seriously and thinks hard about his craft.

That thinking is on display today over at his personal blog, where he talks about the challenges of trying to incorporate advanced baseball metrics in newspaper writing and the difference between his newspaper, web and Twitter readership.

Those of us who write only on the web don’t have to deal with this problem to anywhere near a degree newspaper writers like Marc do.  Our readership came to us. They sought us out and, because they’re online like us, there is a decent chance that they’re at least moderately tech-savvy.  When Marc started at the Star-Ledger, however, he began writing for an audience who had likely subscribed to the paper for years. Many for decades. It’s an audience — the newspaper audience in general, not just the Star-Ledger’s — that is far more used to a more traditional handling of baseball and baseball statistics. It’s one that, if Marc is to enlighten them about things like wOBA, UZR or other metrics — which he does and which he should — it will take time and an easing into it. Remember: to most of them, Marc’s the new guy telling them different things than they’re used to hearing. On a blog, in contrast, I or anyone else could jump right in and start fresh without having to worry about alienating legacy readers. There were none.

But maybe a bigger challenge than the audience profile is the technology.  I actually love to read newspapers and on some level I’m going to be sad when they aren’t around in hard copy anymore. But think of how many things other bloggers and I explain via links, parentheticals,  postersiks, tables and other widgets of technology that can’t be used in newspapers. I just did it with “posterisks.”  I can say “Derek Jeter’s UZR is worse than cancer” and I need not then explain what UZR is if I simply link to a detailed explanation of it.  Marc doesn’t have that luxury when writing for the paper. There are space limitations for one thing. There is the frustrating inability to insert usable hyperlinks on the printed page.

The point is that guys in Marc’s position have a pretty big challenge when it comes to moving the ball forward in terms of statistics and analysis. I don’t envy them, that’s for sure. But I have a great respect for those in his position who take on the problem and do their best to challenge their audience, however modestly, to understand and accept new ideas.

Unlike some bloggers, I do believe that there is a future for newspapers and traditional reporting the sort of which we see in them.  That future is personified by people like Marc Carig, who understand the need to move forward while respecting his audience enough to not think that he can simply drag them there.  Keep fighting the good fight, Marc.

*I often make critical or dismissive references to “the New York writers” or “Yankees writers.”  I’m way too sloppy about this and I need to be clear about something here: when I do that, I’m not referring to the beat guys who actually go out and cover the games, I’m referring to a handful of the tabloid columnists for the most part.  The beat guys — Marc at the Star-Ledger, Mark Feinsand at the Daily News, Ben Shpigel at the Times, Erik Boland at Newsday, Bryan Hoch at and others —  do a pretty damn fine job. They’ve all been nice to me and other bloggers, either in person or online, and they all reach out to readers via Twitter and through their usual outlets, doing their best to help their readers understand and get closer to the teams they love. And really, they outnumber the Lupicas, Harpers and Matthews out there who drive me nuts.  I’m going to do my best to excise that lazy reference to “New York writers” from my vocabulary. But if I slip on this, at least know that I’m not referring to the beat guys when I do it.

  1. stackers1 - Nov 12, 2010 at 8:26 AM

    You’ve ripped on Bill Madden too. He’s always been my favorite NY baseball writer, giving fair & honest analysis on the Yankees, Mets & MLB as a whole. And the HOF recently agreed with me. Before the internet, I would cherish the Sunday Daily News because there was always a Madden article on baseball – even in the dead of winter. I can’t get through a paragraph of a Mike Lupica article without puking though.

    • Craig Calcaterra - Nov 12, 2010 at 8:34 AM

      I don’t have a personal problem with Madden. As far as the columnists go he’s better than most in New York. But yes, I take issue with him from time to time, as I take issue with just about everyone. That’s the nature of opinions.

  2. Chris Fiorentino - Nov 12, 2010 at 8:44 AM

    I’ll never understand this incessant need to “mov[e] the ball forward in terms of statistics and analysis.” Why? Has baseball really been THAT bad the last 100 years that EVERYONE has to know what UZR and xFIP means?

    • Craig Calcaterra - Nov 12, 2010 at 8:47 AM

      I don’t think anyone needs to know those stats or really any advanced metrics by name or acronym. But I do think that the concepts behind them are important. Baseball fans, I think, have to know that a fielder not getting to a playable ball is a bad thing, even if it’s not reflected in his error count. They have to know that a pitcher can be effective, even if he doesn’t get a win (or, conversely, that he can be ineffective even if he gets a win).

      I don’t care if they know the stat. But they should know the concept, and the writers should move the ball forward in that regard. Otherwise we’re just abetting ignorance.

      • Kevin S. - Nov 12, 2010 at 8:53 AM

        Have you read any of Fiorentino’s comments? He actively engages in abetting ignorance.

      • Chris Fiorentino - Nov 12, 2010 at 9:01 AM

        You took the two biggest jokes in stats and used them to make the case that sabremetrics need to be used more when writing about baseball. Even a non-stat person like myself knows that range and run support are more important than fielding % and Wins. Where I draw the line is when somebody has a WAR of .4 higher than somebody else, a stat-person will say there’s no question who had the better year. Or if someone’s OPS+ is 10 points higher, they had the better offensive year.

      • Craig Calcaterra - Nov 12, 2010 at 9:05 AM

        Chris, even though you call yourself a non-stat person, the fact that you read baseball blogs and consume baseball online puts you way ahead of a lot of newspaper readers in your sophistication. There are *tons* of people who still think FP and wins are everything and even worse. They’re the people who get all of their info from newspapers or TV. And there are many times more of them than there are of people like us.

        That’s who Carig is referring to and who he needs to address.

      • Chris Fiorentino - Nov 12, 2010 at 9:31 AM

        “There are *tons* of people who still think FP and wins are everything and even worse.”

        Then there are *tons* of people who are pretty stupid. It’s one thing to debate the merits of WAR, xFIP, and wOBA. It’s quite another to debate whether CC was the best pitcher in the AL because he had the most wins. That’s just being a moron.

      • Kevin S. - Nov 12, 2010 at 10:56 AM

        Actually, if you’ve ever read any kind of Fangraphs analysis, they repeatedly stress that minute differences in WAR are not significant. The Book does the same thing. When Keith Law does analysis of major league players, he uses WAR as a framework, but then de-emphasizes players whose WAR are driven by large defensive components, because those numbers, while the best we have, are known to be imperfect. Your own Bill Baer has a fantastic handle on how to use WAR – whenever I’ve been linked to a piece of his, I’ve found myself nodding the whole way. Most people who know their way around WAR aren’t going to declare one player better than another based on a .4 difference.

      • Chris Fiorentino - Nov 12, 2010 at 12:38 PM

        Just as Craig said there are a *ton* of people who look at Wins and Fielding %, I will tell you that there are a *ton* of people who read me WAR and use it as the Gospel. Even a minute difference is used to downplay everything else. Maybe they are not meant to be that way, and maybe stat guys like you use them as a guide. But that isn’t my experience most of the time.

  3. Rob Abruzzese - Nov 12, 2010 at 9:39 AM

    Ah. I have to nitpick just a little bit. You left Chad Jennings out of your list of great beat writers. He may be one of the newer guys, but he’s certainly one of the better ones. Sorry, I’m done I just wanted to throw that in there.

Leave Comment

You must be logged in to leave a comment. Not a member? Register now!

Top 10 MLB Player Searches
  1. H. Ramirez (2381)
  2. G. Stanton (2335)
  3. G. Springer (2315)
  4. C. Correa (2308)
  5. J. Baez (2284)