This is something you’d expect in a much smaller market. But not in sports-crazy Chicago.
But this is what we have here, and as first reported by Robert Feder Thursday, the Chicago Tribune announced it has cut beat reporters for the Chicago White Sox and Chicago Blackhawks, despite the recent success of the latter with three Stanley Cups won in seven years. No replacements were named, and there is no plan on how the teams would be covered by the publication going forward.
The two released were Blackhawks beat writer Chris Kuc and White Sox beat writer Paul Skrbina.
The moves comes as the Tribune’s parent (tronc) announced layoffs last week, with Chairman Michael Ferro resigning Monday, hours before an expose was published in Fortune regarding claims of sexual harassment against him.
After trying to contract management in the Tribune’s sports department, Feder received this terse statement from a tronc official: “The Chicago Tribune is fully committed to covering the Chicago White Sox and the Chicago Blackhawks. We value and understand the importance of covering sports both for fans and our readers.”
The elimination of beat reporters and relying on wire services (such as AP and Reuters) could have complications down the road. White Sox fans have complained about a lack of coverage from both the local and national media over the years, especially the latter regarding its 2005 World Series Championship. And the Blackhawks had trouble getting any media coverage at all during the team’s swoon years (roughly 1998 to 2008, when made the playoffs only once), but changed when the team became a hot property.
With the Blackhawks officially eliminated from the playoffs earlier this week, the paper figured no need to invest in coverage – it’s a slap in the face to a franchise who worked hard to improve its viability in the Chicago area after years of neglect.
The sad apart about this entire episode is it sends a dangerous message – one ESPN’s SportsCenter regularly hammers down every night – only pro football and pro basketball (and in the Trib’s case, also the Cubs) matters to our readers and no other sport. Already, coverage of high school sports, golf, and tennis were either cut back or eliminated all together, and rest assured, if the Loyola Ramblers weren’t in the NCAA Tournament, college basketball would be also be cut.
Local media coverage of MLS’ Chicago Fire has also been nearly non-existent over the years, but then again, their recent decision to yank their games off linear TV doesn’t help matters much.
And if the Tribune cuts the sports beat reporters, what’s next? The arts? City Hall coverage? Already, the Sun-Times dropped arts critic Heidi Weiss position, without naming a replacement. And neither paper currently has a TV/Radio critic on staff.
It’s a shame Chicago’s two newspapers continue to cut important beat positions without regard to any consequences that might occur. It doesn’t matter if it’s sports, or arts or entertainment, but yes, a lot of people do follow these subjects. This is something that shouldn’t happen in the nation’s third-largest media market – cutting positions because management can’t manage their finances – so it’s the reader invested in these subjects who suffers.
As for this decision made the Tribune, it sends a signal the “World’s Greatest Newspaper” isn’t so great anymore. Then again, it hasn’t been so great for quite some time.