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Vol. 46, No. 1 November 2008 .pdf version
Women's coverage feeling the brunt of newspaper decline
By MEL GREENBERG / Philadelphia Inquirer
When Connecticut marched to its first NCAA women's title with an unbeaten record in 1995, the Huskies, located not far from the media centers of the Northeast, attracted unprecedented print and electronic media coverage to the sport.
As coach Geno Auriemma's squad grew the collection to five through the early part of the current decade, the media crowd continued to increase, as well.
This season, UConn will hit the starting gate as the overwhelming favorite to open the doors to its NCAA trophy case for the first time since 2004 after the Women's Final Four concludes in St. Louis in April.
Much less uncertain, however, is the size of the media contingent who will chronicle the Huskies and their challengers along the way.
It's no secret to the USBWA membership here on either side of gender coverage that these are not the best of times in the newspaper world. And who knows how much the economy will affect the rest of the industry, including the electronic sector.
But one unfortunate trend already has developed, indicating the women's beat has become an early victim of decisions in newsrooms.
In recent months, some prominent women's members of our group have accepted voluntary buyouts after seeing what was directly ahead for them at both national and local levels of their coverage.
Milton Kent left the Baltimore Sun, in part disagreeing with how the University of Maryland, still a Women's Final Four contender, was going to be handled locally.
Mechelle Voepel left the Kansas City Star, although she'll continue to be a leading contributor to ESPN.com. Doug Feinberg, the Associated Press women's national writer, in charge of organizing the voting board, reported at least 15 vacancies that had to be filled since the final tally of last season.
After the AP poll became a media panel in 1994-95, it was not unusual for seven to nine changes to occur because of voters who either changed beats or moved to other papers or elsewhere.
But the buyouts and retirements helped swell that total this season. With news of planned staff reductions at the Newark Star Ledger in New Jersey and the Hartford Courant, two markets that provide heavy coverage of the Rutgers and Connecticut women who compete nationally, there are no safe havens.
Our very own Wendy Parker, who had moved in recent seasons from print to the internet operation at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, decided in mid-summer to accept the voluntary buyout at her organization.
There was no pressure on Parker to make her decision, but she noted she could see the future and sooner rather than later she'd be facing the same situation again.
"Coaches who read the headlines and don't differentiate between a wire-service byline and a staff-written piece think everything is still rosy out there," Voepel said. "Obviously, we know different."
But all is not totally lost. I n the modern age of the internet and other technological advances, there are ways to maintain and perhaps still grow coverage even if the method of delivery will transform from what has been the traditional way to offer game coverage and features.
In a sense, because the industry is taking a hit nationwide, enough reporting talent exists in all regions to develop a model that could be both cost effective to those that still want to be involved with coverage and to the actual entity that emerges.
At the moment, the discussions on these fronts are still in early brain-storming stages, along with determining where investors and advertisers can be found to produce the entity.
As one women's player, known for scoring a lot of points, once told yours truly, "Never up, never in." And so the exploration for a new world of women's coverage will continue.
Meanwhile, in being asked to discuss media matters pertaining to women's coverage, the original intent here was to lead with the chaotic situation in K noxville last season that followed the controversial finish of the Rutgers- Tennessee game won by the Vols with the aid of a "frozen" clock that was ignored by the officiating crew.
The preceding topic made a nice, if somber keynote to where the media world stands in women's hoops.
In other particulars, the writing workshop at the Women's Final Four instituted two seasons again remains a success. In 2007, the event was held at Cleveland State.
Last season, South Florida played host to another well-attended session and the panel consisted of yours truly, the AP's Feinberg, and the Chicago Sun's Steve Tucker. Penn State's Marie Hardin was the moderator.
The women's side is looking for regional reps in the same arrangement the men have for postseason voting on awards. Last season, the ballots were emailed directly to me, and while it was no problem to do the ballot count, Joe Mitch says he'd like a uniform operation.
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