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Sports Desk: Entering a brave, new world in sports coverage

I have often joked that I am well qualified to give a seminar to sports reporters on how to cover the blowout game. You know, a game that is basically over minutes after it began. The game that, if it were televised, viewers would undoubtedly change the channel to put on something else — anything. The game that has you wondering, “When will this thing finally end?”

The truth is, I have covered many more of those type of games than I care to remember. Blowouts are a part of sports and they happen, and even blowouts, believe it or not, can produce some intriguing stories. One time I was covering a remarkably one-sided game when I turned to a photographer and said, “You know, this is so bad it’s good.”

Well, maybe I will be seeing a little less of those sort of games in the future.

Eagle-eyed readers of The Riverhead News-Review and The Suffolk Times will notice some changes in the way we cover sports in the coming weeks. The newspaper business is changing, and with it come changes in how the news is covered, including sports news.

While game coverage is an important part of a sports section (after all, it’s all about the games, isn’t it?), expect to see more features, profiles of sports figures, notebooks, advance stories and the like on these pages starting with this fall season. We will still cover big games, of course, but will offer a more balanced diet of story-telling forms that we hope will capture the interest of readers.

Ever since I joined the company — and even before that — the Times/Review approach to high school sports was to try and cover each team in its coverage area at least once during a season and try to spread out the coverage in as balanced a way as possible. If that meant sometimes covering a game played by a struggling 2-14 basketball team, well, so be it.

In retrospect, I’m not sure that was the best way to go about business. We will handle things a bit differently now. Instead of covering a game, say, in which that 2-14 basketball team gets blown out by 35 points, we may include an item from that team in a notebook column or write a profile of an interesting player on that team.

Why the change?

We live in a news media environment that has changed dramatically since the turn of the century with the growth of the Internet, social media, the explosion of the Information Age. Although we publish weekly newspapers, we are a digital daily at the same time with our websites that are fed 24/7 (or let’s say close to it).

News, much like bread, eggs and milk, is a perishable commodity. What is front-page news one day is outdated the next. That is why when we write game stories for our print paper, we try to featurize them as much as possible in order to give them a longer shelf life (plus, it makes for a better read).

We have found that feature stories and profiles do well on the web in terms of reader interest. So, part of this is giving the readers what they want.

Our sports department, like many others, I’m sure, faces the challenge of trying to provide the best coverage it can with limited resources. Trying to balance what you have to cover, in terms of news value, with what you would like to cover isn’t easy when manpower is spread thin. All you can do is try your best.

I admit to having some trepidation about this. After all, changing the approach to the way you have done something for over two decades can make you a little uneasy. But I’m excited at the same time because I feel confident that the journalistic product will be better, just packaged differently.

And, if a byproduct of this is that I will not have to sit through as many routs as I have in the past, well, that’s not a bad thing, either.

Bob_CBob Liepa is the sports editor of the Riverhead News-Review and The Suffolk Times. He can be reached at [email protected].