I'm one of those old-school newspaper lovers. I walk out onto my lawn each morning and retrieve The Commercial Appeal, pulling it from its plastic bag and perusing the headlines as I head to my kitchen table, where I pour a cup of fresh coffee and start my day by reading the local news. I know. Use your phone, Gramps.
But here's the thing: Despite the diminishing staff numbers imposed by the paper's clumsy, insensitive corporate masters, Gannett Company Inc., I still find much of value in the CA — good local stories, solid beat reporting, local lifestyle features, and commentary I don't read anywhere else.
But there's one part of the print paper that has become essentially worthless, and that's the sports section. Due to an absurdly early deadline — 6 p.m. or so (made necessary because Gannett has consolidated the printing of several of its Tennessee papers at a single Jackson, Tennessee, printing plant), the print CA can no longer report on sporting events that occur in the evening. Which is to say, most sporting events except afternoon college and NFL football games and, okay, golf. Major league baseball? Forget it. The daily "scoreboard" for MLB lists the prior day's games, but all night games are designated "late." There are few if any actual baseball scores in most weekday papers.
It gets even more irritating when local teams are involved. For example, the football game the Memphis Tigers played last Saturday night at the University of Central Florida. The front of the CA's Sunday morning sports section devoted the top half of the page to a photo of two Tiger players with the headline "Getting ready to rumble in Orlando." Really? Anyone who was a Tiger fan already knew the team had gotten "rumbled" by UCF, 40-13, the night before. Essentially, the top half of the page was an ad to go to the paper's digital coverage.
So, what does Gannett want readers to do, put down the paper and go to their phone immediately? Continue to read the print edition? I don't know. I don't think Gannett knows.
And we got a preview Tuesday of how this season's Grizzlies' games (almost all of which happen at night) will be handled. The front of the sports section featured a half-page photo and a message to read about Monday night's home game online. Extra! Extra! Read all about it! Elsewhere.
You might think Gannett is trying to get away from having a printed paper altogether by destroying the CA's already limited ability to be timely. But you'd be wrong. The company actually needs and wants the print product to survive in order to deliver those lucrative flyers and inserts from big box stores, grocery stores, cell phone providers, liquor stores, etc.
But what Gannett is doing now simply isn't working. On Tuesday morning, for example, CA readers got the first print story about Sunday night's mass murder in Las Vegas — more than 36 hours after it happened. That's not "news." That's history. Gannett's absurd early deadline is destroying the print version of our local daily.
I have a radical suggestion, and I offer it free to Gannett's Washington, D.C.-based management: Make The Commercial Appeal an afternoon paper. Go to press in the morning. Deliver the print edition to coincide with folks coming home from work. Instead of being essentially worthless, the sports section would be made whole again. News that occurred the previous evening would get reported the next day, instead of a day and a half later. Sure, I'd be reading my newspaper with a cocktail instead of coffee, but that's a sacrifice I am willing to make. For journalism.