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Many Post readers no longer get late game coverage

By Andy Alexander

Despite a dismal season, The Washington Redskins are still the biggest game in town. But when tens of thousands of Post readers opened their Tuesday papers for coverage of the previous night’s drubbing by the Philadelphia Eagles, they found...nothing.

The same thing happened Wednesday morning for many readers expecting results of the Washington Wizards’ exciting season-opening victory over the Mavericks in Dallas the previous night.

And this morning, many weren’t able to read anything about last night’s World Series game in which the Phillies beat the Yankees 6-1 in New York.

The cause: Earlier deadlines that have been imposed largely because of cost-cutting. The result: Up to 185,000 readers each day didn’t get coverage of the previous night’s game.

“I guess The Washington Post doesn’t think their home delivery customers want to read about the first game of the World Series,” a Gaithersburg reader e-mailed me. “Why don’t they just do away with the Sports section so they can save money?”

Another reader, John Weiss, wrote that he had wanted to read about the Wizards victory in his Wednesday Post. “I did go online to read about the game and enjoyed the article and the video as well,” he said. “But...if that is what the Post wants me to do, why am I paying for a subscription.”

Late night news and sports coverage has rarely been included in the earliest Post edition that must be trucked to locations as distant as Delaware or Pennsylvania. But a cost-cutting decision to close The Post’s College Park printing facility in July and consolidate operations with its other plant in Springfield has stressed the production schedule. The need to print the same number of papers on fewer presses, coupled with reader demand for earlier delivery of papers, has meant the presses must start sooner for the main editions. And that means more readers aren’t getting their late scores.

Those most affected reside in a broad circle of communities in Maryland and Virginia surrounding the district and close-in suburbs.

I wrote about this about a month ago, explaining that earlier deadlines meant fewer Friday night high school football game results are being carried in Saturday’s paper. That’s coverage that readers can’t get elsewhere.

Even though they can get coverage of the Redskins, Wizards or the World Series on The Post’s Web site or on ESPN, many readers want it in their paper over coffee in the morning.

Charles Popenoe of Darnestown, who has taken the Post for over 30 years, said: “In all the years I have been a subscriber...I can never recall the Redskins coverage from Monday night being left out of my edition.”

“Do you know how important it is to open the paper the day after the game and see coverage of the Skins’ game?” he asked in an e-mail. “The answer – real darn important.”

“Game coverage from the previous night is one of the primary reasons I have home delivery of the Post. If this cannot be supported in the edition that I receive, a big reason for subscribing will be gone.”

Monday’s Redskins game ended at 11:37 p.m. Tuesday’s Wizards game concluded at 10:48 p.m. (Washington time) and Wednesday’s World Series opener finished at 11:27.

A year ago, that would have allowed sufficient breathing room to make deadline of around midnight for the edition that goes to outer suburbs and communities. But that deadline is now about an hour earlier. Even if games end a few minutes before 11 p.m., chances are that stories may not get written and edited in time. And if games finish after 11 p.m., there’s almost no chance they’ll make that edition.

Even with last night's late ending to the World Series game, 421,000 papers carried the results, said Ed Thiede, one of The Post's key production editors.

Those Post readers who receive the final edition -- the bulk of the press run that has the latest press start -- will almost always receive late night coverage.

As I wrote in last month’s column, reduced Friday night high school football scores, combined with other cutbacks in the paper, “might bring many readers closer to the point where they may decide The Post isn’t worth the expense.” An absence of late night professional scores won’t help.

But there is little alternative for The Post, which is losing money.

Coverage of these games is robust and timely on the Post’s Web site. But long-time readers skew older, and many refuse to go online as a substitute for continuing to read the newspaper.

Figures released on Monday showed that The Post’s 6-month circulation, compared to the same period a year ago, declined 6.40 percent to 582,844 daily and went down 5.06 percent to 822,208 on Sunday. Those reductions were modest compared to some of the huge losses suffered by many U.S. metropolitan dailies. But the elimination of late-night game coverage brings more and more subscribers closer to the tipping point.

By Andy Alexander  | October 29, 2009; 2:48 PM ET
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Next: Deadline pressure yields a "mess" of a World Series column


What a waste of a post. Instead of focusing on sports coverage, how about something on the outright bias among the Virginia political reporters covering the Virginia gubernatorial race.

Posted by: DaveinMD | October 29, 2009 4:33 PM | Report abuse

I live in the Foggy Bottom area of the District. In other words, I live within a short walk of the Post's building on 15th street. Somtimes I get sports events that run past 11 o'clock and other times I do not. I find this a very very unsatisfactory state of affairs. I am an older person and like reading a real newspaper in the morning and not having to log on to my computer. Since I am a life long Phillies fan, I hope that each and every morning I will be able to read about the previous day's game, but I am not optimistic.

Posted by: jeffreed | October 29, 2009 5:12 PM | Report abuse

Which came first... the chicken or the egg? Did the WaPo cut back because of its economic woes and loss of subscribers, or did the readers quit subscribing because of the deterioration of the WaPo?

Posted by: waterfrontproperty | October 29, 2009 6:16 PM | Report abuse

Since the conservatives are barking--even one conservative is enough "feedback" for Mr. Alexander--expect another column citing the Pew Report calling for the Post to hire more conservative writers and pay attention to conservative blogs.

The Post Opinion Page reads like a road trip with John Fund and the other deeply right wing Wall Street Journal writers.

Today there are three or four columns attacking Obama, calling for more war, and all week Mr. Hiatt has been using his own imaginary facts to attack what the Health Care Bill "might" do.

FoxNews=Washington Post

Mr. Alexander=Debbie Howell

Posted by: wapoisrightwingrag | October 30, 2009 7:26 AM | Report abuse

Is there not a problem with starting games so late--especially with professional sports that have to begin in prime time?

There are still a few old cranks like myself who can remember when the World Series actually was played in afternoons.

Posted by: hambya | October 30, 2009 11:47 AM | Report abuse

Mr. Alexander: when you failed to take notice of Anne Applebaum's conflict of interest in her column about Roman Polanski (she's married to the Polish ambassador, whose official position of Polanski as victim her column supported), I was surprised. When my comment about it was not posted, I was suspicious. When your recent column about conflict of interest failed to deal rationally with Ms. Eilperin's continuing conflict and the damage it would inevitably do to the post, I was saddened. Clearly, you don't understand at least some major responsibilities of your position. From now on, I will give you the same attention I give Applebaum: none.


Posted by: Deric1 | November 2, 2009 9:49 AM | Report abuse

What about other sports results? For instance Henry Allen knocking out Manuel Roig-Franzia in the first round? Must have been quite a fight, will the story make it into the paper?

Or how about coverage of new records? Many readers won't be surprised that Monica Hesse was taking part in the second worst story in the style section in 43 years, but will the Post report about the details?

Probably not. But good to know that at least some veterans still care about the quality of the stories. Kudos to Mr. Allen, well done!

Posted by: Gray62 | November 2, 2009 5:03 PM | Report abuse

Well, after reading more about the interesting newsroom, uh, style, of handling controversies, I see that this is an issue for the ombudsman, too. The question is: How should alleged "journalists" react when a senior, merited editor points out dire mistakes in their story? By calling him a d*** and a c***sucker, or by taking the criticism to heart and showing extra dilligence in getting the facts straight? What is more in the interest of the reader, and consequently the newspaper?

Posted by: Gray62 | November 2, 2009 6:35 PM | Report abuse

The problem is not individual bias, it is really simple. The Post, like many other Newspapers, is suffering from "big-boyitus." What counts is the nuts and bolts of information, not the talking heads, inflated egos, or insider mutterings. Those are important to some people, but if you are doing the nuts and bolts reporting people can draw their own conclusions.

Not getting the previous night game is a symptom of a larger problem. Your paper doesn't report the news. It doesn't have sufficient beat reporters who cover the courts, the sports, the police hq's, and the communities, and editors who make sure that information is available in a timely manner.

I could care less about sports, but I do care about the Mayor's office. Are you even bothering to investigate it?

Where is the spirit to dig into things and find out what is beyond the press releases and photo ops? A guy is polished and looks squeaky clean, but if you don't dig you'll never find out that the guy is throwing contracts to cronies, or breaking a half dozen laws while his lawyer puts out press releases that everything is squeaky clean because the lawyer says it is. And your reporters just publish the press releases. Does anyone ask questions? No?

You couldn't do a Watergate in this day and age. You don't have the courage, skepticism, or willingness to dig into a story.

Posted by: chris_holte | November 3, 2009 5:18 PM | Report abuse

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