‘Hartford Courant’ Cuts Last Major League Sports Beat

By: Joe Strupp

In a sign of what may become a trend for major newspapers seeking cost cuts, The Hartford Courant has dropped its last major sports beat writer position.

Jeff Otterbein, sports editor, said the paper will not send a reporter to cover the Boston Red Sox spring training, which begins next month, and will not staff a writer for their games.

“I just don’t have a beat writer to cover it anymore,” he said, noting last year’s Sox scribe, Jeff Goldberg, took a buyout. “For the first time, we will not cover them home and away.”

Goldberg’s departure was part of a significant cut last September that reduced the paper’s staffing by 25%. For sports, it marked the final cut in a beat coverage approach that had provided staff writers for the Red Sox, New England Patriots, New York Yankees and New York Giants in past years.

Given the Courant’s geographic positioning, equally between New York and Boston, the paper had sought to provide independent coverage of teams in both markets.

But, in 2007 the cuts began when the paper stopped staffing beat writers for both the Giants and Yankees. This past football season, the Patriots were not covered by a Courant beat writer for the first time. The Red Sox cutback will mean no major league beats are staffed by the paper.

“Now we will go to occasional games,” Otterbein said about the Red Sox. “but not all of them. I am in the process of figuring it all out.” He said he may simply use AP stories or try to work with other newspapers, but stressed nothing had been decided.

He noted that the paper sent three people to the Super Bowl last year because it was the Giants and the Patriots, two of its local teams.

Otterbein said the cutback in travel alone for a baseball beat is about $60,000, on top of the writer’s salary. He will still have a staff of 10 writers and editors and will continue focusing on local college sports and high school athletics.

“We put a lot of resources into UConn football and basketball,” he said. “That is a major part of our coverage.”

At least one other New England newspaper has also pulled back Red Sox coverage this year, the Portland (Maine) Press Herald. Interim sports editor Mike Lowe said the paper will not send anyone to spring training for the first time in many years. “We would always go to opening day and I don’t think they will this year,” he said. “It is the travel and overnight costs, just a way to save money.”

Lowe had also served as a Patriots beat writer for nine years, but said that beat will be gone as well. “I would go down to Foxboro once a week and cover all the home games and quite a few road games,” he said. “I was told we were not going to do that this year.”

Ironically, at least one paper that had already cut Red Sox and Patriots coverage, is planning to restore those beats this year. The Telegraph of Nashua, N.H., did not cover the two popular New England teams in 2008, but cut other areas — including sports pages and production positions — to restore the funding for this year.

“We are retooling the section to get more toward content-gathering,” said Alan Greenwood, sports editor. “We did not do it in 2008, we will in 2009.”

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