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Going Meta: Blogs And Traditional Media's Coverage of UCLA

This started out as a response in a fan post, but I wanted to build on that discussion with a front page blog post. There are some good comments there as well, so if you're interested in this topic, you might want to check that thread out, too. Here is what I wrote (with maybe a little editing and polishing):

I would think the last criteria a newspaper would have when assigning beats is what school the reporter attended. I promise you, if you looked at the New York Times, none of the reporters assigned to covering Manhattan or Fordham or St. John’s went to those schools. And, I think it is obvious that in some smaller, college-type towns, graduates of said college or university are going to work for the local paper. But Los Angeles is a big metropolitan with several newspapers and universities and so it's not going to be the case here.

Reporters are (theoretically) hired because they are strong reporters or strong writers, hopefully both. Editors don’t care where they went to school, as long as it was a good school. At most papers, reporters aren’t even necessarily experts in the sport they cover. They are experts at being reporters. That’s why writers are moved from beat to beat. Brian Dohn used to be the Lakers writer (or maybe it was the Dodgers) - point being, he is not some great expert in college football or even football. He’s (supposedly) an expert at reporting. Kurt Streeter of the LA Times didn’t even cover sports before he became a sports columnist - he was general assignment.

So, there is very little chance that a reporter necessarily comes from the school they cover.

Scott Wolf of the DN is an SC grad who covers SC. IMO, that’s a mistake on the DN’s part. But, SC has the biggest journalism school in LA, it’s gonna happen that some of their grads cover SC. I fairness to Wolf, it's not clear to me that he's necessarily favoring SC with his coverage -- if you look at some of the "wilder" message boards, Wolf is oft-criticized by Trojan fans.

For what it’s worth, Lonnie White played football at USC and he was one of the best UCLA beat writers I’ve read—knowledgeable in football and very fair.

On the other hand (and this is more important), newspapers are missing the point of blogs by asking their beat writers to write them. Because blog has a point of view and by asking your (supposedly) objective beat writer to write your blog, you’re really asking them to do a notes column online. Maybe a little of their perspective gets in, but mostly its notes and information without the opinions.

At the LA Times, their blog editor (Tony Pierce, who wrote “How to Blog” and whose blog (I think it is called BusBlog) is well done, hired Adam Rose to do the UCLA blog after Rich Perelman left. Rose went to SC, but I think he got the gig because he was blogging at LAist where Pierce was the editor. So, he got the job because he is a “blogger”—that is, he’s a skilled blogger, not necessarily a reporter or a UCLA fan.

I personally like what Rose does, though I don’t read it every day. For me, the downside of Rose is that because I’m a fan who really follows things closely, I think I know as much as he does, so there isn’t that much there for me. But if you didn’t read this site and some message boards, Adam probably has a lot of good, new information. I really don’t think Adam has done anything to suggest that because he went to SC, he is undermining UCLA in his blog.

Truth is, newspapers have not figured out what to do with blogs. Assigning their beat writers is probably not the way to go, but most aren’t going to hire a writer other than the beat writer to write a team blog. The Times is doing that, in fairness to them. But generally, newspaper blogs on sports teams don’t have a point of view, they try to be as objective as the reporting is, which isn’t always objective, but it tries to be.

If a paper’s coverage is more slanted to SC, I really believe that it is because they’ve decided that’s what sells papers, not because the editor or writer went to SC. Case in point, btw, is the way the LA Times covers the Dodgers and Angels. The Angels are a much better team with a way better record and way more exciting players, but the Times covers the Dodgers like they are the better team. That’s because the Dodgers are more popular and sell more papers.

The most important beats in LA are the Lakers and Trojan football. I’m positive of that. Coverage of those sports sells the most papers. So, they are going to get the coverage.UCLA basketball might arguably be as good as Trojan football, but college hoops does not sell papers the way football does.

The newspapers in this town are flawed. The Daily News and its sister papers are being dismantled by their owner and the Times is laying off and buying our reporters left and right. No one knows how to monetize the online situation and therefore they are struggling with what to do about blogs and other online content.

But I don't think their flaws are rooted in any bias nor do I think the education of the writers and editors are impacting content -- subjective or otherwise.