BY ANDY REID
Daily Sports Editor
Published November 18, 2008
Unlike professional journalists, Brian Cook doesn’t have to worry about the decline of print media and the buyouts and layoffs that have accompanied it.
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A graduate from the University’s School of Engineering and the proprietor of a blog about Michigan football called mgoblog.com, Cook quit his job as an engineer as soon as he figured out that revenue from the website could cover rent and groceries.
Since then, mgoblog.com has become substantially more popular, and Cook has begun writing a fan-based column for AOL.com and has started a season preview book for every football season.
Not too shabby for a Michigan fan who started a blogspot.com account as a hobby. But then again, the story of an obscure blogger breaking into the mainstream isn’t one we haven’t heard before.
To put it simply, Cook’s website has become the place for Michigan football coverage. In just a few years, he has overthrown the ranks of professional journalists who cover the team, representing a drastic change in the culture of news coverage (in this case, the coverage of Michigan football), a change that most major newspapers have yet to adapt to. Traditional sports coverage is vulnerable to new competition in its own way. As Cook has shown, a guy in the stands can have an edge over the big-name columnists in the press box.
With the Internet, people have come to expect more information, something the highly analytical mgoblog.com provides en masse. The Michigan football blogosphere has demanded attention, encouraging the establishment of several other popular sites like Varsity Blue, Maize n’ Brew and UMTailgate. Cook said that the Michigan fanbase — with the sheer number of alumni who are wealthy, tech-savvy, avid football fans — is the perfect following for blogs.
Even Michigan football coach Rich Rodriguez has taken notice.
“It’s a lot more bolder what people would say and write,” Rodriguez said in Monday’s press conference. “Not you (journalists), but bloggers or whatever, than it used to be. We’ve seen it coming for a few years.”
Infinite room VS. page constraints
Newspapers just can’t keep up with the depth and breadth of coverage that Cook and other Michigan bloggers provide.
“Whenever I read a newspaper, they never really went past a shallow understanding of the game,” Cook said. “I never actually learned anything from a newspaper about why these things happened the way they did and what you can expect from the future.”
Despite — or as Cook said, because of — mgoblog.com’s niche market and very technical football talk, the site gets about 50,000 page views a day. With circulation and page space in the print newspaper industry dwindling across the country, and newspapers still struggling to find a strong foothold online, more and more people are flocking to sites like mgoblog.com to get thorough coverage of Michigan sports.
What the blogs’ readers are finding is a type of coverage that is yet to grace the websites of the Detroit Free Press or The Detroit News.
“Our blogging and the way we do it, is we just want to get news up there first,” said Mark Snyder, the Michigan football and men’s basketball beat reporter for the Detroit Free Press. “But some of these blogs are so thorough that they’re breaking down plays and posting feeds from the game. And that’s more intricate than anything we post online.”
Cook has a weekly feature on his blog called “Upon Further Review,” which is one of the blog’s most in-depth and popular segments. In the post, he breaks down every single play — offense and defense — from all of Michigan’s games. Cook said that, in order for the Free Press to do something similar, the paper would have to hire someone in addition to the beat reporter who has extensive knowledge of the X’s and O’s of the game.
With the day-to-day grind of beat reporting, that type of depth is almost impossible for newspapers to imitate. Here’s a typical workday for Snyder — on the Monday before the Northwestern football game, he attended a nearly two-and-a-half-hour-long press conference, filing a story right there. Snyder then stayed at the building, transcribing football quotes and working until the basketball presser took place at 3 p.m. After the press conference, Snyder attended basketball practice, finally leaving after nine hours and still needing to file a story about the basketball team. That’s time Cook can spend analyzing plays and breaking down each game, while relying on reporters like Snyder to uncover the day-to-day business of the team.
Nowadays, a newspaper might publish one or two articles on a non-gameday, which isn’t enough to meet the demands of the avid fans who haved tuned to the blogosphere.
Cook said that if his coverage of Michigan football is one extreme, traditional newspaper beat reporting is the other. In order to find an effective strategy to meet readers’ needs, newspapers need to find a happy medium between the two.