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Kevin Garnett’s Knees and the Decline of Local Newspapers

- April 21, 2009

I always assumed that, despite the suffering of local newspapers, local sports coverage would remain robust. Sports are far more popular than, say, politics, and so it seemed to me that local sports coverage would retain a larger audience, which would ensure that it received ample resources from newspapers.

Bill Simmons says no. His subject is Kevin Garnett’s apparently season-ending injury, which was successfully downplayed or concealed by the Celtics for several weeks.

bq. What remains amazing was the media’s willingness to accept Boston’s strategy that could only be described as “stringing everyone along.” Garnett didn’t have an identifiable injury. This wasn’t a case of “he tore his MCL, he’ll be back in four weeks” or even “he’s got some bone chips in there, we might have to clean them out.” Really, the dude just has old knees. He put too many miles on them and played with too much intensity for too long. When the knees go, they go. That’s just the law of the NBA. It’s as simple as that.

bq. There’s a hidden sub-story lurking here: It involves the fall of newspapers, lack of access and the future of reporting, not just with sports but with everything. I grew up reading Bob Ryan, who covered the Celtics for the Boston Globe and remains the best basketball writer alive to this day. Back in the 1970s and early ’80s, he was overqualified to cover the team. In 1980, he would have sniffed out the B.S. signs of this KG story, kept pursuing it, kept writing about it, kept working connections and eventually broken it. True, today’s reporters don’t get the same access Ryan had, but let’s face it: If 1980 Bob Ryan was covering the Celtics right now, ESPN or someone else would lure him away. And that goes for the editors, too. The last two sports editors during the glory years of the Globe’s sports section were Vince Doria and Don Skwar, both of whom currently work for ESPN.

bq. For the past few years, as newspapers got slowly crushed by myriad factors, a phalanx of top writers and editors fled for the greener pastures of the Internet. The quality of nearly every paper suffered, as did morale. Just two weeks ago, reports surfaced that the New York Times Company (which owns the Globe) was demanding $20 million in union concessions or it’d shut down the Globe completely. I grew up dreaming of writing a sports column for the Globe; now the paper might be gone before I turn 40. It’s inconceivable…

bq. …But I find it a little chilling that the best player on the defending NBA champion could be sidelined for two solid months, with something obviously wrong, and nobody came close to unraveling the real story. We still don’t know what’s wrong with his knee. We just know it’s screwed up. And, yeah, you could say that Garnett has always been guarded — with just a few people in his circle of trust — and yeah, you could say that only a few members of the Celtics organization know the truth (maybe coach Doc Rivers, GM Danny Ainge, majority owner Wyc Grousbeck, the trainers and that’s it). But this was a massive local sports story. Its coverage is not a good sign for the future of sports journalism or newspapers in general.

Maybe I need to re-think my assumptions.

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