Which sports to cover? It’s a tough call

The Times frequently hears from readers asking why the Sports department doesn’t cover a particular sport, team or event.

These are among the recent inquiries:

From Terri Taylor of Westminster: “I am writing to express my disappointment that the Times does not provide results or even mention ‘smaller’ sports when providing coverage in its Sports page. I am specifically talking about swimming. This weekend is men’s PAC-10 swimming and last weekend was PAC-10 women’s swimming competition, both held locally at the Belmont Plaza pool in Long Beach. You never even mentioned this at all. You don’t even have a category online that includes swimming.”

From Georges Francoeur of Gilbert, Ariz.: “For the last two weeks I’ve been looking in your online paper for information on the UCLA Women Basketball Team. All I got is a big NOTHING! All the coverage is on the men’s side of the house. From what I know, the team is having an excellent year, and the L.A. Times has devoted nobody to cover and detail the wonderful year the team is having.”

From Marilyn Lusk of Irvine: “I have been a subscriber to the LA Times for over 30 years. I am shocked at the poor coverage of college basketball. Here we are in March and there is practically nothing about teams other than UCLA and USC … sometimes Gonzaga. L.A. is full of people from the East and Midwest. People who are college basketball fans want to know about the best teams, regardless of their locations.”

The Sports department, like all the others in the newsroom, has undergone painful reductions in recent years. Sports Editor Mike James addressed those cutbacks, and the difficult coverage decisions that result, in this response:

Because our staff, space in the paper and resources are so much smaller than they used to be, we simply can no longer cover everything the way we once did. Consequently, we have to make the difficult decisions every day on what events and sports we do cover and those that we can’t. Our decision has been to try to make sure we reach the greatest number of readers we can with resources available, and regrettably, that means that some areas don’t get much regular coverage. So our energies are more focused toward the beats with high readership, such as the Lakers, Dodgers, USC and UCLA, the NFL and the Olympics. In addition, whenever we uncover exceptional stories at any level in whatever sport, we’ll go after those stories because the subject matter will apply to a broad spectrum of readers.

Would I like to be able to cover the many colleges and universities in the area comprehensively? Of course. I’d love to be able to have a much greater presence on high school sports as well — we have more than 600 schools in our readership area. But that takes a substantial staff that we just don’t have now. And it takes a great deal of room in a shrinking Sports section.

True, we haven’t been covering a lot of women’s basketball this season, aside from a couple of features, largely because women’s basketball hasn’t been a major draw in L.A. Now that we’re in the Pac-10 tournament, though, we are covering that with a staff writer, and should one of our teams advance, we’ll cover that team in the NCAA tournament as well.

The Loyola Marymount men’s basketball team had a decent season, after its abysmal record a year ago, and had a couple of upsets late in the season. The Lions nearly made it to the conference tournament final, a game that we would have covered in Las Vegas had they won their semifinal game. And had they done that and advanced to the NCAA tournament, we would have covered them as long as they were alive. Of course, had we known that LMU was going to upset heavily favored Gonzaga late in the season, we would have covered that game. But alas, we can’t predict upsets like that and can’t afford to cover every game with the chance that an upset might occur.

In any event, we’re trying to cover events that mean the most to the most readers. It’s a balancing act every day. I won’t say all our choices are always correct, but I’ll say that they are all made after careful consideration.

This column was originally published on LATimes.com on March 12, 2010.

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