Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News Editors Address Future of Sports Coverage

Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News Editors Address Future of Sports Coverage

On Friday we posted about an Inquirer article explaining some of the changes happening down on North Broad at the Philadelphia Media Network. We openly wondered how the two papers sharing reporters in some instances would affect the way our favorite sports teams would be covered, using the Phillies as our example.

We followed that up by reporting that the two papers would switch to a model of one "beat writer" handling duties for both papers. Our information was correct, but limited as to just how that would work.

On Friday evening the Executive Sports Editor at the Daily News, Josh Barnett, reached out to us via email to further explain the changing landscape of covering Philadelphia's sports teams for the town's once-competing newspapers. He shared the vision for the Daily News, Inquirer, and perhaps most importantly Philly.com in a digital world and answered our questions in the process.

With Barnett's permission we're reposting his email in full here, cosigned by Inquirer Sports Editor John Quinn. It was sent on Friday, February 17th:

Enrico:
 
Hope all is well.
 
We wanted to reach out to you in response to your post this morning about the changes being made in sports coverage at our company and provide some more details.
 
We had staff meetings and individual meetings with writers and editors yesterday and today, so we feel comfortable sharing this information publicly. It was important to us that the people on our staffs understood the plans first and were given the opportunity to ask questions.
 
Some background: In mid-December, the two of us and Philly.com executive sports producer Matt Romanoski were tasked with coming up with a new approach to sports coverage that would allow us to expand our already substantial reach in the region and beyond; avoid duplication while maintaining each brand; and focus our competitive nature outward rather than within our company. We have more sports journalists working in this region than any other media entity and we need to focus the scope and immense talents of those people toward a more common goal.
 
By April 1, readers will see a variety of changes in all coverage areas  -- from high schools to the pros -- with sharper opinion and analysis, and more in-depth enterprise -- and across all platforms and products -- the Daily News, the Inquirer, philly.com, SportsWeek, the Sunday Inquirer, etc. Modifications in coverage might come sooner in some areas, but our intention is to have the plan fully engaged by April 1.
 
This is a complete sea change for everyone here so it will take some time and there will be in the inevitable growing pains, but we have been impressed already by how willing our staffs have been to embrace these changes and their recognition that the time has come for these moves.
 
Here are some examples of the types of things we are talking about and will answer some of the questions that you posed at the end of your post.
 
We will have a group of writers whose work will exclusively appear in the Daily News, a group of writers whose work will exclusively appear in the Inquirer and a group of writers whose work will appear in both papers. Everything in the print editions -- and much more -- will appear on philly.com along with new content that is being finalized.
 
What we have identified as "beat writer" information -- game stories, transactions, injury updates, etc. -- will be shared between the papers and handled by one writer per beat although we will supplement that one writer with other staffers to add depth and perspective to that information in both print and online. Generally, all this information will appear on philly.com first in one form or another. If sports fans in this market want a running report of all the day's sports news, we want them to turn to philly.com in "real time."
 
Beyond that, our columnists will be assigned to work at philly.com on a day-to-day basis to provide instant analysis on the breaking news and happenings of the day. If you want to know what Rich Hofmann or Bob Ford thinks about what Andy Reid said at noon or on a Flyers trade, you won't have to wait until the next day's paper. That will be on philly.com. A version of what they write on philly.com might be reverse-published into the next day's newspaper or it might not be. Every sports journalist in our company will have a digital responsibility as part of his or her job. Virtually all of them do already, but this will be a much more coordinated effort. That is all part of the "digitally focused" effort that Stan referenced in the piece in today's Inquirer.
 
Overall, the new system allows us to not have two people from our company standing next to each other waiting for the same player/coach/et al to ask virtually the same question. The other writer could be in another part of the locker room talking to someone else for a column or an analysis piece or somewhere else entirely for an enterprise piece or the SportsWeek cover story or an A-1 piece in the Sunday Inquirer.
 
So, would a Matt Gelb game story appear in both papers on the same day? Yes. But on some days it would be supplemented in the Daily News by a David Murphy analysis piece and supplemented in the Inquirer by a Bob Brookover analysis piece -- potentially along with columnists for each brand. The columnists will remain brand specific. Would Murphy not be writing for the paper some days and only writing for the web? Absolutely.
 
By working together and not in competition, we can now use our strength in numbers to cover a wider array of stories and provide depth in some areas that we have been unable to do previously.
 
We look forward collectively to what the future holds.
 
Josh Barnett
Executive Sports Editor
Philadelphia Daily News
 
John Quinn
Sports Editor
Philadelphia Inquirer

After reading their response, I wondered why some sort of collaboration didn't happen sooner. As an outsider, I never really understood the apparent animosity between the two papers. It's such a strange dynamic of "competitors" being under the same ownership. It seems like joining forces, especially in sports, was the obvious evolution.

Upon first blush it makes sense from the editors high up, but the real interesting part is going to be watching to see how the kids in the trenches all play nice with each other going forward.

As fans of good sports coverage, we're glad to hear that their goals, at least for now, are to just find a more efficient way to get non-redundant coverage out of a talented stable of writers.

There is only one way to write the details of Kyle Kendrick's new 2-year $7.5 million, but it's always good to get a little more thoughtful analysis from a koala.

Do you think the two papers and Philly.com will benefit from these changes? Do you think they'll be able to smoothly implement them after years of working against each other?

Penn at Dartmouth: Quakers begin Ivy play on national TV

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Penn at Dartmouth: Quakers begin Ivy play on national TV

Penn (0-2, 0-0) at Dartmouth (2-0, 0-0)
Memorial Field, Hanover, N.H.
Friday, 7 p.m., NBC Sports Network

Penn certainly isn’t happy with how its first two non-conference games of the season went, but things get more serious now as the Quakers open Ivy League play on national TV. Here’s a look at what’s on tap.

Scouting Penn
Despite coming into the season with high expectations, the Quakers have gotten off to a slow start. After struggling defensively in a 49-28 loss to Lehigh in its season opener, the Quakers committed three turnovers in a 31-17 setback to Fordham last week. One bright spot vs. Fordham was the play of running back Tre Solomon, who led the way in both rushing (93 yards) and receiving (52 yards). But through two games, Penn has given up 494 yards per game, which ranks 110th out of 122 FCS teams.

Scouting Dartmouth
After sharing last year’s Ivy League title with Harvard and Penn last season, the Big Green enter conference play as one of the favorites again. Picked to finish third in the preseason (behind Harvard and Penn), Dartmouth opened the year by upsetting nationally ranked New Hampshire for the first time in 40 years and trouncing Holy Cross. Junior quarterback Jack Heneghan, a first-year starter who currently ranks second in the Ivies in total offense, led the way in last week’s win by completing 18 of 29 passes for 240 yards, a touchdown and zero interceptions. Ten different receivers caught passes for the Big Green, who are also employing a running back-by-committee approach with the team averaging over 200 rushing yards per game. Defensively, Dartmouth ranks 15th in the FCS in yards allowed per contest (311.5).

Series history
After winning 15 out of 16 games vs. Dartmouth heading into 2014, Penn has dropped its last two to the Big Green, including a home loss in last year’s Ivy League opener. Overall, the Quakers lead the series 47-34-2, and have won seven of their last nine games in Hanover. 

Storyline to watch
Penn’s dynamic duo of quarterback Alek Torgersen and receiver Justin Watson were on fire in the first half of Penn’s first game. But since then, they’ve struggled to keep their connection purring as Fordham, doubling Watson throughout the day, held Torgersen without a touchdown and limited Watson to just three catches for 33 yards. The two players have since looked at a lot of tape and have tried to figure out new schemes, so it will be interesting to see if they can bounce back at Dartmouth, especially if Watson again faces double-teams. 

What’s at stake?
This is a huge Ivy League opener under the lights with the winner getting an early leg up in the chase for the conference title. The loser can also still end up winning the crown (as Penn proved last season) but it will make it very difficult not to share it.

Prediction
Even though the Quakers are 0-2 and the Big Green are 2-0, Penn probably has the more experienced team. And even though it’s a tough trip to New Hampshire, the Quakers will be out for vengeance after last season’s loss.

Penn 31, Dartmouth 28

Eagles film review: To double or not to double Fletcher Cox?

Eagles film review: To double or not to double Fletcher Cox?

Ben Roethlisberger probably knew he was in for a long game against the Eagles defense on Sunday from the opening snap. Why? Because on the very first play, Fletcher Cox had already driven Pro Bowl right guard David DeCastro right into the Steelers quarterback's lap.

After registering 9.5 sacks in 2015, Cox's dominance is not in dispute. That was in an entirely different scheme though. Now that the fifth-year veteran is freed from his responsibilities as a five-technique defensive end in a 3-4 defense, he's allowed to go on the attack more as a wide-nine defensive tackle in a 4-3 alignment. What does that mean for opposing offenses?

The better question might be what does it mean for Cox's teammates?

As the film shows, the Steelers were faced with an impossible dilemma: try to block Cox one-on-one knowing his potential to take over a game, or double-team the NFC Defensive Player of the Month for September and force the rest of the defensive line to beat them. It turns out, there was no right answer, because the Eagles' front four is more than capable of winning up front too.

Let's go back to the opening play from scrimmage though. The Steelers probably went in hoping DeCastro could hold his own at least a little bit against Cox — they did just award the guard a five-year contract extension worth $50 million. Take notice of where he begins the play, at about the Pittsburgh 23-yard line.

It looks like DeCastro is on roller skates, as Cox just pushes him straight into the backfield and right on top of Roethlisberger, impacting the quarterback's vision and ability to throw the football. He does manage to get rid of it, completing a pass to Antonio Brown for no gain.

That was only the beginning for DeCastro, who according to Football Outsiders Almanac had not allowed a sack since 2013 coming into this season. Cox would later fix that for him.

Here we are at 2nd-and-18 from the Eagles' 46-yard line in the third quarter, an obvious passing situation with the score 27-3 and the game quickly slipping away from the Steelers. DeCastro has already taken his share of lumps by this point, and Cox is coming again.

No. 66 is six yards deep in the backfield this time, and Cox has help. Connor Barwin and Brandon Graham are collapsing the pocket off the edges this time as well, leaving Roethlisberger nowhere to go.

Cox gets to the quarterback and knocks the ball loose for his second sack of the game, the recovery on the play going to Graham. The Eagles score again off of the turnover, and the rout is officially on.

Of course, Cox's ability to single-handedly take over a game is nothing new. Excluding nine plays labeled as screen or quick throws, he was on the field for 26 pass-rush opportunities on Sunday. 12 times, the Steelers tried to block him up one-on-one. The result of those snaps: Roethlisberger was 6 for 11 for 66 yards — a 6.0 average — with the sack fumble.

The problem is the Steelers didn't fare much better when Cox was double-teamed. It works to perfection in the frame above, giving Roethlisberger a huge pocket and all the time in the world on 3rd-and-6 to complete a 32-yard pass to Eli Rogers during the game's opening possession.

This was the exception though, not the rule. In fact, the Steelers hit on more big plays through the air, otherwise the passing attack was even worse when Cox was doubled. In those instances, Roethlisberger was 3 for 9 for 56 yards — a 6.2 average — with a seven-yard scramble and a 19-yard pass interference call, but also three sacks and an interception.

Because even if two bodies manage to take Cox out of the play, then the other three rushers are left in one-on-one. This is the play before the Roethlisberger fumble. On 1st-and-10, guard B.J. Finney and four-time Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey have the double team.

The tight end and running back are both there to chip, but Barwin, Graham and Bennie Logan at the other tackle spot are essentially all working one-on-one matchups.

Cox is taken completely out of the play. He's probably been moved a good six or seven yards away from where he started and is a total non-factor — well, except for the part where he took the attention away from Barwin, Logan and Graham. All three win their assignment and are collapsing the pocket, leaving no room to step and throw and no room to escape. Logan utlimately gets there first, beating DeCastro.

That type of attention on Cox can create all kinds of favorable situations for the Eagles defense.

This time, DeCastro and Pouncey have the double on Cox, but note that Vinny Curry has slid inside from his normal spot at end and is tucked in front of No. 58 Jordan Hicks on 3rd-and-6 from the Eagles' 22-yard line in the first quarter.

At 6-foot-3, 279 pounds, Curry is an excellent fastball to use situationally on the interior, especially when Cox draws all of the focus from the two best offensive lineman on the field. Veteran guard Foster escorts the pass-rusher to Roethlisberger, who somehow winds up getting out of this jam, scrambling for seven yards and a first down.

Despite the end result, Cox changed the entire outlook of a play, and he barely had to move. Escapes such as these are going to be rare against the wide-nine as well, just as long as there's pressure like this coming up the middle. Getting to the outside when Barwin and Graham are collapsing the pocket from those extreme angles off the edge is not easy.

Of course, a double team isn't necessarily going to stop Cox, even if it is a couple of Pro Bowlers in DeCastro and Pouncey. It's 3rd-and-7 at the Eagles' 13-yard line in the second quarter, and it's still a tight ball game at 10-0, so the defense needs a stop.

It looks like they have Cox contained, but he's not going to be denied.

Pouncey senses Graham breaking inside and leaves DeCastro to make the save there, which isn't going to have the desired result. The guard loses his leverage, and Cox has one of his two sacks for the game, holding the Steelers to three points in the process.

Again, we're not exactly breaking the news that Cox is a disruptive force or anything. That being said, there was some question whether he would live up to the six-year, $103 million contract extension he signed over the summer, or if he was ever worth that in the first place.

The reality is in this wide-nine, Cox can make this defense go. His very presence gives offenses impossible options — block him one-one-one and let him collapse the pocket by himself, or double team him and leave the rest of the offensive linemen on an island with the likes of Barwin, Graham, Logan and Curry.

The Steelers found out the hard way that there is no easy solution, or perhaps even no solution at all.

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