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The El Paso (Some)Times: Where Was Paper for UTEP’s Upset? [OPINION]

Arguably the biggest victory of the season for UTEP. First road win. Young team. Nearly 17,000 fans cheering against the Miners in one of the most hostile settings in all of Conference USA. Against all odds, UTEP beat the Memphis Tigers in their own building, 60-58.

But take a good look at the lead paragraph of Bill Knight’s story in the El Paso Times. There’s something missing.

Look ma, no dateline!

What is a dateline? It’s the city or place from where a story is being written, usually in parantheses and in all-caps. You don’t put one on anything written locally. If they did, the El Paso Times’ dateline on its UTEP story might possibly read…

(BUFFALO WILD WINGS) –

…because it was written from the perspective of the national telecast of the game. Not that Knight was at a sports bar, but he was in front of a TV somewhere in El Paso.

If this makes you angry and you feel like complaining, going after Bill Knight or anyone in the sports department would be a waste of time. It’s not their fault. As a matter of fact, Knight deserves credit for turning what would probably have been a 10-inch story on a Miners’ loss into a 30-inch piece on the big win.

But there is fault, or worse yet, failure on the part of the El Paso Times and its ownership.

It’s the same failure all too evident in many U.S. daily newspapers these days. Faced with dwindling readership and revenue, the first money-saving cuts are made in editorial content — the very reason people read newspapers. Never mind that this turns a paper into a glorified Thrifty Nickel with ad circulars.

The El Paso Times is owned by one of America’s largest newspaper ownership collectives, MediaNews Group. So, especially when MNG’s top-heavy big-city newspapers like the San Jose Mercury-News or Denver Post lose money, that money gets made up on the backs of smaller papers, like the El Paso Times.

Consolidation and cost-cutting are hallmarks of MediaNews Group. This is why you’ll see bylines from Las Cruces Sun-News reporters when you read about NMSU sports in the Times. The Sun-News and many other Southern New Mexico papers are all part of Texas-New Mexico version of MNG.

A promise to Fox News-watchers out there: this is not a rant against Evil Corporate America. There’s nothing wrong at all with making a profit — except when you lose focus of the very thing that allows you the opportunity to make money in the first place.

Take the “news” out of newspaper and you’re left with what you use to line the birdcage. Fish wrap. Papier mache.

This is like knowing you’ll shoot yourself in the foot, so aim for the pinky toe because no one will notice. Except for when you miss and pop a round squarely in the plantar fascia, like not having the beat reporter present for one of UTEP’s biggest upsets in recent memory. And in a conference game? Ridiculous.

The Denver Post lost another 5,000 subscriptions. Let’s not send Bill Knight to Memphis. THAT’LL save some dough!

But how many more subscriptions will be lost in El Paso?

Part of the problem is that the newspaper industry is finding it difficult to embrace new media. Read the Wikipedia link on MediaNews Group’s corporate culture again. Its CEO has said it’s committed to print journalism, not diversification.

No matter how many Twitter followers or Facebook likes a paper has, no matter the increasing numbers of people who read news on their smart phones, newspapers continue to stumble over social media and the internet.

Part of the problem is that newspapers have large staffs of reporters and lots of moving parts. Web news is still a small man’s game. People are just getting used to idea of the internet as a sellable medium, so newspaper sales and marketing departments find it hard to justify the still-small returns. Only Google, AOL and Yahoo! get big bucks right now.

Part of the solution is that newspapers have large staffs of reporters and lots of moving parts. Newspapers still get attention, and no medium has the staff and ability to tell a story as thoroughly with print, pictures and pixels.

An example of a regional paper that does a great job covering sports and integrating with the internet is the Daily Oklahoman. For any big game, reporters narrate extensive game highlights with a separate video of the reporter and a columnist breaking down the game. It’s content that drives you to the website because you won’t find it in the paper.

Imagine if the El Paso Times had a couple of net-savvy journalists on hand for UTEP’s big win. Video highlights of the game, printed word, still photos and more would capture fans’ attention before the TV guys could keep their weekend appointments with us at 5:30 p.m.

But no. It was just Bill Knight parked in front of a television, somewhere in El Paso.

If any MediaNews Group bigwigs happened to be along for the ride, well … hope they at least paid Bill’s tab.

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