The Times Drops Its Rugby League Coverage

News today that the UK Times has dropped its Rugby League coverage its quite honestly a disgrace.

The Times made the decision a few years ago to make a commitment to cover Rugby League. This decision came with great fanfare and was seen as a good sign for Rugby League in the UK. Many hopes that is was a small step taken in the push the game towards gaining a wider audience and helping it break in to the main stream established media.

Chris Irvine hosted a very successful Rugby League Blog on the Times Online. I always found it interesting that the Times would be forward thinking enough with its Rugby League coverage to not only do traditional reporting on the game, but to allow Irvine to give his thoughts and opinions on the game and have that interactivity with fans.

Alas, today the news came through that the Times would cut its full time coverage of Rugby League.

The Times is owned by News Limited, who lets face it, has made millions out of Rugby League. When you look at the success of Super League and the content it has provided Sky Sports in the UK, you have News Limiteds involvement as a 50% owner of the NRL, as the owner of the Melbourne Storm and a major shareholder in the Brisbane Broncos.

This is a company that makes a lot of money out of the game only to cut back in its reporting of Rugby League in one of its biggest media markets. When you consider that Rugby League would provide more content to the Sydney Daily Telegraph than any subject, the decision the Times has come to doesn’t sit well with me at all.

If you haven’t been following the news recently, there is a big problem with newspapers around the world in that circulation is falling, money in being lost and people generally are getting more and more of their news from the internet and 24 hour news channels.

Where once you picked up a newspaper on a morning to get the latest reports, reports that were filed the previous evening, now you can turn on the television and get instant news. Through news web sites, blogs and social networks like Twitter and Facebook, news travels at an instant.

By the time something is printed in a newspaper, its old news. Coverage isn’t breaking, its a wrap up of what happened yesterday, and that is not enough for people in this day and age.

I remember as a youngster walking to the local shops to pick up Rugby League Week for all the latest news and rumours. At some point though, I was reading things I’d seen on the internet a week ago.

That is the major problem the print media faces.

Because of this move away from traditional news sources, circulations are down, which means advertising dollars are down, and that means cutbacks.

Now, if you were a company that was heavily invested in the print media, a News Corporation if you will, you’d not be all that happy about the decline in one of your main income sources. You are paying so many journalists so much money and through newspapers you are getting to the point where you are almost losing money, while your online outlets don’t bring in enough money to sustain your massive world wide journalistic network.

People log on to your sites, they read the news, they give you a few hits, but its just not enough. Especially when you are finding that a lot of competitors, especially bloggers and the social media, are simply reading your news articles and reproducing them elsewhere.

That makes your major news corporations no money at all!

So the big idea News Limited is starting to push is subscription services for its news through its major news sites.

This is a trend that started in the United States and has worked with varying levels of success. You find that News Limited goes into a market preaching this subscription service, they take one of their major publications and put it behind a pay wall, then they sit back, take the flak and let for the dust to finally settle.

Make no mistake, News Limiteds major plan is for all of us to one day have to pay a subscription fee to read news papers online, and thats fair enough, it is their content.

One of the problems I’m finding with this direction is that the quality of journalism is suffering. It is no longer good enough to break a story through hard work and investigation. You break a story, great, five minutes later that story is all over the world.

Breaking news and exclusives don’t really exist in this day and age.

If you are a web site, and a subscription site at that, now there is one thing that is king, and that is page hits. The more hits you get, the more valuable you are and the more likely you are going to be kept on while other areas, no matter how good their work is, will be allowed to fall by the way side.

If you look at the Daily Telegraph in Sydney as an example, you’ll have noticed that over the last 2 or 3 years it has gone from some good reporting to sensationalism.

You can do a fantastic match report or in depth analysis of the game, and yet sensationalized headlines about what a greedy bastard Sonny Bill Williams is or how Anthony Mundine thinks everyone is a racist gets massive hits, and therefore, articles like that get priority over good journalism.

Its at the point now where there is some really good stuff being written, and it is getting brushed to the side so we can rate the top ten fullbacks in the game or talk about how over rated Willie Mason is!

In short, the major news companies are lowering the bar in search for more income through their online news outlets.

Today, Rugby League has become a victim of that policy. Chris Irvine will get another job, he’s too good at what he does to not be picked up by another news organization. The thing is, as a sport, Rugby League needs to evaluate the way it will connect to the mainstream into the future as media organizations are not so much interested in reporting as they are raising their revenue.

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