Nationals blogs forced to fill the print gap

With the Washington Nationals preparing for their most highly-anticipated spring training since the team moved to DC, the oft-snakebitten franchise finds itself without a voice at DC’s major newspapers.

The Washington Times today announced restructuring and layoffs that include drastic cut-backs in local news and sports reporting. The staff reductions of over 40% mean the Times is throwing in the towel on local print news to focus on national politics.

The announcement comes after Washington Post Nationals reporter Chico Harlan reported that he is leaving the Nationals beat as soon as the Post can find a replacement.

Of course, anybody paying attention saw it coming. Two seasons ago, when Harlan took over the Nats beat, he made it clear he wouldn’t stay in the job more than a couple of years. As for the Times, even their most tenured sports reporters have been interviewing for jobs this year as they watched readership drop and were continually asked to do more for less.

Nats followers will surely miss Mark Zuckerman and Ben Goessling’s Chatter, and the commentary of Thom Loverro, who last season so eloquently argued that the Nats must Let Teddy Win in order to escape the curse of Teddy Roosevelt.

But I’m going to miss Chico the most. Harlan won me over in his first weeks on the job, but the humor and eloquence with which he chronicled last year’s train wreck of a season merits a plaque in the sportswriter’s hall of fame.

As for the Nats, the sad reality is that come opening day, the Nationals Park press box will be home to just one full-time print journalist who has never covered the team.

Nationals president Stan Kasten has always had a love/hate relationship with bloggers, but his decision last season to embrace the Natosphere is looking mighty prescient. As print coverage continues to wither, a small army of loyal and dedicated Nationals bloggers continues to cover the team’s every move. The team has followed up this off-season with conference calls and invitations to press conferences as the Nats announced their skipper and GM.

The Natosphere is remarkably strong for such a young franchise. For better or worse, it represents the most consistent local coverage of our favorite team. Kudos to the Nats for recognizing the growing role of blogs in local coverage.

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