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A long season beckons for more than just the Dodgers

February 19, 2010 |  6:08 pm
Pitchers and catchers report to camp for the Dodgers on Saturday, which means that for the last two days coaches and staff members have been filtering into the Arizona desert -- along with the beat writers.

For the Dodgers, that means both of ’em.

Let’s take a moment to give it up for the Los Angeles Times’ Dylan Hernandez and Dodger.com’s Ken Gurnick, last of a dying breed.

For a team that not that long ago had a minimum of eight to 10 traveling beat writers, Hernandez and Gurnick are survivors.

They may work every day for the next six weeks, then be on the road for half of the next six months or home working mostly nights under ridiculous deadlines. Then work all of October covering the playoffs. And we’ll tell your families you said hello.

Ah, such a glorious life. It used to be that the baseball writer was the plum job at a newspaper. He wrote more than anyone, so the best writers gravitated to the beat. Most newspaper columnists were at one time a baseball beat writer.

But most non-metro newspapers no longer cover baseball, or much of anything else that isn’t extremely local.

For decades, the L.A. Times, L.A. Daily News, Orange County Register, Long Beach Press-Telegram, San Bernardino Sun, South Bay Daily Breeze, San Gabriel Valley Tribune and Pasadena Star-News all had their own full-time traveling beat writers.

The old Los Angeles Herald-Examiner and Santa Monica Outlook used to have Dodgers beat writers. When the Star-News stopped traveling with the team in the ‘90s, the Riverside Press-Enterprise began.

The Dodgers would come into town with a small army of writers. Men and women who competed on a daily basis to break stories, to bring readers closer to players, to help all get a better understanding of the team.

They’d be at ballparks late after the lights were out, filing stories, one eye on deadline, the other wondering if they’d make last call.

They would bleed for a scoop, but drew strength from each other,  brethren only they could fully understand. The beat was a beacon to colorful characters who helped make the season’s long grind bearable.

Now The Times is the last newspaper standing.

Only Hernandez and Gurnick, who was previously a Dodgers beat writer for several area newspapers, now cover the team on a daily basis. This season Tony Jackson, formerly of the Daily News, will cover home games for ESPN.com/Los Angeles and make selected road trips.

But that’s it. The expense of covering a team home and away is significant, and is everyone is aware, newspaper circulation is in steep decline.

The number of papers covering the Dodgers had already begun to dwindle when Dean Singleton bought most of the surrounding area papers about 10 years ago. He had one beat writer cover for the Daily News, Press-Telegram, Sun, Star-News, Tribune, and later the Breeze.

Then last April, Jackson was laid off and they had none. Shortly afterward, the Press-Enterprise bowed out. And it was down to The Times and MLB’s Dodgers.com.

It’s not good for the fans, who now have fewer writers to offer perspective and insight. It’s not good for the players -- if they didn’t get along with one writer, they once had seven others to work with.

And it’s not healthy for the writers, who, if they got weary of one personality, could always hang out with one another.

Let’s hope the two survivors get along, because a very long season is about to begin.

-- Steve Dilbeck
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