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The Lone Paper State

Well, it looks like Mark Cuban was just slightly ahead of his time.

Writing in his "Blog Maverick," the owner of the Dallas Mavericks NBA franchise mused that in order for money-losing newspapers to save cost and stay relevant, they ought to band together - with help from the leagues - in covering sports teams:

My suggestion ... is to create a "beatwriter co-operative." ... The writers would cover multiple teams and multiple sports. They will report to the newspapers where the articles will be placed, who will have complete editorial control. In exchange, the newspapers will provide a minimum of a full page on a daily basis in season, and some lesser amount out of season. ... And most importantly, these articles will be exclusive to print subscribers. They can do all the ad supported short summaries online and minute by minute blog posts and tweets they would like. To make this work, print editions and subscriber only online sites have to become the de facto destinations for in depth and unique coverage. They have to become the local version of's for pay "ESPN Insider."


Well, not even three weeks since this blog post appeared, the "beat writer co-operative" is being formed in Cuban's very own Metroplex market. The Dallas Morning News and Fort Worth Star-Telegram announced that they will be combining sports coverage for all local pro and college teams, except the Dallas Cowboys.

Beginning Feb. 1, the Morning News will cover Cuban's Mavericks and the NHL Dallas Stars. The Star-Telegram will cover the Arlington-based Texas Rangers baseball team. This means the elimination of three pro beat writers, not to mention a number of others who cover auto racing, golf and college sports.

Star-Telegram Executive Editor Jim Witt and Morning News Editor Bob Mong said the move was being made in order to allow both papers to reduce expenses and eliminate duplicate stories while maintaining high-quality coverage of topics readers have come to expect.

So what once was considered journalistic competition is now merely viewed as "duplicate stories"? Welcome to 2009, the brave new world of newspaper journalism.

To be sure, the Metroplex Merger is not even the first of its kind. The Washington Post and Baltimore Sun already started doing that on Jan. 1, on a far bigger scale involving many beats outside of sports. And there will be more to come.

Quickly spinning my head from coast-to-coast, I've come up with a not-so-short list of cooperatives soon to hit a market near you:

* Boston: Globe and Herald - The New York Times Co., owner of the Globe, really needs to save money and may need to dump the Globe altogether.
* Philadelphia: Inquirer and Daily News - They already share the same web site.
* Chicago: Tribune and Sun-Times - Trib filed for bankruptcy and Sun-Times is a penny stock.
* Detroit: Free Press and News - The papers will be drastically cutting back their print editions.
* Twin Cities: Minneapolis Star Tribune and St. Paul Pioneer Press - Star Trib just ended contract talks with the unions; bankruptcy may be next.
*San Francisco Bay Area: MediaNews already merged beats from Oakland, San Jose and Contra Costa. The Chronicle may soon join in.
* Los Angeles: Trib-owned LA Times may soon either abandon Orange County altogether, or enter into a forced marriage with the Register to cover the O.C.
* Seattle: Actually, with the Post-Intelligencer on the verge of being shut down, the Times might be the only game in town soon.

Things sure look bleak for the newspaper business in 2009 ... and we're not even two weeks into it yet.