Portland's Media Cyclone

In a 24 hour span last week, followers of Portland media received two major announcements, perhaps the two biggest of the year. Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold.

First, in what I imagine will be perceived as good news by most here, 95.5 FM will Kareem Abdul-Jabbar itself-- "Jammin" goes the way of Lew Alcindor, "The Game" takes its place with an all-sports identity.

Second, in what I imagine will be perceived by most everyone as bad news, the Portland Tribune is cutting back to one paper issue a week, from its current two, laying off staff in the process.  As far as I can tell, no major sports reporters were victims of layoffs. 

My thoughts on these developments.

-- Blazers expert and truth-teller Gavin Dawson is back, with a weeknightly program from 6PM to 7PM dubbed "Overtime."  Touchdown.

-- 1080 The Fan needs to come back swinging hard as it has been placed in an awkward position, on the outside looking in at the major sports stories happening here in Oregon.  "The Game", at first glance, seems tailor-made to level heavy body blows at The Fan's market share.  Big names (John Canzano, Ken Vance), better alignment with the area's teams of interest (Blazers, Ducks, Seahawks) and Jim Rome (yes, the man is corny but he puts up numbers like Josh Smith) equal a toxic brew for The Fan, a station that has endured the departure of former program director Dennis Glasgow, suffered staff cutbacks at the hands of Entercom Radio, and is looking to slog through the next 4 or 5 months with Mariners baseball as the lynchpin of its lineup.  On the plus side, Dan Patrick is back, and his show is as good as it gets on the radio.  I imagine the board room is jumping over at 1080.  Then again, maybe not.

-- If you don't think The Game is going to be breaking tons of major Blazers news next year, you're crazy.  The relationship between the organization, the radio station, and its talent just got even cozier.  Remember when Darius Miles was released?  Do you remember who got the first interview with Kevin Pritchard (only 10 minutes after the news was official)?  John Canzano on KXL.  This was a win/win for both parties: Pritchard was able to put out the organization's company line and Canzano was able to break the news with the first-on-the-scenes interview.  Look for this to be a regular occurrence in the 2008-2009 season.

-- The Tribune needs a new website design.  Their current look lacks the punch and professionalism of a serious paper's site and I worry that its unusual layout will not translate very well to daily updates.  Good stories will be lost.  Also, the site's Google Page Rank of 3 is evidence of a weak online presence for a professional media source.  Check out this chart to see that the Tribune lags behind both Oregonlive and the Portland Mercury in terms of website traffic.  I applaud the Tribune's move to the web but their traffic data calls into question the paper's long-term viability and strategic planning.  If and when the Tribune cuts its last remaining paper issue, will anyone be left enjoying its content?  If not, that will be a big loss.

-- As far as I can judge, there was no celebrating over at The Oregonian upon the Tribune's announcement.  Rather, there seemed to be a sense of conspiratorial sadness in response to the Tribune's cutbacks.  You hear it over and over again (and not just on The Wire), "These are tough times for the paper business."

-- The internet is the big winner.  Ultimately, both of these developments point to a trend that we were reminded of earlier this week during the Buzz Bissinger vs. Will Leitch smackdown: the internet is gobbling up eyeballs and ears, and its leaving big-time media properties in its wake.  To its credit, KXL has figured out the streaming audio game, publishing live feeds and podcasts of its programming.  As such, it has enjoyed a nice lead over The Fan in terms of web visitors.  Splitting itself from the polarizing news programming that exists currently, should make The Game's new website a go-to place for sports audio. 

-- FYI: Little birds have whispered in my ear, telling me that both the Portland Mercury and Comcast Sports Net  have new website layouts and strategies, coming shortly.  The arms race is underway.

-- A final big winner here: Blazersedge.  As the Trail Blazers, Comcast and The Game more closely align themselves, the independent voice and spirit you have enjoyed here only increases in importance.  A fanbase doesn't operate with a single voice or dance to a single drum. 

So, lover of Portland, basketball, and the media, I ask you: how do you interpet these changes?  Good, bad, ugly?  What's the fallout going to look like? Any predictions for the next 12 months?

-- Ben (benjamin.golliver@gmail.com)

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