Metropolitan newspapers have dominated news gathering, set the public agenda, served as the focal point of controversy, and credibly represented themselves as symbolizing and speaking for the cities whose names they have carried. They have tried to be everyone's source of news, appealing across the ideological spectrum, and to be comprehensive, providing their readers with whatever was of daily interest to them. Some newspapers, a smaller number than exist today, will survive the transition to the Web, but they probably will not possess the centrality, the scope, or the authoritative voice--much less the monopolies on metropolitan advertising--that newspapers have had.
The news media emerging in the digital environment seem likely to be more concentrated in some respects and more fragmented in others. Readership is already becoming concentrated in a national press. The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post seem well-positioned to capitalize on the abandonment of international, national, and cultural coverage by regional newspapers. The likely closing of some papers, or their retreat from daily to weekend print publication, should only intensify this shift. In Europe, the press has long been dominated by national papers; now American newspapers are moving in that direction.
If the sports media follows this progression, what will our world look like? More consumption of national sports media and therefore more focus on a few national teams. There is a common complaint in England that the football clubs in smaller towns have a hard time drawing new fans because all the young people in their villages want to support Manchester United or Arsenal instead of the local club. In an American sports landscape dominated by an increasingly national media, we could be headed in the same direction. Just wait for the composition of the crowds when the Red Sox and Yankees come to the Ted this summer. A lot of the support for the rapacious northern teams will come from transplants, but a lot of it will also come from locals who chose to support those teams instead of the Braves.
The major factor cutting against a nationalization of sports issues will be the proliferation of blogs devoted to one team. Blogs can cover a local team far more obsessively than newspapers ever could. Blogs can also be totally forthright in their assessments because they have no access to guard. If we get our sports news from blogs instead of newspapers, then there's no reason why local teams won't get plenty of interest.
On the other hand, the Internet permits a fan access to the obsessive blog coverage of teams around the world. 20 years ago, I would have had no option to read in-depth daily coverage of teams outside of those covered by my local newspaper. Today, if I want to be an intense fan of F.C. Barcelona, I can read blogs about the team, as well as English-language articles from a number of publications about the team and its rivals in La Liga. I'll admit that I'm odd, but the decline of the metropolitan newspaper and the shift of news consumption to the Internet doesn't simply imply that the Cowboys, Lakers, and Yankees are going to become more popular; it also implies that they are going to have to compete with Manchester United, Barcelona, and AC Milan. In the end, metro areas will rally around one team with far less frequency.
Starr also predicts a greater gap between news junkies and the rest of the populace:
For those with the skills and interest to take advantage of this new world of news, there should be much to be pleased with. Instead of being limited to a local paper, such readers already enjoy access to a broader range of publications and discussions than ever before. But without a local newspaper or even with a shrunken one, many other people will learn less about what is going on in the world.
We can already see this phenomenon in the world of sports. Nuts like me end up with obsessive knowledge about our teams, while the average person, who normally would have known a little just based on having a paper including a sports section delivered to him home every morning, is left behind.