Usually, when the majority of reporters in a newsroom rallies around coverage of a single story or event — floods the zone, you might say — something really big is breaking. Maybe a mass shooting, a tsunami, or a terrorist attack.
Ever since the Angels signed star first baseman Albert Pujols and pitcher C.J. Wilson, fans had been going nuts with anticipation for the 2012 season. The growing excitement gave the paper’s Angels editor, Keith Sharon, what he called a “crazy idea.”
“They’ve never been so excited,” Sharon told me. “Given that atmosphere, I wanted to match the intensity and the enthusiasm of the fans somehow. I like flash mobs, I like cash mobs, and what I’ve been telling people is this is an overwhelming choreographed allocation of news resources. I want everybody who sees our website, our print product, our iPad product, our mobile device product to think: ‘They thought of everything. I mean everything.'”
So what exactly does an Angels news mob cover?
A real estate reporter is doing a story about how property values around Angel Stadium have gone up. A business reporter talked to the manufacturer of Angels bobbleheads. A technology reporter interviewed the person who picks the songs and video clips that run during the game. The person who usually covers celebrity gossip filed a story about the 1870s-era baseball cards that are in a Library of Congress collection. One reporter is writing a story about an Angels fan who plans to propose to his girlfriend at the opening-night game.
“We’ll have a photographer lurking around this guy,” Sharon said. “He’s going to unveil a shirt that says ‘she said yes.’ She better say yes!”
Sharon says there’s at least one “controversial” story in the mix. It’s about people who “don’t necessarily like the Angels,” and the staffer who wrote it is (gasp) a Dodgers fan.
Reporters are being encouraged to find stories that aren’t regularly on their beats, to take stylistic risks that normally wouldn’t fly, and generally to get outside of their comfort zones. The message Sharon says he emphasized most: “Break out of what you normally do, and it’s okay to try something that you didn’t think you could before.” There will be stadium food reviews, photos from the best sports bars, and an analysis of the song that plays during the seventh-inning stretch:
As of Thursday morning, Sharon already had 48 Angels-related stories on his desk.
“Once people heard that we were doing this news mob thing, people came out of the woodwork to help,” Sharon said.
That includes the fans. Sharon says they newspaper is amassing a huge database of photos and stories from citizens sharing their memories about the Angels. These photos will be online and scrolled across the bottom of every page of the print newspaper. Of the newspaper’s 100 or so reporters, Sharon says about 70 are involved in the news mob. Their assignment on opening day: omnipresence. “We’ve got someone in the parking lot, reporters in the sports bar, reporters at a memorabilia show where former Angels will be signing autographs, a reporter in the stands, a reporter in the pressbox, a reporter in the radio station, we’ve got a reporter with the guy who’s gonna propose, we’ve got a reporter [standing next to the person] holding the flag in center field,” Sharon said. “We want everyone to see that we are everywhere. Everywhere you look, we’ll be.”
No, they won’t be wearing OC Register T-shirts — branding opportunity missed! — so you’ll have to look for press passes around their necks instead. And if you’re thinking it’s the perfect day to send out that embarrassing press release in Orange County, not so fast. Sharon says there are reporters in place to cover “anything that happens” on beats like crime, city government, courts, and so on.
Fine — but all those resources for opening day? Something that happens, er, every year around this time? Game 1 of 162?
Sharon says the editorial process that led to a baseball-obsessed news mob could be translated to coverage of other events down the road. “We thought about that, and we discussed it many times,” Sharon said. “Just like how the space program gave us Tang, we hope there are these residual benefits. A news mob for the first day of school. We might be able to use the same approach for covering the Oscars next year, or election day next year. Can we translate this kind of reporting to other big events? We think the answer will be yes.”
And in an era where one of metro dailies’ top remaining assets is the sheer size of their newsrooms — shrunken from their peaks, but still larger than the local competition — it might make sense to flex that muscle now and again.
Photo of Los Angeles Angels pitcher Hisanori Takahashi by Keith Allison used under a Creative Commons license.