Editor's Note

Our Readers Should Be the Winners

By Emilio Garcia-Ruiz
Sunday, May 22, 2005

It's about 35 miles from Orioles Park at Camden Yards to RFK Stadium but never has that distance seemed so great to some of our readers. They are furious with The Washington Post for continuing to cover the Baltimore Orioles after the arrival of the Washington Nationals. Some have gone so far as to demand that the Orioles be banished completely from the local teams we cover and instead be treated like, say, the Kansas City Royals in the sports section.

"The name of your paper is The Washington Post, not The Baltimore-Washington Post," e-mailed one reader. "The name of the team is the Washington Nationals. Use of logic would dictate coverage of the Nats should supersede, if not virtually eliminate, coverage of the Orioles."

Wrote another: "The Orioles should never be on the first page of the sports anymore unless they do something extraordinary. Never."

There have been other e-mails and calls as well, enough that the advice of ombudsman Michael Getler is worth heeding and a more thorough accounting of our reasoning is worthy of being presented to our readers.

First, a little background: The Senators left Washington in 1971 and the Post did not really start covering the Baltimore Orioles until eight years later. Most years since, the team has had a writer who covered the Orioles the same way Post beat writers cover the Redskins, Wizards and Capitals. We attended all the games, home and away, and provided extensive offseason coverage.

The Orioles coverage was well received. In recent Post reader surveys, the Orioles ranked below only the Redskins in fan interest among the most loyal followers of the sports section.

This did not surprise me since Camden Yards is one of the best places in the country to watch a game, and it is relatively easy to reach for most of our Maryland readers as long as they avoid rush hour.

When the Nationals arrived, the folks who run the newspaper asked what we should do with the Orioles. The answer seemed obvious: Keep those readers who have enjoyed our Orioles coverage happy by continuing to cover that team and add the resources necessary to give a new team, the Nationals, the coverage it deserved.

We added reporters and doubled the space we allocate for major league baseball, a boon for readers who enjoy the sport. We set up separate American and National League pages and committed to covering a two-team market the way newspapers in Southern California, New York, Chicago and the Bay Area do.

The editors agreed that the Nationals would be the bigger story; the historical significance of a team returning to Washington clearly would outweigh anything the Orioles did. But we were also determined to remember those readers to whom the Orioles were so important for so many years and continue to cover them as well as possible.

But I underestimated the bad blood left by Peter Angelos's attempt to keep the new team from moving here. A few dozen angry readers began calling and e-mailing, threatening to cancel their subscriptions if the Orioles coverage continued.

"All of my friends do not want to see articles about the Orioles," wrote a reader in a letter received Friday. "They are considered to be the enemy now that we have the Washington Nationals."

It is not our place to choose sides in this rivalry. Our job is to serve our readers -- all our readers -- the best we can by providing the most extensive coverage possible. If readers don't like a particular team we don't expect them to read that coverage, but we should not deny coverage to those who still care about that team.

Some readers were concerned last week when stories about the Orioles were played more prominently than stories about the Nats; that was due to the fact that the Nats were playing late West Coast games that ended well after the deadline for most of our editions.

I still believe the return of baseball to Washington has created a wonderful opportunity for The Washington Post sports section to expand and improve. But I also want to open a dialogue with readers about our baseball coverage. We are at a historical sports moment in this city and I welcome advice. We are setting up a discussion site at http://forums.washingtonpost.com/ wpsports/messages?msg=945.1 to allow everyone to weigh in on this subject. Please take a moment to post your thoughts and help shape our coverage.

Thanks.

Emilio Garcia-Ruiz is sports editor of The Washington Post.


© 2005 The Washington Post Company