Hey don't get angry yet! I said I'm not sure!
Let's get to the brass tacks. In effect, Mark is asking web savvy Nats fans to hire him as their reporter to cover the Nats. This is a bold and potentially empowering move for the fans. Don't like the coverage a newspaper, TV station, or radio is giving the team? Feel it is too biased, or hell, not biased enough? Just get a bunch of like-minded people together and hire your own man. Of course there are more hurdles than just putting together the capital, but in essence this is what we're talking about. It's using that close relationship the web allows between content provider and content user to allow fans to get exactly what they want.
Is that enough when it comes to what we expect from our news? When a reporter is part of a larger structure they have checks and balances that make them accountable. I'm not talking about Mark running off with the cash to live like a king for 2 days in Canada (though I suppose that's possible - Edmonton in March is quite lovely). I'm talking about the checks and balances that exist that (try to) make sure it's news that is reported and not gossip. The ones that try to ensure jobs are done in a timely and professional fashion. The ones that attempt to guarantee that when mistakes are made someone is held responsible. Yes, the system set up is often imperfect, but can you honestly say that no system at all is better? As a blogger, part of the fun is that I can say whatever I want. John Lannan is actually a android controlled by two sentient woolly caterpillars. See nothing? No accountability. I also don't get paid for what I do. I suppose that those that don't do the job correctly will not last long but is that enough for those that are being reported on. There's a certain level of professionalism you can expect when it's "reporter from the Washington Post". Can a team expect the same from "self reporter from blog site X"? There have been "blogger days", but that's still not the same access reporters are given.
On an even broader level, one of the one thing I learned from being on the finance committee at my college (don't ask) is that it was better for each student to put in $X a year in student fees, even if they had no initial intention of using anything funded by those fees, in order that they could have the opportunity to do so if they later wanted to. Have students pay for only what they think they'll want and the number of student organizations would be drastically reduced. The opportunities would be drastically limited. In some respects the media is similar. The user pays for things it may not use now, so the choices remain broad. It's even more integral to news. The more followed parts of the paper, the headline stories, the sports, the comics, allow the less followed, but no less important parts of the paper to exist. If we start separating that out, paying only for what we want, those parts are the first to suffer. Yes, there are bloggers doing that now, but will there always be for your local government? Will they always be good? Just relying on the spare time of strangers for your news seems like a bad idea.
Yeah, I know, I'm straying pretty far from the starting idea of paying to send Mark Zuckerman to Florida to cover the Nationals, but I can't help think there are larger issues here than just a reporter going to Florida.
In the end this is mostly very intriguing. There have always been massive hurdles to clear to have content reach the masses, which is why content sources have always been limited. Content broadcasting/publishing can be expensive, there are massive rules and regulations set up you have to deal with. The web though, drastically lowers that cost. There is no reason that an individual can't be paid to report on a team by individual fans, as opposed to a professional media organization or other proxy. While what Zuckerman is doing may not be the future of reporting on the web. It's got to be something like it, right?
Anyway. Feel free to tell me I'm an overthinking idiot.