Rising gas prices and a tight economy have caused businesses to close or layoff workers, but the situation became even more dire on Tuesday when the nation's sports writers realized that their travel budgets and expense allowances have been slashed, probably for good.
Baseball beat writers covering spring training in Florida and Arizona -- viewed by many media executives and readers as an all-expenses paid six-week vacation -- voiced their collective displeasure in a conference call in hopes that someone outside their tight-knit circle would care.
"We've got a real problem here," said Pete Torgeson, a veteran columnist for The Times. "Readers want to know their team's progress, hear the veterans' griping about two-hour busrides to take one lazy at-bat, and the status of every strained oblique. If my editors send me to just the final two weeks of spring training when the roster starts to finalize, how am I supposed to tan?
"Everybody knows you burn the first week in the sun, and you take off the second week to heal. If I'm here for the full six weeks, then you look refreshed and healthy when the season starts. You can't rush these things."
But many younger writers were more concerned about newspapers curtailing coast-to-coast travel and unreceipted expenses, as well as the alarming absence of freebies provided by teams, such as food, athletic gear and rounds of golf.
"That's why I got into this business," said Jeff Gahagan, a rising star among columnists whose recent work has tailed off since having to use his own money at strip clubs. "I can't afford a steady diet of lap dances and eight or nine watered-down drinks. I'll be broke in a couple of days."
Several big papers have announced they won't send multiple writers to major events like the Super Bowl, Masters, World Series, NBA Finals, Olympics and the college football national championship game, to name just a few, but will cut back to just one writer, and only then if the hometown team is involved.
"Great. No more stealing frequent-flyer miles from the company," one writer said. "I'm in the wrong profession."
College basketball writers have been feeling the pinch for several years, causing fear in the ranks that even darker days loomed.
"Go to one NCAA Tournament and you're hooked for life," one columnist said. "Free tote bags, T-shirts, ballcaps, meals, you name it. Oh, and front-row seats, too.
"Now, we're lucky if we get access to a media men's room so we don't have to wait in line to pee with the fans."
Horse racing writers have found their ranks dwindling, too, as thoroughbred racing has gone in the tank and editors opt to use wire-service stories over sending degenerate gamblers with limited writing skills on a six-week Triple Crown binge.
"I'm going to miss that fine Kentucky bourbon," one old hack said, remembering fondly many a Kentucky Derby Week pub crawl.
In response, some correspondents have threatened to interview fewer sources, leave words out of sentences and shorten stories from a well-crafted 15 inches to a you-get-what-you-pay-for 10.
Writers from smaller papers have also noticed belt-tightening at the high-school level. Regional tournament hospitality suites no longer offer sandwiches, cookies and soda.
"Now, somebody might bring a half-eaten bag of chips from home," said Teddy Lawson of the Springfield Caller. "The day of the hot pizza slice is over."