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Change is afoot on the 49ers beat

Matt Barrows is moving to a new home.

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The San Francisco 49ers have what I consider a strong stable of beat writers. Matt Barrows and Matt Maiocco are the proverbial “Insiders” with strong sources for breaking news. Barrows also brings a great sense of humor to the beat. Meanwhile, Eric Branch does amazing feature writing, and Cam Inman is a solid middle ground of good features and some solid reporting. Fooch’s update: I forgot to mention Grant Cohn. I think he goes too much for hot takes, but I also like his detailed reports from practices.

A year ago, The Athletic launched, bringing with it a no-ad subscription-based service. It’s taken the sports media world by storm, launching all around the country, and into Canada with its hockey coverage. The Bay Area site has a strong stable of writers for the Golden State Warriors, and it’s football coverage has been strong. David Lombardi made his debut on the 49ers beat and stood out with his coverage of the Reuben Foster legal case. Love him or hate him, Tim Kawakami has some intriguing sources and has a notable voice for commenting on the team. They also get strong film coverage of both the 49ers and Raiders from Ted Nguyen.

They’ve taken a step now to try and turn their 49ers coverage into something deep like their Warriors coverage. Matt Barrows announced on Thursday that he is leaving the Sacramento Bee and joining The Athletic. He will take over as the lead 49ers beat writer, and David Lombardi will move into more of a features role, covering both the 49ers and Raiders.

I’m curious how many people have a subscription to The Athletic, and if you do not, does the hiring of Barrows convince you it’s worth paying for a subscription?

The site provides great coverage from a variety of angles. Additionally, a subscription gets you access to all their other regional sites and their national sites — and they all have brought on some excellent writers. On the other hand, it really comes down to whether or not the writers are enough of a draw for you. They don’t have any ads, which is a big plus, but nothing about the sites otherwise stands out.

So you have to decide, is it enough by sheer force of personality? There is a strong argument that it is given the names they are hiring, but people will have to decide if they want to pay for that, or stick with the other folks covering a given team or sport outside the subscription-based realm.

I bring this up because The Athletic is making some big waves. It’s not the first subscription-based site, but they are seemingly making the biggest investment along the way. They regularly have discounts and I am curious how long they will keep up discounted rates. I suppose as long as they have new venture capital money coming in they can, but at some point, the model has to turn a profit. Newspapers are in decline because they are struggling to figure that out, and at some point The Athletic has to make that leap. It doesn’t seem like they need to get there immediately, but it will be interesting to see how they progress toward that goal.