From Tom Jones | Poynter <[email protected]>
Subject The New York Times sports section says goodbye
Date September 19, 2023 11:30 AM
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Despite pushback from the union and staffers, as well as criticism and pleas from sports fans, the Times published its last sports section Monday. Email not displaying correctly?
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** Say it ain’t so: The New York Times sports section says goodbye
(AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)

That’s it. The New York Times sports section is no more. On Monday, as anticipated, it was published for the final time.

Earlier this year, the Times announced that it was closing its sports section and that it would turn over its coverage to The Athletic, the sports website the Times purchased at the beginning of 2022 for $550 million.

Despite pushback from the union and staffers, as well as criticism and pleas from sports fans and other journalists, the Times made good on its announcement that it would shut down the section.

The front page of Monday’s final print edition of sports featured a story about an Afghan soccer player — “They Shot at Her. They Forced Her From Her Home. She Won’t Stop Fighting for Girls.” ([link removed]) — written by Juliet Macur. Macur tweeted a photo ([link removed]) of the page and wrote, “Here’s the final @nytimes sports section written and produced by the NYT’s sports department, which our company has closed. I started working in the section 19-1/2 years ago, and this moment is breaking my heart.”

On Monday, The New York Times Guild held a quiet vigil in the newsroom and then led an outdoor rally with a march to protest what it calls “The Times’ flagrant union-busting.”

The Times sports department was made up mostly of union members, while The Athletic is not unionized. Those who worked in Times sports have been assigned to other parts of the paper. A few will continue writing about sports in other departments, such as business. Some have landed jobs at The Athletic, including well-regarded baseball writer Tyler Kepner. But most will now move on to non-sports jobs at the Times.

Jenny Vrentas, a Times sports reporter and local chair of the NewsGuild of New York, said in a statement, “The work of covering sports for The New York Times is done by union workers, who have the same job protections and wage standards as the colleagues their work appears alongside. We are standing up today to remind the company that we will not allow them to subvert the contract we fought so hard to win nor will we stand for their attempts to pit workers against each other.”

Jeré Longman, the longest-serving sportswriter at the Times, said in the statement provided by the Guild, “The last thing I could have imagined during my 30 years on the sports desk was that it would be disbanded. We meet today to mourn its passing, but also to celebrate and honor the work of colleagues past and present. They led the way for decades with innovative and groundbreaking coverage, written and edited to the highest Times standards. And they will continue to enrich other desks with inventive and timely work.”

The Guild put out a ceremonial front page final edition ([link removed]) with remembrances from two of the all-time great Times sportswriters — George Vecsey and Harvey Araton — as well as a union update story by Vrentas. The big headline: “Say It Ain’t So.” Here’s what it looked like:
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(Courtesy: The New York Times Guild)

Vecsey wrote, “I take the Times’s closing personally because for decades I was a loyal member of the sports department. I can understand the changing conditions that crowded the sports department: this great newspaper covers Ukraine, climate, politics, around the clock. But why garrot the sports section, produced by Times employees, conditioned by Times standards, aimed for literate adults?”

In her story, Vrentas wrote, “The Guild will continue to pursue every legal avenue available, and last week filed for arbitration after the company denied our grievance, which asserted that The Times had violated our hard-fought labor agreement. But most important is our enduring solidarity, and our will to stop the company’s flagrant union-busting and transparent attempts to pit workers against each other.”

I reached out to Vrentas on Monday afternoon and asked her to share her thoughts about the day.

“Today was bittersweet,” she told me in an email. “None of us wanted to be in this position, but seeing the way our colleagues came together to give the sports desk the send-off it deserved and to fight for sports jobs to remain union jobs, was uplifting. When we gathered this afternoon on the fourth floor, where the sports department sat until today, seeing people from all corners of the company coming together to join our march made me unexpectedly emotional. I was just so grateful and overcome that they all had come to send us off and to stand up against the company's transparent union-busting. The incredible journalists who made the NYT sports section what it was were denied by the company both a say in the future of sports coverage at The Times and the respect they deserved, but today it was the rank-and-file workers who stepped in to fill that void.”

Monday was a sad day for journalism and sports fans, but mostly for the good people of the Times sports section, who deserved better than to have it end this way.

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** Celebrate journalism with Anderson Cooper

Anderson Cooper will accept the Poynter Medal for Lifetime Achievement in Journalism at the Poynter Institute's annual Bowtie Ball on Saturday, Nov. 18, at the JW Marriott Tampa Water Street in Tampa, Florida.

Join us for an elegant celebration of journalism and democracy and get the scoop behind Cooper's career-defining coverage during an exclusive on-stage interview. Bow ties and dancing shoes are encouraged!

Learn more and get tickets ► ([link removed])

** A disturbing disinformation strategy

Yoel Roth, the former head of trust and safety at Twitter, wrote a guest essay for The New York Times: “I Was Attacked by Trump and Musk. It Was a Strategy to Change What You See Online.” ([link removed])

Roth talks about how he led the team that first put fact-checking labels on the tweets of then-President Donald Trump, and helped decide to ban Trump from the social media site following the Jan. 6 insurrection.

Roth wrote, “Backed by fans on social media, Mr. Trump publicly attacked me. Two years later, following his acquisition of Twitter and after I resigned my role as the company’s head of trust and safety, Elon Musk added fuel to the fire. I’ve lived with armed guards outside my home and have had to upend my family, go into hiding for months and repeatedly move.”

But to be clear, this isn’t just about Roth’s personal story. It’s much bigger than that. Roth writes that it’s about a strategy of what we see online.

“Private individuals — from academic researchers to employees of tech companies — are increasingly the targets of lawsuits, congressional hearings and vicious online attacks,” he writes. “These efforts, staged largely by the right, are having their desired effect: Universities are cutting back on efforts to quantify abusive and misleading information spreading online. Social media companies are shying away from making the kind of difficult decisions my team did when we intervened against Mr. Trump’s lies about the 2020 election. Platforms had finally begun taking these risks seriously only after the 2016 election. Now, faced with the prospect of disproportionate attacks on their employees, companies seem increasingly reluctant to make controversial decisions, letting misinformation and abuse fester in order to avoid provoking public retaliation.”

And, as Roth notes, “These attacks on internet safety and security come at a moment when the stakes for democracy could not be higher. More than 40 major elections are scheduled to take place in 2024, including in the United States, the European Union, India, Ghana and Mexico. These democracies will most likely face the same risks of government-backed disinformation campaigns and online incitement of violence that have plagued social media for years. We should be worried about what happens next.”

Read Roth’s powerful essay, including how he came under attack from the right and the impact that it had.

** Muir to be honored
ABC “World News Tonight” anchor David Muir. (Courtesy: ABC News)

David Muir, anchor and managing editor of ABC’s “World News Tonight,” will receive the 40th Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Journalism. Arizona State University, which hosts the award, will announce Muir as its recipient this morning.

Cronkite School dean Battinto L. Batts Jr. said in a statement, “David Muir is one of the most prolific journalists of this generation. He has made a global impact with his ability to hold powerful world leaders accountable and highlight issues that engage a worldwide audience. His work exemplifies the core principles that Walter Cronkite valued, and we’re honored to present him with this award.”

The award is named after the legendary CBS News anchor and journalist. Muir will be honored at a ceremony in Phoenix next February.

“Walter Cronkite famously guided this country through some of the most trying moments in modern U.S. history and he did so by trusting his own compass, his deep commitment to journalism and the truth, and his willingness, in the darkest of times, to share his own humanity,” Muir said in a statement. “To be honored in Cronkite’s name, is not only deeply humbling, it’s a call for us all to live up to those standards especially when they’re needed most.”

** We don’t know him

In Monday’s newsletter ([link removed]) , I wrote about the racist and sexist comments made by Rolling Stone co-founder Jann Wenner during an interview with The New York Times ([link removed]) . Wenner has a new book coming out called “The Masters,” which includes interviews with rock stars who are all male and white. When asked about the absence of women and people of color, Wenner said, among other comments, “Just none of them (women) were as articulate enough on this intellectual level. … Of Black artists — you know, Stevie Wonder, genius, right? I suppose when you use a word as broad as ‘masters,’ the fault is using that word. Maybe Marvin Gaye, or Curtis Mayfield? I mean, they just didn’t articulate at that level.”

Wenner has since apologized for comments “that diminished the contributions, genius and impact of Black and women artists.”

Still, he has been removed from the board of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame — a hall he helped create. And on Monday, Rolling Stone distanced itself from Wenner.

In a statement ([link removed]) , Rolling Stone said, “Jann Wenner’s recent statement to the New York Times do not represent the values and practices of today’s Rolling Stone. Jann Wenner has not been directly involved in our operations since 2019. Our purpose, especially since his departure, has been to tell stories that reflect the diversity of voices and experiences that shape our world. At Rolling Stone’s core is the understanding that music can bring us together, not divide us.”

Wenner stepped away from Rolling Stone and, after a series of transactions, sold off what ownership he had left in the magazine in 2020.

** Winning Time hits closing time
Actors John C. Reilly, left, and Quincy Isaiah at the premiere of the HBO series “Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty,” in March of 2022. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)

Well, this is awkward. HBO’s show “Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty” — a fictional dramatization of the Los Angeles Lakers of the 1980s — is being canceled after two seasons. The awkward part is the show ends with the Lakers’ big rival, the Larry Bird-led Boston Celtics, winning the NBA title.

Showrunner Max Borenstein tweeted Sunday night ([link removed]) , “Not the ending that we had in mind. But nothing but gratitude and love.”

The show had been teetering on the brink of being canceled for weeks now because of dwindling viewership on linear TV and streaming.

The series was based on the book by Jeff Pearlman titled, “Showtime: Magic, Kareem, Riley and the Los Angeles Lakers Dynasty of the 1980s.” In recent weeks, Pearlman took to X to implore people to watch the show and said he feared it would be canceled if the numbers didn’t improve.

The show had an outstanding cast who turned in stellar performances, including John C. Reilly, Adrien Brody, Jason Clarke, Gaby Hoffmann, Jason Segel, Hadley Robinson, Sally Field, Gillian Jacobs and Michael Chiklis. In addition, newcomer Quincy Isaiah absolutely killed it as Magic Johnson. Critics, for the most part, praised the show.

Here’s why I think the show didn’t resonate with viewers. You would assume those most interested in the subject matter are sports fans. Yet, this wasn’t a documentary. It was a dramatized version that, clearly, took liberties with events and characters. My guess: It ended up being too fictionalized and over the top for sports fans and still too much about sports for non-fans.

I really wanted to like this show. I’m a big fan of Pearlman, the former Sports Illustrated writer who has gone on to be a prolific and superb nonfiction book author. (And he has an excellent podcast about writing. ([link removed]) ) I liked the actors, especially Reilly as Dr. Jerry Buss, the eccentric late owner of the Lakers. And the show had all the feel of the 1980s.

But as it turned out, I just never got emotionally attached to any of the characters or stories. While stylishly shot and well-acted, even an overexaggerated and enthusiastic recounting of events couldn’t measure up to real life.

As Johnson once told Variety ([link removed]) , “First of all, you can’t do a story about the Lakers without the Lakers. The real Lakers. You gotta have the guys. There’s no way to duplicate Showtime. I don’t care who you get.”

Turns out, he might have been right. To be clear, there was nothing wrong with overdramatizing real life, and many critics of the show never understood that. They took the show way too seriously, acting as if it was supposed to be a blow-by-blow account of what really happened. It didn’t help that many of the people portrayed in the show (NBA legends Jerry West and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, to name two) were publicly critical of the show, with West especially perturbed about how he was played.

Could it end up surviving on another network or streaming service?

The Ringer’s Daniel Chin wrote ([link removed]) , “If ‘Winning Time’ manages to attract a belated audience, perhaps aided by recent celebrity support from the likes of the real Jeanie Buss, there’s always a chance that the makers of the show could shop it elsewhere. As (executive producer Kevin) Messick told Vulture ([link removed]) , it’s too early to tell, but they’re not shutting down the possibility. ‘I think the plan is this: If the universe wants more Lakers, the universe knows where to reach us.” Thus far, not enough of the universe has tuned in.

Pearlman also gave his thoughts about “Winning Time” on a bonus episode of his podcast, which you can hear here ([link removed]) .

** Media tidbits
* Chioma Nnadi has been named as the new head of editorial content at British Vogue. She becomes the first Black woman in charge of the publication. She had most recently been editor of, as well as one of its star writers. Nnadi replaces Edward Enninful, who is moving to a global advisory role at Condé Nast. CNN’s Nicole Mowbray has more ([link removed]) , and there’s plenty of juicy “The Devil Wears Prada”-type stuff to dig into in this piece from the Daily Mail’s Katherine Lawton ([link removed]) .
* The Washington Post’s Will Oremus and Elizabeth Dwoskin with “Israeli leader Netanyahu asks Elon Musk to condemn antisemitism on X.” ([link removed])
* With the Hollywood writers’ strike impacting scripted programming, ABC made the decision Monday that it will simulcast at least 10 “Monday Night Football” games on ABC. The main “MNF” broadcast typically appears on ESPN only. Variety’s Brian Steinberg wrote ([link removed]) , “The football stratagem is seen as a one-time-only maneuver made due to extraordinary circumstances. ABC, like its rivals, will have fewer scripted originals this fall due to the strikes and live sports have proven, perhaps, to be the one format still able to lure an attractive, large audience all watching content simultaneously — a dynamic still craved by advertisers and distributors.”
* Howard Beck — who has covered the NBA for such places as The New York Times and Sports Illustrated — announced on X ([link removed]) that he is joining The Ringer. He tweeted, “​​Absolutely, positively, unbelievably thrilled/stoked/psyched — and if there are any adjectives stronger than those, just insert them all! — to be joining the fantastic staff at The @Ringer. I’ve been an unabashed fan since its inception. Can’t wait to get started!”

** Hot type
* The Kyiv Independent with a heartbreaking, but important documentary: “Bullet Holes: An investigation into Russia’s systemic killings of Ukrainian children.” ([link removed])
* The best story you’ll read today, even if it might infuriate you to read the closed-mindedness of some. The Washington Post’s Hannah Natanson with “Her students reported her for a lesson on race. Can she trust them again?” ([link removed])
* Fun TV list from Slate and Jenny G. Zhang: “The Best Stand-Alone Episodes — as Chosen by TV Writers and Showrunners.” ([link removed])

** More resources for journalists
* Power of Diverse Voices: Writing Workshop for Journalists of Color ([link removed]) (Nov. 15-18) (Seminar) — Apply by Sept. 15 ([link removed]) .
* Lead With Influence ([link removed]) (Nov. 6-27) (Online Seminar) — Apply by Oct. 13 ([link removed]) .
* Poynter will present Anderson Cooper with its Medal for Lifetime Achievement in Journalism at the Bowtie Ball in Tampa, Florida, on Nov. 18. Get tickets to join the celebration. ([link removed])
* Hiring? Post jobs ([link removed]) on The Media Job Board — Powered by Poynter, Editor & Publisher and America’s Newspapers.

Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at [email protected] (mailto:[email protected]) .
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