Reporter wearing denim jacket writing notes at a ball game.

The New York Times Shutters Sports Section

Shifting sports coverage to The Athletic and reassigning sports desk staff

Two months after their initial announcement, The New York Times has shuttered its sports section forever. The legacy media organization published it for the last time on September 18, reports Poynter. Shortly after noon, the sports department, which is mostly a union shop, held a vigil in the newsroom, displaying and distributing a ceremonial last edition. The vigil was followed by a rally from the newsroom outside to protest what they believe to be union-busting. The Athletic, who has about 400 reporters and editors, is not unionized, whereas staff from The New York Times’ sports desk belong to The New York Times Guild, which is represented by The News Guild of New York.

“The last thing I could have imagined during my 30 years on the sports desk was that it would be disbanded,” said Jeré Longman, the Times’ longest-serving sports reporter and a best-selling author, in a news release. “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 people who run The Times let our department twist in the wind, either purposely obscuring their plans for the future of sports coverage at The Times or spending $550 million on another sports publication without an editorial plan,” sports investigative reporter Jenny Vrentas said at the rally. “The way they’ve chosen to handle this has been unfair to workers at both The Times and The Athletic.”

Some former sports writers and editors for The Times have moved onto The Athletic, reports the Washington Post. They include baseball writer Tyler Kepner, sportswriter and editor Matthew Futterman, and Oskar Garcia who will be an editorial director and act as a bridge between The Athletic and The Times.

Ceremonial final edition published Sept. 18, 2023
Source: The New York Times Guild via Poynter

Writing on the wall

The Times announced in July they were shutting down the sports section and moving their sports coverage to The Athletic, an online-only media outlet they acquired in January 2022 for $550 million. At that time, The New York Times said they were not planning any layoffs and would move more than 35 sports desk reporters and editors to other roles in the newsroom. The media outlet said The Athletic will cover the bulk of sports news, including games, athletes and professional sports leagues, a major shift in The Times’s sports coverage strategy.

The strategy included printing some of The Athletic’s sports news in the newspaper’s print edition for the first time. Readers who subscribe to The Times’s all-access bundle have online access to The Athletic. The bundle also includes access to The Times’s news coverage, Wirecutter, Games and Cooking. The Athletic also offers a standalone subscription, currently available for $7.99 a month, billed monthly, or $5.99 a month, billed annually.

Copyright © 2023 Authority Media Network, LLC. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is prohibited.

Union busting?

When the news was first announced, members of The New York Times Guild spoke out about the sports section’s imminent demise.

“As members of the New York Times Guild, we are baffled and infuriated by the Times proposal to dissolve our storied and award-winning Sports department. This announcement is a profound betrayal of our colleagues and of Times values. Times leadership is attempting to outsource union jobs on our sports desk to a non-union Times subsidiary under the preposterous argument that The Times can ‘subcontract’ its sports coverage to itself,” the statement read.

The Athletic goes under “significant reorganization”

The initial announcement came after The Athletic went through a “significant reorganization” in June. The company laid off about 20 reporters, or 4% of its newsroom staff, and reassigned another 20.

“Even with the changes being announced today, the size of our newsroom will grow this year compared to last, as will our overall investments in our editorial group in the years ahead,” said Perpich and Ginsberg in the note to staff. “At the end of this process, we will have more than 100 beat reporters on teams.”

Since The Athletic was acquired by The Times, the sports news outlet has not turned a profit, though subscribers continue to grow. In the first quarter of 2023, The Athletic had 3.27 million digital-only subscribers, compared to 1.22 million the first quarter of 2022. The Athletic’s first quarter adjusted operating loss was $7.8 million.

Insider Take

Knowing this was going to happen doesn’t lessen the sting. The Athletic has grown its subscriber base and expanded its business model to accept advertising and add a partnership with StubHub, but it is still losing money. The sports outlet laid off its own staff yet has capacity to take on more work. That doesn’t make sense. Ironically, for a news organization that prides itself on transparency, this new strategy seems anything but. Is this a play for profitability, or is there more here than meets the eye? Inquiring minds want to know.

Copyright © 2023 Authority Media Network, LLC. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is prohibited.

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