The New York Times said Monday that it will disband its sports section and rely on coverage of teams and games from its website, The Athletic, online and in print.
Joe Kahn, executive editor of The Times, and Monica Drake, deputy managing editor, announced the change to the newsroom as “an evolution in how we cover sporting events.”
“We plan to focus more directly on high-impact feature news and corporate journalism about how sports intersect with money, power, culture, politics and society at large,” the editors wrote in an email to The Times newsroom Monday morning. “At the same time, we will reduce newsroom coverage of games, players, teams and leagues.”
The closure of the sports bureau, which houses more than 35 reporters and editors, is a major shift for The Times. The department’s coverage of games, athletes, and team owners, and its sports column in particular, has been a staple of American sports journalism. The section covered key moments and figures in the last century of American sports, including Muhammad Ali, the birth of free agency, George Steinbrenner, the Williams sisters, Tiger Woods, doping in baseball, and the deadly effects of concussions in the National Football League. .
The move marks a further merger into the newsroom of The Athletic, which The Times bought in January 2022 for $550m, adding a publication of about 400 journalists covering more than 200 professional sports teams. She publishes about 150 articles every day.
The staff of The Athletic will now provide the bulk of its coverage of sporting events, athletes and leagues to The Times readers, and for the first time, articles from The Athletic will appear in The Times print newspaper. Online access to The Athletic, which is run separately from the Times newsroom, is included for those who subscribe to The Times suite of products.
Mr. Kahn and Ms. Drake said that journalists in the sports office will move to other positions in the newsroom and no layoffs are planned. A set on Work Desk will cover money and power in sports, while new beats covering sports will be added to other sections. The moves are expected to be completed by the fall.
When The Times bought The Athletic, executives said the deal would help the company attract a wider audience. They’ve added it to a subscription package that includes the flagship Times news site as well as Cooking, Wirecutter’s product review service, and games.
As a business, The Athletic is yet to turn a profit. It recorded a loss of $7.8 million in the first quarter of this year. But the number of paying subscribers has risen to more than three million as of March 2023, from just over one million when it was acquired.
Last November, The Times named Washington Post senior editor Stephen Ginsburg as executive editor of The Athletic. In June, The Athletic laid off nearly 20 reporters and transferred more than 20 others to new jobs. Its leaders said the outlet no longer assigns at least one reporter to each sports team.
The journalists on site are not unionized, unlike many of the journalists in the Times newsroom. In a statement released Monday, the union representing the newsroom described the move as an attempt to “union-bust”.
The acquisition of The Athletic raised questions about the future of The Times’ sports department, which included many prominent journalists. It was the sports column of the times started b John Kieran in 1927, and would later feature a distinguished group of writers, including Robert Lipsit, William Roden, Harvey Araton, Selina Roberts, George Vesey, and Ira Berko.
Three Sports of The Times columnists, Arthur Daley, Reed Smith, and Dave Anderson, have won Pulitzer Prizes for their sports writing. Another sports reporter, John Branch, had won a Pulitzer Prize winner in 2013 for his filming of a deadly avalanche in Washington state, and Josh Haner won a photography prize in 2014 for documenting the recovery of a survivor of the Boston Marathon bombing.
In recent years, with the advent of digital media, the Times sports section has begun to downsize, as have many other national and local newspapers. The department lost its independent daily printing division. Not every home team is assigned a good reporter. Square scores disappeared.
On Sunday, a group of nearly 30 members of The Times sports bureau sent a letter to Mr Kahn and AG Sulzberger, publisher of The Times, chastising the company for letting its sports staff “whirl in the wind” since buying The Sportsman.
Mr Kahn and other members of The Times masthead met with the Sports Bureau on Monday. The meeting was controversial, according to two people who were in attendance, as sports reporters pressed Mr. Kahn about why they had not been briefed on the company’s plans. Mr Kahn said they were “unfair” to say that Headline had waited to share the full plan and that the organization had worked hard to find jobs for everyone, the two people said.
In an email to the company on Monday, Mr. Sulzberger and Meredith Cobbett-Levian, chief executive of The Times, wrote, “Although we know this decision will be disappointing to some, we believe it is the right one for our readers.”
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