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Monday, December 24, 2021

For all the crowing about how the future of Internet content lies in user-generated or “spontaneous” material, a talent rush has cropped up in an unexpected corner: Sports reporting. ESPN and Yahoo! are poaching sportswriters from newspapers and magazines, bulking up on original reporting to feed their Web properties and other media outlets.

Rising demand for star sportswriters, driven by rising television and Internet revenue, coincides with the declining fortunes of newspapers, which has left fewer jobs and less money to go around for most journalists. The paradox is not lost on the lucky few who benefit.

“This hiring at a high level, I know how amazing it is, given what’s happening everywhere else in the business,” said Mark Fainaru-Wada, who uncovered steroid scandals as a San Francisco Chronicle reporter and a co-author of the book “Game of Shadows.” He was recently hired by ESPN. “We just went through a 25 percent newsroom cut at The Chronicle,” he said.

On most topics, nearly all of the news offerings from Yahoo are collected from other sources. But not in sports, where the company has made its first major foray into being a creator of original material. It has more than 20 sports staff writers, up from 4 just two years ago, in addition to sports celebrities who write columns for the site.

Many staff members at Yahoo Sports are less prominent — and less well compensated — than the people signed by ESPN, and many of them cover niche topics like mixed martial arts and fantasy football. But Yahoo Sports has shown it intends to play in the big leagues, hiring David Morgan, former deputy sports editor of The Los Angeles Times, as its executive editor. It is also making lucrative offers to some of the journalists hired by ESPN and Sports Illustrated and signing a few sought-after people like Mike Silver, a football writer who was lured away from Sports Illustrated…

ESPN declines to reveal precise numbers, but in the last 18 months, it has hired at least 15 writers and editors from major newspapers and magazines, most of whom are expected to feed material to all of its platforms. Vince Doria, senior vice president and director of news, says that ESPN has 80 to 100 reporters and producers, not including its many columnists, where “five years ago, that number was closer to 50.”

Why is this happening now? Basically, sports is one of the stickier content wells you’ll find, drawing hardcore online audiences who’ll spend hours staring at game recaps, fantasy analysis, rumor items, etc. Advertisers know this, and are following the eyeballs. I’m surprised that critical mass has arrived already, but apparently it has, and now ESPN/Disney and Yahoo! have the ad money to toss into fat signing bonuses for wayward journalists.

It’s something of an irony, in that sports reporting has always been considered something of a journalism backwater, generally not as worthy of respect as “hard news”. Sports and business news consisted of a ghetto for major newspapers, despite those sections’ popular appeal. So the upside-down economics of the Web now allow sports scribes to cash in; I guess we can expect to see a similar hiring surge for prominent business reporters, although the star system there resides more in magazines and CNBC than in newspapers (even the Wall Street Journal doesn’t have many “name” writers).

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 12/24/2007 05:49:33 PM
Category: Media, SportsBiz
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