July 11, 2023
“We plan to focus even more directly on distinctive, high-impact news and enterprise journalism about how sports intersect with money, power, culture, politics, and society at large,” the editors wrote in an email to The Times’s newsroom on Monday morning. “At the same time, we will scale back the newsroom’s coverage of games, players, teams, and leagues.”
The shuttering of the sports desk, which has more than 35 journalists and editors, is a major shift for The Times. The department’s coverage of games, athletes and team owners, and its Sports of the Times column in particular, were once a pillar of American sports journalism. The section covered the major moments and personalities of the last century of American sports—including Muhammad Ali, the birth of free agency, George Steinbrenner, the Williams sisters, Tiger Woods, steroids in baseball and the deadly effects of concussions in the National Football League.
The move represents a further integration into the newsroom of The Athletic, which The Times bought in January 2022 for $550 million—adding a publication that had some 400 journalists covering more than 200 professional sports teams. It publishes about 150 articles each day.
The staff of The Athletic will now provide the bulk of the coverage of sporting events, athletes and leagues for Times readers and, for the first time, articles from The Athletic will appear in The Times’s print newspaper. Online access to The Athletic, which is operated separately from the Times newsroom, is included for those who subscribe to one or more of The Times’s bundle of products.
Journalists on the sports desk will move to other roles in the newsroom and no layoffs were planned, Kahn and Drake said. A group on the business 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 appeal to a broader audience. They added it to a subscription bundle that includes the main Times news site as well as Cooking, the Wirecutter product review service, and Games.
As a business, The Athletic has yet to turn a profit. It reported a loss of $7.8 million in the first quarter of this year. But the number of paying subscribers has grown to more than three million as of March 2023, from just over one million when it was acquired.
Last November, The Times named Steven Ginsberg, a top editor at The Washington Post, the executive editor of The Athletic. In June, The Athletic laid off nearly 20 reporters and moved more than 20 others to new jobs. Its leaders said the outlet would no longer assign at least one beat reporter to each sports team.
The acquisition of The Athletic had raised questions about the future of The Times’s sports department, which has included numerous distinguished journalists. The Sports of the Times column was started by John Kieran in 1927, and would later include a distinguished group of writers, including Robert Lipsyte, William Rhoden, Harvey Araton, George Vecsey, and Ira Berkow.
Three Sports of the Times columnists—Arthur Daley, Red Smith and Dave Anderson—have won Pulitzer Prizes for their sports writing. Daley wrote more than 10,000 columns for The Times over 32 years. (Another sports reporter, John Branch, won a Pulitzer Prize in 2013 for his feature on a deadly avalanche in Washington State and Josh Haner won the feature photography prize in 2014 for documenting the recovery of a survivor of the Boston Marathon bombing.)
In recent years, with the rise of digital media, The Times’s sports department began to downsize, just as many other national and local newspapers did. The section lost its stand-alone daily print section. Not every local team was assigned a beat reporter. Box scores disappeared.
On Sunday, a group of nearly 30 members of The Times’s sports desk sent a letter to Kahn and A.G. Sulzberger, the publisher of The Times, chastising the company for leaving its sports staff “twisting in the wind” since the purchase of The Athletic.
Sulzberger and the company’s chief executive, Meredith Kopit Levien, wrote in an email to the staff on Monday that the company’s goal since acquiring The Athletic has been to become “a global leader in sports journalism.”
Research contact: @nytimes