The New York Times Sports Section Says Goodbye

From The Poynter Report with Tom Jones:

The New York Times sports section is no more. On Monday, 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.” — written by Juliet Macur. Macur tweeted a photo 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 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.”

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. “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.

Speak Your Mind