"Baltimore-Washington might have dropped to 17th in the Sporting News' annual survey of sports towns, but cheer up, folks," Washington Times Sports columnist Dan Daly wrote a few years ago. "We're still comfortably ahead of Wappingers Falls, N.Y. (FYI: Wappingers Falls (No.347) is the home of the Hudson Valley Renegades of the New York-Penn League.)"
The Washington Times Sports section is preparing as if this Friday's edition will be their last. Caps beat guy Corey Masisak isn't with the team on the West Coast. Wiz beat guy Mike Jones referred to Tuesday night's dreadful loss as his last. Redskins beat guys Ryan O'Halloran and David Elfin aren't going with the team to San Diego, which is just unimaginable, a Skins game without the Times guys. College ace Patrick Stevens covered the frigid EagleBank Bowl on Tuesday and will do Maryland-William & Mary Wednesday night, and then a follow the next day, just for the heck of it. Georgetown beat guy Barker Davis, who's been covering that school since the 19th century, will cover the New Year's Eve game.
And then, silence? As of this writing, the staff hasn't been told anything official, but the paper is moving forward with plans for a new product on Monday, and there have been no indications that product will include sports. The 25 full-time sports staffers are thus assuming they'll get the official pink slip sometime before the New Year. (Read more from Neely Tucker in Style.)
UPDATE: The Sports staff has indeed been told it's the end. Read Friday's Times for a Sports section commemorative.
Why does this matter? Lots of reasons.
* The Times covered things The Post didn't. They had two Nats beat writers to our one. Tim Lemke kept covering the sports business and sports media beats after we eliminated that slot. Stevens cared, and wrote, more about college lacrosse than nearly anyone. Thom Loverro was just about the only columnist in town who would write about combat sports, including pro wrestling.
* The Times had history. Daly--who spent more than a quarter-century at the paper--has been writing D.C. sports longer than all but a handful of people in the market. Elfin and Tom Knott have both served more than 20 years, and Loverro nearly as long, to say nothing of longtime editors like Mark Hartsell and Steve Repsher. The other day, I asked a question about the Redskins' second Super Bowl victory at Redskins Park, and Elfin shouted out the date without thinking.
* The Times also had youth. There's no question that some of their writers have been more aggressive than others in this market at embracing Twitter, loving the blog life, and hurrying to get information out as quickly as possible. For those of us who spend most of our lives reading D.C. sports news on the Web, not having those guys around would leave a gaping hole. See, for example, the reaction at Japers Rink.
* Speaking of which, the Times encouraged the heck out of me. This is just a personal reflection, but when I first started my blog, and I wasn't always sure what co-workers thought of it or me, guys like John Taylor and Harrison Goodman at the Times sent along words of encouragement that actually gave me hope. It meant a lot. Also, at least four Times staffers have been voters in my Atlantic 11 poll.
* The Times offered competition. Not just in an abstract way; they not infrequently beat us in breaking news. That's not meant as any knock at my co-workers; it's going to happen when two fully staffed papers are competing over the same ground, and they've repeatedly blogged about things I should have blogged about before I did. But competition, in this sense, is clearly good for the market. Sure, we're also competing with dozens of national writers, and sure, I'm not the one popping antacids at 2 a.m. while worrying about getting beat on hard news, so it's easy for me to say. But if you're a fan, you want as many reporters pushing each other to uncover news as possible.
Which brings me to the first quote up above. Aside from the general lament about so many good people losing their jobs in such a shoddy way, the worst thing about this news is that it hurts D.C. as a sports town. Sports towns have rollicking media contingents, packs of beat writers, inter-paper feuds and all the rest. They have columnists with rival sport-talk shows on at the same time, and they have beat writers whispering covertly into cell phones while talking to editors, and they have hurt feelings and back-stabbings, and they have drunken group dart games after playoff wins during midwestern road trips.
Sure, bloggers are rapidly filling in the holes, and the Examiner does a lot with a small staff, and various Web sites are beefing up their coverage, but that's no substitute for being a genuine two-paper town, with multiple full-time beat writers covering every team.
Some of the staffers will assuredly resurface at other sports outlets in this market, but unless some sort of post-Eagle BankBowl miracle emerges, Wednesday is our last Web day with the Washington Times sports staffers. So enjoy it, and thank them for what they did, and wish them well. And then wait for CSN Washington or ESPNDC or whatever's coming next, I guess.
"Washington's sporting slump is starting to reach ridiculous proportions," Loverro wrote almost exactly five years ago. "If we weren't so unlovable as the nation's capital, Washington actually might be able to replace Boston as the city most deserving of the country's sympathy."
Well, add another item to the list.