Sportswriters Leave Publications Behind

By Leonard Shapiro
Special to
Tuesday, November 20, 2007; 2:06 PM

Some how, some way, somewhere, the late Will McDonough is smiling.

McDonough, who died far too soon in 2003 at age 67, was the long-time NFL writer for the Boston Globe and a genuine television pioneer. He was the first real newspaper guy to double dip as a reporter for a major network sports division at the same time he also was producing news stories, features and columns for the Globe's sports pages.

More than anyone, he blazed a trail to the television position now referred to as an "information specialist." All the NFL's network partners have them, with McDonough initially breaking new ground reporting on all manner of on- and off-field NFL activities for CBS and later NBC. With few exceptions, hardly anyone has ever done it better.

I bring up McDonough's name mostly because of a trend he helped start back in the early 1980s. The migration of print sports reporters moving on to television sports divisions started off as a drip-drip-drip process, but has since transformed into a Niagara Falls-like torrent of very good newspaper people heading into what many of us remaining ink-stained wretches often describe -- perhaps with some envy -- as the dark side.

For example, readers of The Washington Post no longer have Tony Kornheiser to amuse them over their morning coffee, at least not with those entertaining 800-word columns he used to regularly produce for both the Sports and Style sections of the paper.

He's become a Goliath on ESPN, teaming with fellow Post columnist Michael Wilbon on the justifiably popular "Pardon The Interruption" show five nights a week, and now finally making his presence felt for the better in his second season as an analyst on Monday Night Football after a first year of decidedly mixed reviews.

But this is not about my friends and colleagues Tony and Mike, who, by the way, thankfully still manages to find the time in between PTI and ABC/ESPN obligations covering the NBA to write a terrific sports column several times a week for those of us still hooked on strong, fact-based opinions on newsprint.

It's about that continuing trend that's also been creating a seismic shift in the world of sports journalism -- the ever increasing number of sportswriters leaving their often circulation challenged newspapers and magazines for the far greener pastures of television and the Internet.

It seems as if virtually every week another big name, another mega writing talent has decided to leave their publication behind, usually for far more money and exposure. The major news this fall involved the defection of long-time Sports Illustrated columnist Rick Reilly to ESPN, where he'll likely write for the so-called worldwide leader's web site and magazine, but more important, almost certainly show up on any number of television productions, as well.

A few weeks ago, ESPN announced that it also had obtained the services of Mark Fainaru-Wada, one of the two San Francisco Chronicle reporters who broke the Barry Bonds on steroids story and wrote "Game of Shadows," a groundbreaking, best-selling book on the subject, as well. He'll join a huge stable of former newspaper writers now toiling for the web site and surely will become involved in investigative reporting on air for shows like Outside The Lines and E:60.

Last week, at least there was some good news for discerning readers of smart, sophisticated sports writing. Apparently, N.Y. Times sports columnist Selena Roberts is not about to jump into television, praise be, but over to Sports Illustrated. She reportedly will be one of several rotating writers who will fill the back-of-the-magazine void left by Reilly's departure to ESPN.

Roberts's decision to go to SI also was noteworthy on another front. I've always made it a point to look at the magazine's masthead, which lists all the editors and writers on the staff, the better to see the comings and goings at a publication I've been reading since the magazine first came off the presses in 1954. I started paying even closer attention when a long-time female friend decided to take a buyout a few years ago when SI, like so many publications these days, began downsizing its staff (and diminishing the product, as well).

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