Sports staff fears end of Washington Times jobs is near

By Neely Tucker
Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Rumors of the impending death and dismemberment of the Washington Times Sports section are so bad this week that even Bruce Boudreau, the Washington Capitals head coach, bid a (tentative) goodbye to the paper's hockey reporter after the Caps' Monday night game.

Boudreau had heard that Times staffer Corey Masisak, who has reported on the team for the newspaper for several years, would not be making the trip to cover the team in California. Nor would anyone else at the Times.

"Corey, if this is your last game, I'd like to thank you for everything you've done in the covering of our team for the last couple of years," Boudreau said at the close of his postgame news conference.

Masisak, other than acknowledging Boudreau's comments as "a nice gesture," declined to comment Tuesday afternoon. The paper's reporters covering the Wizards and the Redskins are not traveling with their teams after Thursday, either, sources inside and outside the paper say.

Ever since the paper's new management announced nearly a month ago that the Times was planning to lay off up to 40 percent of its roughly 325-member staff, rumors have abounded about where the ax will fall. When the executives announced on Dec. 21 that they would stop publishing on Sundays after the Dec. 27 edition (the Saturday paper was killed off last year) and focus on national reporting issues in a new format debuting Jan. 4, most of the staff has assumed that local reporting would be hard hit and the entire 25-member sports department would face the firing squad.

But Jonathan Slevin, the new president, hasn't said anything on the matter (he did not return phone calls requesting comment Tuesday), and many of the sports staffers are guessing the date of their own funeral.

Could be Thursday, some say. Optimists hold out for early February. Almost everyone considers it a done deal.

"We're convinced they're going to totally abolish sports," said one staffer, who spoke on the condition that a name was not attached to the comment, fearing retribution from management. "It's incredibly bizarre, we're all in limbo, we're all depending on rumors and speculation."

"We've still been given no official word," Deputy Sports Editor John Taylor posted on Monday evening. "The official releases have said that TWT is launching its new product/direction or whatever on Monday, but no one I know in the newsroom seems to know exactly what that product is."

Mark Hartsell, assistant managing editor for sports, was at his desk Monday, but wouldn't acknowledge much more than that: "I just can't comment about the situation right now."

The uncertainty caps a turbulent few months for the conservative daily, founded in 1982 by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, leader of the Unification Church.

Three top executives were ousted in early November: President and Publisher Thomas P. McDevitt, Chief Financial Officer Keith Cooperrider and Chairman Dong Moon Joo.

Executive editor John Solomon, a former Washington Post staffer, resigned the following week.

In mid-November, Richard Miniter, the former editorial page editor, revealed that he had been fired the previous month and filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, alleging he was discriminated against because of his religion (Episcopalian), age (42) and disability (chest pains).

He said in the complaint that no one had told him he was being let go; he just stopped receiving pay and benefits. The Times disputed his allegations of bias in a statement, but confirmed he had been dismissed.

"It's just a disgrace," said another sports staffer, who expects a pink slip within days. "It's one thing to downsize, but the way they are handling this is a complete debacle."

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