Add The New York Times sports department to the growing list of newsroom casualties. The national newspaper announced Monday it’ll rely on The Athletic for sports coverage while shifting its existing department into other newsroom roles. The news is a reminder that sports journalism is a dying industry. The best advice I ever received when I wanted to pursue sports journalism: don't do it.
Before I got into political journalism, I wanted to write about sports. Little kids generally have unrealistic life goals, and I was no different. I wanted to play for the Boston Red Sox. The only problem was that I was so-so at baseball. I set my ambitions on something I thought was far more realistic: being the general manager of the Red Sox. Then, I started blogging about the Red Sox when I was a sophomore in high school for CLNS Radio (now CLNS Media Network) and had new ambitions: to be a Red Sox beat reporter. That later morphed into the broader goal of wanting success in sports journalism—another goal I eventually gave up on.
I'm 26, and a failed sportswriter. When I was 17, I started freelancing for Gatehouse Media, first with weekly papers when I was a senior in high school and later with the Patriot Ledger and Brockton Enterprise, in addition to writing for Yawkey Way Report, a program sold outside of Fenway Park, among other low-paying publications. When I first met Mark Torpey, then the sports editor of the Ledger and Enterprise, he told me, don't go to school for journalism. Don't pursue sports journalism. It's a dying industry, and it's getting worse. At 18 old in 2015, that's not what I wanted to hear, but he was right. I worked hard to build a resume. It didn't get me where I wanted. That pissed me off. I wrote several articles every day for years, assuming it would give me an edge over the competition. I wrote for content mills, sports memorabilia blogs, weekly newspapers, daily newspapers, and magazines.
I covered the Boston Bruins and the Red Sox. I interviewed Mookie Betts in Pawtucket before I ever played in a varsity high school football game. As a high school senior and college freshman, I sometimes skipped school to cover games and interview pro athletes, including David Ortiz and Tim Wakefield. I'd look up where minor league and summer collegiate players were from and pitch their hometown newspapers to see if I could write freelance articles for them. I dropped out of college to have more time to write about sports. I've written about sports for over 100 publications. An article I wrote for The Guardian in 2019 is now part of a book called The Reference Shelf: College Sports.
I don't cite this to brag but rather to say that even with that experience, I found little opportunity in sports journalism, especially for full-time work. Fewer publications exist, and the ones that do have cut their freelance budgets. In some cases, they’ve cut sports coverage altogether. The last time I seriously considered sports journalism was in 2019, and I couldn't find a full-time opportunity in the Boston metro area. LifeZette cut back its pop culture coverage. While writing about Michael Moore or Alyssa Milano's tweets complaining about Donald Trump was more lucrative than covering games and working the high school sports desk, I needed to replace that income.
Those who get jobs in the field might regret it. The responsibilities of sports journalists have increased. It's no longer about merely writing articles. Many sportswriters must also take photos, work the desk after their games, and lay out the pages of the paper, depending on the publication. The pay hasn’t increased. Over the years, I've known many people who were laid off from full-time positions in sports journalism or had their freelance work cut. That is far more common than seeing new jobs and opportunities appear.
The weekly Gannett newspapers don't cover sports, nor does the Plympton-Halifax Express; The Patriot Ledger and Brockton Enterprise don't use freelance sports reporters; and Boston Baseball Magazine, ESPN Boston, Suite Sports, The Hardball Times, and The Spark (hyperlocal news site) no longer exist. Other publications wouldn't have the budget for me to do an article about Sean Newcomb, Ryan Howard, John Schreiber, Riley Adams or Dustin Byfuglien in the NHL. Good luck to those who want to enter sports journalism.