In other words, once considered the highest rung on the sports media ladder, the big-city newspaper columnist now can’t wait to move on to something else. Like Kornheiser, Sam Smith of the Chicago Tribune, Jackie MacMullan of The Boston Globe, and Murray Chass of The New York Times accepted buyouts. Selena Roberts bolted the Times for Sports Illustrated, and Jemele Hill left the Orlando Sentinel for ESPN.com. The stentorian Stephen A. Smith, meanwhile, was fired by The Philadelphia Inquirer after spending too much time on his ESPN and radio gigs while ignoring the more prosaic doings back in Philly. (Smith once infamously tapped out a column on his BlackBerry while in a TV studio.) And that thundering in the distance? The stampede of columnists from newspapers to the Internet.
At his or her best, a Kornheiser or a MacMullan weaved artistry and insights into 750 words. That blend of beauty and concision is a dying art. By contrast, there is ESPN.com’s popular Bill Simmons, who is knowledgeable and funny, but reading his sprawling pieces can consume an entire lunch hour. The Internet’s boundless newshole is a boon to information delivery, but less so to crisp, disciplined writing.
Ironically, the more a columnist becomes a multiple platform “personality,” the less connected to the actual games and teams he seems to be. Today’s best columnists are easily identifiable—they are the ones who don’t consider interacting with athletes something to be avoided. T. J. Simers of the Los Angeles Times, for example, gets interesting and hilarious columns merely by getting in the face of cosseted players like Kobe Bryant.