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Newspapers Are Reassigning Sports Journalists As Pro Seasons Are Put Off


Sports journalists around the country are confronting a hard truth. There is just about nothing for them to cover, and that's for the fortunate ones not facing unpaid furloughs or layoffs. But as NPR's David Folkenflik found, many are embracing this unexpected challenge.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: So let's hear sports journalists explain how the new reality dawned on them.

LANCE VEESER: So I spent one day doing play-by-play for the high school girls state tournament up in Green Bay. And that whole day, there was this cloud hovering as sporting event after sporting event kept getting canceled.

ALEX INIGUEZ: We could just feel it rumbling. You know, we could feel it building.

ALEX ANDREJEV: March 12 - NBA, NHL, MLB - like, that all goes dark.

FOLKENFLIK: You heard Lance Veeser, sports director of WKOW TV in Madison, Wis.; then Alex Iniguez, assistant sports editor of The Seattle Times; and Alex Andrejev of the Charlotte Observer. She covers professional soccer and NASCAR. Again, Alex Iniguez.

INIGUEZ: And once we kind of got through that wave of writing about everything that was postponed or canceled - all right. Now what?

FOLKENFLIK: So now what indeed.

VEESER: My news director basically said, OK, we're going to start transitioning you into - all doing more of a news reporting role with some sports kind of hybred (ph) in.

FOLKENFLIK: Lance Veeser says he's focusing on Wisconsinites helping their communities.

VEESER: So we all became news reporters is what happened. I'm working night side now. I'm basically a night-side news reporter for the 10 o'clock newscast.

FOLKENFLIK: He's among the lucky ones. The news industry has been hit hard by the crisis. Papers in San Jose and New Orleans have given their sports writers unpaid furloughs. Sports Illustrated has had layoffs.

For those still on the job, opportunities arise. Some of the nation's leading political, investigative and feature writers got their start in sports, New Yorker magazine editor David Remnick among them. In Seattle, a college basketball beat writer profiled a doctor who invented an outfit to seal physicians off from the COVID patients they treat. Another sports reporter is covering the plight of grocery store workers. And Alex Iniguez now edits an ongoing project called Stepping Up.

INIGUEZ: My job right now is to give people hope and keep stoking that fire of, hey, there's some good amongst all this craziness, all this bad around us all the time. There's still some good going on.

FOLKENFLIK: His team wrote about a plant nursery that's been serving Seattle since 1907, surviving the Spanish flu and two world wars before the coronavirus.

INIGUEZ: Perseverance, duty, community and then warmth and kindness - those are really what we're trying to nail down here.

FOLKENFLIK: The Charlotte Observer's Alex Andrejev is now writing, among other things, about sports video games. She's keeping an eye open for non-sports stories, too.

ANDREJEV: I was actually on a run, and I passed a sign that said that a local restaurant was offering toilet paper as sort of a offering if you bought a meal.

FOLKENFLIK: Andrejev stopped to interview the restaurant's owner.

ANDREJEV: He said they had actually given away at least, you know, a hundred rolls of toilet paper in the first couple weeks. So it was a successful marketing tool, I guess, for them.

FOLKENFLIK: Some of her colleagues were initially a bit tentative about straying from sports.

MATT STEPHENS: There was folks who were just like, oh, I got to put my news hat back - you know, I haven't done, you know, news reporting, crime reporting in a while.

FOLKENFLIK: Matt Stephens oversees sports coverage at the Observer and McClatchy's other papers in the southeast.

STEPHENS: I have always found games to be the least interesting part of sports. And it's the people and the characters involved in sports that really make it interesting and telling their stories.

FOLKENFLIK: For now, stories told away from the playing fields.

David Folkenflik, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE WHO SONG, "EMINENCE FRONT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Folkenflik was described by Geraldo Rivera of Fox News as "a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter." Others have been kinder. The Columbia Journalism Review, for example, once gave him a "laurel" for reporting that immediately led the U.S. military to institute safety measures for journalists in Baghdad.
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