Veteran sportswriters struggle to come to terms with being laid off by New York Daily News
Filip Bondy started hearing rumblings last Wednesday that the New York Daily News was making massive cuts. Despite generating high-quality work during his 22 years on the sports staff, he knew everyone was vulnerable.
"I didn't wait for the call," Bondy said. "I called them and asked, ‘Am I still working there?' [The person on the other end] said, ‘Well, actually…hold on.'"
Bondy, though, had concerns about more than himself. His son, Stefan, covers the Brooklyn Nets for the Daily News. So after Bondy was informed that he had been dismissed, he immediately asked about his son's fate.
"When they said he was staying, it was a relief," Bondy said. "He's got a lot more years ahead of me than I do."
However, Stefan now works for a much different sports staff. With the New York Daily News incurring heavy financial losses, the paper laid off 12 people in the department, including sports editor Teri Thompson. Bondy wasn't the only recognizable byline to be let go. Other cuts included Hall of Fame baseball writer Bill Madden, Wayne Coffey, a terrific takeout writer and the author of several bestselling books, and Hank Gola, one of the top golf writers in the country in addition to his coverage of the NFL.
There were reports that Mike Lupica was on the list. However, he wrote a column Saturday that included a tribute to the departed staffers. Lupica didn't address his fate in the column, and reportedly he still could stay on with a new deal, albeit at a considerable pay cut.
Coffey admitted he was "flabbergasted" when he received the call. "I didn't think it would end this way after 30 years," he said. "There's an element of feeling like they ripped your heart out."
Yet Coffey took some solace that he wasn't alone.
"There's a huge comfort if you look at the caliber of people they tossed out the door, some really strong people," Coffey said. "It wasn't just me. Unfortunately, it's a reality of the business these days."
Indeed, it's hard to recall a comparable purge at another sports department. Gola, now a former staffer, mourned what has become of his paper. At its peak, the tabloid's sports section was edgy, aggressive, and always entertaining.
The tone often was set by sports cartoonist Ed Murawinski's work on the back page. No more, as Murawinski also was among the layoffs.
"Ed is the best sports cartoonist in the country," Gola said. "He was a trademark of the New York Daily News. But everything is going digital, and his work doesn't translate to digital. It's sad."
Gola, a 22-year veteran of the Daily News, proudly admits he is "an old-school dinosaur" who still thinks journalism is best served in a newspaper rather than on a website.
"There's still something to holding a newspaper between your fingers," Gola said. "That's when our stories come alive. I don't think you get the same feeling from a click. [Newspaper] websites don't encourage reading. They just encourage you to click on a headline. You don't even have to read the story for it to be measured as a hit. And that's the judge of success these days.
"I'm glad I worked when it was still fun, and when stories still mattered."
Normally, Gola would have spent last Sunday covering a NFL game. Instead, he and his wife, Lillian, enjoyed part of the day with their dog, Freddie. Later in the afternoon, he did turn on a game.
"But I didn’t have to be consumed by it," Gola said. "Not necessarily bad. Just weird."
Gola still hopes to cover golf, his passion, for some outlet in 2016. He also is working on a book about a famous high school game that took place in the 1930s.
Bondy is buoyed that his new book, "The Pine Tar Game," is doing well. At 63, he figures his journalism future is in writing more books.
"At my age, I don't think the phone is going to be ringing off the hook," Bondy said.
Coffey, meanwhile, is anticipating the October publication of a new book he co-wrote with Ohio State coach Urban Meyer, "Above the Line: Lessons in Leadership and Life from a ChampionshipSeason." He still hopes to find "a place to stick my byline."
Looking back, Coffey jokes there was one positive to being dismissed. He received an outpouring of support from colleagues and readers.
"I have to say getting fired is nourishing for the ego," Coffey said. "Between the tweets and calls, it's really been humbling. If you want to build your ego, I highly recommend getting fired."
Recommended reading on sports journalism:
Meet the ESPN The Magazine editor who works closely with Wright Thompson. An interview with Mark Selig of Back Story.
The Washington Post's Thomas Boswell is featured in "Still No Cheering in the Press Box" by the Povich Center for Sports Journalism.