January 7, 2016

The best part of this business always is dealing with the unknown. At some point this year, stories will explode that nobody expected. Major issues and controversies will grab everyone’s attention, requiring swift reaction and analysis. So be prepared.

Until then, here are a few things to watch for in sports journalism at the dawn of 2016.

Undefeated: This will be one of the big sports journalism stories of the year. ESPN’s new site on race and culture, The Undefeated, is expected to finally make its debut in 2016. The project has been in the works since 2013 when ESPN hired Jason Whitlock to oversee The Undefeated. After realizing Whitlock was ill-suited for the position, ESPN hired Kevin Merida in October to clean up the mess.

In a December interview with USA Today, Merida, the former managing editor of the Washington Post, said he still is trying to sort out the exact full-blown launch date for The Undefeated. A few stories have been posted on a preview version of the site.

The Undefeated has lofty and noble ambitions in dealing with issues involving race and sports, among other stories. It also has a notable roster of reporters, including former Washington Post sports columnist Mike Wise.

Despite his many missteps, Whitlock deserves praise for viewing The Undefeated as a place to hire and nurture young African-American sportswriters. Hopefully, Merida and ESPN will follow through with that goal.

Merida spoke of his vision for The Undefeated in the USA Today interview.

“Sports is the center,” Merida said. “But we’ll do entertainment, film, TV, politics, social issues. We’ll do some economic issues. We won’t be a news site and chase everything that has race in it. We’ll find an Undefeated way into the story. And I hope that it will be really dynamic and has an urgent feel. It will appeal to the young audiences that may want to have some fun. I hope it has some swagger. Most importantly, it won’t be predictable.”

Where’s Bill? In his post ESPN life, Bill Simmons already is back to podcasting and he will debut a new show on HBO. But what will he do from a writing standpoint? After all, he initially made a name for himself with those 6,000-word columns/treatises.

It isn’t known if Simmons wants to write again, but the guess is that he still has plenty to say. And it might not be just Simmons. Who’s to say he won’t get the old gang together and re-launch a new version of Grantland?

It will be interesting to see which outlet gives him the platform. Or given his big-name status, he might just start his own site.

New NBA site: Following in the footsteps of Peter King’s MMQB site on the NFL, Yahoo Sports is creating an Adrian Wojnarowski-branded site on the NBA. The Vertical is expected to debut shortly. The Big Lead reports Chris Mannix is leaving Sports Illustrated to join the site, along with other NBA reporters.

Wojnarowski has made a name for himself with his coverage of the NBA. Now Yahoo wants to build more off that brand.

Also, look for this trend to continue elsewhere. There is much potential in media outlets leveraging the brands of their big-name reporters and the sports they cover.

Rio bound: U.S. media staffing for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro bears close scrutiny. It will be a relatively time-friendly Olympics with Rio only one hour ahead of East Coast time. Many of the big events will air live in prime time instead of on dreaded tape delay. Stories will be relatively fresh for those morning papers.

Back in the good old days, media outlets used to send an army of reporters to cover the Olympics. I think there were 20 of us when I covered the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney for the Chicago Tribune.

However, the Olympics now might be too expensive for many newspapers and media outlets. Many editors likely will save their money to cover events closer to home.

Shrinking: At the end of 2015, there was a period of long-time sportswriters penning farewell stories after parting ways with their papers. It was a sad and depressing commentary on the business.

The economic hardships have seen some sports sections get so small, you wonder, what’s the point? Staff reductions, though, are a reality of the business. Sorry to be such a downer, but it will be a brutal reality again as more sportswriters and editors figure to lose their jobs in 2016.


Recommended reading in sports journalism:

Maury Brown of Forbes writes about his long journey to become a member of the Baseball Writers Association of America.

Rick Hummel recalls Joe Strauss, the columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch who died of cancer last week.

Veteran Olympics and figure skating writers, Phillip Hersh and John Powers, reflect on their memories after taking buyouts at their respective papers.

Support high-integrity, independent journalism that serves democracy. Make a gift to Poynter today. The Poynter Institute is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, and your gift helps us make good journalism better.
Sherman wrote for the Chicago Tribune for 27 years covering the 1985 Bears Super Bowl season, the White Sox, college football, golf and sports media.…
Ed Sherman

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