During a major dead spot on the sporting calendar in the United States, an American institution made major news in the sports world by announcing it will no longer be covering them.
The New York Times, which purchased the subscription sports outlet The Athletic last year for $550 million, announced on Monday morning that the paper’s sports department will be disbanded. Further sports coverage from the outlet, both in print and online, will be handled by The Athletic and its 400 or so staffers in North America and Europe.
The move comes a day after employees in the Times‘ sports department sent a letter to the newspaper’s leadership asking for clarity about the future of the section. “For 18 months, The New York Times has left its sports staff twisting in the wind,” stated the letter, which was obtained by The Washington Post. “We have watched the company buy a competitor with hundreds of sportswriters and weigh decisions about the future of sports coverage at The Times without, in many instances, so much as a courtesy call, let alone any solicitation of our expertise. The company’s efforts appear to be coming to a head, with The Times pursuing a full-scale technological migration of The Athletic to The Times’s platforms and the threat that the company will effectively shut down our section.”
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Given the timing of the letter and the subsequent announcement, it seems quite possible that someone in The Times‘ sports department caught wind of what the paper had planned for the section, which has more than 35 journalists and editors. Those journalists and editors will now be moved to other roles in the newsroom and no layoffs are planned, according to The Times. Per the publication, the change in the newsroom represents “an evolution” in how the newspaper will cover sports.
“We plan to focus even more directly on distinctive, high-impact news and enterprise journalism about how sports intersect with money, power, culture, politics and society at large,” top editors wrote in an email to The Times newsroom on Monday morning. “At the same time, we will scale back the newsroom’s coverage of games, players, teams and leagues.”
With the move, The Times is shuttering a section that has existed for more than a century and covered countless memorable moments in sports history, including the first Olympics in Athens in 1896. It’s the end of an era at The Times, but the start of a new chapter for The Athletic.