|Sports score: Dana O'Neil recently left the Daily News for ESPN.com.|
Why some sportswriters are jumping print for the Web.
by Morgan A. Zalot
A year ago sportswriter Dana O'Neil couldn't have imagined ever leaving her print job
at the Philadelphia Daily News. Now she'll be welcoming the new year
covering basketball for ESPN.com.
O'Neil, 39, a nine-year DN veteran, spent the last seven years
covering the Villanova men's basketball team and occasionally freelancing for ESPN.
“When I got to the Daily News, I figured that was my last stop,” says
O'Neil, who previously worked at The
Bucks County Courier Times. “But I have the opportunity to do something
really neat for ESPN. When you're in sports, ESPN is kind of where you want to be.”
O'Neil is one of many big daily newspaper sportswriters who's recently made the jump
to online reporting. The
New York Times recently reported that ESPN has targeted the biggest
sportswriting names at newspapers and magazines, signing them for double and triple what
they had been making—$150,000 to $350,000 a year for some, and far more for a few really
big stars. (ESPN staffers Stephen A. Smith and Sal Paolantonio are both former
Philadelphia Inquirer sportswriters.)
“As for the great dot-com raid on our sports departments, I think it's been a little
overplayed,” writes Daily News sports columnist Bill Conlin in an
email. “A lot of it is due to the attention created by the deal ESPN.com has lavished on
[former Sports Illustrated writer] Rick Reilly.”
Conlin, 73 and a 43-year DN veteran, has seen his share of
sportswriters come and go.
“Substantial sportswriters like Peter Pascarelli and Jayson Stark and quite a few
others made the jump to the 'Net years ago,” Conlin writes. “Jayson summed up his
decision to leave a successful Inquirer gig as a baseball columnist
quite succinctly: ‘More money, unlimited space and no deadlines.'”
O'Neil's former Daily News colleagues say there's a cost attached to
losing seasoned sportswriters.
“You've got to replace the body, but you've also got to replace the quality of the
reporter,” points out DN sports columnist John Smallwood. “I really
feel like [O'Neil] was a big loss for us, but a great gain for ESPN. What's hurting
newspapers is that they're going after top beat writers.”
“Yeah, we're losing some talented people,” admits Les Bowen, the Philadelphia Eagles
beat writer and a DN staffer since 1983. “[But] it's not like we're
wringing our hands over how we're going to find talented people.”
Bowen, 51, sees the silver lining for young journalists looking to embark on a career
in sports writing.
“The last five or 10 years, there just haven't been jobs,” he says. “When I've been
asked to talk to classes in the last few years I haven't encouraged people [to go into
the business]. This at least is some sort of job growth. This is the most opportunity
that there's been in sports journalism in a while.”
Phil Jasner, who has covered the Sixers for the Daily News since
1981, writes in an email: “The more people advance, the more it raises the level and the
profile of the profession.”
Conlin, who doubled his newspaper salary between 1966 and 1968 by writing and reading
two five-minute morning radio sports reports, writes, “If the so-called dot-com raid has
done nothing else, it has created some opportunities for movement from the fringes of
the industry into the troubled metro cores.”
Seventeen years ago western Massachusetts native Jim Cohen left his
seven-year stint as an Inquirer deputy sports editor for what he then
perceived as greener pasture—ESPN.
At ESPN he served as executive producer of ESPN Classic and vice president for
programming and production, and launched shows like Cold Pizza and
Pardon the Interruption.
This week he returns to the Inquirer as sports editor.
“I left ESPN about a year ago. I'd gotten sick of it, frankly, and I wanted to do
something different,” he says. “I'm going back to my real love—newspapers.”
Cohen believes only a small percentage of sportswriters—attracted by money, fame or
both—are actually leaving newspapers for TV and online outlets.
“I would say for people who make journalism their top priority, print is usually the
best vehicle. A lot of people still like to pick up a newspaper, fold it, bend it, read
it and eventually light their fireplaces with it. You can't do that with your TV set.”
Of O'Neil's recent departure, Daily News assistant managing editor
Pat McLoone says, “If someone offered me twice as much money than what I make now to
work out of Havertown, where I live, I would have to take it. That's what happened to
Dana. When people throw around big chunks of money and [say] you don't have to [move],
people really think about that.”
O'Neil says she's excited that she'll be able to pitch and cover national stories,
though she's still adjusting to the change.
“It's just the opportunity to work at ESPN,” she says. “It's hard to turn down because
it's sort of the top end of the spectrum. But I'm still a newspaper person. Even though
I work for a dot-com, I hope newspapers stay around forever.”
Morgan A. Zalot (firstname.lastname@example.org) last wrote about the depiction of
the Irish Pub and Inn in Atlantic City as a dive in a Philadelphia