In the ever-changing world of journalism, the standard of sports writing for 50 years announced last week that it was not renewing its operating license. Somehow, some way, we allowed Sports Illustrated to become a museum piece.
Unless you read about it on social media – the irony that lies with that, therein – you may not have heard that Sports Illustrated, the 70-plus year standard of weekly sports reporting in America, has announced that it’s ceasing operation.
The magazine announced on Friday that it intended to lay off a significant number of its employees – possible all of its employees – thereby jeopardizing the publication’s ability to retool, reformat, and certainly…refinance.
USA Today reported: Sports Illustrated, once considered the standard of sports journalism through its writing and photography, will lay off staff after a licensing deal fell through, the magazine’s publisher said on Friday.
The publication’s union said the layoff could involve “possibly all” of the NewsGuild workers represented. But SI senior writer Pat Forde disputed earlier reports that the entire staff was laid off, saying on social media, “There still is a website and a magazine. That said: Ugly, brutal day with many layoffs.”
This comes as a blow to the veteran reader of Sports Illustrated, who for decades depended on a better grade of narrative sports writing, as well as a better grade of unparalleled sports photography from names like Rick Reilly, Dan Jenkins, and Curry Kirkpatrick…Manny Millan, Walter Iooss, Jr. and Heinz Kleutmeier.
Once something that people tapped their fingers over while waiting for the Tuesday delivery to their mailbox, in recent years the publication began to show the signs of cost-cutting, shortcuts in staff and materials, and frankly…a lower standard.
How do you lose a brand of this magnitude from the American sports culture?
“Well, a number of bad business decisions,” says former staffer, Bruce Hooley, who left Sports Illustrated, online, three years ago. “I think they got caught up in the cultural demand of quotas and correctness, rather than the core principles of covering the best stories with the best people possible, regardless of culture.”
According to published reports, SI’s commitment to a new mainstream America cost them dearly, financially, with the inability to pay a reported $3.75 million dollars worth of quarterly debt.
“Madison Avenue…that’s what killed them,” says John Howenstein, a retired New Jersey web developer, and a former design consultant for this website.
“The advertising agencies have done everything they can to kill traditional print media by convincing clients that no one has the time, or wants to read print media, anymore. They’ve ‘dumbed’ it down, to video and social media, convincing people that the printed word is a prehistoric platform. It has to be convenient now, and in the moment.”
Sports Illustrated is just the latest example of sports periodicals to struggle – Streets and Smith, Sport Magazine, and Sporting News. Sport, long considered the leader in popular sports periodicals for a run of 60 years, ran aground more than a decade ago when companies like the Phillip Morris group pulled its support, a reported $500,000, annually. In 2012, the Sporting News ceased its print publication and went digital, exclusively.
“The point being sold is that people do not want to wait for a story until it’s published tomorrow, ” adds Howenstein. “This is a day of instant gratification, even with books. To publish something without a audio complement is a highly questionable business move.”
In its day Sports Illustrated was notable for setting a new standard in both writing and photography, first appearing in 1954 with the now iconic cover shot of hall of famer Eddie Mathews (above) batting for the Milwaukee Braves. I still have a copy of that first edition. It sold for 25 cents.
It’s soon to become a priceless museum piece.