When I attended the NBA Summer League in 2017, I staked out the scene and waited for the right moment to introduce myself to the legends from Sports Illustrated.
Senior NBA writer Andrew Sharp was the first one to shake my hand. I’d read his work for years, respecting his sarcastic and well-written analysis on the characters in the NBA. But this week, he was laid off by Sports Illustrated, along with 35 to 40 percent of the newsroom.
My first reaction was disappointment for the writers who were fired, and over the past week I’ve been trying to figure out what this means for the business as someone who hopes to break into it.
TheMaven, the company which now manages the best magazine in the history of sports, has been soliciting new contributors to replace the established ones that were just fired. Their job post went something like this:
“Hi, as many of you know, we (TheMaven) have now acquired the right to publish content w/ Sports Illustrated for the next 100 years… There isn’t another company that can give you as many benefits or exposure as what TheMaven can offer.”
TheMaven’s strategy to refill one of the most dynamic newsrooms in the country centers around hiring freelance contractors who won’t receive benefits, according to Deadspin. The company is listing illustrious job openings like “expert writer,” which is what any aspiring journalist dreams to do when they grow up. Really, they just fired all of their experts.
Here’s where it gets worse. According to Deadspin, these experts are encouraged to create more content by “(going) to the nearest college and find eager young students who would write for free.”
It’s difficult to wrap my mind around someone thinking that unpaid college content creators is a solution to the challenges in this industry. No matter how hard you work, it’s going to take a while for a writer to produce at the highest level. I admire laid-off writers like Joan Niesen, Daily Northwestern legend Khadrice Rollins (Medill ’17) and Sharp. They know so much more than I do.
Maybe layoffs at Sports Illustrated were inevitable –– it certainly isn’t the first publication to fire a major portion of its staff. But just because TheMaven runs SI doesn’t mean they get to ruin its legacy.
I’m trying to be optimistic — reporting still matters, and there’s nothing more satisfying for me than a well-written story. The staffers who lost their jobs feel the same way, no doubt, and they’ll keep producing great work.
I still want to be a sports writer, not an “expert writer.” I still want to emulate Niesen, Rollins, Sharp and others. Maybe that’s naïve –– I haven’t spent decades in the field yet. I’m just an eager young college student. What do I know?
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