Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Harvey Araton Yanked As N.Y. Times Sports Columnist

Be It Cost-Cutting or New Direction, Diminishing a Distinct Voice Still a Bad Idea

I finally caught up to an item from The Big Lead that said New York Times sports columnist Harvey Araton was being booted from his perch to take on a new role writing features.'
Araton's been blessed to have that vaunted post for 15 years, and has long been a destination read. His writing, especially about tennis and basketball, is engaging, skeptical and well-reported -- a vestige from his days as a beat writer.
Araton is clever without resorting to cheap shots. And unlike other columnists who seem to relish being the first to call for a coach or manager to be fired, Araton's not one to jump on bandwagons.
So, then, why would the Times do away with such an asset? It can't be for cost-cutting reasons, if Araton is still on the payroll in another capacity.
The Big Lead said "[o]ne source claims the Times is veering off beat coverage and columns - wise move - and focusing more on offbeat features..."
You could perhaps -- just perhaps -- that veering off beat coverage is a wise move. And the Times has done just that with all college teams, the Devils, Islanders and only partially covering the Rangers. Such are the casualties of both cost-cutting and the Times' self-definition as a national newspaper.
But cutting columnists should in no way be defined as a wise move. If beat coverage is less essential in the digital age, then sports sections must justify their existence with distinctive voices and content that can't be had anywhere else. In other words, a columnist.
The Times has already thinned its columnist ranks. After Dave Anderson retired, and Selena Roberts fled to much-greener pastures in Sports Illustrated, neither were replaced.
So maybe you don't need five. But two? And one of those two, George Vecsey -- good as he still remains -- has been an ink-stained wretch for half a century. How much more does he have left in the tank? And when he decides to power down his laptop will the Times replace him?
For now, let's hope the Times doesn't have to answer those questions anytime soon. But what sports editor Tom Jolly should address is how taking away a columnist makes sense. At a time when his section is often less than six pages -- and way too much of it is taken up lately by cycling (blanket coverage of the Giro D'Italia? Really?) -- the sports department needs to make the most of its precious allotted space, not less.


Anonymous said...

Just about the only smart thing the NYT has done in a long time.

Lisdoon Varna said...

The house cleaning had more to do with the errant and biased coverage of the Duke Lacrosse scandal than cost cutting.