Press Box

ESPN’s Print Fetish

The Wall Street Journal misreads the sports network’s hiring philosophy.

This morning’s (Dec. 21) Wall Street Journalthinks it’s news that ESPN is “raiding news organizations for sports journalists.”

The “poaching,” which has been going on for “more than a year now,” as the Journal reports, has recently netted the network Rick Reilly and Jeffri Chadiha of Sports Illustrated, Kristin Huckshorn of the New York Times, Mark Fainaru-Wada of the San Francisco Chronicle, T.J. Quinn of the New York Daily News, Dwayne Bray of the Dallas Morning News, Howard Bryant of the Washington Post, and Larry Starks of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.


According to the Journal, “[T]his is more than a competitive shopping spree—it is a step toward reinventing the franchise.”

Nothing could be farther from the truth. Sure, ESPN needs more bodies because it has more media appendages today, but the aggressive recruitment of accomplished print journalists has been ESPN Executive Editor John Walsh’s favorite play since he started at the network back in 1988, as Michael Freeman’s 2000 book, ESPN: The Uncensored History, explains. The résumés of ESPN journalists listed on the network’s Web site indicate Walsh’s longstanding hiring practices:


Chris Mortensen, acquired by ESPN in 1991; previously at The National and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. John Clayton, acquired by ESPN in 1991; previously at the Tacoma News Tribune. Sal Paolantonio, acquired by ESPN in 1995; previously at the Philadelphia Inquirer. Wrote a biography of Frank L. Rizzo.Shelley Smith, acquired by ESPN in 1997; previously at Sports Illustrated. Tony Kornheiser, acquired by ESPN in 1997; still writes for the Washington Post. Ed Werder, acquired by ESPN in 1998; previously at the Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, and other newspapers.Tim Kurkjian, acquired by ESPN in 1998; previously at Sports Illustrated and various newspapers.J.W. Stewart, acquired by ESPN in 2000; previously at the Poughkeepsie Journal. Andy Katz, acquired by ESPN in 2000; previously at the Fresno Bee and other newspapers.Michael Wilbon, acquired by ESPN in 2001; still writes for the Washington Post. Skip Bayless, acquired by ESPN in 2002. Previous gigs at newspapers in Dallas, Chicago, Miami, Los Angeles, and San Jose. Stephen A. Smith, acquired by ESPN in 2003; wrote for the Philadelphia Inquirer until earlier this year. Pedro Gomez, acquired by ESPN in 2003; previously at the Arizona Republic and other newspapers.Rachel Nichols, acquired by ESPN in 2004; previously at the Washington Post.Terry Blount, acquired by ESPN in 2006; previously at the Dallas Morning News and Houston Chronicle.Angelique Chengelis, acquired by ESPN in 2007; previously at the Detroit News.


Other print journalists who work or have worked for the ESPN organization and are unnamed in the Journal article include Len Pasquarelli, Woody Paige, Jayson Stark, Andrea Kremer, Pat Forde, Pete Axthelm, John Feinstein, Dick Schaap, David Aldridge, John Papanek, Christine Brennan, Vince Doria, Gregg Easterbrook, recent arrival J.A. Adande (Los Angeles Times), and others. (Apologies to any and all print wretches turned ESPNers that I’ve missed.)

Walsh, as if you have to ask, was a print guy, too—Washington Post, U.S. News & World Report, InsideSports, where he was founding editor.

More than other journalists, sportswriters regard themselves as eternal free agents—pens for hire to the highest bidder. When Walsh and ESPN first started poaching print journalists, the operation was just a cable channel. Now it’s several cable channels, a magazine, a Web site, and a national radio network, making it sports journalism’s equivalent of the Yankees, a destination for those with talent, ambition, and a love of dollars. How to forgive the Journal for whiffing the money angle in a story like this?

Addendum: More  on sportwriters and money.


Maybe Rupert Murdoch should invest in a daily Journal sports section. Send your proposals to (E-mail may be quoted by name in “The Fray,” Slate’s readers’ forum, in a future article, or elsewhere unless the writer stipulates otherwise. Permanent disclosure: Slate is owned by the Washington Post Co.)