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Goodbye to the Times sports section

"Baltimore-Washington might have dropped to 17th in the Sporting News' annual survey of sports towns, but cheer up, folks," Washington Times Sports columnist Dan Daly wrote a few years ago. "We're still comfortably ahead of Wappingers Falls, N.Y. (FYI: Wappingers Falls (No.347) is the home of the Hudson Valley Renegades of the New York-Penn League.)"

The Washington Times Sports section is preparing as if this Friday's edition will be their last. Caps beat guy Corey Masisak isn't with the team on the West Coast. Wiz beat guy Mike Jones referred to Tuesday night's dreadful loss as his last. Redskins beat guys Ryan O'Halloran and David Elfin aren't going with the team to San Diego, which is just unimaginable, a Skins game without the Times guys. College ace Patrick Stevens covered the frigid EagleBank Bowl on Tuesday and will do Maryland-William & Mary Wednesday night, and then a follow the next day, just for the heck of it. Georgetown beat guy Barker Davis, who's been covering that school since the 19th century, will cover the New Year's Eve game.

And then, silence? As of this writing, the staff hasn't been told anything official, but the paper is moving forward with plans for a new product on Monday, and there have been no indications that product will include sports. The 25 full-time sports staffers are thus assuming they'll get the official pink slip sometime before the New Year. (Read more from Neely Tucker in Style.)

UPDATE: The Sports staff has indeed been told it's the end. Read Friday's Times for a Sports section commemorative.

Why does this matter? Lots of reasons.

* The Times covered things The Post didn't. They had two Nats beat writers to our one. Tim Lemke kept covering the sports business and sports media beats after we eliminated that slot. Stevens cared, and wrote, more about college lacrosse than nearly anyone. Thom Loverro was just about the only columnist in town who would write about combat sports, including pro wrestling.

* The Times had history. Daly--who spent more than a quarter-century at the paper--has been writing D.C. sports longer than all but a handful of people in the market. Elfin and Tom Knott have both served more than 20 years, and Loverro nearly as long, to say nothing of longtime editors like Mark Hartsell and Steve Repsher. The other day, I asked a question about the Redskins' second Super Bowl victory at Redskins Park, and Elfin shouted out the date without thinking.

* The Times also had youth. There's no question that some of their writers have been more aggressive than others in this market at embracing Twitter, loving the blog life, and hurrying to get information out as quickly as possible. For those of us who spend most of our lives reading D.C. sports news on the Web, not having those guys around would leave a gaping hole. See, for example, the reaction at Japers Rink.

* Speaking of which, the Times encouraged the heck out of me. This is just a personal reflection, but when I first started my blog, and I wasn't always sure what co-workers thought of it or me, guys like John Taylor and Harrison Goodman at the Times sent along words of encouragement that actually gave me hope. It meant a lot. Also, at least four Times staffers have been voters in my Atlantic 11 poll.

* The Times offered competition. Not just in an abstract way; they not infrequently beat us in breaking news. That's not meant as any knock at my co-workers; it's going to happen when two fully staffed papers are competing over the same ground, and they've repeatedly blogged about things I should have blogged about before I did. But competition, in this sense, is clearly good for the market. Sure, we're also competing with dozens of national writers, and sure, I'm not the one popping antacids at 2 a.m. while worrying about getting beat on hard news, so it's easy for me to say. But if you're a fan, you want as many reporters pushing each other to uncover news as possible.

Which brings me to the first quote up above. Aside from the general lament about so many good people losing their jobs in such a shoddy way, the worst thing about this news is that it hurts D.C. as a sports town. Sports towns have rollicking media contingents, packs of beat writers, inter-paper feuds and all the rest. They have columnists with rival sport-talk shows on at the same time, and they have beat writers whispering covertly into cell phones while talking to editors, and they have hurt feelings and back-stabbings, and they have drunken group dart games after playoff wins during midwestern road trips.

Sure, bloggers are rapidly filling in the holes, and the Examiner does a lot with a small staff, and various Web sites are beefing up their coverage, but that's no substitute for being a genuine two-paper town, with multiple full-time beat writers covering every team.

Some of the staffers will assuredly resurface at other sports outlets in this market, but unless some sort of post-Eagle BankBowl miracle emerges, Wednesday is our last Web day with the Washington Times sports staffers. So enjoy it, and thank them for what they did, and wish them well. And then wait for CSN Washington or ESPNDC or whatever's coming next, I guess.

"Washington's sporting slump is starting to reach ridiculous proportions," Loverro wrote almost exactly five years ago. "If we weren't so unlovable as the nation's capital, Washington actually might be able to replace Boston as the city most deserving of the country's sympathy."

Well, add another item to the list.

By Dan Steinberg  |  December 30, 2009; 9:47 AM ET
Categories:  Media  
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Next: Tough year for D.C.'s captains

Comments

Thanks Dan.

Posted by: harrisongoodman | December 30, 2009 10:00 AM | Report abuse

Hear, hear.

Posted by: HowdyDCU | December 30, 2009 10:07 AM | Report abuse

Can we blame Obama? Screw it, let's just do it anyway.

Posted by: cao091402 | December 30, 2009 10:15 AM | Report abuse

This post hit the nail on the head. As a dc sports fan, I loved having the diversity of two papers covering our beloved local teams. As mentioned, their Nat's coverage was excellent.

Best wishes to the Times staffers in landing on their feet in the New Year. There's no question that those guys have major talent, and other outlets should seize the chance to snatch these guys up.

Isn't the Post still looking for a Nat's beat writer? Um............

Posted by: brentvdg | December 30, 2009 10:26 AM | Report abuse

Agree 100 percent with this post. Assuming the section is indeed cut, I hope all the Times Sports staff can find great positions elsewhere. They deserve to. That section was a fine one, and not just because of all the Maryland graduates. Though mostly because of them.

Posted by: Lindemann777 | December 30, 2009 10:28 AM | Report abuse

That just plain sucks. They have a bunch of excellent guys that cover the local teams. As does the Post. I think DC is pretty lucky in that respect. I like the newer guys on the Post and the old guard newpaper/radio guys,thanks and see ya.

Posted by: ridgely1 | December 30, 2009 10:42 AM | Report abuse

Classy column, Steinberg. I think the Wash Times sports section is much better than the Post's and has been for some time. It is a huge loss. And for those left wing loonies who think the Times troubles are a good thing, it may just be that the Post isn't that far behind..................

Posted by: poguesmahone | December 30, 2009 11:14 AM | Report abuse

The local teams that will suffer the most because of this are the Nats and the Caps. The WAPO alternative will now be gone, how sad. The local sports talkies will never fill the void, they are Redskins and NFL centric, one by design the other because they know nothing else. That might not be a bad thing if your a football fan but its a major turn-off if your a DC Sports Fan. The demise of WATIMES Sports page means the WAPO efforts will be to compete with the Sports Talkies and that translates to Redskins 24X7X365, a smattering of College sports and the NBA.

Posted by: TippyCanoe | December 30, 2009 11:15 AM | Report abuse

Dan -- First class all the way...well done.

Posted by: dbunkr | December 30, 2009 11:36 AM | Report abuse

What're the chances Chico is replaced by zuckerman?

Posted by: softballgirl | December 30, 2009 11:51 AM | Report abuse

If it cuts down on all the personal opinions, unfathomable speculations, and articles that are little more than wasted space....I've got no problem with it. Maybe you'll be next.

Posted by: hounddog1 | December 30, 2009 11:51 AM | Report abuse

Steinz, a classy farewell -- if as all signs point -- it is the end of the Times' sports section.

One observation, however. You noted that the Times regularly beat the Post on stories, writing that "it's going to happen when two fully staffed papers are competing over the same ground."

The fact is The Post has published a half-staffed Sports section for some time and that's one of the reasons the Times scored so many beats on you guys.

You listed some of the examples of the Post's lack of commitment to the subject yourself: no coverage of the sports business or media beats anymore, only one Nationals beat writer instead of two.

Is there any gossip around the paper that some of the Washington Times staff will be working at 15th Street soon?

A couple of the Times' sportswriters would really improve the Post's sports section. I say that not as a slam at The Post's editors and numbercrunchers (although a slam is somewhat deserved for the way the section has been run the last several years) but because a couple of the Times' sportswriters would really improve ANY newspaper's sports section.

Posted by: greggwiggins | December 30, 2009 12:05 PM | Report abuse

@softballgirl, we can only hope Chico Harlan is replaced by Zuckerman. Just as we can hope the Post will devote sufficient and appropriate resources to the Nationals and every other sports that's not football.

But I doubt they will.

(Still, can you imagine the Zuckerman interviews Zimmerman and Zimmermann moments? If newspapers still used Linotype machines the typesetter would get a sports hernia reaching for the "Z" key.)

Posted by: greggwiggins | December 30, 2009 12:10 PM | Report abuse

I'm no fan of the Times in general, but this is lousy news, first and foremost because it sounds like some people who are very good at their jobs are going to lose those jobs.

This is way down the list of ripple effects, but it occurs to me that Elfin is DC's representative among Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee. (I tend to forget that longtime Postie Leonard Shapiro is also on that committee as an at-large selector.)

Terrible news to round out the old year...

Posted by: NateinthePDX | December 30, 2009 12:26 PM | Report abuse

Sad time for DC Sports (no pun intended).

Posted by: mb15 | December 30, 2009 12:30 PM | Report abuse

Steinberg, nice article. I hope these guys can land on their feet and somehow continue to provide excellent coverage of sports in THIS market. Loverro and Elfin are definitely two of my favorites.

Posted by: trolly_time | December 30, 2009 12:57 PM | Report abuse

The era of print and on the web 'brand' name journalism as a monopoly is ending.

Fan sites often have contributors that have broken stories of trades or free agent signings before the major papers get the news and post it to their sites or in their stand editions.

What the fans will miss is the analysis of moves that are made.

The Washington Times coverage of Caps hockey was at least to me more intensive and 'interested' than the Post.

The Post only seemed to care about the Redskins and while I have had season tickets to the Redskins, there are times during a 4-11 campaign where it is nice to take a break and consider some other sports topic around town.

Posted by: leopard09 | December 30, 2009 1:06 PM | Report abuse

While I lament the loss (especially for the good worker bees at the Times sports section), I can't shed a tear for anything that hurts the Moonies' newspaper.

The "Reverend" Sun Myung Moon is an evil charlatan extortionist and Kim Jong-il impersonator of the highest order and his family is a pack of obsequious Salacious Crumb-like freeloaders and anything that sets his newspaper back puts a big smile on my face.

Posted by: playahatah | December 30, 2009 1:06 PM | Report abuse

@leopard09, you're not alone. There are a number of people who think the Post overcovers the Redskins to the detriment of the paper's coverage of the Capitals, the Nationals, the Wizards, DC United, etc. I know I wish this newspaper would reassign some of their staff camping out year-round at Redskins Park to report on other sports and other stories.

I mean, what sort of supposedly primary paper only assigns one person to cover a major league team based in its market? Yet that's what The Post does with the Caps, the Nats...(do I need to continue the same list as above?) It's not that these beat writers aren't good reporters -- they are -- but the Post's parsimony with resources and personnel means they're being given a task a single reporter couldn't pull off if they were A.J. Leibling, Damon Runyon and Bat Masterson (each a former sportswriter, even if they are known for other things) all rolled into one.

Here's a thought -- call it "a modest proposal." If The Post really needs to save some money and reduce expenses, they should cut back Redskins coverage to one beat writer as well. After all, there are a lot fewer games to report on in the NFL than in the NHL, NBA or MLB yet each of these leagues is covered (the Post believes adequately) by a single person.

Posted by: greggwiggins | December 30, 2009 1:25 PM | Report abuse

barker davis was the place to go for hoya news.

powell did an alright job but liz clarke is horrible as shes obviously not interested in the job of hoya beat writer

Posted by: rhbancroft | December 30, 2009 1:42 PM | Report abuse

TippyCanoe, you couldn't be more wrong about te WPost covering the NBA. If the Two Mikes (Wilbon and Wise) weren't NBA fans themselves you'd get next to nothing from the Post about that league. Have you seen the NBA previews by the WPost? They are next to nothing compared to what the WPost gives the NFL, MLB, college football and to a lesser extent college basketball. Even the NHL got a much better preview from the WPost this year. Granted the overall NBA coverage is greater than what the NHL gets but still overall the Post cares very little about pro basketball.

The WPost's emphasis will be Redskins, NFL, MLB and the Terps (throw in some VTech football as well). The WTimes was a great alternative for those who cared about other sports and other teams.

Posted by: NKemp3 | December 30, 2009 2:07 PM | Report abuse

Sorry if you don't like it, but obviously journalism isn't a growing field to go into, unless you are a blogger. No doubt if these people are competent they will find other employment. I guess Steinberg worries about the cold breeze next door whistling through his own premises.

Just not much of a future for the buggy whip manufacturers, I mean daily newspapers.

Posted by: ggreenbaum | December 30, 2009 2:07 PM | Report abuse

Thank you, Dan, for the kinds words and thoughts as we go through this week.

Imagine my surprise to be included in your piece. I joined TWT in 1991, the last season the Redskins would become -- as NFL Films says -- "World Champions of Professional Football." Worked with many outstanding people -- Dick Heller, Rick Snider and the late Dave Fay at the top of the list.

Our readers got our best efforts every day, no matter if you were Dan Daly, columnizing from the latest Redskins debocle or me, the wire editor making sure things like Flyers-Penguins and Duke-Long Beach got in the paper.

That's enough of the ramble. I think I'm the only one left at TWT withOUT a blog.

Posted by: SteveRepsher | December 30, 2009 2:19 PM | Report abuse

The Washington Times Gene Mueller would do a Fishing Report, and go into great detail about each fishing hole in the area, water temperatures, whats been hitting, etc. This was must read for me on Thursdays in the spring, fall and summer.

These are the small things that the Washington Times did so well, and that nobody else in this market is doing.

Posted by: colerwilson | December 30, 2009 2:37 PM | Report abuse

drunk darts sound dangerous

Posted by: littles_ | December 30, 2009 2:49 PM | Report abuse

Nice column. As others have said, I have no love for the Moons themselves, but this is bad for DC as well as for the journalists who don't deserve such shoddy treatment.

One extremely cool sports thing the Times did in the pre-Nats days didn't involve any brilliant reportage from their staff, but was a terrific idea: the day-by-day re-play of the Washington Senators' last World Series year, taken, if memory serves, from the old Washington Star archives. Soooo much fun to read!

Posted by: FanSinceLombardi | December 30, 2009 4:14 PM | Report abuse

Dan, well done.

As a Maryland fan, I'll really miss Patrick Stevens. He did a terriffic job covering the Terps.

Thought the Times did a great job on Baseball, and Hockey as well.

Posted by: terp4303 | December 30, 2009 4:32 PM | Report abuse

Classy, Dan. I'm now mournful for all the Times I didn't read.

Posted by: DD80 | December 30, 2009 5:25 PM | Report abuse

Aw, man, first Angus, now Gene. That ain't fair. I live down here in east central Alabamastan, (the wife is from here), and in corresponding w/Gene, I discovered that his wife grew up an hour from here, in Alexander City, while I grew up in Western Maryland. Kind of a 'Seven Degrees of Redneck Fishing', I suppose. LOL But now D.C. won't have anyone covering any outdoor sport that the common man can partake in. That is going to leave a huge void for anyone owning a rod, gun, boat, or boots. We'll miss you both, fellas.

Posted by: ericenderle | December 30, 2009 6:28 PM | Report abuse

Nice comments Dan. I hope whomever is around in a few years when the Post goes down will do the same for you guys.

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Posted by: iofferkicks257 | December 30, 2009 8:14 PM | Report abuse

What a sad sad day.... they did a magnificent job covering the Nats and the Skins. It's the only reason why I ever went to that paper to read. Why would you cut your best department if you're struggling? Not very bright. They will be sorely sorely missed and I do hope that some of them come work at the Post so that we can start to focus on stuff that matters to the die hard fans rather than meaningless blather about the Rooney Rule or whether Jason Campbell is feeling sorry for himself.

Posted by: egrib | January 1, 2010 9:59 AM | Report abuse

Yes, the Wash Times sometimes had greater detail on sports than the Post, and as a fan, that was appreciated. Plus, anyone's unemployment - especially now - is sad. But, to be real, you still had to get past the front page full of Fox-News-esque lies to even get to the sports section. And then once you got there, you still often found a Tom Knott column, in which he used old man sarcasm to mask startling racism. Yes, a few extra nuggets about the Wizards or whomever is nice, but call it as it is: that is a hugely offensive newspaper and Tom Knott is a huge racist (easily the most offensive columnist - sports or other news - whom I've ever read). Plus, the actual paper they use to print on is smelly and feels weird. Despite being good on sports, we really shouldn't pretend that outlets like the Wash Times or Fox News are in any manner "real news outlets."

Posted by: Urnesto | January 1, 2010 5:03 PM | Report abuse

The human toll is amazing. All the potential writers, editors, and admins, etc.

I personally got to know Dan Daly through our kids playing youth sports and always enjoyed his columns and also his passion.

Zuckerman was always great when you would see him out and about so hopefully he can take over for Chico.

Best wishes to everyone at the Times.

Posted by: GoingGoingGone | January 1, 2010 8:41 PM | Report abuse

Let me see if I've got this right: the highly respected Washington Times sports staff, with real reporters and no political axes to grind, gets pink-slipped. But the usual right-wing, wacko, half-baked nutty political hack stuff is still available online 24 hours a day?

Journalism, circa 2010: Pass the bourbon and Maalox, please.

Posted by: Sunshine_Bobby_Carpenter_Is_Too_Pessimistic_For_Me | January 1, 2010 9:42 PM | Report abuse

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