September 12, 2013 at 4:00 PM
Preparing to meet a new challenge head-on
Just over 15 years ago, when one of the top editors at my first daily in Montreal learned I was leaving my fast-tracked news job to head to Toronto to cover the Blue Jays, he was one of the few who understood. He’d covered the Montreal Expos for a few seasons and confided that the baseball beat would be “the most fun” job I’d ever have as a journalist. Not the easiest. Just the most fun.
Those words stuck with me. Largely, because the guy who said them was one of the most powerful people in our newsroom. And because I’ve since learned that what he said was true. This job covering baseball keeps you young. Perhaps, it’s the adrenaline rush of being at a live sporting event 120 times or so per year.
I’ve heard that most beat writers do this for five years before burning out. I started 15 years ago and nearly quit after five. But I’m happy I stuck with it. There have been opportunities that I turned down because I knew they couldn’t match what the baseball beat offered. The words of that senior editor, years before, still rang in my ears. And I wasn’t about to give up the most fun job in journalism, the one that has kept me feeling young.
This will be my final season as a beat writer covering the Mariners. Nov. 3, I will become the paper’s new Sports Enterprise and Investigative Reporter. In addition, I will write a weekly sports business column for the newspaper’s print edition.
The job’s scope will be vast. But the gist of it is, I will be working on bigger picture stories. Some of them shorter-term, some much longer-term. Some of them hard-hitting exposes, others softer, good-read feature stories. But the kinds of stories I got into this business to do and which I have tried to produce on a consistent basis as a beat writer. Now, freed from daily constraints, I can pursue those stories with full-time focus on all sports, not just baseball.
A main thrust of this position will be to serve as the paper’s point-man for all things related to bringing future NBA and NHL teams to our city. I believe that both sports are coming here within the next few years and that this will become a major story. I grew up with hockey in Montreal, so I relish the chance to immerse myself back into that sport.
The opportunity to branch out into multiple sports is a welcome one.
I will still be headed to spring training with the Mariners, but this time, to work on the types of stories I’ve wanted to do for 15 years but couldn’t because of the daily requirements of beat writing. Now, I’ve got it. I will still be focused on the Mariners and their ongong ownership and cable television situation, which will be a determining factor as to whether this 90-loss team ever contends.
If this job sounds like a pick-and-choose kind of deal, that’s because it is.
I’ve done investigative reporting for both the city and business sections of a Montreal paper back in the mid-1990s. I’m fortunate that at a time when newspapers are constantly trying to do more with less, The Seattle Times is prioritizing best in class journalism by making this investment in deepening the scope of its current sports coverage. It’s one of the major weak spots in our industry nationwide, at a time when the 140-character tweet and video soundbytes rule. When supposed “analysts” are popping up everywhere, without the research skills or firsthand knowledge of their subject matter to support opinions in their proper context.
There will still be a travel component to this position, but again, for bigger stories involving more than just the games being played. If the Mariners make the playoffs? I’ll do the bigger-picture type of pieces, similar to what I wrote last year when they went to Japan. That trip remains among the bigger challenges and most professional fun I’ve had in my career.
So, the intention is to re-create some of that feel. If I didn’t feel that way about this position, I’d have gladly kept on doing the baseball gig several more years.
But this position is a way to intentionally meet all of those elements. And it comes at a critical time for our industry.
Amazon chief Jeff Bezos, who just bought the Washington Post, was quoted in USA Today saying that investigative reporting is a key to attracting readers as part of a package that will become essential to their daily lives. It was nice to read that, knowing the Times had already signed off on this job. Had already committed to this concept, knowing it fills a void.
The sports business column, as well, is something I feel is badly needed not just here, but around the country. Business drives so much of the sports we all watch and enjoy. Understanding the business side of things is a key to figuring out why your favorite teams are doing — or not doing — what you expect of them.
When I came to this paper, seven years ago this week, the priorities were different. I was asked to help the paper gain a market presence in a then-fledgling online blog world. To connect with readers in a way that had not been tried before. I’d like to think I helped with that. We’ve all had some memorable debates, most of it civilized. There are readers online who I feel I know personally. Others who actually have written me personally many times, or come up to me in public and introduced themselves. The Times has been a canvas for me, allowing me the freedom to experiment with and advance various technologies under its banner, dealing with audio, video, live streaming and photography.
Now, it’s time for the next step.
Am I thrilled? Sure. But after 15 years, there will always be some sadness at leaving a major life chapter like this behind. I look at those baseball years as a major turning point in my life, both personally and professionally. It’s made me a person I could never have become without the experience. I’ll miss chronicling the daily ins-and-outs of the Mariners, an organization I’ll obviously be forever linked to regardless of whether we see things differently from time to time. Any suggestions I’ve made over the years have always been with the desire to raise the bar of discussion in this city. I want to see the Mariners ultimately succeed, as do most of you.
I’m going to miss the daily repetition of seeing the same faces that have become part of my life. Colleagues like Greg Johns, Ryan Divish and Shannon Drayer. Not to mention Brad Adam, Bill Krueger and Dave Sims. Mariners PR staffers like Tim Hevly, Randy Adamack, Jeff Evans and Kelly Munro. We’ll still cross paths, just not like now.
Clearly, I would not be at this point without help. There are numerous writers, scouts, coaches, editors, executives and players who have helped me along the way. Who helped educate me about baseball and what it takes to properly cover it at the major-league level. To those people, thank you.
Hopefully, I can keep doing them — and you, the readers — proud.