The First Amendment is under attack. Fight back with us. Visit fight.spj.org to find out how.

Member Login | Join SPJ | Benefits | Rates

> Latest News, Blogs and Events (tap to expand)


Advertise with SPJ
— ADVERTISEMENT —
Advertise with SPJ
1

News and More
Click to Expand Instantly

Journalist's Toolbox

— ADVERTISEMENT —


Stay in Touch
Twitter Storify Facebook Google Plus
RSS Pinterest Pinterest Flickr



Current Issue
Browse Archive
About Quill
Advertising Info
Back Issue Request
Reprint Permission Form
Pulliam/Kilgore Internship Info

Search Quill


Publications
SPJ Blogs
Quill
SPJ Leads
The EIJ News
Press Notes
SPJ News
Open Doors
Geneva Conventions
Annual FOI Reports

Home > Publications > Quill > Downsized but not Struck Out


Current Issue | Browse Archive | About Quill | Advertising Info
Back Issues | Reprint Permission Form

Search Quill


Tuesday, June 1, 2010
Downsized but not Struck Out

What happens when a laid-off sportswriter, mired in print legacy, has to reinvent himself?

By Jim Moore

March 17, 2009. St. Patrickís Day, usually a happy day for most people. You drink green beer and wear green clothes so you wonít get pinched - itís just a fun day all around.

But St. Patrickís Day will never be the same for me anymore. On this date last year, my newspaper, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, ceased print operations and went online only. Iíve seen those terms used when in reality it died. Thatís the way it felt to me and many others who worked there for a long time.

I spent half my life at the Post-Intelligencer, and I still canít figure out if thatís pathetic or commendable, but I lean toward the latter because I enjoyed it immensely. For 26 years I went to games and practices and interviewed athletes and got paid to write stories. The paper sent me to Augusta, Ga., to cover the Masters four times, and it paid for my road trips to cover the Seattle SuperSonics, and boy is there irony there.

I grew up in the Seattle area and wanted to work for the Post-Intelligencer someday. My dream was to cover the Sonics, my favorite team as a kid. I was the beat writer from 1990-96, and I sat courtside to some of the best years in franchise history, culminating with the NBA Finals against Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls.

And now, like the P-I, the Sonics are gone from Seattle and have become the Oklahoma City Thunder, a team that I canít root for anymore because the bitterness surrounding their departure lingers.

Professionally, bitterness and feeling sorry for yourself gets you nowhere, though itís not like this is some kind of epiphany that has led to huge strides toward future Pulitzers. The path Iíve taken in the past 14 months has been filled with uncertainty because I truly donít know what Iím doing or where Iím going.

Read Jim Moore's job advice to young sportswriters. Click here

There are days when I want to crawl in a hole or head to a bar, but I havenít. Well, I have, back in those early stages of the grief process, but not lately. I know Iím a dinosaur dude, and Iíd be thrilled to remain the curmudgeon that Iíve become. But that wonít get me anywhere in this new world of journalism so Iím learning to adapt. What Iím doing is trying to ďreinvent myself,Ē yeah, thatís it. One of my least-favorite buzz-phrases has turned into something Iíve been forced to embrace to survive.

Truth be known, if you pinned me down and liquored me up and tortured me into telling you what I really think, the death of the P-I in print was good for me. It made me grow as a journalist and a person. Donít get me wrong ó I miss the steady paychecks, the newsroom, my colleagues in the sports department and of course the free meals at sporting events.

"Professionally, bitterness and feeling sorry for yourself gets you nowhere, though itís not like this is some kind of epiphany that has led to huge strides toward future Pulitzers. The path Iíve taken in the past 14 months has been filled with uncertainty because I truly donít know what Iím doing or where Iím going."

But Iím proud of myself in a way. I havenít landed on my feet yet, but I havenít ended up in a funny farm either, though I still could ó I guess thatís what keeps me going every day, the thought of what could happen. ďGeez, did you hear about Moore? Heís in a straitjacket!Ē

Thatís not what this story is supposed to be about. No one wants to know about my prospects for the looney bin. In the instructions from the editor, Iím supposed to talk about my transition to other forms of reporting and writing after the newspaper closed, and explore current issues facing sportswriters such as getting too close to our subjects.

Iím well versed in all of this stuff, so letís get started.

My ďtransitionĒ to other forms of reporting and writing, if you want to call it that, has been interesting and frustrating at the same time. In November I started a website ó doesnít everyone? ó and I canít begin to tell you how rewarding and enriching that whole experience has been.

I ďbelongĒ to a network of websites that are operated by other golf and travel writers. The guy who got me involved with this thing has big plans for it ó I forget what they are exactly, but he explained them to me. What really got me to sign on with the program was the last thing he said to me:

ďBesides, Jim, what else have you got going on?Ē

The answer to that question, unfortunately, was: ďNot much.Ē

When the tech guy was walking me through everything I needed to know to run the site, I asked him if he really thought that this would work.

ďOf course,Ē he said. ďOn the Internet, content is king.Ē

I was also told to post something new every single day because it would increase readership and/or the likelihood that search engines would direct people to the site.

OK, so Iíve followed instructions and done everything these guys have told me to do, and Iím here to tell you that in six months time, Iíve made a mini-fortune. Itís so mini, itís microscopic. Itís so microscopic, you canít even see it because Iíve made a grand total of $0. I made more yesterday when I found a penny in a parking lot.

"My 'transition' to other forms of reporting and writing, if you want to call it that, has been interesting and frustrating at the same time. In November I started a website ó doesnít everyone? ó and I canít begin to tell you how rewarding and enriching that whole experience has been."

Now Iíve been told that I need to be patient, that these things take time, that all of my efforts will be worthwhile someday. But Iím highly skeptical, especially when bills keep rolling in; I canít get rid of the thought that my time might be better spent pursuing jobs instead of weaving dreams in cyberspace.

Some of my former colleagues have given up on the idea of continuing to write for a living. I havenít. A media consultant talked to me about the importance of having a Facebook page and a Twitter account. So Iíve gotten involved with the social media craze, mainly because a media consultant told me I should because it helps to build ďyour brand.Ē Thatís apparently a big deal these days too ó shameless self-promotion on the Internet.

I hate to come across as the cynic that I am because I understand that itís the way of the world. And Iím convinced that I could be a companyís social media expert if I could convince a company to feel the same way.

The following seems like a plausible proposition if you ask me ó there are, after all, many out-of-work journalists. How about hiring one of these journalists to handle your blog, Facebook page and Twitter account? We can write about all kinds of topics that pertain to your company. We can promote your company, and instead of paying for conventional advertising, we will build relationships with your customers, and all you have to do in return is give us moderate compensation. Seems like a win-win for everyone, and itís been proven to work over time.

But the one time I pitched the idea to a local casino, it fell through. I met with the casinoís CEO and PR director, and I knew early on that the selling of my social media self was not going to be purchased by their establishment. I literally laughed as I walked out of the casino and headed to my truck where at least my dog was happy to see me.

Hereís the thing: Iíve been a sportswriter for 30 years. I have never been a salesman or an entrepreneur or any of those kinds of things, but when youíre reinventing yourself, thatís what you have to be: someone youíre not.

Another avenue Iíve taken is trying to sell myself to athletic department websites at major universities. Hereís the thought process there: Athletic departments would like to promote their teams and players. But there are fewer and fewer media outlets that run stories about their teams and players. So you have someone write the stories for you and post them on your website.

Colorado, New Mexico and North Carolina State are examples of athletic departments where former sportswriters have been hired to do this. I approached the University of Idaho to write about the Vandals and got a good reception. Iíve written one story and have another pending but nothing in terms of full-time employment.

Where I really thought I might have a shot is at my alma mater, Washington State University. I bleed crimson and love my school. In January I met with athletic director Jim Sterk and sports information director Bill Stevens. Sterk liked the idea of employing me somehow and said he would get back to me with the particulars. I drove out of Pullman, Wash., in a state of euphoria.

A few weeks later while still waiting to hear from Sterk, I caught wind of rumors that he might be leaving WSU to take the athletic director job at San Diego State. Sure enough, thatís what happened, and my possible job at WSU is officially in limbo.

I donít get bent out of shape about stuff not working out ó itís reached a point of being comical. And I tell myself that these things werenít meant to be, though there have sure been a lot of not meant to beís, and you start to wonder if anything is.

Clare Farnsworth is a more fortunate former colleague. For years he covered the Seahawks for the P-I. When the paper closed, the Seahawks had a job opening at their website for a reporter to write stories about their team. Perfect situation, perfect fit, and Clare got the job.

"But even when youíre a supposedly objective journalist, itís sometimes hard to be. You can get too close to the athletes and teams that youíre covering."

Itís been an interesting transition for him. Weíre trained to be objective reporters. At the P-I, he wrote features about players and occasionally criticized them when warranted. He would also question moves that the team or coach made.

With Seahawks.com, he writes all positive stories ó nothing can be negative or critical. As a freelancer, I still write columns for the P-Iís website, seattlepi.com, and itís fine for me to question why the team would select a pot-smoking tight end with their sixth pick in the NFL draft, but Clare canít. Which is OK with Clare, as it would be with me ó heís back to getting steady paychecks, and heís got his health care covered, too.

But even when youíre a supposedly objective journalist, itís sometimes hard to be. You can get too close to the athletes and teams that youíre covering.

A few examples: Several years ago I wrote a story about steroids in baseball before steroids in baseball became a very big deal and obvious problem. I interviewed Seattle Mariners second baseman Bret Boone for the story. He gave me general thoughts on the issue, and I wrote the story and sent it in to my editor.

That night, Boone called and asked if I could take any comments he made regarding steroids out of the story. I agreed only because I had a good relationship with Boone and didnít want to spoil that ó the guy was a heck of a quote, and there was a long season ahead. Looking back, I blew that completely. Boone, as it turned out, is one of the most highly suspected steroid users of that era, and to give him a pass that day was wrong.

Read Jim Moore's job advice to young sportswriters. Click here

Iíve gotten too close to several other athletes over the years, and it has clouded my objectivity if Iím being totally honest. Seattle Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck is at the top of the list. Iíve never socialized with him, but Iíve grown to like the guy so much that I cut him more slack than I should when he has a poor performance.

On the flip side of that, when I covered the Sonics in the 1990s, I disliked their star point guard Gary Payton so much that I probably did not give him the credit he deserved in stories I wrote about him.

Now, as a freelancer, I still cover the Seattle sports scene, but not as closely as I did as a full-time sportswriter. What hasnít changed: I still try to write about topics that will interest the most readers. And more than before, with so many alternatives for readers on the Internet, I try to be unique or offer a perspective you canít find anywhere else.

This has led to criticism from peers and readers because itís about as far away from Journalism 101 as you can get since I write about really, really offbeat stuff. When the Mariners hired Mike Hargrove several years ago, everyone was writing about his strengths as manager. I talked to him and asked him about the craziest thing heíd ever done. He told me he once rode a horse into a bar, and I wrote an entire column about that.

When Mike Holmgren was coaching the Seahawks, I wrote about the relationship he had with his two dogs. We canít relate to Holmgren and his football expertise, but we can relate to him as a dog owner because many of us are too.

Bottom line, Iím doing my best to adapt. I tell high schoolers and college kids the same thing I tell myself: If you can write, there will be jobs for you somewhere even if newspapers become extinct. The Internet may have caused the death of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, but it just might throw me a lifeline someday soon.

Jim Moore writes sports columns for seattlepi.com and his website jimmoorethego2guy.com. Contact him at jimmoore@seattlepi.com. You can listen to him on 710 ESPN Seattle weekdays from 3 to 6 p.m. PST on ďThe Kevin Calabro ShowĒ at mynorthwest.com.

Stay in Touch
Twitter Storify Facebook Google Plus RSS Pinterest Pinterest
Flickr LinkedIn Tout



Current Issue
Browse Archive
About Quill
Advertising Info
Back Issue Request
Reprint Permission Form
Pulliam/Kilgore Internship Info

Search Quill


Publications
SPJ Blogs
Quill
SPJ Leads
The EIJ News
Press Notes
SPJ News
Open Doors
Geneva Conventions
Annual FOI Reports

Copyright © 1996-2017 Society of Professional Journalists. All Rights Reserved.

Legal | Policies

Society of Professional Journalists
Eugene S. Pulliam National Journalism Center
3909 N. Meridian St., Suite 200
Indianapolis, IN 46208
317/927-8000 | Fax: 317/920-4789

Contact SPJ Headquarters
Employment Opportunities
Advertise with SPJ