This reporting is featured in this week’s edition of Confider, the newsletter pulling back the curtain on the media. Subscribe here and send your questions, tips, and complaints here.
Midtown Manhattan’s gray, gloomy weather on Monday seemed to reflect the sentiment among many staffers at The New York Times on the day it finally shuttered its sports desk.
Dozens of Times unionized staffers marked the finale with a rally outside the Times Building, donning red shirts (some with the Times Guild logo) and accompanied by a full-brass band jockeying their instruments to “When the Saints Go Marching In.”
“These two departments could have co-existed, The Athletic and the Times,” Bill Baker, the head of the Times Guild, told Confider. “Sports jobs are union jobs. They purchased The Athletic with a goal in mind… so we believe that this was their intention all along.” (A Times spokesperson maintained the decision was announced in July just after the plan was made.)
The rally featured multiple sports reporters protesting the paper’s decision, including David Waldstein and Jenny Vrentas, who started new roles on different desks today. “We won’t allow this to be a precedent,” Vrentas said. “That’s why we’re fighting it so strongly that, you know, union work stays union work,” she said, referring to how non-unionized staffers at The Athletic will cover the sports journalism previously handled by the paper’s guild-covered reporters.
The rally followed a morning email sent by publisher A.G. Sulzberger punting follow-up questions from sports writers to the masthead and the Times’ labor relations department, both of which he oversees.
“This transition has been handled haphazardly and we want to make sure that people have every support and guarantee necessary to be able to have a long career here at the Times,” Vrentas said. “AG and members of the masthead have had a series of meetings with the members of the Sports desk to discuss the decision in detail and answer questions,” a Times spokesperson wrote in an email. “Members of the masthead, HR and our labor team are happy to answer any remaining questions.”
The guild filed a grievance over the Times’ decision in July that was rejected, and the guild has moved the case to arbitration.
The end comes full-circle to 2017 when the Times’ sports desk wrote about The Athletic hiring up sports reporters “from your local newspaper,” seemingly portending its own demise in the lede: “In a couple of years, once The Athletic has completed its breakneck expansion, perhaps that newspaper’s sports section will no longer exist.”