The Arms Race.

Darren at Sports Agent Blog reminds me to write about the New York Times piece on sportswriters getting gobbled up by ESPN, Yahoo, and SI, mostly to write for their online arms in the new frontier for the consumption of sports information — The Big Lead is the best at chronicling these hires, but examples include Michael Silver, Howard Bryant, J.A. Adande, T.J. Quinn, Mark Fainaru-Wada, etc. Darren, of course, goes at it from the aspects of representation, but I think it’s useful to look at this as a following of the trend of political journalism — there are some serious similarities to consider, particularly because poaching writers from print is not new for ESPN, as Slate’s Jack Shafer pointed out last week in confronting the approach of the Wall Street Journal’s tackling of the same topic:

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.

This is essentially the premise brought by the NYT, which is more than willing to cite declining circulation in print and the sums of money being thrown by bigger orgs; even SI, which is still firmly rooted more in print than its Web brand among readers, is no longer a final destination that it used to be. Thus, the big names in print; the big regional papers that prided themselves as home to the best sportswriters, are losing them. This should not have been unexpected at all — look at what happened when cable news went completely 24/7 and needed voices to fill hours — it began with various political operatives becoming pundits and analysts (“contributors” and “consultants”), and when broadcast become viable much earlier than that, much of the best in print crossed over.

Where this is different from politics and straight news coverage is that the recruiting this time is straight to mostly Web-based work; blogs and analysis immediately available (along with some slight copycatting — Michael Silver’s columns for Yahoo read like a slightly more erudite Bill Simmons whose wheelhouse is football rather than hoops.)  That’s some new territory, and reflects the medium where sports news is headed towards — which is what makes it a bit more web-friendly than politics: the basics can be gleaned quickly, and the returned to.

However, if it’s as Darren predicts down the line, and sports bloggers at the higher levels start looking to be represented in the wave for bigger and better work, there’s already a template: the original Wonkette is now an online editor for Time.

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