On Tuesday I write about developments in sports media, and occasionally step back in time to a different era in sports journalism.
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Just as Sports Illustrated was rolling out its 60th anniversary fare last week, the doors abruptly closed on a young sportswriting venture that never got settled in the unforgiving digital media terrain.
Sports on Earth, launched in the summer of 2012, is a joint venture of MLB Advanced Media and Gannett. The latter pulled out of its partnership amid other major changes to the company announced last week. Nearly all of the Sports on Earth staff and freelancers were let go.
Sports on Earth had some major league talent, a combination of established former print writers and younger online contributors. Chuck Culpepper (an acquaintance of mine), Michael Weinreb, Howard Megdal, Mike Tanier, Patrick Hruby, Matt Brown, Wendy Thurm and Aaron Gordon were some of the writers I enjoyed reading, and there are others.
Other names gracing the site have included the legendary Dave Kindred and Leigh Montville, as well as Shaun Powell, Tommy Tomlinson, Joe Posnanski, Gwen Knapp and Selena Roberts.
(Where I thought Sports on Earth fell short was in its coverage of women and sports, turning the reins over to writers who are more “pop feminist” ideologues than journalists.)
One of the few holdovers is Will Leitch, and it appears as though the reconstituted site will largely serve a baseball audience.
I’ve been bullish about ventures like this, amid a recent wave of “quality” sports web offerings, and the demise of Sports on Earth can be seen in part as the unfortunate result of a bottom-line business decision.
But Matt Yoder of the Awful Announcing site was a bit pessimistic, arguing that while the “whole online sports media industry isn’t quite going to hell in a sexy handbasket just yet,” the challenges are considerable. Grantland and SB Nation are backed by major corporate media entities, the former as an ESPN affinity site, the latter as a vertical.
It was Sports Illustrated that made its name on quality sportswriting, as much as the lush photography that has graced its pages. But that evolution took place over quite a few money-losing years.
The magazine did a nifty thing to commemorate the first issue, published on Aug. 16, 1954, and featuring Eddie Mathews of the Milwaukee Braves at the bat. Fans were asked to send in photos of themselves playing a sport, or wearing something symbolizing their favorite team.
The compilation of 1,596 photos made up the above “photomosaic” recreation of that first cover, and the marvelous SI alum Steve Rushin wrote the centerpiece story, featuring the ever-young, and apparently never-retiring, Vin Scully.
But SI has its challenges. Time Inc. is spinning off its print titles, including People magazine, and SI has lost some top-notch talent, most recently college football writer Stewart Mandel to Fox Sports. The legendary Gary Smith also has retired.
As a longtime SI reader and fan, I’m pulling for it to hold its own, and thrive, in what’s becoming a ruthless sports media landscape.