New York Times reporters gather as the sports department officially closes

Dozens of New York Times sports staffers and guild members marched through the Times offices Monday afternoon to protest the closing of the Times’ standalone sports desk. They stopped near the main atrium and read the names of about 150 past and present sports staffers, starting with Red Smith, the Times’ Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and sportswriting pioneer.

Staffers called the march a vigil for a desk that had been a staple of newspaper coverage for decades. Starting Tuesday, the Times will rely on Athletic for the majority of its sports coverage, both in print and online.

The Times announced in July that it was eliminating the newsroom and spent the following weeks moving about 40 sports staffers to various departments around the newsroom. The move has outraged the NewsGuild, the union that represents the Times newsroom, which has accused Times leadership of union busting. The guild filed a complaint with the newspaper accusing management of replacing union work with non-union work and formally filed paperwork last week so the case could be presented to an arbitrator.

The approximately 400 reporters and editors in the Athletic newsroom are not unionized. The Times has said it is contracting with the Athletic, which the company said is not part of the Times newsroom, nor with a news service such as the Associated Press.

In continued protest against management’s decision, employees protested outside the office and gathered outside the Times headquarters, accompanied by a brass band.

“The people running the Times are letting our department blow in the wind by either intentionally obscuring their plans for the future of sports coverage at the Times or by spending $550 million on another sports publication with no editorial plan,” said sports reporter Jenny Vrentas at the rally. “The way they handled this was unfair to both the workers at The Times and The Athletic.”

As a tribute to the editorial team’s decades of work, the staff created and distributed a farewell sports front page that included contributions from columnists George Vecsey and Harvey Araton.

“This has been a terrible summer for New York teams,” Vecsey wrote. “The Yankees stink. Ownership of the Mets fell to the team and its fans. And the New York Times is closing its sports department.”

Vecsey added: “Why stifle the sports section, which is produced by Times staff, adapted to Times standards and aimed at educated adults?”

Despite the dissolution of the sports department, the Times will continue to cover sports more comprehensively than ever before. The Times paid $550 million for Athletic last year, winning over the site’s roughly 1 million subscribers. His efforts to integrate the Athletic into the newsroom were difficult, as Times staffers were upset about the closure of the sports department and asked management questions about the Athletic’s editorial standards and business model. The Athletic laid off about 20 employees earlier this year and lost nearly $8 million last quarter, according to the Times, even though revenue was up 50 percent from a year ago.

Several former Times sports staffers have found new homes at the Athletic. Longtime baseball writer Tyler Kepner will continue his reporting there; Veteran sportswriter and editor Matthew Futterman will lead the site’s tennis coverage. and Oskar Garcia will be editorial director at the Athletic and serve as a liaison between the Athletic and the Times.

A number of other sportswriters have been moved to other desks in the newsroom, where their duties will continue to include sports reporting. Scott Cacciola, former NBA writer, will join Styles; Longtime sports employees Andrew Keh and David Waldstein moved to Metro. The Times also plans to create a new division focused on sports. The group will exist within the business department and include Ken Belson, who has covered the NFL, as well as investigative sports reporters Vrentas and Kevin Draper.

This story was updated following Monday’s rally. New York Times reporters gather as the sports department officially closes

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