June 22, 2020

A summer with no cheers: How sports publications coped

Kris Rhim

NBA commissioner Adam Silver suspended the NBA season on March 11, after Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for coronavirus. The country drastically shifted. So did sports.

The WNBA, the NHL and Major League Baseball postponed or suspended their seasons. The NCAA canceled its winter sports championships, including the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, and canceled all spring sports championships. State high school associations across the country also suspended seasons for winter and spring sports.

With the absence of live sports, sports sections at newspapers across the United States and Canada were forced to adapt. At The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Ky., Rana Cash, who was the sports director for nearly a year and a half, took on a new role in news.

“As the pandemic hit, it became clear that we needed an all-hands on deck approach,” said Cash, who will join the Savannah (Ga.) Morning News as its news director, and will also serve as executive editor for the USA TODAY Network’s Augusta Chronicle and Athens Banner-Herald. “We had a high volume of news content that needed to be assigned and edited, so I was given the responsibility of managing the coverage in Southern Indiana, about ten minutes away.”

David Kim, a high school sports reporter at The Courier-Journal, is now on the Southern Indiana news beat. Lucas Aulbach, the University of Louisville basketball writer, and Cameron Teague Robinson, the Louisville football, writer are currently on the breaking news desk.

“Every single one of our reporters has jumped in whether it’s a story on hospitals, funeral homes, real estate, nursing homes, food banks, you name it,” Cash said. “All of our sports writers have written new stories.”

While the Courier-Journal’s sports staff has shifted to covering news, you wouldn’t be able to tell by looking at its sports section. The Courier-Journal is a Gannett publication, and in addition to producing local sports stories, it uses content from 250 papers in the USA TODAY network, including USA TODAY.

“Our sports reporters are continuing to write sports; we still have a sports section that is filling every day in print,” said Cash, whose new duties include coordinating Georgia statewide news coverage among three newspapers and their websites. “We’re still producing enterprise and creative stories every single day.”

For Cash, as an editor, one of the unusually satisfying parts of having no live sports to cover is the chance to change what can become a monotonous routine of covering games.

“You kind of get into a rhythm (covering games), and it doesn’t always leave you the time and opportunity to do the stories that really stand out,” Cash says, “Now every day is an opportunity for that.”

Josh Barnett, the executive sports editor of The Buffalo News, says that the transition of not working from home was easier for the sports department compared to others.

“Sports departments generally are better able to adapt to a lot of this in part because most of our people don’t work in the office,” Barnett said. “Our reporters are used to talking to me on the phone or through text all the time as opposed to face to face, so there’s a little advantage there.”

As of May 20, no sportswriters had to dip into the news section in Buffalo. Barnett says he’s offered to help with news, but there hasn’t been a need yet.  

Similar to The Courier-Journal, the sports section in Buffalo hasn’t missed a beat. They’ve shifted to looking back at history with the “Greatest Buffalo Sports What Ifs …” series, written about how Covid-19 has impacted college athletics, and had extensive NFL Draft coverage for the Buffalo Bills, including five things to watch about each draft pick by the Bills, as well as follow-up features on players who were drafted by the Bills.

“Generally speaking, we’re actually producing more than we can house in the print section most days.” Barnett said.

For Barnett, not much has changed yet, but he does miss one thing.

“I kind of just miss seeing people,” he said. “Going in and interacting, being able to talk to somebody and bat ideas back and forth in person; that’s the toughest part.”

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