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'New York Times' disbands its sports desk. Will rely on a sports website it acquired


A sign of the times at The New York Times. Yesterday, its leaders announced the newspaper was disbanding its legendary sports desk. This is Juliet Macur, who has covered sports for The Times for almost 20 years.

JULIET MACUR: The New York Times sports section is basically the history book of sports.

MARTÍNEZ: As NPR's David Folkenflik reports, the paper will rely on sports coverage from The Athletic, a website The Times bought early last year for more than half a billion dollars.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: On Monday morning, New York Times' top editors told their sports reporters that they'd all keep their jobs in other parts of the paper. Again, Juliet Macur.

MACUR: And many of us have dreamed our whole lives to work for The New York Times sports section. And to see it just disappear in a matter of minutes, it's heartbreaking. And my colleagues are sad and feel betrayed and angry.

FOLKENFLIK: In recent years, fierce competition emerged from ESPN and other sports channels and social media platforms. The Times shifted away from game stories to eliminate broader trends in the game, conduct investigations and do enterprise work.

MACUR: That's what made us different at The New York Times sports section - is that we didn't cover the X's and O's that somebody who didn't care about sports would ever read. We wrote for everyone. And that's sad that that's going away.

FOLKENFLIK: According to several people present, New York Times executive editor Joe Kahn praised the section at that contentious meeting on Monday and told staffers the quality of their work had nothing to do with the decision. The Times promised to continue enterprise reporting about sports, but there are questions about how the two sides will be integrated. The Athletic is not represented by the Times's newsroom union, and it operates under separate codes of ethics and reporting standards. The Athletic covers most major teams intently, credibly, largely from an obsessive fan perspective. New York Times company executives have bragged about the site's growth, saying it has more than doubled its subscriber base in the past year, though it remains in the red.

CHRISTOPHER CLAREY: You don't spend that much money for an outlet, an organization that's focused on sports so broadly and not integrate them into your operations at some point down the road.

FOLKENFLIK: Christopher Clarey covered tennis and other sports for The New York Times for three decades. He left the paper last month.

CLAREY: It seems symbolic that New York Times sports, as we've known it, with its august Sports of The Times columnists and its very global, big-picture approach to sports - and is essentially being supplanted by The Athletic.

FOLKENFLIK: The New York Times is not the only major outlet retooling. The Los Angeles Times announced Sunday it would no longer cover each game for the city's big sports teams. It's shifting deadlines hours earlier to mid-afternoon and adopting a more magazine-like approach, much like The New York Times before it.

David Folkenflik, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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David Folkenflik was described by Geraldo Rivera of Fox News as "a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter." Others have been kinder. The Columbia Journalism Review, for example, once gave him a "laurel" for reporting that immediately led the U.S. military to institute safety measures for journalists in Baghdad.