The Extra Point: Media buyouts in Williamsburg area threaten to leave local sports uncovered

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Courtesy Image / The Daily Press

Thursday morning, Feb. 6, news broke that 20 staff members at the Daily Press and its sister publication the Virginian-Pilot had been bought out. Long-time sportswriter Dave Johnson was one of them. Friday morning, sports columnist David Teel announced that he, too, would be leaving the Daily Press. 

Perhaps it was selfish to hold out hope that those two would stick around. The local journalism scene is not exactly the healthiest it’s ever been, and those “voluntary” buyouts are about as voluntary as offseason workouts in the National Football League. But, it’s still a shame to see these two stalwarts of the Virginia sports community pushed out, for all intents and purposes. 

Teel wrote for the Daily Press for 36 years. He was inducted into the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame and the United States Basketball Writers Hall of Fame and, by all accounts, is a sports journalism legend. He mostly focused on the Atlantic Coast Conference, which he described as his “wheelhouse” in his farewell column for the paper. But Teel was often the one to break big William and Mary athletics stories, such as Mike London signing on as football coach, and he always showed up to press conferences in Williamsburg. 

Johnson wrote for the Daily Press for 33 years. For my four years here at the College, Johnson showed up to nearly every Tribe football and basketball game. While I learned a ton by reading Teel, I also learned a ton by watching Johnson. He was always extremely welcoming to young Flat Hat sports writers, even as they learned on the fly how to act on press row. 

The departures of Teel and Johnson mean there are no professional publications that cover Tribe Athletics with any sort of frequency and effort. That lack of local journalism is troubling and frustrating. 

I’ve always been one to state that sports journalism is important, maybe as important as any other kind of journalism. Sports are a microcosm of life, and by examining these stories, we can learn something about ourselves. Even if you don’t agree with my platitudes, just look at the billions of dollars college athletics make every single year. The lack of good local coverage of Tribe Athletics means that much of the watchdog function of the press is effectively gone, but also that the incredibly meaningful stories will be fewer and more far between. 

This isn’t an isolated problem. Tribune Publishing Company owns several newspapers across the country. In December, Alden Global Capital, a New York City-based hedge fund, bought a substantial stake in the company. 

These companies aren’t built to provide good local journalism — a service that is desperately needed now more than ever. These companies are here to make money, and in many cases including this one, it means stripping the newspapers for parts, minimizing costs and attempting to make money off as many online clicks as possible. Just this Friday, a few sports writers were bought out at the Baltimore Sun, another Tribune paper. 

I messaged Johnson to offer him my well-wishes on Thursday after I learned the news. 

“It really is sad what’s happening to the profession,” Johnson wrote back. “There are still some very good young people in it, and I almost feel obliged to tell them to get out while they still can. But my hope is that they can save it.” 

His hope is my hope, too.  

Email Brendan Doyle at bpdoyle@email.wm.edu.