The Conversation

Sports section 2.0

After two years as deputy editor, Jason Stallman took over in January as The New York Times sports editor when his boss, Joe Sexton, left for ProPublica. Together, Sexton and Stallman had reimagined what a daily sports section could be. They published powerful longform narratives and investigations, including the heartbreaking story of hockey enforcer Derek Boogaard and Alan Schwarz’s groundbreaking work on concussions (which actually began before the Sexton/Stallman era). They experimented with online storytelling techniques, most dramatically in the multimedia presentation of “Snow Fall,” about a fatal avalanche in Washington State (which won the 2013 Pulitzer for feature writing). They broke Times design conventions, publishing, for instance, a mostly blank front page when baseball’s Hall of Fame made history by rejecting all nominees this year. CJR asked Stallman in March about his work with Sexton, as well as his plans for the section.

How did this ambitious new approach to the section come about? In reality, it was probably an 11-minute conversation in the Times cafeteria. From the start, Joe and I agreed on some very simple concepts: Beat writing is the lifeblood of our report; we should try to be imaginative and experimental, because we can probably get away with doing some dumb stuff while our bosses aren’t looking; and we should do whatever it takes to get the smartest people in the newsroom to do cool stuff for Sports.

We wanted to give our readers something noticeably different. That could be in the form of story topic, design, photography, graphics, whatever. Just something that didn’t feel like everything else out there.

A lot of the pieces were beyond the baseball-football-basketball trinity that dominates US sports coverage. Was that by design? Eh, I’m not so sure about that. I feel like we’ve done great work on head trauma (football) and the Mets’ financial problems (baseball) and the Nets’ arrival in Brooklyn (basketball), among other trinity-based issues. But, sure, we’ve taken an expansive view of “sports.” A good story is a good story, whether it’s about a baseball team or a cyclist or a badminton player.

Of all the pieces you guys have published that fall into this longform/investigative category, which is your favorite and why? Tough question. I’ll live in eternal awe of Alan Schwarz for completely owning the single most important sports story of our generation. Looking back, what he did over six years was downright amazing.

But John Branch, Barry Bearak, Jeré Longman, Juliet Macur, and others on our staff are regularly producing some truly fine longform journalism. So I don’t think I could label any one piece as my favorite.

Good answer. What changes, in any area of the section, do you plan on making? We’re going to become much more of an international presence.

Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.

The Editors are the staffers of Columbia Journalism Review.