On the Move: Sports returns at The Washington Times April 26, 2011
Mike Harris was in an enviable position in March.
He was hiring.
The new sports editor of The Washington Times built a staff in a matter of weeks to get the sports section relaunched March 21 after an absence of more than 14 months.
"I was telling somebody the other day it was great for me because so many good candidates are out there," said Harris, who was hired in February and started officially March 1. "I thought there would be interest but people found out we were hiring and we had an explosion of interest. There are way too many talented people looking, but it's good to see that many people still interested in the business. It's sad because I've got to close the door and say we're not hiring anymore right now.
"It's not a great time for newspapers, but it's getting better, and I think this is a sign."
Harris (left) said the decision to join The Times required "a leap of faith in a trying time for newspapers, but I feel confident in what we're doing and I think the people we've hired share the same vision."
The Washington Times dropped its sports section — and all other non-political coverage — in December 2009.
After some "administrative and management shuffles," as it was called in the paper's story on the revamped edition, the paper was sold to new owners who operate on behalf of its founder, the Rev. Sun Myung Moon.
Harris most recently had been at FanHouse as the senior editor of college sports. He worked in Richmond, Va., for many years at the News Leader and Times-Dispatch, covering "pretty much everything" before moving into management. He was named the sports editor at the Times-Dispatch in 2006. He worked for 14 months at Virginia Commonwealth before working for a year as regional NFL editor for CBS.com and then joining FanHouse.
For deputy sports editor, he tabbed Marc Lancaster (left), a Georgia graduate who worked at the Athens (Ga.) Banner, Cincinnati Post and Tampa Tribune before joining Harris at FanHouse.
"He has a background as a young writer covering pro sports, and that's why I wanted him to work with young writers covering pro sports," Harris said.
He has three former Washington Times staffers back, including lead columnist Dan Daly, who also had been assisting on NFL coverage since the startup.
"I thought for years he was the best columnist in D.C.," Harris said. "Having worked with him, I am convinced of it. I like his voice, I like his style. He wouldn't play well on TV because he's not going to beat you over the head but he's a thorough researcher."
Patrick Stevens, who covers the University of Maryland and other college sports, returns to The Times along with Stephen Whyno, a former copy editor now covering the Capitals beat.
Nathan Fenno, formerly of the Ann Arbor News, is covering the Georgetown beat and stepped into VCU's run to the NCAA men's basketball Final Four.
Deron Snyder writes twice as a week as a contributing columnist. He worked at USA Today and had his column syndicated in Gannett's papers from 2000 to 2009.
"With Dan and Deron, I think we have just a terrific set of voices," Harris said.
Amanda Comak, formerly of MLB.com and most recently the Cape Cod Times, is covering the Nationals. She was put to the test early for the Times, sent to cover spring training and produce a baseball preview section just a week after the paper launched.
"She's a good reporter, a good thinker," Harris said. "She produced a fantastic baseball section."
Carla Peay was hired to cover the Wizards, Mystics "and everything else."
That kind of enterprise and general assignment is part of every reporter's title, Harris noted.
"We haven't broken the beat mold yet but we're all working on good enterprise stuff," he said.
The approach is different, with publication only Monday through Friday and space limited to three to four pages per day.
"My first reaction was, 'Whoa, that's not nearly enough,'" Harris said, "but when you have no agate page, no baseball page, no NBA roundup, no NHL roundup, that's about what you have left in most sports sections.
"We are almost all local," he said, noting the section published only two wire stories on the section front in the first 16 days of publication, both related to the Masters.
As for the lack of agate, he said he's heard complaints but "most people are fine with that."
He said he heard from his older brother Jim two weeks into the resurrection of the section.
"He called to ask me why we didn't have box scores," Harris said. "I said, 'If it took you two weeks to notice, everything else must be good.' People don't read the newspaper like we did when we were kids.
"We're just trying to give you a few good reads. You're not going to get the play-by-play on the Nationals game, but I hope you feel like you've learned something and enjoyed the read."
Harris said The Times website has a statistics package and he figures sports fans are getting that information on smartphones or websites rather than newspapers, especially those with East Coast deadlines.
Harris was in the process of a hire on the Redskins beat in early April.
Judd Hanson, a copy editor from the Richmond Times-Dispatch, joined the universal desk to oversee evening operations for sports, allowing Harris and Lancaster to address other areas.
"He's well-seasoned since he's edited my copy for 20 years," Harris said.
The paper will not cover high school sports, just as it did not devote many resources to it previously.
"I'm not opposed to it but not with the current staffing levels," Harris said. "It's a massive undertaking, and I don't want to do it on the fringes. It's a big commitment, and I don't think we want to make that commitment right now."
He is understanding of a slow-growth philosophy as The Times tries to recover circulation, which had fallen from around six figures into the 40,000 range, and Web traffic.
"I like the approach they're taking," Harris said. "I'd rather do it that way than have them come back a few months from now and realize we've bit off more than we could handle."
Strain promoted in Tulsa
Mike Strain was promoted from sports editor to news editor at the Tulsa World, where he now oversees the news, sports, scene and business departments.
Strain has been the sports editor at the Tulsa World since 2005 after 15 years at The Oklahoman. During his team at The Oklahoman, he was reporter, copy editor/designer and assistant sports editor. Strain also spent a year in The Oklahoman's business department.
Under Strain's direction, the Tulsa World has won several awards, including selection as a top-10 website by APSE in each of the last two years.
"I really appreciate the effort the staff puts into our SportsExtra site in addition to the work they do in print," Strain said. "I know this is going to sound cliche, but the best part of my job as sports editor at the World is the people I get to work with. They do super work, but better yet, they're great people."
Patrick Prince is serving as interim sports editor while the paper conducts its search.
Change in Buffalo
Steve Jones stepped down as sports editor of The Buffalo News on April 15.
Jones worked at the paper for 33 years.
Lisa Wilson is the new sports editor.
Bellamy planning retirement in Eugene
Ron Bellamy plans to retire as sports editor of The Register-Guard in Eugene (Ore.) this September after 35 years at the paper and nine as sports editor.
The newspaper plans to begin its search for a replacement this spring.
Bellamy was the paper's featured columnist from 1987 through 2007.
He assumed the sports editor duties in September 2002 after the death of John Conrad.
The University of Oregon's PK Park press box will be named after Conrad on May 14, thanks to a grant from Guard Publishing Co. and matching donations from those who knew him. Conrad, who lettered in baseball at Oregon, worked at The Register-Guard for 33 years and served as sports editor from 1984 until his death of a stroke at age 57.
Journal Register: Assigned Matthew B. Mowery has to cover the Detroit Tigers for the company's Michigan newspapers: The Oakland Press in Pontiac, the Macomb Daily in Mount Clemens and the Morning Sun in Mount Pleasant. Mowery, who had been covering the college beat and serving as the lead paginator, replaces long-time baseball writer Jim Hawkins, who retired after a 41-year career as a baseball writer, the last 16 at The Oakland Press.