Former LA Times sports editor Bill Dwyre reflects on past, future of business

DwyreExcerpts from my latest column for Poynter.

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You will be hard pressed to find anyone with a more unique perspective on the epic shifts in sports journalism than Bill Dwyre.

After 25 years as sports editor of the Los Angeles Times, Dwyre sought a change in 2006. He wanted to spend the final years of his career writing as a columnist.

In hindsight, Dwyre says it was the right decision. The view he got during the last 9 ½ years was much different than if he stayed in “my glass office.”

“I’m happy that I did get both looks [as an editor and writer],” Dwyre said.

Even though he says he isn’t retiring from writing, Dwyre recently bid farewell to the Los Angeles Times. He didn’t necessarily want to leave, but he says if somebody “offers you a buyout at 71, you take it.”

The final column put the wraps on Dwyre’s highly-successful run at the paper. He won the 1996 Red Smith Award for contributions to sports journalism, the Associated Press Sports Editors highest honor.

Dwyre experienced the best of the times for the Times and newspapers, and the worst.

Indeed, the contrast is striking. When Dwyre took over as sports editor in 1981, he oversaw a staff of more than 130 people. He recalls the Times sports section had so much talent, a young Rick Reilly had to work his way up to the main newsroom in Los Angeles from the Orange County bureau.

Of course, it helps to have your clean-up hitter be Jim Murray. Dwyre said for a columnist of such immense talent, Murray had “no ego.”

“He was incredible,” Dwyre said.

Dwyre had vast sports sections to showcase Murray and the other writers’ work. During the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, the Times published 24 special sections, many of them 44 pages.

The travel budget virtually was unlimited. Dwyre said the Times once dispatched a reporter to Paris just to get a quote from an athlete to fill out a story.

Early in his tenure, Dwyre sent Murray to St. Andrews for the British Open. Concerned that he might have spent too much, he called then editor Bill Thomas.

“I remember there was a long pause,” Dwyre said. “Then he said, ‘Listen kid, I give you a budget and I expect you to spend every cent of it and more. Don’t bother me anymore.’”

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Dwyre had an interesting answer when asked about his assessment for the future.

“One of two things is going to happen,” Dwyre said. “Everything is going to go to the web. Then every newspaper in the country, except maybe the big ones, will start printing one or two days a week. We will just give away.

“Or this on-going mandate to do everything digital that’s making us no money, has no financial backing for the journalism, will finally run out. Somebody then will put a lot of money into this thing that gets delivered to your doorstep every day, and people will get excited about it. The whole thing will come full circle.”

 

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