What New York Times learned from pulling beat reporter off of Knicks this season

An excerpt of my latest column for Poynter:


When Scott Cacciola started the season as the Knicks beat writer for the New York Times, he didn’t anticipate that by January he would be writing about a girls fifth-grade basketball team in Springfield, Ill. instead of Carmelo Anthony. He thought a February road trip would to be to Chicago for a game against the Bulls, not to New Zealand to report on a team in Australia’s National Basketball League.

Cacciola never envisioned going more than two months without seeing a Knicks game in Madison Square Garden. “I hope they still honor my credential,” he joked in anticipation of attending a game this week.

Cacciola’s odd season was the result of sports editor Jason Stallman’s decision to pull him off the Knicks beat in January. In a note to readers on Jan. 13, Stallman explained the Times chose to invoke “the mercy rule” on Cacciola. Basically, he wrote the Knicks were so horrendous they weren’t worthy of full-time coverage by the Times.

“The Knicks gave up on the season for strategic reasons [The Knicks traded two of its star players],” Stallman said in an interview. “We thought, ‘What’s the point of having a designated person cover this non-team?’”

Stallman thought the Times’ readers would be better served by having Cacciola report on interesting basketball stories around the world. After basically writing the same story about one loss after another for the depleted Knicks, Cacciola felt like a freed man.

“Early this season it was obvious there wasn’t a lot going on,” Cacciola said. “It did get monotonous at times. Selfishly, this was a great opportunity. Your whole thing as a sportswriter is to try to do interesting stories. This was a breath of fresh air.”



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