Let's begin with SI's hiring, two weeks ago, of Dan Patrick. The former ESPN host is no man of letters. Take it from his ex-colleague Keith Olbermann, who once called Patrick's softball-filled jock-talk column "a bi-weekly toe dip in the shallow end of the journalistic pool." But Sports Illustrated didn't hire Dan Patrick the writer. It hired Dan Patrick the sports-themed corporation. His magazine column, Web site, and radio show "represent engaging platforms to both sports fans and the advertisers looking to connect with them," according to SI's press release. When longtime columnist Rick Reilly departed for ESPN days later, SI's biggest personnel move in years became, in effect, a swap of TV personalities. Who needs a journalist when you can get a celebrity multimedia empire?
SI's focus on brand extension is a reaction to the competitiveness of the media environment. Before ESPN the Magazine launched almost 10 years ago, SI had never faced a sustained challenge from the print world. Rather than having faith in its productcurious, well-written literary journalism and vigorous reportageSports Illustrated has taken to imitating its younger rival. The result: a magazine that's as hip as a 55-year-old with his hat turned backward. In 2004, the mag unveiled "SI Players," a front-of-the-book section filled with lifestyle pieces that could've been lifted from a dumpster behind the ESPN offices. The section bursts with reports on Martin St. Louis' glute exercises ("jump straight up and drive hips forward") and Jose Vidro's favorite off-day activity ("washing my cars"). In pandering to the sort of people who (allegedly) care about Dane Cook's thoughts on George Steinbrenner, Sports Illustrated is allowing market research to masquerade as editorial judgment. Perhaps it's effective from a business standpointthe mag has maintained its huge circulation lead over ESPN the Magazine, and a recent industry survey showed an increase of 14 percent in readers between ages 18 and 24 the last two yearsbut it's making the magazine an inferior product.
I'm curious as to what you guys think. How many of you still look to SI as a cornerstone of sports reporting? And if SI doesn't hold that spot any longer, where do you turn for the best sports writing?