Well, if you are looking here for the latest ESPN Insider, you won’t find it. But the reason I mentioned the famous baseball journalist’s name is that I want to reflect a bit on some of the great writers/editors I’ve worked with over the years. Maybe some of it even rubbed off.
With a background that primarily includes Southern California newspapers, I’ve been the backstop and sounding board for many current prime-timers earlier in their careers. Some will be household names, others less so. Remember that in the mass-media world, there is an unseen set of eyes that fact-checks and fine-tunes information before it goes public. That was largely my role, and I was fortunate to be in their orbit.
Here are five of my faves, in no particular order. Hope you find this as entertaining as their regular work.
— Buster Olney: The Vanderbilt grad started as a high school sports reporter in San Diego, and was a smooth writer and personality even then. From there, he became a backup baseball writer before getting his own beats at Baltimore and The New York Times. At ESPN, he has the advantage of television, online and magazine platforms, one reason many journalists opt for the sports behemoth. And when you get your own bobblehead doll (see above video) …
— T.J. Simers: He’s perfectly cast as Page 2 sports columnist for the Los Angeles Times. His writing is controversial by nature, exactly what an opinion-maker should be. As a former San Diego Chargers beat writer, the same trait often piqued his subjects. It has been said that all news is biased, but beat writers are supposed to let facts speak for themselves. Columnists are offering their take on a particular subject. And you won’t read any soft touches or sob stories from Simers. But he’s survived in that role for many years, something not everyone in the news biz can say.
— Ric Bucher: Another member of The San Diego Union high school “mafia” who has made it big at ESPN. The Dartmouth alumnus’ career also included newspaper stints at The Washington Post and San Jose before the big time.
— Russ Stanton: Named editor of the Los Angeles Times in 2008, he apparently reached that role for digital reasons. A former business editor at the nearby Orange County Register, he quickly moved through the business ranks at the Times and also was innovations editor. He took over at a turbulent time, when the paper was undergoing acquisition by the Tribune Co.; he was the third editor in three years, after his predecessors wearied of budget cuts and therefore became targets themselves. The Times’ Web site has a look that is distinct from its print counterpart, unlike many newspapers, featuring such items as an interactive crime map and personalized news feeds.
— Mark Whicker: The longtime Orange County Register sports columnist is one of the smoothest reads around. He also brings a sharp wit (Norman “Hanging” Chad) and critical touch to many of his columns; I loved his needling the Dodgers and Angels when the nearby Padres made the World Series in 1998, toppling the then-juggernaut Atlanta Braves in the playoffs. Again, sports columnists are supposed to take risks, and no one does it better. Personal note: He and I were on the same Atlanta-bound plane from The OC for the ’96 Olympics.
Honorable mention: N. Christian Anderson, former publisher and editor of The Orange County Register, now publisher of The Oregonian; Bob Wright, former deputy sports editor of The San Diego Union, who hired Olney and Bucher; Ed Graney, sports columnist for The Las Vegas Review-Journal.