John Rawlings, 53, is Senior Vice President and Editorial Director of Sporting News magazine,
the nation's oldest sports publication, first published in 1886. Rawlings began his journalism career in 1976 as a sports desk copy editor for the Miami Herald. He later became assistant sports editor for the Philadelphia Inquirer and then executive sports editor of the San Jose Mercury News. He joined the Sporting News in 1990. Rawlings received a Bachelor's Degree in Journalism (1973) and a Master's of Arts in Communications (1977) from the University of Missouri at Columbia. He is a member of the American Society of Magazine Editors and Associated Press Sports Editors. He spoke with JournalismJobs.com about issues confronting the sports news business.
JournalismJobs.com: Are journalists doing a good job covering the steroid scandal? Is this a story that should have been broken years ago?
John Rawlings: I think we all feel a little embarrassed that we didn't do a good job covering this. We've heard for 10 years about steroid use in baseball but until Sports Illustrated's big package, nobody had really focused on it. Every revelation that comes now reminds us of a general shortcoming.
JournalismJobs.com: Why are more sports reporters jumping from print journalism to broadcast journalism?
John Rawlings: I can think of only two reasons: money and fame. Reality is that TV pays more than print for an equivalent job, if you can say equivalent jobs exist. And who doesn't like seeing his/her picture on TV? I'll say this. I think a lot of print folks used to look down at TV people for not working as hard and being as diligent. As more print reporters have tried TV, that condescending attitude is changing. By the way, can you send the make-up person over to do a little touch-up here?
JournalismJobs.com: You reached your current position through a series of sports editing jobs at newspapers. Do you feel you operate at a disadvantage since you haven't done much reporting in your career?
John Rawlings: Yes. There is a certain amount of earned credibility when an editor who has spent several years as a reporter talks to a reporter about how to develop a story or solve a problem. I have tried hard to compensate by spending time with reporters in the field, but it's not the same. I think I'm a good listener, and that helps as well. I would not recommend someone go straight into editing and stay in editing his or her whole career. You just get a more well-rounded view of the process (and of the world) if you have a good reporting background. If I were a better writer, I probably would have been more determined to find a reporting job right out of college.
JournalismJobs.com: More and more reporters are getting into trouble by not attributing material to sources [Peter Gammons' April 13th column for ESPN.com] or just making up things [Mitch Albom's April 3 basketball column for the Detroit Free-Press]. Why is this problem becoming more widespread? What sort of quality control does The Sporting News have in place to avoid these journalistic breaches?
John Rawlings: It's difficult to say for certain the problem is more widespread. It is easier to detect plagiarism in particular because of research tools we have provided largely by the Internet. I don't apologize for this for a minute, but I am an absolute one-strike-and-you're-out person when it comes to issues such as these. I know Mitch and Peter and I admire their work. For some reason, a lot of people in our business are really mean-spirited when it comes to Mitch and I have never understood that. He is an incredibly talented columnist and writer. Having said all that, if you make up stuff (that includes fabricating your resume) or plagiarize at the Sporting News, you are dismissed. Period. I communicate about it frequently with my staff and, in fact, just sent out another brilliantly-crafted memo reminding people of our policy in the wake of what appears to be transgressions by Mitch and Peter. Don't do it.
JournalismJobs.com: When The Sporting News first published in 1886, it was the only national sports publication. Now there are dozens of competitors in print, broadcast and online media. How does the Sporting News separate itself from the competition?
John Rawlings: That's the biggest challenge we face. We consider ourselves a magazine for passionate sports fans. We're going to engage you in a level of discourse that assumes you know a lot about sports already. We use a tagline of "See a Different Game" because we are always trying to help people develop new understandings of what makes teams/players succeed or fail. We promise coverage 52 weeks a year in our core sports (baseball, NFL, NBA, NASCAR, college football and college basketball) and deliver that, which makes us unique in the magazine world.
JournalismJobs.com: And now for some sports questions. Are the 10-day suspensions given for first-time offenders of Major League Baseball's substance-abuse policy tough enough?
John Rawlings: My first reaction is to say they are not. I heard [ESPN sportscaster] Joe Morgan, who I have a great amount of respect for, say recently we should not rush to judgment and say they are not tough enough. Let's see how it plays out a little. If that is not a deterrent, I hope baseball will move swiftly to make the penalties more severe.
JournalismJobs.com: Should Barry Bonds go to the Hall of Fame if it's revealed he used steroids, even if only for one season?
John Rawlings: He's going to the Hall of Fame, no doubt. Beyond the leaked grand jury testimony, there will never be proof in a legal sense he took steroids. Even if by miracle we gained divine insight into Barryworld and knew he took steroids from this date to this date, how would you factor that into a decision? I would be shocked if he is not voted in. In a way, baseball is getting what it deserves because it turned a blind eye to the problem for so long. Would this be an apt time to launch into my sermon about how members of the Baseball Writers Association of America should not be doing the Hall of Fame voting in the first place? It is a clear conflict of interest.
JournalismJobs.com: Does the NBA need an age limit?
John Rawlings: No. Furthermore, I have to believe it could never be upheld in a court of law. If I am 17 years old and good enough to play in the league, who has the right to stop me?
JournalismJobs.com: Clashes between fans and players seems to be getting worse. What should be done to correct this problem?
John Rawlings: Teams and leagues have to be realistic and aggressive in a ways they have not been. Harsh penalties for fans is one beginning. More security forces deployed during a game -- and fully-trained security forces -- is another important step. Both of those hurt a team's bottom line, though, and I don't know how many owners care enough to take money out of their pockets to solve the problem. I am heartened to see the Red Sox fan who took a swipe at [New York Yankees outfielder] Gary Sheffield [on April 14] could get his season tickets revoked. I am a full advocate of a fair hearing but if he did what it appears to me he did, he should not be allowed back in. Fans have to be responsible for their own behavior.
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