Lynn Hoppes to ESPN: Good and Bad

I grew up reading the Orlando Sentinel‘s sports section, as has been mentioned before in this space. It’s the newspaper I have my tactile attachment to, the one that I exalt both because of that childhood relationship and because it was a fine sports section.

So Lynn Hoppes leaving for ESPN leaves me conflicted.

On one side, I know Hoppes is not exactly trading down: He’s the associate managing editor in charge of sports for the Sentinel, and president of the Associated Press Sports Editors, both gaudy resume lines and large roles in the world of journalism, but he’s leaving for a position as “senior director of Page 2 and columnists,” as he puts it on his blog.

Though I doubt it will have the same sprawl as his former position, this role probably puts him in charge of the editorial content of Page 2, giving him oversight of Bill Simmons, Jeff MacGregor, Jim Caple, Scoop Jackson, former Hoppes hire Jemele Hill, Tim Keown, and others. He’s going from a small and talented stable of writers to a deep one, and that’s not a bad thing at all.

I say this because, in addition to knowing his work, I know Lynn Hoppes. I participated in the Sentinel‘s High School Sports Reporting Institute in 2005, traveling for a little over an hour each way to work with other students and Sentinel mentors on the basics of sports journalism. I had the privilege of meeting and interacting with Lynn, who, during the summer months, actually hung around the motley crew of student journalist he and the Sentinel‘s Tim Stephens assembled. No, none of us wrote Pultizer-worthy stuff, and some of us (well, me) didn’t even get anything published.

But that doesn’t mean we didn’t learn, and that’s not to say Hoppes wasn’t instrumental in that. He was more than happy to help a bunch of high school students learn something about journalism, and that’s not something I would have guessed the sports editor of a large and award-winning section would either have the time or patience to do.

Hoppes did. And though his counsel and guidance were just part of the program, he probably couldn’t pick me out of a lineup at this point, and I am not likely to pursue sports journalism as a career, Lynn Hoppes made the time to make some high school students better journalists. For that, I’m grateful.

But for the sake of the Sentinel, I must look on this with chagrin. Hoppes isn’t necessarily bailing on the Sentinel by trading up, but he is leaving a field that needs people like him with strong news senses and the creativity to mitigate some of the effects of an economic downturn.

Also, both selfishly and for the readers who cherish it, I want the Sentinel to remain as proud a sports section as ever, fully reported and compellingly written, and though I know there are a slew of capable writers on staff (Stephens, columnist Andrea Adelson, Florida Gators beat writer Jeremy Fowler, and many others), I would imagine that the paper is going to be different because Hoppes’ energy will be removed. It would be a shock for the paper to fall off the face of the earth in terms of quality, but losing someone with Hoppes’ acuity and experience will probably result in a jaggy period in the near future for the Sentinel‘s sports section.

He knows the coming criticisms: “Someone on a website already has ripped me by saying I’m abandoning newspapers, Hoppes wrote on his blog. “What people fail to understand is that I got into this business because of journalism, not because of newspapers.

“I’m running toward something and not running from something.”

And that someone as bright and experienced as Hoppes should be leaving newspapers, even for an equitable or better position with ESPN, is a sad reflection of the climate of journalism in 2009. Unsaid in all of this is the problem Hoppes faced, with his third decade at the Sentinel looming: There’s simply not much upward mobility left in newspapers. Hoppes has the resume and the skills to be a contributor to any newspaper in America, but the industry is hemorrhaging money and the spots on the most respected mastheads are showing scars as entrenched writers claw at greased poles, hoping their jobs stay safe.

Hoppes will be more secure with ESPN; I don’t know the financial terms of the deal, but I would surmise that there is more long-term security in having a position in online media with the still-growing behemoth that is ESPN than there is with the lumbering giant that is the Tribune Company. And anything that keeps him in journalism is fine with me; I’m now eager to see how his direction shapes Page 2, which has gone from a smart and subversive highlight of ESPN’s online presence to a cluttered echo chamber of opinion that frequently drowns out individual voices.

But, today, Lynn Hoppes, I’m both happy for you and sad that you must leave my favorite newspaper. Congratulations, sir, on the new job, and know that your tenure at the Sentinel will be warmly remembered by at least one person.

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3 Comments

Filed under ESPN, Journalism

3 responses to “Lynn Hoppes to ESPN: Good and Bad

  1. Good piece. I’m interested to see what he does with Page 2. As you mention, we’ll probably see more moves like this in the future, but I’m not entirely sure that’s a bad thing. In my mind, there are a lot of people at newspapers who could do much more if they weren’t bound by format and convention. It’s unfortunate that the papers are losing them, but it may translate into some good journalism in the long run, even if it isn’t in a traditional paper.

  2. Someone who knows

    Congrats to Hoppes on leaving the sinking ship that is newspapers — and especially the ones owned by Zell. But let’s not make him to be some grand god of journalism and ideas. Most who know the department well will agree almost all of that came from his former boss, Van McKenzie. Not saying Hoppes doesn’t have good qualities, like bringing in young talented writers. It’s just that the innovation and energy you attribute to him is not from him. That started when McKenzie got there in 1999 and what’s still there is from the people who still do the front-lines lifting at the Sentinel. That said, hopefully his people skills brings out a better product at the four-letter.

  3. @Someone: You’re more or less right.

    Hoppes is no slouch, by any means, but McKenzie’s the titan there. That said, Hoppes continued with more than a little of the McKenzie quality.

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