ESPN editor gives advice

By on April 19, 2006

John Papanek, the director of editorial content of ESPN New Media, spoke to an audience of 15 students on April 13 about the constantly changing nature of the sports news industry.

Papanek told students that he had been determined to become a sportswriter ever since his childhood on Long Island. He developed his craft at the University of Michigan, where he covered the institution’s storied Wolverine football teams for the student newspaper.

Upon graduation from the University of Michigan in 1973, he was hired by Sports Illustrated. His job consisted of uncovering trivia about athletes and fact-checking articles. The experience of working for such a reputable weekly publication was enthralling and eye-opening, Papanek said.

“I think the biggest lesson I learned when I got to Sports Illustrated was the amount of work that goes on behind the scenes,” he said. “As a consumer of sports stories, I had not until then considered the work editors and designers do.”

By the late 1980s, Papanek realized the sports media industry could reach a larger segment of the population of sports fans. Encouraged by his bosses to pursue this idea, Papanek was instrumental in creating Sports Illustrated for Kids, a monthly publication geared for children ages eight through thirteen.

“Sports is one of the only subjects that interests people who are 8-years-old and 88-years-old,” Papanek said. “And it cuts across religion, gender, and region.”

In the middle 1990s, Papanek was working for ESPN, the Bristol, Conn.-based sports and entertainment media network. At this time, technological advances such as the rise of the Internet, had led the network to begin its Web site. Seeking to further the ways in which sports fans could find information, one of his bosses asked him to work on a project to create a monthly sports magazine. In 1998, this project came into fruition with the release of ESPN: The Magazine.

The market for sports-themed publishing and broadcasting has grown much more competitive in the last few decades, Papanek said. He expects this trend to continue, citing consumer demand as the impetus.

“It’s still just the beginning of the media revolution,” Papanek said.

The lecture was sponsored by the School of Communications’ Dean’s Media Feature Forum. David Donnelly, the dean of the school, told the audience that the university is expanding its focus in sports journalism.


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