Graham's career covers the changes in journalism

Apr 1, 2020

Often painful and dramatic, change continues for the newspaper industry. Fueled by the internet, consumers have rushed to information outlets beyond their city’s daily print publication. Sportswriter Tim Graham has worked through the whirlwind. Nominated three times for a Pulitzer Prize while at The Buffalo News, Graham’s work now exists exclusively in the digital world at The Athletic.

Sportswriter Tim Graham of The Athletic recently visited WBFO to discuss his career and share thoughts on the future of journalism.
Credit Jay Moran/WBFO

"When the story is ready, it's posted on-line. It's an incredibly pure form of sports journalism," Graham said of the approach at The Athletic, which has bureaus in every city with a major-league sports franchise. In Buffalo, there are five full-time staffers.

"The content, I think is, it's not rushed. We don't have a deadline to hit. We don't have trucks with their engines idling out there. We don't have presses or any of that stuff."

A graduate of Baldwin Wallace University, his career began with a series of jobs at small newspapers in his native Northeast Ohio. He also had a brief stint at The Boston Herald (the day he arrived the paper was sold by Rupert Murdoch), in Las Vegas and in South Florida. While much of his professional life has been with The Buffalo News (over two separate tenures), Graham also covered the AFC East for ESPN.

Getting the call from ESPN was "incredibly flattering," but he looks back and admits "it did not live up to my expectations." The network's demand for material and his own "competitiveness" made it difficult to balance life and work. 

"They had this phrase (at ESPN), 'feed the beast.' And you had to wake up every morning and just crank out content," Graham recalled. His family at the time consisted of a wife and two young daughters.

“I would work probably 14-15 hours a day. I would not turn off my computer until my head was about to hit the pillow.”

In 2011, he made his way back to The Buffalo News "not as a sportswriter, but as a main-feature, deep-dive, enterprise writer."

He enjoyed "the most-rewarding year of my career" before personnel changes sent him back to the sports department. Graham says he enjoyed  joining the paper's coverage of the Buffalo Bills. He recalls thinking he would likely retire from the Buffalo News before the paper recorded "its first quarterly loss."

Departmental changes began to occur. Buyouts were offered and taken by a number of writers like Bucky Gleason, Bob DiCesare and Jerry Sullivan. Keith McShea moved to another department. 

“I’m closer to these guys than my own brother and sister." Frustration set in and the department demands increased.

“I added up the institutional knowledge that The Buffalo News lost. I want to say it was like 135 years of the sports department.”

When The Athletic called, it made for a desirable option. 

During our lengthy conversation, Graham shared some thoughts on the newspaper industry and what's ahead for sports journalism.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if someday The Buffalo News, as other newspapers have, just stopped printing the scores because there’s an expense to hiring somebody to sit there and answer the phones and take down the scores.”

"The local sports are what’s going to suffer and I think that’s kind of interesting because that’s the stuff I think people are going to miss the most," Graham said of the increasing focus on covering the local professional sports teams. Similar coverage, he points out, can be found in many places on the internet. 

Without paying attention to smaller, local sports entities, he wonders, "How many people are going to subscribe to a newspaper when that’s all they cover?”