A rapidly expanding, subscription-only sports website has hired three writers—including one it poached from The Indianapolis Star—to cover Indiana sports and try to expand its base in the state.
Stephen Holder announced Tuesday that he has left The Star, just weeks before the Indianapolis Colts regular season kicks off, to cover the team for The Athletic, a 3-year-old sports news site.
Holder is also president of the Indianapolis NewsGuild, which represents IndyStar reporters as part of the Communications Workers of America, and leaves the paper in the midst of contract negotiations with parent company Gannett Inc.
“I’m not making this move because I’ve given up on newspapers,” Holder wrote in a post at TheAthletic.com. “Quite the contrary. My five years at the Indianapolis Star were amazing. I still believe deeply in the mission of journalism, whether at a newspaper or a place like this.”
Holder said he joined The Athletic because it offers a chance to provide more in-depth coverage to ardent fans.
Got lots of plans for this new venture. Don't have it all figured out yet, but there are a lot of interesting features I think we can make use of, including the "discussions" feature, where I think we can have some pretty cool interactions. Maybe some of that stuff I can't tweet!— Stephen Holder (@HolderStephen) August 20, 2018
IndyStar Executive Editor Ronnie Ramos did not return a message Wednesday morning.
The Athletic has also hired Scott Agness, who has covered the Pacers since 2012, first for Pacers.com and then as founder of VigilantSports.com, and Pete Sampson, the co-founder and former editor of Irish Illustrated, who will cover University of Notre Dame football.
The Athletic now covers sports in 38 markets across the U.S. and Canada, with a focus on soccer, college basketball, the NBA, NFL and fantasy sports. But until recent weeks, its Indiana coverage had been limited to occasional stories about basketball at Indiana, Purdue or Butler universities, said Taylor Patterson, the site’s communications director.
The Athletic on Tuesday officially launched its Indiana coverage, she said, with a 30 percent discount on the site’s $49.99 annual subscription, which gets readers coverage from across the country, not just about local teams.
“We know Indianapolis and the broader state of Indiana are a sports town, a sports state, Patterson said.
The independently-owned site has expanded at a breakneck pace, thanks in part to a $20 million financing round it closed in March. The Wall Street Journal reported then that The Athletic planned to be in about 45 markets and have as many as 350 employees by the end of the year.
“In August 2017, you could have counted on one hand the number of NFL markets in which we were present,” Paul Fichtenbaum, the site’s chief content officer, wrote in a blog post for the site on Tuesday. “One year later, not only are we going to have regular beat reporters in every NFL city by Week 1—after yesterday’s announcement we’re up to 27 and counting—but today we are also rolling out the start of our national coverage.”
The site currently has about 275 full-time writers plus an editing team of about 40 people and a roster of freelancers. It publishes about 750 stories per week.
The Athletic’s popularity has been attributed in part to its ability to hire popular reporters away from local newspapers and other media that are struggling with job cuts, pay freezes and other financial problems.
“We know there are some reporters who are looking for a new challenge. They are looking to go back to more in-depth, long-form stories rather than the game recaps,” Patterson told IBJ. “We give them an opportunity to take their career into their own hands … to get back to the fundamental roots of reporting and all the excitement that comes with that.”
The Athletic looks for writers who already have a significant following on social media, particularly Twitter, she said.