Sports Journalism Institute

Helping women and minorities get into newsrooms since 1993

Venerable Sports Illustrated plowing through despite uncertain future

By Souichi Terada
SJI Class of 2018

Alex Prewitt got his start at Sports Illustrated relatively early—in 2015, at the ripe old age of 25. Prewitt, a graduate of the Sports Journalism Institute, had covered the Washington Capitals and University of Maryland sports for The Washington Post when Sports Illustrated came calling.

He grew up reading Sports Illustrated, and says that whenever he has a cover story—twice so far—or even just a byline, it’s a “mini thrill,” noting that SI is “a unique product in sports media in that the bulk of what people know us for is our print product.”

Like other print products, Sports Illustrated is facing challenges. Chris Stone, currently editor-in-chief of the magazine, has been with the organization since 1992. He acknowledged the turnover and staff reductions that have hit Sports Illustrated in recent years. He said that in 2002 there were more than 350 people on the editorial staff—now that number is 139.

The venerable weekly has become a biweekly and, after parent company Time Inc.’s acquisition by Meredith Corporation in late 2017, SI’s future has become unclear. Meredith has announced it is up for sale.

But not all is gloomy. The swimsuit edition is a major profit source and an annual newsmaker. Ventures on the digital side—including and SI TV—fall under the overarching Sports Illustrated brand.

“We want to create the Netflix of storytelling,” Stone said. “Through our video and streaming platforms. And that’s not built around live rights, it’s built around storytelling.”

Recent weeks have seen the departure of some key SI staffers, notably media writer Richard Deistch and pro football writer Peter King (whose Monday Morning Quarterback was long a staple of SI). King is now at NBC and Deitsch with The Athletic.

What does Deitsch see for this longtime employer now? “I think Sports Illustrated has to make itself invaluable for sports fans,” he said. “The DNA of that place is to do so through storytelling, through sports journalism, through features in any kind of form that you can’t get elsewhere. I think ultimately, that’s its selling point, that’s what it became well-known for.”

The challenges Sports Illustrated faces are familiar in the current journalistic landscape. And while the resources might not be as plentiful as in the glory days, Stone says the staff’s strength is its talented cast of reporters.

“The talent here is immense,” he said. “And the resources, while not as considerable as they once were, would remain the envy of a lot of media companies, including very mature companies.”

While a sense of uncertainty lingers, Stone said he expects SI’s new owner—whoever it may be—to focus on the strength and brand of the storied magazine.

“Our role is, in many ways, is to be what it’s always been,” Stone said. “We want to be the conscious of sports, that’s really important to us. We also want to recognize that consumers and sports fans consume sports in many different ways.”