Media Circus: Looking at the aftermath and impact of ESPN's layoffs

More on ESPN's recent layoffs, including a roundtable with college students in sports media who weigh in on the future of the industry and whether ESPN's cuts have altered their own view of the profession.
Publish date:

Six thoughts 12 days after the ESPN layoffs:

1. What is the employment market for those who lost their jobs at ESPN, particularly ones with name recognition? I asked a longtime agent who negotiates contracts for high-profile sports media people, including ESPNers. “If you are unique and excellent at what you do, there is a market,” the agent said. “If you are perceived as more fungible as many traditional anchors are at the moment, then there is less upside for you. The next shrinkage to look for in our biz is the consolidation of Regional Sports Networks. That also means probably 50 fewer spots. So those broadcasters should move on it now and get contracts locked in. It’s a buyer's market at the moment for talent who aren't perceived as unique, however these things always do ebb and flow.”

2. One of the roughest stories I heard involved SportsCenter anchor Sara Walsh. According to multiple ESPN staffers, Walsh flew from Florida to Connecticut with her three month-old twins under the working presumption that because she was scheduled to work that week, she’d be fine.  But the morning after she landed in Connecticut with her twins, the anchor learned she was part of the layoffs. She made public on Friday via Instagram that she had been laid off following her maternity leave. Reached on Friday by, Walsh declined comment.

Inside one of the worst Wednesdays in the history of ESPN, as 100 staffers lose jobs

3. If you want to hear about the process of how ESPN management told employees they were being laid off, listen to this podcast hosted by former Packers executive Andrew Brandt, an MMQB staffer who lost his ESPN gig last week. Brandt said—and this was confirmed by many others—that an ESPN executive (in some cases, these were managers who had rarely interacted with those being laid off) soberly read from the same script with an HR person listening on the line.

4. Many of those who lost their jobs have non-compete clauses in their deals, which means they can’t report within similar content silos until their contracts end. In order to do freelance work, at least as of now, they would have to report on entirely different beats than the ones they spent years developing at ESPN and elsewhere. Many are left with a brutal choice: Find a new job (hopefully) that will likely pay much less, or collect the remaining ESPN contract you signed but take yourself out of the job market for an extended period of time.

5. The factors behind the layoffs have been discussed in a ton of places, from the escalating cost of sports rights and ESPN overpaying for some properties, to new competition from FS1 driving up expenses, to heavy declines of households (ESPN was estimated to be in 87.3 million U.S. households last month, down from 94.4 million subs in March 2015 and 99 million in 2010), to poor management decision on certain talent contracts (Rick Reilly etc…). Here are two more factors not often talked about: The millions of dollars lost via the Global X games franchise as Tripp Mickle examined here and the cost of a mega-studio in Los Angeles for not a ton of a programming in relation to the overall schedule.

6: I compiled some pieces worth reading on the layoffs, even if you disagree with the thesis:

The Athletic editor-in-chief James Mirtle on paying for sports journalism in the age of ESPN layoffs

• Neil Best of Newsday: “ESPN proved vulnerable to economics of a changing industry”

• Jim Buzinski of Outsports: “Being pro-LGBT is not responsible for ESPN’s layoffs”

• Kerith Burke for Medium: “The ESPN cuts and the despair of a changing landscape”

• Bryan Curtis of The Ringer: “The Familiar Lousiness of the ESPN Layoffs”

• Sean Davis of The Federalist: “The Real Story Behind ESPN’s Wednesday Massacre”

• Kevin Draper: “ESPN's Diminished Future Has Become Its Present”

• Bruce Feldman and Stew Mandel on The Audible Podcast

• James Freeman of The Wall Street Journal: “The Politics Of ESPN

• Alex Goot of Medium: “ESPN’s Problem Isn’t Politics, It’s False Narrative.”

• Peter King of The MMQB: “For Ed Werder and Many Others, an Uncertain Future

• Rick Maese of The Washington Post: “After layoffs, ESPN execs say journalistic ambitions remain high”

• John Ourand of Sports Business Daily: “Tough trend for talent

• Author Jeff Pearlman: “The ESPN Carnage

• Steven Perlberg of Buzzfeed: “How ESPN Became A Conservative Cause

• Adario Strange of Mashable: “ESPN killed something else with its layoffs, its best hope to reach millennials: TrueHoop podcasts”

• Derek Thompson of The Atlantic: “ESPN Is Not Doomed

• John Walters of Newsweek: “With Wednesday’s Layoffs, is ESPN crawling toward extinction”

• Ed Werder of The Doomsday Podcast: “Early Round Recap, Colorado Head Coach Mike MacIntyre, and Ed Gets Fired”.

• Dave Zirin of The Nation: “Why the ESPN Layoffs Are So Disappointing”

What's next for ESPN after recent layoffs? Jim Miller offers his biggest takeaways


( examines some of the week’s most notable sports media stories)

1. Given the magnitude and scope of the ESPN layoffs, I paneled 11 college students from around the country who hope to work in sports media after graduation. I was curious to know their thoughts on the layoffs and how they believed it might impact them.

The panel:

Danielle Allentuck, sophomore, Ithaca College. She is the former sports editor of The Ithacan and is studying journalism and sports studies. She will be interning at USA TODAY this summer.

Courtney Baumann, junior double majoring in journalism and mass communications and international relations, football editor for the Daily Iowan

Callie Caplan, senior, University of Maryland. She is an assistant sports editor for TheDiamondback and a multiplatform major.

Charlotte Carroll, senior, University of Illinois. She is the former sports editor of The Daily Illini and majoring in journalism, with minors in French and public relations.

Kenny Jacoby, senior, University of Oregon. He is the senior sports editor of The Daily Emerald and studying mathematics and computer science.

Kevin Keneely, junior, University of Georgia. He is a beat writer for the Red & Black and a co-host at Grady SportSource, UGA’s live sports show.

Emily Polglaze, senior, University of Minnesota. She is the sports editor of the Minnesota Daily and majoring in professional journalism, with a minor in fashion studies.

Daniel Radov, senior, Columbia University. He is the sports editor emeritus of the Columbia Daily Spectator and majoring in European history.

Jaylon T. Thompson, senior, University of Georgia. He has a post-grad internship with covering the Atlanta Braves.

Kendall Valenzuela, junior, Arizona State. She is the sports editor of The State Press and studying sports journalism.

Terrin Waack, junior, University of Alabama. She is an intern at The Tuscaloosa News.

How do you view the ESPN layoffs in relation to your own future?

Allentuck: When I first heard about the ESPN layoffs, I freaked out a little bit. I was like wow, if these insanely talented reporters with all of this experience are being laid off, how am I ever going to get a job? But then I took a step back and realized that ESPN is a business, and this happens to businesses sometimes. I know that there are so many other places I could work and still be able to do what I love so I’m not worried.

Baumann: I can't lie, it is pretty discouraging. I'm graduating a semester early next year, and having massive layoffs just months before I'll be searching for my own job isn't exactly ideal. Obviously there are still jobs out there and in the grand scheme of things it was just a small number of jobs lost, but it was tough to watch some of my favorite on-air personalities and writers announce over social media that they no longer had a job. When I talked to my parents about it, they had to give me some tough love and tell me that I might have to keep my options open, rather than just focusing in on sports journalism careers.

Caplan: It was really tough to watch the announcements unfold on social media. They are some of the journalists I look up to most and have been constants in the field as I grew up loving sports. Part of the situation makes me scared for my future because I’m a few weeks from graduation and entering the same fluctuating field. But it’s also a motivating, important reminder to be as diverse and dynamic as possible. My journalism professors often talk about needing to be multi-faceted in today’s landscape, but the ESPN layoffs emphasize a real-life example—the show versus the tell. I understand even more that I can’t rely on just what I’ve learned in school. I have to keep growing and adapting to try to ensure I’m as irreplaceable in my roles as possible.

Carroll: It’s weird because everyone I talk to who’s in journalism has told me that now is the best time to be getting into the business. With different career options and the ability to quickly move upward, there are so many opportunities available to multi-faceted journalists. But then something like last week happens and close to 100 people lose their jobs at what is supposed to be the biggest and best company in sports media. Sadly, ESPN is in the same boat as a lot of other outlets, so it’s a necessary business decision. I’m fortunate enough where I’m young and will go find whatever job I can. But these are experienced people who had built a life around their jobs. So it’s a little frightening looking at the long-term prospects.

The layoffs almost seemed like confirmation that the everyday journalism doesn’t even matter, and that TV personalities deserve more credit. While I’m all for commentary, it’s still really important to have good journalism at the core.

Report: ESPN finalizing deal to hire Adrian Wojnarowski

Jacoby: ESPN always struck me as a place more or less immune to financial downturn. While smaller outlets were hemorrhaging cash and jobs, ESPN always seemed to be accumulating more, from a brand new studio to a massive new deal with the NCAA. So it was surprising to learn the empire wasn’t as strong on the inside as it appeared on the outside. But the most troubling part is whom ESPN decided to fire. By laying off Ed Werder, Jayson Stark and a lot of its reporters on the ground, it made a pretty clear choice that it’s committed to entertainment over journalism. Sports in general are entertainment, but there’s a big difference between covering a team and producing a highlight show. I fear that if ESPN is moving away from real journalism, other media giants will follow suit. Some already have. They'll still maintain the authority of a major news outlet, but without the original reporting, and that is concerning.

Keneely: The layoffs ESPN made are something you never want to see, especially as someone who is getting ready to start his senior year at the University of Georgia studying journalism and working on obtaining a certification in Sports Media. At the same time, I figured this was going to happen eventually because history repeats itself and history tells us that nothing is permanent. However, I am not going to let these layoffs hinder my dream of being a sportscaster/journalist. In my opinion, all these layoffs mean to a college student is that I now have to work that much harder just to get a job. But I am confident that with the education and experience I am obtaining at UGA that I will excel in the industry of sports media, regardless of what may be happening within the industry.

Polglaze: The overarching theme of the layoffs is that you are not really safe anywhere. While this is disheartening in some ways, I also see it as a relief. If layoffs happen somewhere like ESPN, then it reiterates the idea that they're happening everywhere. Everyone in this industry knows someone who has been affected by layoffs. They're almost like a rite of passage or badge of honor at this point. They take us back to our roots in writing skills, networking and news judgment to remind us how important the basics of journalism are, and that your workplace is not who you are as a professional.

Radov: It is concerning. I’m not the first person to say this, but there had once been an aura around ESPN. People like me grew up believing that arriving in Bristol meant that you had made it. I don’t think that is the case anymore. That being said, even something this noteworthy won’t deter me from pursuing a career in sports journalism/media because that has always been something I’ve loved to do. Sports television has yet to adjust to waves of people like me who don’t want to pay for cable, but there is still a strong demand to watch live sports. I also think there is still a demand for high-level sports journalism. It’s unfair to look at these layoffs and sweepingly declare that ESPN doesn’t care at all about great reporting. Some of these moves look to be clearing the way for people like Adrian Wojnarowski, who is as good as anyone on the NBA beat. That is not to diminish a long list of reporters and writers whom I respect. Their departures indicate that ESPN is not making strong reporting its absolute top priority, but the reality seems more nuanced to me. ESPN is still a hub for great storytelling.

Thompson: At first, I was shocked by the ESPN layoffs. I felt discouraged about the state of sports journalism because a lot of great and talented journalists lost their jobs. I looked up to people like Jayson Stark and Marc Stein and I still do today. But after sitting down to analyze the situation, I view the ESPN layoffs as a new beginning. I see the company trying to diversify further into the rapidly changing digital media landscape. For me, I think it will benefit my future as more specialized jobs could become available. This could help get my foot in the door and possibly start my career as a sports journalist. This is how I think it will relate to my future.

Valenzuela: The ESPN layoffs were a terrible thing to read about for everyone involved in the sports journalism community. While it was discouraging to see so many talented people being ripped away from the ESPN family, it was also a realization that journalism is not immune to fluctuations in consumer trends—I have to be multifaceted in every realm of sports journalism.

Waack: The day that all the layoffs happened was a sad one for our industry. I didn’t necessarily view it in relation to my own future because after I graduate, while it would be nice, I don’t think I’ll end up at ESPN right away. There’s time for that company to heal and possibly have job opportunities down the road I can look into. For now, I don't look at it from an individual standpoint but as a member of the industry as a whole. I think money sometimes goes to the wrong places. Talent should always be valued, and ESPN lost a lot of talent with those layoffs. That’s the scary part, too. It makes you stop and think about what is being prioritized.

How many different places do you expect to work at during your career and why?

Allentuck: I expect to work at about five different places during my career. I’m not expecting to get my dream job when I graduate (although it would be awesome if I did), so I know I will have to work my way up.

Baumann: Journalism is just so different than other types of careers. I've heard before that if you work somewhere for more than a few years, you've been there a long time. Hopefully I won't have to jump from job to job every year, but I'm willing to move from one place to the next until a find somewhere that I am satisfied and successful.

Caplan: I expect to work in many different markets and jobs. My first job (hopefully) won’t be my last because the industry is structured for starting low and working toward more lucrative and essential positions. I also want to explore the country, and there are so many markets I could see myself living in. Having opportunities to advance my career and explore new places is something I cherish about the nature of the field and want to work to earn. But I also understand, like the ESPN situation, that those changes sometimes won’t come under my control. That’s the negative side of journalism nowadays, but it’s something I want to try to embrace throughout my career.

Carroll: I don’t really know how many to guess exactly, but I do think it will be a lot more than my parents did. With the way media is today, there isn’t the stability of climbing the ladder as in other jobs or like it was in the past. My guess is I’ll be putting in as many as hours as possible while I’m younger to hopefully obtain something more stable, whatever that may be, when I’m older and more established.

Jacoby: I expect to work to work at three or four, maybe five different places during my journalism career. With fewer jobs opening up and some going away altogether, I expect it will take longer to work my way up to a stable job with decent pay in a place I enjoy.

Behind the Peabody-winning #MoreThanMean video and its almost-scrapped launch

Keneely: I don’t know how many different places I am going to work throughout my career, but I am willing to work as many jobs as I need in order to become successful. I would love to just work at one place my entire career and hone my craft for that one company, but I know that that isn’t how it works. The industry is always evolving and you never know when something may come up and you lose your job, as ESPN proved to many people within these past few weeks.

Polglaze: I've always heard that you should expect to stay at most entry-level positions for about two years, either before you outgrow that place or your job changes. I think everyone goes through the entry phase for a decent amount of time, so I'd expect to work at least three places before I find something long-term, and even then, I'll probably wind up with at least one more stop before I end my career. I would not be surprised at all if I end up at five or six outlets in total.

Radov: Several places. There is a lot of variation based upon factors like educational background and geographical preference, but with how volatile sports media has become, I think that staying at one place for decades is unlikely.

Thompson: It’s hard to quantify how many different stops I could have on my journey. Realistically, I expect to work at three different places before I find my long-term work setting. I think this is because of how the journalism landscape is projecting in the future. I could maybe start a small news station and wind up at a large network. So hopefully, that’s the direction I take.

Valenzuela: I expect to work in many different places when I start my career because I believe that is how you learn and grow. Working different jobs and learning through those different positions will help me become a better professional and will ultimately help me succeed. 

Waack: I’d rather not job hop, but if that’s what best at the time, it’s what I’ll do. I think being able to stay at one place for a long time allows you to build connections not only with your coworkers but also people in the area. It helps with sourcing. I also know once I have a family, I’d like to stay in one place, but that’s way down the road. I’ll work at as many different places as necessary until then, though. It’d be exciting to live in new places.

What do you hope to do professionally, and how confident are you that you can do the kind of sports media work you want to do?

Allentuck: My goal is to be a sports writer at a major newspaper or magazine and then be able to go on a TV or radio as an analyst. I haven’t found a form of sports journalism that I haven’t enjoyed, so I’m pretty confident that as long as I can get a job in the industry, I will be able to do the work I want to do.

Baumann: I've wanted to be a part of sports media for a long time, probably somewhere around two-thirds of my life. It's still a dream I'm unwilling to give up on. I'd love to end up writing long-form features for a living, because that's where I think my talent is best showcased. I'm very confident that I can do the work I want to do. Working for the Daily Iowan has shown me what it's like to work in a professional news environment, all while still being in school. It's been a great opportunity that I think has prepared me to move into the industry.

Caplan: I want to start in beat reporting for a newspaper or a website and hone every skill from writing on deadline to sourcing to breaking news, etc. while building my platform and establishing a place in the industry. Ultimately, I want to write features and longform pieces for a national outlet like The MMQB and Sports Illustrated or ESPN The Magazine. I’m confident with enough dedication and application I can work to make that happen. Those weren’t necessarily my goals a few years ago, but that’s what I fell in love with at Maryland’s student newspaper, The Diamondback. I could have more experiences in a few years that change my outlook and ambitions. Journalism will transform and likely open new avenues that aren’t on my horizon right now, too.

Carroll: The dream job for me would be writing long features. I love stories that are based in sports but often so much more than that. I’m confident in my ability to work as hard as I can, but I’m not sure what kind of jobs will be around in the future. I believe in the importance of journalism that serves a purpose, and I hope people still respect that in the years going forward. Who knows what will be around, but I’m going to try very hard to combine my love of sports, long stories and realistic options to find a job that fits me.

Jacoby: After covering sports for the past few years at Oregon, I’m over giving free publicity to the NCAA cartel, and I have little interest in doing it for the NFL. I’ve spent the last year watchdogging the Oregon athletic department instead of writing fluffy features and covering games. So I’m more of a Knight Commission guy than an ESPN-er anyway. It really hit me the other week when I covered a spring football practice and a Human Rights Commission meeting in the same day; there were 25-plus reporters at the former and not a single other person at the latter. I want to do journalism that’s more important to the world. I’m a strong programmer and good with data, so I’d like to translate those skills into a job in data journalism, which is what I’ll be doing for an internship this summer. I’m pretty confident I can make a career out of it.

Keneely: Since I can remember, I have always told people that I want to be the next Adam Schefter. What he does is unfathomable, the way he is always breaking the news in the NFL and the amount of sources that are always reaching out to him. Someone showed me a picture of him on the set of ESPN at the start of the NFL free agency and he was on the phone with one person while texting someone else on a different phone at the same time. That seems crazy to some people, but that is exactly what I want because in my opinion that shows credibility. My goals are to not only be a sportscaster, but to also be a writer. I love telling stories and the stories within sports have always caught my eye. By the time I graduate from UGA I know I’ll be capable of working anywhere in the industry.

Polglaze: Currently I'm at a crossroads in my journalism future. I love writing and editing, but especially being in sports, I feel there's so much more I can learn in the areas of public relations, social media and multimedia. The concepts are starting to meld more than ever and adaptability and flexibility are extremely important factors. I'm open to working in communications as well because, in all honesty, it may end up being more secure. The bottom line for me is working in some type of sports media, and I am confident in my ability to do that. It may not be the path that I originally intended, but if it's sports, I'll be content. Even if it were on the side as a hobby, I would feel satisfied.

Radov: I am still confident because I believe there’s a large appetite for sports. The question is how to monetize all of the strong content out there. Will people en masse start paying for journalism? The New York Times has proven that business model can work, as online subscriptions have skyrocketed, but that also seems to be entirely a byproduct of its news coverage in the age of President Trump. I’m not sure whether people will pay for sports-only sites, which leaves the entire industry in a difficult position. How many places can generate sufficient revenue entirely through advertising? I come back to the sheer number of people who consume sports in some form or fashion. That demand will push the industry forward, even in difficult times.

Media Circus: Why the NFL's ratings should increase in 2017

Thompson: My ultimate goal is to be a primetime sports analyst for a major network. I am confident that I can do the job because I have been prepared in to be diversified in all areas. I think that I have the skills and the ambition to succeed and that is what fuels my passion.

Valenzuela: Professionally, I hope to excel in on-camera broadcasting and production. I am very confident I will end up working those jobs because I have been taught to be well-rounded through my time at the Cronkite School of Journalism. I have not only learned how to work in front of the camera, but behind the scenes as well. From being a sports editor to technical directing, I feel like I am someone who can work all the angles. 

Waack: Writing is my passion, and I love sports. I’ll be happy anywhere I get to combine the two. I would like to end up covering either NCAA football or NASCAR as a beat reporter, but even that’s up for debate. I still have a year left of school to decide exactly what I want to do, and I’m keeping an open mind. With all my internship experience, however, I do feel very confident that I can do the kind of sports media work I want. That confidence is not only a credit to everything I have been able to do so far in college, but also my personality. I’m a very driven person. The ESPN layoffs were a reality check, especially as an aspiring journalists, but it hasn’t derailed my dreams at all.

2. I wrote a piece Friday on Fox Sports hiring Jay Cutler as an NFL analyst, and how Cutler performed during his audition with play by play announcer Kevin Burkhardt. Something interesting I learned over the weekend was that Cutler was not anywhere on Fox’s radar prior to the last couple of weeks.

Fox Sports executive producer John Entz said someone close to him in the industry—he wanted to leave the person anonymous—reached out to him about a month ago and suggested Cutler could be very good as analyst as well as interested in trying out. At that time Fox had a list of 50 candidates and Cutler was not on it. So Entz reached out to a longtime advisor to Cutler, Mark Block, who has been friends with Cutler since his Vanderbilt days. That conversation led to Cutler getting the tryout. “He was certainly was not someone we had in mind when John first accepted the Niners job,” Entz said.

Entz said he thinks Cutler will really be in a good position with Charles Davis alongside him as an analyst.

“The reality is I think most of us who are brand new at this could use a mentor,” Entz said. “Charles Davis is a consummate professional, a consummate team player and will be a great player to teach Jay the ropes. He’ll be the perfect guy to bring him in this.”

2a. NBC Sports said its telecast of the Kentucky Derby drew a 10.5 rating, the second highest overnight rating for the Derby since 1992. The overnight was up 12 percent from last year. The top-rated TV markets: 1. Louisville; 2. Ft. Myers; 3. Cincinnati; 4. Buffalo; 5. Knoxville; 6. Dayton; 7. Pittsburgh; 8. Cleveland; 9. Richmond; 10. West Palm Beach.

2b. The racing part of NBC’s Kentucky Derby coverage is consistently excellent, and one small touch that really added something for viewers on Saturday was the camera on outrider Greg Blasi (he’s the regular Kentucky Derby outrider) that provided immediate images of jockey John Velazquez seconds after he won aboard Always Dreaming. Viewers could hear Blasi saying, “I guess that advice to stay on the rail paid off” and Velazquez laughing. Great stuff.

3. Episode 117 of the Sports Illustrated Media Podcast features ESPN NBA writer Royce Young, who is based in Oklahoma City and covers the Oklahoma City Thunder.

In this podcast, Young discusses the birth and death of his daughter, Eva Grace Young; how he and his wife, Keri, found out that their unborn daughter had a rare birth defect called anencephaly; how faith played a role for he and Keri during their journey; the internal dilemma of how much he wanted to share publicly about his daughter; his professional relationship with Russell Westbrook; the charges from some readers that he is a homer for Oklahoma teams; his coverage of Kevin Durant and what kind of subject Durant was; how the Thunder PR staff has changed in dealing with reporters; what the Thunder must do heading forward; the future of Westbrook in Oklahoma City; the pluses and minuses of working in a small market for ESPN and much more.

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Google Play and Stitcher.

3a. Episode 116 of the Sports Illustrated Media Podcast features writer James Andrew Miller, the best-selling author of books on CAA, ESPN and Saturday Night Live. In this podcast, we discuss the ESPN layoffs in full including: why ESPN laid off nearly 100 talented employees; what this means for the company heading forward; how the sports right deals—including expanding its NFL rights deal in 2011 for $15.2 billion through 2021 and the new NBA deal played into the decision; whether ESPN is still interested in the reporting of the NHL and MLB; whether paying $125 million for a new studio was a terrible investment in hindsight; the loss of key information people such as Andy Katz, Jayson Stark, Ed Werder, Brett McMurphy, Jane McManus and others and what that means for ESPN’s journalism commitment heading forward; the likelihood that The Vertical’s Adrian Wojarnowski is coming to ESPN and how that impacted those NBAers who were laid off by ESPN; anchor Linda Cohn’s comments that part of the layoffs were related to politics turning off viewers; whether politics has anything to do with the financials; the narrative issue for ESPN, pushed by competitors and others, that the network has become too left-leaning; reporting from Jim and Richard that ESPN management won’t negotiate buyouts if you get offered to work elsewhere and much more.

4. Non sports pieces of note:

• This Jason Fagone piece on a Philadelphia trauma surgeon is one of the best pieces I’ve read in 2017.

• From Charles Pierce of Esquire: Thoughts from a hospital bed.

Via The Washington Post: He called himself an "assassin" and persuaded ex-spies he was one of them. Was it a con? 

• From The New York Times: A Texas morgue holds 212 bodies of people who died trying to cross the border. It also has the things they carried.

• An NPR interview with the obit writers of TheNew York Times.

• From Scott Farwell of the Dallas Morning News: How an informant brought down the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas.

• Via The Wall Street Journal: Venezuela is starving.

• Via Slate’s Michael J. Socolow, America’s Love Affair With the Hindenburg.

• A special report from Runner's World‏: For runners with autism, the sport can be life-changing.

• The New Yorker’s Michael Grabell, on exploitation and abuse at a Canton, Ohio, chicken plant.

The New York Times reporter Azam Ahmed has a harrowing story on how easy it is to kill a journalist in Mexico.

• From Texas Monthly's Michael Hall: The Trouble With Innocence.

• Via Outside: The Thieves Who Steal Sunken Warships, Right Down to the Bolts.

• From The New York Times: Inside VW’s Campaign of Trickery.

• How my uncle’s double life taught me the importance of living, via Megan K. Armstrong.

I got hacked so you don’t have to, by Sarah Joeng of GQ.

• From The Bitter Southerner: A Dress of Leaves.

Sports pieces of note:

• From ESPN’s John Barr and Nicole Noren: A University of Arizona coach threatened one of his athletes with blackmail, violence and death. Could the school have stopped him?

• From The Globe and Mail: Joey Moss, Wayne Gretzky and the most remarkable relationship in all of sports.

• SI’s Tim Layden on Always Dreaming winning the Derby.

• From Nathan Fenno of the L.A. Times: The chilling story of a one-time MLB prospect from the L.A. area charged with using a bat to kill three people.

• Via SI’s Michael McKnight: How the murder of a high school football star became a rallying cry on Trump's campaign trail.

• The Big Lead’s Ryan Glasspiegel looked back at the career of Dick Schaap.

5. Variety’s Brian Steinberg interviewed NBCU Chairman Mark Lazarus on Super Bowl ads, Olympics viewing and Thursday Night Football.

5a. Veteran sportswriters Bob McGinn and Charles Gardner are leaving the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

5b.The Sports Spectrum podcast—which features stories on the intersection of faith and sports—interviewed Turner Sports broadcaster Ernie Johnson this week.