I have been through four significant layoffs in the volatile sports media industry. The first one hurt the most because I was still naïve.
In October 2008, while I was serving as the deputy sports editor and second columnist, the East Valley Tribune marched its entire staff down First Ave. to the Mesa Arts Center’s auditorium where infamous and subsequently well-compensated publisher Julie Moreno announced that “142 of you will be impacted.”
Sitting beside me, my colleague and mentor Scott Bordow immediately raised his hand and asked a fitting follow-up question to cut through the HR gibberish: “What does impacted mean?”
In 2013, CBS Sports abandoned its Rapid Reports model for which I was covering the Cardinals and Arizona State football. Two years later, Fox Sports chose to lay off all of the writers at its 18 regional sites, precipitating my move to Arizona Sports. We were told the layoffs were made so that Fox could focus on its bread and butter as a broadcast network, including its badly hemorrhaging new project, Fox Sports 1.
The Athletic’s layoffs stung more than my previous two layoffs because this was the dream job. For two years, I had the opportunity to work with a talented Arizona team (editor Jay Dieffenbach and writers Doug Haller, Bordow, Gina Mizell, Zach Buchanan, C.J. Holmes, Bob Young, Alexis Mansanarez, Jeff Wiser and Cat Silverman) and a ridiculous collection of talented NHL writers across North America. The mere association with these writers carried weight in every interview that I requested or conducted.
When outsiders asked me how The Athletic was different from past outlets for which I had worked, I gave them the same response. “We are provided three things that I thought had left the industry for good: time, trust and the resources to write the best stories possible.”
I did the best work of my career at The Athletic, but that chapter ended on June 5. We were told that COVID-19 was the culprit. I’m sure it was a major factor, but I suspect that this ever-challenging market was another. The Athletic isn’t the first national network to dip its toes into Phoenix’s waters only to find them tepid and shallow. CBS, FOX and ESPN have made the same discovery. A combination of challenging demographics, weather that offers year-round alternatives, a steady influx of transplants who still root for their old teams, and a collection of teams that has managed one combined championship in their Valley existence (the Diamondbacks in 2001) have created a tough business climate.
The emotional fallout from losing a job is like an exhausting and unpredictable ride. There are angry days, sad days, days when you regret your career choice, numb days, hopeless days, resolved days and days where you feel a mixture of some or all of the aforementioned feelings. I have been on that ride for a month, but a two-week respite in the mountains provided some clarity while I explored a half a dozen professional options (some of which I am still exploring).
To get over the annoying and fruitless feeling of self-pity, I spent the weekend watching “Band of Brothers” to remind myself what real suffering looks like.
“In those three years, the men had seen more, endured more, and contributed more than most men can see, endure or contribute in a lifetime.”
As I considered how fortunate I am to have a rock solid marriage, two brilliant daughters, a host of family members, close friends and colleagues, a home, health, relative economic security and the opportunity to write for a living, I was reminded of quotes from two of my favorite movies, “American Beauty” and “The Shawshank Redemption.”
“I guess I could be pretty pissed off about what happened to me, but it's hard to stay mad when there's so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I'm seeing it all at once and it's too much. My heart fills up like a balloon that's about to burst. And then I remember to relax, and stop trying to hold on to it. And then it flows through me like rain and I can't feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life.” — Lester Burnham
“Get busy living or get busy dying.” — Andy Dufresne
I am grateful to all of you who have reached out with words of support and encouragement — a list that includes Coyotes GM John Chayka, coach Rick Tocchet, assistants Phil Housley, John MacLean, Corey Schwab, executive vice president of communications and broadcasting Rich Nairn, and a bunch of executives, coaches, staff and players, past and present. I am happy to inform all of you that I have decided to get busy again. I’m starting my own website and newsletter via Substack. It’s called AZ Coyotes Insider. Let me explain that overused and somewhat arrogant title.
I’m not an insider. I am an independent reporter and everything I do will be from that vantage point. I am fortunate, however, that the Coyotes have always provided me with a very big window through which to view and examine the franchise. Working with this organization since its arrival in Arizona has afforded me the opportunity to forge relationships with people at every level of the franchise. In that time, I humbly suggest that I have engendered a level of trust that affords me more insight on the Coyotes than any independent reporter in the world.
I hope to parlay that trust and that access into the types of stories you have seen from me over the past two years, but with some important alterations. An independent site affords me more freedom to collaborate with you. In a sense, you are my co-workers, lending feedback, advice and critical review of my work. Independence also means I am not constricted by a one-size-fits-all mentality that often dominates national outlets’ approach to coverage. You won’t see me shoehorning a broad story idea to awkwardly fit this market and this team. Phoenix is a unique market. The Coyotes are a unique team. My coverage will reflect those realities.
This piece marks my official launch and for the next week, all of my content will be free. When the Coyotes open training camp, all of my content will go behind a paywall with a couple of exceptions (listed below). The monthly fee is $5. As I noted previously in a survey posted on Twitter, that amounts to the cost of one specialty coffee at Starbucks, one fast-food lunch or one IPA per month! Thanks to those of you filled out the survey, and thanks to the 95 percent of those respondents who said they would be willing to pay that fee.
What can you expect from AZ Coyotes Insider?
The same long-form, in-depth features that you’ve come to expect from me
The same lighthearted stories that you’ve come to expect from me
The same ability to break major news that you’ve come to expect from me
The same access that you’ve come to expect from me
A monthly mailbag
A handful of free stories every month
More subscriber get-togethers and events (we didn’t do enough of these at The Athletic)
On The Couch With Craig: A quick Q&A with a founding member
This list will evolve over time and I am open to suggestions. I have a couple more semi-regular features that I’d like to add to the mix, and I even have a close friend who is working on a logo and banner for the website that should be completed by the time my content goes behind the paywall.
I hope you will support this venture because it really is a labor of love. One of the best aspects of covering the Coyotes all these years has been getting to know its closely-knit community -- one that has stuck together through many lean years. I love this community and I genuinely enjoy talking with many of you as much as I enjoy covering the team.
So let’s do this. Together.