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Mere hours after helping report on the dramatic finish to the British Open golf tournament in Scotland, Associated Press reporter Paul Newberry arrived at his home in Atlanta on Sunday evening only to get another assignment from his sports editor, Terry Taylor.
“I could just hear the fatigue in his voice,” Taylor said. “But he was back at work the next day. Thank goodness for dedicated people.”
While many reporters were placed on “Vick duty,” an equally large number spent the early part of the week tracking news of another bombshell: NBA referee Tim Donaghy was under investigation for betting on games, including some that he had worked. By Tuesday, a morose NBA commissioner David Stern was appearing in front of hundreds of reporters in New York to answer questions relating to the biggest story of basketball’s offseason.
As the week progressed, journalists were scrambling to keep up with news of the latest cyclist to pull out of the Tour De France amid accusations of doping, while some were sent to prepare for this weekend’s induction of Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn into baseball’s Hall of Fame. Other reporters were dispatched to write about the death of Wake Forest basketball coach Skip Prosser and the start of training camp for NFL teams. Vick’s appearance in federal court Thursday — where he faced both a U.S. District Court judge and hundreds of angry animal rights protesters — added a circus element.
“It was just a case of hot and heavy, one right after another,” Taylor said. “Every set of working fingers was busy. I kind of compare it to the Olympics, when you have eight things going on at one time. It was definitely an all-hands-on-deck week.”
Of course, there also was the rather important matter of following controversial Giants slugger Barry Bonds and his pursuit of 755 career home runs, one of baseball’s most storied records. Entering the week, Bonds was two shy of the record, leading most news organizations to believe he could tie it on any given night. The question of whether baseball commissioner Bud Selig would attend games to see Bonds break the record added another news wrinkle.
“There have probably been weeks where there’s a good number of positive stories, but I don’t remember a time when we had stories on this many controversial subjects all happening at the same time,” said Vince Doria, ESPN’s senior vice president and director of news. “We have a lot of resources and we’re deploying them in the right manner. It’s our job to cover these things, and in these situations we’re fortunate to have a lot of people.”
ESPN has aired special coverage of several news stories, producing “Outside the Lines” reports on Vick and the Tour De France, as well as holding a town hall-style meeting on the topic of Bonds and steroids.
“If you’re a news organization, these are the topics that allow you to put your best foot forward,” Doria said.
The week’s events also provided solid fodder for sports bloggers, who have been active linking to stories on the latest developments while providing their own take.
“It’s really odd, because this is usually the slow time of year,” said Will Leitch, the editor of Deadspin, a popular sports blog owned by Gawker Media. “Every one of these would normally be the biggest sports story of the year, and they’re all happening in the span of about two weeks.”
With Vick’s trial scheduled for later this fall and the investigation into the NBA referee’s gambling ongoing, there appears to be no rest for the bleary.
“In a chaotic sort of way, it’s really fun,” Taylor said. “Anybody worth their salt will tell you there’s nothing better than covering big stories like this.”
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