Jeff Pearlman talks Bo Jackson "Last Folk Hero" book on "The Rich Eisen Show." Screen grab: The Rich Eisen Show.

The winds of change are swirling through the world of sports journalism, stirring unease and prompting introspective conversations. Recent seismic shifts, like the mass layoffs at Sports Illustrated and the LA Times, have sent shockwaves through the industry, leaving many wondering: where do we go from here? Amidst the uncertainty, a chorus of voices, seasoned with experience, rise to offer their vision for the future.

Among these voices is Jeff Pearlman, a veteran storyteller with a baseball in his pen and nine New York Times best-sellers under his belt. Having walked the hallowed halls of Sports Illustrated before venturing into the literary realm, Pearlman understands the pulse of the industry intimately.

And when the ground beneath sports journalism rumbles, Pearlman’s words resonate with weight, carrying the wisdom of a veteran who has seen the good, the bad, and the curveballs the industry throws. His nuanced discussions and the voices alongside him offer a vital lifeline in this time of change.

“I was thinking with the layoffs at the LA Times, with the news at Sports Illustrated, I had a bunch of people ask, ‘What do you do if you’re a young journalist? What do you do?’ And this is what pops in my head, and I’ve been talking to other contemporaries about this,” Pearlman began. “The number one thing is, you have to make yourself indispensable; you just do. I told this to someone I know, but if you’re covering a team — let’s say you’re covering Wichita State basketball for some newspaper. Ask your bosses if it’s OK if you start a podcast too — a Wichita State sports podcast. Build up an amazing Instagram following, and start doing TikTok videos about Wichita State sports to the point where you’re known as the guy on TikTok for all things Wichita State. Find a million different ways; build up your Twitter following.

“It’s stupid, it’s annoying, but it’s the same kind of the way you survive as an author of books these days. You make it so that you have this built-in audience of people who are waiting for your book or what you have to say. You just have to become an expert. And you just have to do everything. You have to grind and grind and grind. Start a Substack that directs people ultimately to your work on your newspaper website. Come up with a book proposal, and come up with book ideas. And my advice to, if it’s a first-time book, is don’t make it about your uncle who is diabetic and his battle. Find something that is mainstreamish — the Big East in the 1980s, LeBron and Kobe’s relationship. Something big, something that works, something that would grab a publisher.

“You just have to find a million different ways to stay relevant. Stay on top of things, have a million different tentacles everywhere. I left Sports Illustrated in 2003 and honest to God, one of the reasons I did — besides wanting to write books and being tired of sports — is I just didn’t love the direction of where things were going. You just have to stay a little bit ahead. I know it sucks. It’s hard. It’s brutal. I apologize, but that’s my best advice.”

Pearlman continued his conversation with another two-minute round of advice on Wednesday.

“A lot of people had interesting and fair sort of criticisms about what I said,” Pearlman continued. “Kate Feldman, who’s worked in the business said, ‘Most of this advice boils down to ‘Do a lot of free labor for your employers.’ Your employers will only notice if they can sell ads at the front of your podcast and will then keep the IP when they lay you off in six months.’ Someone else named Sarah Kelly said, ‘Even if that isn’t enough, though. It’s maybe all a person can do within their own power, but indispensable people get laid off all the time.’

“And that’s 100 percent true. I can’t argue any of that. Here’s the thing that I would point (out). The more stuff you have, the more you can offer. So yeah, you’re right. Maybe you were at SI, and you started a podcast, and you had a Substack, and you had a million TikTok followers, and they laid you off anyway…That makes you incredibly appealing. If you go to a league, you apply to an open job in the NFL — the Seattle Seahawks — and you say I have this, this, this, and this, it makes you more appealing.

“I am not saying the media landscape is good right now — it sucks. I do think there are ways to make yourself more appealing for the jobs that are out there; I just do. Another thing I want to add is a lot of young journalists approach me and my peers and say, ‘How do I get hired at ESPN? How do I get hired at The Athletic?’ A lot of time, what you honest God, have to do — and I’m not saying it’s glorious, sexy, or cool — is applied to a million smaller newspapers, and you start your first job covering high schoolers in Des Moines or Nassau or something. It’s like an old-fashioned way, but small newspapers still hire on the cheap and not as much as they used to, but they still do. So, I don’t know. I just love journalism. I’m not trying to get into a war here. I freaking love this industry, and I want it to continue, and I want to help you.”

Pearlman’s call for resilience resonates, but individual efforts shouldn’t bear the sole burden of a struggling industry. His advice serves as a starting point, but the conversation needs to expand. We need collective action – mentorship from veterans, fair compensation from employers, and innovative models that support sustainable journalism. Let’s use this moment to foster solidarity, advocate for change, and build a future where storytelling thrives, not just survives. Together, we can ensure that the voices of young journalists continue to shape the future of sports and beyond.

[Jeff Pearlman]

About Sam Neumann

Since the beginning of 2023, Sam has been a staff writer for Awful Announcing and The Comeback. A 2021 graduate of Temple University, Sam is a Charlotte native, who currently calls Greenville, South Carolina his home. He also has a love/hate relationship with the New York Mets and Jets.