Dejan Kovacevic’s DK Pittsburgh Sports has been under fire recently, particularly earlier this month when former employee Katie Brown published critical texts from Kovacevic and complained about his management moves. Kovacevic responded to that with a piece titled “On being a really bad boss sometimes,” where he wrote that “Being a reporter never prepares one for being a boss. Well, maybe it does for somebody somewhere, but it sure didn’t for me. And I haven’t always been the best boss.”
Now, Kovacevic is moving away from being a boss altogether, announcing Monday that he’d shift to just writing columns for the site, turning staff management over to his wife Dali Kovacevic (who also handles business responsibilities for the site) and naming Steelers’ writer Dale Lolley editor in chief. Here’s more from his post announcing the changes:
This will mark the last time I’ll be writing here as the voice of the company, as we’re making two significant changes at the very top:
1. My wife, Dali Kovacevic, will add staff management to her list of duties, in addition to all her existing business responsibilities. That means she’ll decide hiring and firing and other such matters, and she’ll also do the communicating with the staff. Basically, she’ll run the place completely.
2. Dale Lolley, our esteemed Steelers beat writer, will take on the additional role of editor in chief. That’s not a super-involved thing in this operation — our beat people are remarkably autonomous — but he’ll have final say in editorial matters. It won’t affect his NFL coverage in the slightest.
On my end, I’m just going to write columns. Probably more than ever under this plan. I’m excited about what both of these two have to offer the company, but honestly I’m that much more excited that I don’t have to do it. Mostly because I don’t think I’ve been very good at it.
This is an interesting move, as the idea behind many personality-driven sites was that while not everything on the site would be written (or even necessarily edited) by the prominent personality associated with it, it was still their site and their curation of writers and content. In this particular case, it’s still Kovacevic’s name on the site, but according to what he’s writing here, it’s going to be run by a combination of Dali Kovacevic and Dale Lolley. But that seems to make some sense, given the criticism of Kovacevic’s management practices (not just from Brown; other former staffers have complained as well), given his admission that he “hasn’t always been the best boss,” given his discussion that “I’m that much more excited that I don’t have to do it,” and maybe most notably, given what he previously said about “Being a reporter never prepares one for being a boss.”
That’s perhaps the larger relevance of this story, and it’s something worth discussing considering the numerous outlets with at least some similarities to DK Pittsburgh Sports, from other local sports plays (Greg Bedard’s site, the various Athletic verticals centered around prominent reporters and columnists) to national personality-based sites like The MMQB and The Ringer. Of course, there have been many good reporters who have gone on to be good editors and bosses in both traditional and newer media outlets, so claiming that no reporter or columnist can make this transition wouldn’t be accurate. But Kovacevic is right that being a boss is a different skillset and a different kind of work, and not everyone who’s a strong reporter or columnist is cut out for that.
On that front, it’s maybe interesting that after a big flourishing around 2014, the idea of a personality-based site is perhaps falling back a bit. ESPN closed Grantland, and while The Ringer has some of the same people and is still very tied to Bill Simmons, it’s not a big ESPN effort. ESPN still has other verticals in FiveThirtyEight and The Undefeated, but FiveThirtyEight has arguably become less directly identified with Nate Silver (he’s still editor-in-chief there, but it may be more accurate to describe it as a stats-focused site rather than a personality-focused site), and while Kevin Merida still oversees The Undefeated (in addition to the other responsibilities he’s been given since then), it’s far less about any individual voice than it was in the initial conception as a site centered around Jason Whitlock. (Who is probably examples 1-365 inclusive of issues that can crop up from “Let’s have a columnist start and manage a site!”)
Elsewhere, Adrian Wojnarowski insisted that Yahoo’s The Vertical wasn’t personality-focused, but it had some of the same concepts thanks to centering on a big name. Wojnarowski and some of those Vertical writers are now at ESPN, but are just rolled in to that company’s NBA coverage rather than on a standalone site. And while Peter King’s The MMQB is still rolling over at Sports Illustrated, discussion of that site feels much less King-centric than it used to. (And it’s maybe notable that SI’s NBA vertical, The Crossover, is centered around a group of writers rather than any one person in particular.) Personality-focused or -associated sites definitely haven’t gone away entirely, but new ones are springing up less frequently than they were a few years back, and some of the existing ones are perhaps being seen as less directly about their central personality than they were.
The Athletic and its various sites are possibly an interesting down-the-middle option here. The local and national sites aren’t named after particular personalities (it’s The Athletic San Francisco, not Kawakami Town), but both are marketed heavily with prominent personalities, from Stewart Mandel and Seth Davis on the national level to local EICs like Tim Kawakami and James Mirtle (who also oversees the national hockey coverage). If one of those EICs left, it’s probably easier for The Athletic to pivot than it is for a site directly named after or centered around one person, but they’re still selling subscribers on the idea of coverage overseen and edited by a name they know and trust. And we do occasionally see some interesting things as a result of that, such as Kawakami blocking a lot of people as part of his columnist tweeting over the years and then offering to unblock them if they buy one-year subscriptions as part of his EIC role. That case is notable because it illustrates another challenge in having a prominent reporter or columnist also running things; those who disagree with their writing now also have a bone to pick with the site as a whole.
It’s also worth pointing out that in many cases, editing and overseeing others’ coverage is a whole lot of work in its own right, which is why it’s often been done by someone who isn’t also trying to write regularly. That makes it interesting that Lolley is taking on the EIC role while still doing his Steelers’ beat work; perhaps the site’s reporters are autonomous enough that it won’t mean a huge amount of extra work for him, especially with Dali Kovacevic handling the staff management side, but this isn’t replacing the general tension of having one person juggle editing work and writing work.
This does seem like the right move for this site, though. It lets Kovacevic focus on his own writing and columns rather than the staff oversight, and it probably makes it easier for them to recruit and retain writers, something that might have been difficult in the wake of the Brown controversy. It seems like especially a good move with Kovacevic saying he didn’t want to oversee staff any more; having someone in that role who doesn’t want it is a recipe for trouble. We’ll see how this turns out for DK Pittsburgh Sports, but it’s certainly a notable change, and one that maybe illustrates some of the larger challenges in trying to have one person as columnist, boss and face of a brand.