The harsh reality of the newspaper industry in the 21st century is that the survival rate is not very favorable – whether you’re an employee of the paper, or the paper itself.
Just this week, we saw the Chicago Tribune sever ties with its entire photography unit, which consisted of just over two dozen people.
And at the end of the week, we saw one of America’s longest-running sports publications, Pro Football Weekly, announce that they have played their final down.
The publisher and editor of the magazine, Hub Arkush, wrote a goodbye message on PFW’s website on Friday, explaining that their attempt to “build a bridge for [us] from the rapidly deteriorating world of old media to the new, exploding market of digital media” was confounded because, “try as we might, we couldn’t get enough of you to pay what it cost us to deliver it.”
Arkush also shared what would be the penultimate post on the magazine’s website: a notice that Chicago-based bankruptcy trustee Tailwind Services LLC has assumed the assets of the publication, which was also based in the Windy City. A table also broke down the sad facts: liabilities totaling $8.5 million, or roughly 45 times as much as the assets listed.
Indeed, Arkush explained that he and all of his PFW colleagues “have worked at greatly reduced pay and, at times, no pay at all for a very long time and under the most difficult of circumstances and pressures to avoid this outcome.” He added that for “every single writer… the pay was always small, when it came at all, and yet they almost never complained and all that most of them ever wanted to know was what they could do to help.” He lauded the “commitment” of the PFW staffers as the publication neared its predictable but unfortunate end.
In recent years, despite its antiquated name, Pro Football Weekly was more of a brand than a publication. As the magazine continued, they also made a foray into the digital world, not just with new articles posted to its website, and a Facebook and Twitter account to promote them, but an iPhone app, as well.
“PFW” also lent its brand to a weekly radio show, which was carried by many terrestrial and Internet radio stations. That show actually came into my crosshairs late last year, when Arkush, who had co-hosted the show, had commented that Indianapolis Colts head coach Chuck Pagano’s return to the team after successfully overcoming a cancer diagnosis would distract the team as it entered the playoffs. (It was the .750 record of interim head coach Bruce Arians, now with the Arizona Cardinals, that was largely responsible for the Colts’ successful 2012 campaign.)
Since the end of the recent NFL season, I couldn’t help but notice that regular “PFW” radio co-host Wayne Larrivee, best knwon as the radio voice of the Green Bay Packers, had been largely absent from the broadcast. On many weeks, Arkush would start the show with a message that Larrivee was “on assignment”, but in recent weeks, those messages fell by the wayside, leading many to believe that he had exited the show. No word on the future of the radio show, which actually posted a brand new episode this week.
Also in doubt is the future of the weekly television series that bore the publication’s name. Arkush also co-hosted this show, as well. The regular crew for the TV series consisted of Comcast SportsNet Chicago personality Pat Boyle as general host, with WMVP/”ESPN 1000″ Chicago midday host and NFL Network analyst Tom Waddle and WSCR/”670 The Score” Chicago personality and Bears Hall of Famer Dan Hampton also serving as co-hosts. It was just a few years ago that the television series would receive negative publicity for not one, but two things that Hampton said in the same show. During the Week 1 preview of the 2010 season, while breaking down the Dallas Cowboys’ season opener vs. the Washington Redskins, Hampton had opined that the Cowboys “think they are Clint Eastwood [but] they’re more of the Brokeback variety,” a reference to gay cowboys from the movie “Brokeback Mountain.” And in the final segment of that show, Hampton commented that in the season’s “kickoff” game between the Minnesota Vikings and the then-Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints, the Vikings would pull an upset by hitting New Orleans “like Katrina,” a reference to the devastating hurricane that ravaged the state of Louisiana five years earlier. Hampton would issue an apology for both remarks on the next show. (However, that would not stop Hampton from making a veiled reference to one of his foot-in-mouth comments on the very next show.)
Alas, we don’t know if both “PFW” programs in either the television or radio mediums will be back on the air for the 2013 NFL season. There are plans to publish two special issues of the magazine, previewing the upcoming football season, as well as a fantasy football forecast, later this month – the proceeds of which will go directly to PFW’s creditors. But outside of those issues, the future of the publication is unclear. “The trustee [Tailwind] is now accepting bids on all of the Pro Football Weekly assets, and it is my greatest hope that someone with the necessary resources will come along and attempt to revive PFW,” Arkush wrote. He added that he would gladly cooperate in the return of the PFW brand, “but I’m afraid it is largely out of my control.”
Prior to this year’s NFL draft, Pro Football Weekly received a lot of buzz for Nolan Nawrocki’s scouting report of West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith, who would eventually be taken by the New York Jets in the second round.
Who knew that it would be the last real signs of life for the publication, as it was in its death throes behind the scenes.