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What's Joe Vardon covering LeBron James say about sports journalism? picked a politics writer to cover the LeBron James beat

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M.L. Schultze
LeBron James' return to Northeast Ohio has generated sales, excitement and a new beat for
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In The Region:

The Northeast Ohio Media Group has found a unique fit for its unique beat. Joe Vardon – who’s made his journalistic name covering politics and government for the Columbus Dispatch – will be covering LeBron James. Not the Cavaliers overall -- but the media-fixation, businessman, philanthropist, sports star and hometown-boy-made-very-very good – LeBron James.

When the announcement came out yesterday, I called Malcolm Moran, who covered sports for the New York Times for nearly two decades and now heads the National Sports Journalism Center at Indiana University.

He says the closest he’s seen to this kind of beat was when Michael Jordan was dominating the NBA. But he says the LeBron beat is different.


LISTEN: Malcolm Moran's take of what the beat says about sports journalism

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“It makes a lot of sense because so much of the James story is going to unfold off the court. Because he’s from that part of the state, because the relationship always has been personal going back to when he joined the Cavs as a rookie.

"His foundation, his role in the community, his business affairs – all of those things take on a greater relevance now, and news can come out of any of those areas completely removed from his own progress with a new group and how the team plays on the floor.

From sports to politics and back, kind of
Joe Vardon began as a sports reporter at the Wooster Daily Record and his coverage included sports at the Toledo Blade. Moran says that’s not inconsequential in covering LeBron, but other skills matter more.

 “The fact that he has such a varied background and also experience in investigative and enterprise work really makes him ideal person to cover a brand, such as James. You’re talking about big business and how it affects the franchise overall and city overall.”

Moran says sports coverage has been evolving well beyond performance on the court of field.

Think back to Jackie Robinson
“I think that’s a process that’s been going on … in some places, back to the 1940s and Jackie Robinson. Certainly there were some enlightened places who recognized this was a story about far more than an African-American breaking into the major leagues.”

He cites the protests of high-profile college athletes on social issues – Bill Walton at UCLA, Tommy Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Olympics among them.

“So the whole notion of sports as it relates to society overall has become recognized more and more over the years. And it continues to evolve with coverage of things such as performance enhancement, race issues, gender issues.”

And money.
“That’s what drives it. Whether you’re talking about the professional or the major-college level. You see more zeroes and commas and you say, ‘That’s it, we’ve hit the threshold, it can’t get bitter than this.’ And every year, it does get bigger.”

That’s Malcolm Moran of the National Sports Journalism Center on’s hiring of Joe Vardon to cover the beat that is just one man: LeBron James. Moran says one other factor makes this the right time to develop that beat: Social media and the role it plays in sports and in journalism.

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