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Wave of buyouts hits sports departments

What’s the proper response when a friend and former colleague announces that he is “taking the buyout” from his newspaper?

Congratulations or condolences?

Many in the sports world have been asking that question as a wave of buyouts swept through newsrooms across the country. Longtime friends and former colleagues are walking away – sometimes voluntary, sometimes not - from jobs that they had performed admirably for decades.

The sign of the (Los Angeles) Times is a retirement announcement. Once one of the nation’s top sports sections, the Times gave college football expert Chris Dufresne a buyout just as the college football season is reaching its climax. It would be like a movie critic quitting the week before the Academy Awards. Buyouts apparently are not season-sensitive.

“Almost final LAT count: 6,000-ish bylines, 6 million words. All worth it,” Dufresne, our friend and former colleague, wrote in a Facebook post.

The newspaper also lost sports editor Bill Dwyre and UCLA beat writer Chris Foster. Dufresne, Dwyre and Foster have a combined century of LA sports knowledge. If you don’t think the Times’ readers will notice, you don’t know the Times’ readers.

Here in Phoenix, local sports writing legend Bob Young left The Arizona Republic, as did veteran news reporter Peter Corbett, whose work often touched on Valley mega sporting events. We worked with both in the newsroom and the press box. More importantly, as daily readers we will miss their insightful reporting.

Fred Mitchell, a former colleague and longtime Chicago Tribune columnist, walked away after more than 41 years. He covered every team in that great sports town and earned the respect of his subjects and readers.

“My decision is totally voluntary and I plan to pursue other options,” Mitchell told Chicago media critic Robert Feder.

The others will do the same thing. They’ll adapt to the new digital world – something their newspaper employers are attempting to do.

So are congratulations or condolences in order? Let’s ask Dufresne, whose buyout deal means that he will be paid on June 17, 2016 – 40 years to the day after he started work on the Times’ loading dock as a high school graduate, hoping that he would one day sit in the press box beside legendary columnist Jim Murray.

“So yeah, no matter how you slice it and how much things have changed in our business, my dream came true,” Dufresne wrote on Facebook. “Nothing can change that.”

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