Alumni and Friends

Peter King ’79 reflects on more than 40-year career and the future of sports journalism

It’s been a whirlwind few days for Peter King BSJ ‘79. The long-time NFL journalist and Ohio University graduate made a big announcement on Monday, Feb. 26. After more than four decades as a professional sports journalist, King has decided to retire. 

“I have no plans right now,” said King with a chuckle. “I have no idea what’s next. I’m 66 years old.  I’ve had a couple of offers to teach locally in New York. But I just want to sit around for a while and think about what I want to do. Maybe it will be very little. But I have a feeling at some point I’m going to wake up wanting to do something.”

One thing on King’s mind right now is the future of journalism. During his career, King worked at many different media outlets, including Sports Illustrated, ABC Television as halftime correspondent for Monday Night Football, CNN as an NFL reporter, HBO as managing editor and reporter of Inside the NFL, and NBC Sports as reporter for Football Night in America. He was named national sportswriter of the year in 2010, 2012 and 2013 in a vote of his peers by the National Sports Media Association. With the growing number of ways people are consuming information and the various online platforms to tell stories, King hopes aspiring journalists take advantage of opportunities to learn various forms of storytelling.

“The thing that I have tried to tell young people who either want to enter journalism, want to be writers, or just want to do something in the media, is to do everything. You have no idea what the reporting world will be like in five or 10 years. You have no idea how we will tell stories or how will we consume stories,” said King. “Be flexible. Learn to report news in a podcast, on the radio or via a streaming service. Go to journalism school to learn how to write, learn how to be a reporter and have intense curiosity, but learn to be good at a variety of things if you want to have a long life in it.”

In addition to the technology changes in journalism, King is also concerned about the explosion of sports brand journalism and the decrease in editorially independent outlets covering teams.

“Journalism is suffering, and the jobs are drying up. In my world, in the NFL media, which incorporates NFL Network and all the 32 team websites, more and more reporters whose jobs have dried up at their media outlets, mostly in print journalism, have families to feed and want to keep writing, so they take a job with team websites,” said King. “But you know that Roger Goodell is signing your paycheck and that limits the kinds of journalism that can be done.” 

It was a very different media landscape when King came to Ohio University in September of 1975 from Enfield, Connecticut. He knew he wanted to study journalism and with the help of one of his older brothers, King looked through a college catalog at all the journalism schools east of the Mississippi.

“It came down to Wisconsin and Ohio University,” said King. “Wisconsin seemed too big. So, I chose Ohio University.”

Without ever visiting campus, King enrolled at Ohio University and saw the campus for the first time when he came to move in to Irvine Hall.

“I loved College Green. I loved the fact that you could walk from one end of campus to the other. I loved everything about it.”

King also loved the opportunities on campus to hone his craft. King got involved working for The Post. But surprisingly, he wasn’t writing sports stories.

“I wrote very little sports when I was in Athens. I became the managing editor of the The Post. I hardly ever covered sports. My freshman year, I covered the women’s softball team, but that was it. I thought if I could cover city council for the Columbus Citizen Journal or the Columbus Dispatch that would be a great job to start out,” said King. “At The Post, although we did have some supervision by the school of journalism, we were on our own. We made our own mistakes, and we fixed our own mistakes. There is nothing like an independent university newspaper. You should make mistakes. It’s not going to be a perfect life in this business. We learned to make mistakes, rectify them, move on, and keep going. Those lessons were valuable later in life. “

Upon graduation, King did a foreign internship in Amsterdam before being offered a job at the Cincinnati Enquirer newspaper as a general assignment sports editor.

“If the city desk had called me from Enquirer, I would have taken the job and would have been very happy,” said King. “I didn’t go to college to study sports journalism.” 

King applied his news reporting skills to sports journalism and built a very successful career. It was a career that included covering many major sporting events, major sports celebrities, and major stories. But when asked to name a favorite story that he covered, King talked about one that was less glamorous where he spent three days sleeping on an uncomfortable padded bench on a bus while traveling across the country. 

“I rode across the United States with John Madden on a bus in 1990. He had never let a reporter come with him and document his bus trips. Madden had a fear of flying and was the best commentator in any sport on television. While I slept on a padded bench, John slept in the back on the most enormous bed you could ever imagine. Madden had a Hyatt suite on wheels,” said King with a laugh. “It was a lot of fun.”

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February 29, 2024
Cheri Russo