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Volume 21 No. 1
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Sports TV columnist leaving USA Today, ‘ready to try new things’

After spending the past 23 years writing USA Today’s influential sports TV column, Michael Hiestand is leaving the paper.

Hiestand confirmed to executives last week that he was taking a buyout that was offered to all long-term USA Today reporters and editors.

Late last month, several veteran USA Today sportswriters, including columnists Jon Saraceno and Mike Lopresti, told USA Today editors that they were accepting the buyout, which consists of two weeks of pay for every year worked at the paper up to a year. Last week, they made it official.

Hiestand’s last day at the newspaper will be Thursday.

“They came out with a buyout offer about six weeks ago,” Hiestand said. “In terms of last week, I pretty much decided by then. It wasn’t based on USA Today or any small details. I’m just ready to try new things.”

After taking a few weeks off, Hiestand plans to move from Washington, D.C., to New York and begin looking for work. He has twin daughters who will be starting college in the fall.

“I want to stay in reporting and writing,” he said. “I think what anybody in media brings to the party is the ability to do some reporting and telling people something they didn’t know or talking to people, as opposed to just writing down your opinion.”

Hiestand started writing the paper’s TV column in 1990, and he described journalism today as more rooted in technology — including posting items to the Internet quickly — than gumshoe reporting, but he predicted that would soon change.

“Right now, we’re in a phase where we’ll look back and think that it was all about the technology, centered on how quickly you can get a URL up so that if somebody Googles a topic, your story will be one of the first ones that comes up,” he said. “I think media networks are going to have to be more aggressive about getting their own stories out in an interesting and factual way.”

The move comes about a year after USA Today let go of 15 staffers, including writers Michael McCarthy, Tom Weir, Tom Pedulla and Mike Dodd. In 2011, USA Today hired sports business veteran Tom Beusse to run the Sports Media Group and Dave Morgan to oversee editorial. It placed more focus on breaking news and developing the paper’s digital offerings.