Ten years ago, Dejan Kovacevic had a career-changing conversation with Stephen A. Smith. On a bus ride during the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece, the then-Philadelphia Inquirer sports columnist told Kovacevic the importance of creating his own brand and of knowing how many pageviews his stories received. The internet, Smith thought, was changing the journalism industry. “The more he talked, the more it made sense,” Kovacevic said. “I still haven’t heard it articulated anywhere near as well as he did on that bus by anyone in the business.”
But Kovacevic — who was transitioning from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Penguins beat to the paper’s Pirates beat — didn’t think he had the background required to do something drastic. But after three years as the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s sports columnist, he created his own website in July: DK on Pittsburgh Sports. The idea of running his own page came to him a few times over the last few years, but he said some events at the Tribune-Review finally pushed him to act and plans for the site came together over a nine- or 10-day span during a vacation this summer.
Kovacevic produces a range of content, from game threads to columns, and his wife, Dali, handles troubleshooting and the legal aspects of creating a business while balancing her full-time job as the director of admissions at the Bradford School, a college in Pittsburgh.
“My initial reaction was, ‘You’re joking,’” Dali said. “My second reaction was, ‘This is happening.’ Because when he puts his mind onto something, there’s no turning back. It was five minutes apart.”
Dejan said the site has drawn more than 500,000 pageviews over its first six weeks, that there have been 3,300 subscriptions and that the monthly renewal rate is better than 90 percent. He hopes to have 10,000 subscribers after the site’s first year. The site’s logos were created by a Penguins fan in Austria who wanted Penguins tickets, and the commenting system was provided by a company using the site to test and tweak its software.
But doing it when there are 10 other websites, it’s obviously less likely to succeed than when pioneering it.
“The industry is not heading in the right direction. From that standpoint, it’s self-preservation. The man has only one skill. It’s not like he can go out and get a construction job.”
Dejan, 47, believes his 27-year career covering Pittsburgh sports and his radio and television appearances have helped him build a brand. His career also gave him experience on the Penguins, Pirates, Pitt and Steelers beats, the four main beats he reports on for his site.
He covers all Steelers games, certain Penguins and Pirates road games and all postseason games and plans to spend nine days at Pirates spring training. It’s the same travel schedule he held while as a columnist at the Tribune-Review.
He believes he could “be living in a mansion by the end of the year” if he just wrote about what he calls hot-button issues, such as what many fans consider frugality by Pirates ownership. But he said he wants to bring a “newspaper mind-set” to his site and doesn’t want to produce content aimed at receiving clicks. He hopes to produce work similar to what has earned him five APSE awards, among others.
“There are days that I put out stuff that’s the most benign possible stance or opinion on the topic,” Kovacevic said. “As soon as I hit the publish button, I know it’s not going to generate a bunch of people reacting. But I also feel good about knowing that was the right thing to write about today.”
Other personnel moves across the country:
Richmond Times-Dispatch: Hired Mike Szvetitz, who had been sports editor at the Opelika-Auburn News, as sports editor
Indianapolis Star: Lost columnist Bob Kravitz, who joined WTHR television station…lost Phillip Wilson, who will cover Indianapolis Pacers and Colts for Scout … lost Phil Richards, who accepted a buyout…lost Mark Ambrogi, who accepted a buyout … lost Mike Chappell, who is working for RTV6
Lincoln Journal Star: Promoted Clark Grell to sports editor
Springfield News-Leader: Hired Rance Burger as high school sports coordinator
Star-Ledger: Lost sports editor Drew van Esselstyn, who becomes FCA North Jersey area director PennLive: Hired Jacqueline Kantor, who covered preps for the Washington Post, to cover preps and enterprise
Washington Post: Hired Chuck Culpepper as national college football writer … hired Isabelle Khurshudyan to cover preps
Buffalo News: Hired Vic Carucci as Buffalo Bills beat writer
Sun-Journal: Hired Mike Kraft, formerly a sports writer at the Minot (N.D.) Daily News
Syracuse Media Group: Hired Stephen Bailey to cover Syracuse football
Oregonian: Hired Keith Sharon, formerly the Angels editor at the Orange County Register, as sports editor
Courier-Journal: Hired Chris White, former director of audience at Athens Banner-Herald, as sports director
Knoxville News Sentinel: lost high school sports editor Jesse Smithey…hired Chris Thomas from Alabama Media Group as high school sports editor
Post & Courier: Hired David Caraviello to cover University of South Carolina
Sun-Sentinel: Hired Nate Taylor to cover Florida Atlantic University…hired Teri Berg, formerly of CBSSports, as assistant sports editor for preps/local sports
Tennessean: Moved Adam Sparks from MTSU beat to Vanderbilt … moved Will Borthick to MTSU beat … moved Dave Ammenheuser from sports editor to sports columnist … moved Eric Stromgren to Nashville Predators beat
Los Angeles Times: Hired Lindsey Thiry, who had been at Scout, to help cover USC