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The Athletic lays off Longhorns writer Kaelen Jones and others in another blow to pandemic-era sports journalism
The Athletic, a modern, digital-only site that covers sports primarily in the United States, laid off 46 people, including its Austin-based University of Texas beat writer, Kaelen Jones.
The sports journalism business continues to be hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, although sports across the world are beginning, gradually, to come back to competition.
Jones announced that he'd been laid off via Twitter on Friday, writing that he had an "extremely fortuitous career path. Unfortunately, my time with The Athletic is up. Couldn't be more appreciative of the opportunity covering one of the most iconic college football programs."
I've had an extremely fortuitous career path. Unfortunately, my time with The Athletic is up. Couldn't be more appr… https://t.co/n2bORc1Nvz— Kaelen Jones (@Kaelen Jones)1591377359.0
Stewart Mandel, who is editor of The Athletic's college sports coverage, posted on Twitter that "Kaelen is one of the most talented young reporters I've ever met. He took on a huge challenge, moved to Austin TX to cover a major college team and wowed us all. He will be a star for many years to come."
Kaelen is one of the most talented young reporters I've ever met. He took on a huge challenge, moved to Austin TX t… https://t.co/IvvP2kdTWx— Stewart Mandel (@Stewart Mandel)1591382747.0
The Athletic layoffs represented about 8% of the workforce for the company, which was created in 2016. An Athletic editor posted on the site after the layoffs were announced that UT coverage would be a point of emphasis with the staff's national college writers.
But with few events to cover—and news outlets struggling around the country—the sports journalism industry is bleeding jobs.
Also on Friday, at least 10 editorial employees with the sports site SB Nation confirmed they had taken a buyout from Vox Media. The company had furloughed 9% of its workforce in April for three months. Most of the impacted employees worked for Vox's sports-specific site.
The Maven, the company that bought and has attempted to remake iconic Sports Illustrated magazine last year, told the Securities and Exchange Commission in a Friday filing that it would be instituting temporary, staff-wide pay cuts.
Locally, the Austin American-Statesman laid off a sportswriter and six others in late April.
But sports are beginning to come back after coronavirus-mandated hibernation.
On Monday, UT upperclassmen football players who lived off campus began orientation to prep for new COVID-19 workout guidelines. Underclassmen will take the same orientation next week.
The Big 12 is allowing voluntary off-season workouts to begin June 15, intending to start the season on time.
The PGA, after a more than three-month competitive hiatus, will have its first tournament this week—the Charles Schwab Challenge at Fort Worth's Colonial Golf Club.
The NBA and Major League Baseball still are in the process of deciding when to restart.
The Athletic was supposed to be a new digital news business model that would be profitable.
Instead, with few live sports to cover, the digital site also ordered pay cuts for the remaining staff. Alex Mather, the CEO of The Athletic, told his staff that new subscriptions had dropped by 20-30% and advertising for the company-branded podcasts had been "severely impacted."
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After reaching Stage 4 last week of Austin Public Health's risk-based guidelines, Austin-Travis County is now at the Stage 5 threshold with a seven-day average of 50 hospitalizations and dwindling ICU capacity.
While unenforceable under Gov. Greg's Abbott order against local mandates, vaccinated individuals are asked to choose drive-through and curbside options, outdoor activities, social interactions with limited group sizes, as well as social distance and wearing masks indoors. Partially or unvaccinated individuals are asked to avoid gatherings, travel, dining and shopping, choose curbside and delivery options, as well as wear a mask on essential trips.
Flashing back to early-pandemic times, hospitals are at critical capacity—the 11 county Trauma Service Region of 2.3 million people is fluctuating at 16 staffed beds, according to APH.
In a statement on behalf of Ascension Seton, Baylor Scott & White Health and St. David's Healthcare, a spokesperson said that hospitals are asking residents to "help us and each other" by getting vaccinated and continuing to utilize safety practices to slow the spread of the virus.
According to the statement, a "longstanding" nurse staffing challenge combined with the recent COVID-19 spike is putting "extraordinary pressure" on hospital systems.
Along with the unmitigated spread of the virus in unvaccinated, the more contagious Delta variant is also to blame for the spike in cases. The seven-day moving average of COVID hospitalizations in the Austin area reached the Stage 5 threshold of 50 on Friday, triggering local health officials to ask residents to take action.
Local hospitals have a "surge plan" that includes utilization of "all available patient care space and employees within our hospitals and in other settings" that will go into effect when capacity is hit, according to the statement.
The hospitals are working on sourcing supplemental staff and emphasized that emergency care will still be available but it may involve patient transfers "in order to provide the most appropriate care."
Healthcare systems have hit this threshold previously during the pandemic: the city held an alternate care site at the Austin Convention Center from January to March of this year.
"Our responsibility during this pandemic continues to be balancing our readiness to care for patients with COVID-19, while making sure patients who depend on our hospitals receive needed and timely care," the statement said. "We do not want to see necessary non-COVID care delayed as it was during the early stages of the pandemic."
This story has been updated to after publication to include that Austin has reached the Stage 5 threshold.
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Austin legend Willie Nelson will perform at the Texas Capitol today, his first large performance since the pandemic began, closing out a four-day long march across Central Texas to build support for federal voting protections.
Organized by The Poor People's Campaign, the march began in Georgetown on Wednesday and will end with a 10 a.m. rally at the Capitol featuring appearances from former U.S. Congressman Beto O'Rourke and Rev. Dr. William Barber.
Willie Nelson (with Charlie Sexton & friends) will play a free concert at the Poor People's Campaign march for democracy & justice in Austin this Saturday! https://t.co/zZSA0BpbWA
Sign up to join us and see Willie at 10am Saturday: https://t.co/KrDPIFIvST
— Beto O'Rourke (@BetoORourke) July 29, 2021
The rally calls on Congress to "stop attacks on democracy" by ending the filibuster, pass all provisions of the For the People Act, restore the 1965 Voting Rights Act, raise the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour and pass permanent protections for all 11 million undocumented immigrants.
Nelson denounced election law proposals gaining traction in red states, such as Senate Bill 1 and House Bill 3 in Texas, which 55 House Democrats foiled by fleeing to Washington, D.C., on July 12.
The bills would require additional ID verifications for mail-in ballots, allow partisan poll watchers "free movement" and prohibit elections officials from sending absentee ballot applications to voters who didn't request one.
"Laws making it more difficult for people to vote are unAmerican and are intended to punish people of color, the elderly and disabled," Nelson said. "If you can't win by playing the rules, then it's you and your platform–not everyone else's ability to vote."
The march is in the spirit of the Selma to Montgomery March of 1965, led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., which protested the blocking of Black Americans' right to vote by Jim Crow laws.