Pioneer Press Vikings reporter leaving before season’s end

Longtime Pioneer Press Vikings writer Sean Jensen will leave the paper with one game left in the regular season following a whirlwind courtship with the Chicago Sun-Times.

Coincidentally, Jensen’s last game for the PiPress will be next Monday’s Vikings-Bears tilt at Soldier Field; he’ll become the Bears beat writer and NFL columnist after he departs St. Paul Dec. 31. The Vikings’ last regular season game is versus the New York Giants Jan. 3.

Jensen, whose biggest scoop was the Randy Moss trade, says the Sun-Times “approached me out of the blue, about a week and a half ago to make it happen.” The Chicago paper has just come out of bankruptcy with a new owner and vastly reduced debt; shortly before grabbing Jensen, they lured away Chicago Tribune columnist Rick Morrissey.

Jensen, who began covering the Vikes in 1999, has enough seniority to survive downsizing, but St. Paul cutbacks did make Chicago more attractive. “One of the frustrating things, one of the challenges at the Pioneer Press, was that I did want to continue to grow, not only as a writer but as an NFL reporter. We used to go to the Super Bowl, the [scouting] combine, but they’ve taken away the travel budget. At the Sun-Times, I’m going to go to those places and then some.”

Yes, he adds, he was amply skeptical that a paper that came close to folding could make good on those promises. “Don’t think I didn’t spend a chunk of my interview asking them about that sort of thing. This is where faith gets involved. They’ve made a commitment to getting Morrissey, the market’s best sports columnist. Had that not happened, I’m not sure I’d want to go there. But they are taking themselves to the next level.”

Jensen says he had qualms about leaving his beat during the regular season. “This might be the best team that I covered. One of my hopes — I wouldn’t say dreams — is to be able to cover a Super Bowl team, especially for a franchise as snake-bitten as this own. I certainly would’ve liked to have seen it all the way through, but the opportunity presented itself.”

I’ve heard rumblings since summer that Vikings on-field management was not enamored of Jensen’s aggressiveness. (At least some players don’t feel the same way, as you can see from today’s Favre-Childress story.) The writer insists he tried to treat everyone with respect and has great relationships with assistants such as offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell.

“I had an excellent conversation with Childress the other day, a 15-minute conversation about football and things other than football,” Jensen says, adding he would “disagree” with the notion he was adversarial to the coaching staff.

Another factor any departing reporter has to consider is that he takes the job with him. The Pioneer Press has had a hiring freeze for more than a year. By my count, Jensen is the seventh reporter (out of about 60) they’ve been unable to replace during that period:

October 2008: Jennifer Bjorhus, business (went to Strib)
June 2009: Phil Miller, sports (layoff)
July 2009: Brady Gervais, local (move)
August 2009: Rachel Stassen-Berger, politics (Strib)
October 2009: Nicole Garrison-Sprenger, business (State of Minnesota)
November 2009: Dominic Papatola, theater (Bremer Foundation)
December 2009: Jensen

Jensen said he had to do what was best for him; editor Thom Fladung says, “We’ll be fine,” noting that Rick Alonzo remains on the Vikings beat and others will “pitch in.” But on the precipice of a huge story, this departure is further suckitude for readers and staffers who work their asses off and deserve better.

Here’s the memo on Jensen’s departure from sports editor Mike Bass:

As if watching the Vikings play last night wasn’t hard enough, Sean Jensen delivered even more depressing news today. He will be leaving the Pioneer Press to take a job with the Chicago Sun-Times covering the Bears and the NFL.

In the decade he has been here, Sean has covered the Vikings at the highest possible level. He works sources. He breaks news. He tells the inside stories the team would rather keep inside. He writes engaging human interest stories. He blogs. He tweets. He files online updates. Simply put, Sean has helped keep us out front in coverage of the most popular sports team in the Twin Cities.

When Randy Moss was traded, Sean had it first. When Antoine Winfield’s injury was determined to be a fracture, Sean had it alone. When Marcus Robinson wanted to speak out about the Vikings, or when Erin Henderson wanted to reveal why he tested positive for a banned substanced, they talked to Sean and only Sean.

Sean also stood out when he broke out of NFL coverage. He helped cover the Gophers women’s basketball team’s Final Four run. He reported on the 2004 and 2008 Summer Olympics for us. In Beijing alone, he provided perspective nobody else had on everything from the tragic attacks on the Bachman family to the future of St. Paul teen wrestler Jake Deitchler.

Sean’s work earned him a Pioneer Press Special Achievement Excellence Award in 2005 and a number of honors though the years in the national Associated Press Sports Editors contest. But more than that, Sean’s work and work ethic earned him the respect of his peers and the admiration of his editors.

Sean’s last day will be Dec. 31. Please join me in wishing him well.

Mike

Comments (5)

  1. Submitted by M L on 12/22/2009 - 11:25 am.

    Does Sean’s move to Chicago mean we’re going to see his wife’s departure from KARE11?

  2. Submitted by M L on 12/22/2009 - 11:31 am.

    Whoops. Wrong reporter. It’s Kevin Seifert’s wife who’s at KARE11. My bad. Enjoy the column.

  3. Submitted by Dan Kitzmann on 12/22/2009 - 12:27 pm.

    Too bad for local sports fans. For my money, Sean was far and away the best Vikings beat writer, and one of the better sports writers in general. As to his purported aggressiveness, it never manifested itself in rank egotism; in that sense, the more aggressive the better. That Vikings management may not have liked it is a good sign he was doing his job well.

  4. Submitted by Jeff Cagle on 12/22/2009 - 01:07 pm.

    My congratulations to Sean Jensen. Great reporter and overall contributor to news about the Vikings. The Chicago Bears will be going through a major transformation this offseason and he’ll be right in the thick of it.

  5. Submitted by John Reinan on 12/22/2009 - 05:24 pm.

    That’s tough, losing 10% of your staff to attrition and not being able to replace them.

    I’ve never met Fladung and have no reason to doubt his sincerity, but it strikes me that he’s spinning pretty hard here. You can’t lose a star on one of the paper’s key beats and “be fine.”

    What I’m wondering is when ESPN will get around to launching ESPN/Twin Cities and staffing it with Jim Souhan and others.

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