Hi, I’m Dejan Kovacevic!
For better or worse, journalists are really never anything but journalists, even after they embark on other endeavors. That spirit, that hunger, that sense that at any given moment you should be asking somebody something for some kind of story … that gets carved deep.
I always knew I wanted to do that. I can recall feeling that since the fifth grade. And not because of sports. Sure, I was born and bred in Pittsburgh and followed all three teams — yes, including the Penguins way before that was a thing — but the fascination was with the job, with journalism itself.
I’d go on to spend most of my life in newspapers, beginning with my freshman year at Duquesne University when I wrote my first article for the Post-Gazette — about the Central Catholic-North Catholic football rivalry — in the fall of 1985.
A decade later, the PG added me to the Penguins’ beat, working alongside Dave Molinari, and the next seven winters were spent covering Jaromir Jagr, Ron Francis, Alexei Kovalev and, of course, the initial retirement and unforgettable return of Mario Lemieux in 2001, when I covered exclusively Lemieux and Jay Caufield skating on frozen Neville Island the day before he hit the ice anew.
I won three national awards for hockey coverage, notably the Associated Press Sports Editors’ top-five honor for a game story describing how Jiri Slegr, Martin Straka and other Czech Penguins communicated on the ice through whistles rather than their native tongue. But no award could top the feeling of that freezing morning with Lemieux and Caufield. It felt like covering a small slice of sporting history, and doing it alone was beyond words.
The NHL beat was unbelievable, to borrow hockey’s favorite adjective, but one that ended with the lockout in 2004. That’s when I asked to branch out at the PG, and the first step was nothing less than the Athens Olympics. And man, talk about branching out. You’re sent to the other side of the planet, you’re covering sports that are wholly new (there was an archer from Hermitage, for real), and then, the main athlete you were sent to cover becomes the main attraction. That, of course, was the first of many highs and lows for Rochester’s Lauryn Williams.
That winter, I took on an even bigger challenge by asking the editors if I could cover the Pirates. This was heading into the 2005 season, within a 20-year losing streak, so this was anything but a glamour role. But the beat itself was a reporter’s dream, if only for the scope of the losing and the chance to uncover what was going wrong and why. It took a while. I had to develop all my own sources for the first time, call executives and agents who’d never heard of me, get face-to-face answers from players who’d never seen me. Some of it was as simple as painting a picture of maybe the worst baseball game ever played one afternoon in Kansas City. Most of it was akin to this one really tough loss at old Yankee Stadium. The team and the athletes freaked out over pieces like that. But I’ve always worked from the premise that I serve the readers’ interests above all, and that only solidified the position.
That held true when I reported on the Pirates’ massive failures in Latin America under Dave Littlefield. I was told by Bob Nutting afterward that this reporting opened his eyes — he had just become controlling owner at the time — and that his resultant review led to Littlefield’s firing. Infinitely more meaningful to me, the Pirates got their act together down there and rebuilt their international feeder system. My visit to the Dominican in 2008, to see all the work the Pirates did, was the most satisfying journalistic experience of my career.
Alas, baseball burnout is very real in this business. I lasted for five years, about as long as most do. So after a few months of random feature work, I aimed for the next goal of writing columns. Or opinion pieces, for those unfamiliar with newspaper terminology. There was only a minimal opportunity to do that at the PG, so I left after 22 years at that paper to become the primary columnist at the Tribune-Review in June 2011.
That afforded not only a chance to resume covering the Penguins and Pirates, albeit from a different scope, but also the long-sought chance to dive head-first into Steelers. This latter point was huge for me. In fact, the only stipulation I had in my agreement with the Trib, apart from salary, was that I cover all of the Steelers’ games, home and road, even in London.
In my first year at the Trib, I was named one of the top four sports columnists in the country by APSE. That still floors me because of the other names on that list, people from the New York Times, Washington Post, etc. There were other local and regional awards, as well, and the one that stands out there for me was 2013’s ‘Hey, baseball, can you hear us?‘ column from the Pirates’ Blackout win at PNC Park. There also was an exclusive Lemieux/Ron Burkle interview that gave unprecedented insight into a wealth of ownership thoughts. And from the standpoint of pure reader reaction, I’m not sure anything I write will touch the feedback to the column on Chuck Noll’s passing.
And on July 23, 2014, I started this thing.
Maybe it was temporary insanity. Maybe it was all those nice things that others said at the launch while probably shaking their heads as soon as I’d look away. Maybe it was that I’m just a complete control freak and have always handled all different dimensions of this business and, thus, always had a vision for a sports news operation should run.
Whatever the case, it’s been a blast. A dream lived out on a daily basis. Especially now that we’re succeeding on a scale even our most optimistic projections hadn’t forecast, with a brand new state-of-the-art app being released in June, a presence in more than 60,000 mobile devices, major business partners, a big-league travel budget, national credibility including countless companies that’ve followed our footsteps and, above all, a fantastic staff of professional journalists. Our staff includes reporters Dale Lolley, Dave Molinari, Alex Stumpf, Taylor Haase, Hunter Homistek, Chris Carter, David Golebiewski and Jarrod Prugar, photographer Long Hong, cartoonist Rob Ullman, and copy editor Bob Maddamma.
Oh, and hey, how about Molinari being here?
Talk about full circle.
I’ve saved the most important contributor for last: My wife Dali, in addition to being a phenomenal mother to our children — daughter Dara, 19, and son Marko, 15 — has done pretty much everything for this site other than write columns. And that’s no exaggeration. Since we launched, she’s run the business in totality, sold sponsorships, crafted our custom commerce platform, dealt directly with our subscribers (Dara’s now old enough to help!), taught herself how to design all our info-graphics and produce videos … and I’m probably leaving out a dozen more.
It’s a family affair, something we talk about here a lot.
It’s that way with our staff and even our readers, too. We’ve had countless subscriber meetups across the country — plus Canada, Brazil, Ireland and England! — and we’re proud to make our TV commercial slogan ‘Coverage That Connects’ carry real meaning:
To those who have read my work, whether for a couple decades or just the past couple minutes, I thank you. It’s a belief in the readership that made this leap possible.
DEJAN KOVACEVIC JOURNALISM AWARDS
• National Headliner Awards (national), 2013: Sports columnist, third place
• Associated Press Sports Editors (national), 2011: Sports columnist, fourth place. 2009: Breaking News, honorable mention. Project Reporting, honorable mention. 2008: Breaking News, second place. Project Reporting, third place. 2000: Game Story, fifth place.
• Matrix Awards (national), 2004: Sports feature, first place. 2003: Sports news, honorable mention
• Keystone Awards (statewide), 2013: Sports columnist, first place
• Pennsylvania Associated Press Managing Editors (statewide), 2013: Sports column, second place. 1998: Sports feature, first place