CNN Sports vice president Walton has local ties, worldwide outlook


If Jim Walton can duplicate his own Horatio Alger-like success for CNN Sports, then someday the all-news network won't just be known for news.

Walton, CNN Sports' vice president and executive producer, has reached the pinnacle of his division since joining the company in 1981 as a video journalist, the ground floor of CNN.

"I was very fortunate," said Walton, 37, a Bowie native and University of Maryland graduate. "I got in at the right time. CNN was just starting out, and it was a very young company. With luck and a little timing, here I am."

Walton is atop a division of 91 people that produces more than 20 hours of programming per week, including nightly wrap-up shows, and weekly college football, NFL and NBA shows.

CNN Sports has won four CableAce awards in the 10 years that Walton has been executive producer, and is nominated for two more in this year's categories.

Walton, who succeeded Bill MacPhail as vice president in June, has identified increased enterprise and in-depth reporting as short-term goals for the division. In the long term, Walton is looking to beef up CNN's presence on international sports stories, with a hope to have sports reporters and anchors in foreign bureaus.

But while Walton and his charges do impressive work and turn out more weekly programming than any other network, they still work for a company called the Cable News Network, and there are other places on cable to get sports (see ESPN), which makes CNN's sports an unknown quantity to many.

"Sports has been a part of CNN since we went on the air in 1980, but when the public thinks about sports, they think about ESPN, much like when they think about news, they think of CNN," said Walton. "We may not have the balls and whistles or the budgets of the other sports operations, but in terms of covering sports news, we feel we can stand up to anybody. We have to do it with fewer people, but they do whatever it takes."

Early Ryder returns

The Nielsen overnights from the Ryder Cup coverage on NBC showed that golf took a predictable beating against football.

While Fox's NFL doubleheader got its highest rating of the season, a 14.0/31, Sunday's Ryder Cup finale got a 4.4/13 in the 33-market national survey.

In Baltimore, the coverage posted a 5.0/12, which was ahead of Washington's 4.7/12, but behind Boston's 7.3/21. For the record, New York's golf ratings were a paltry 3.2/9.

NFL goes on line

Starting next month, ABC Sports will produce the NFL's exclusive on-line area on America Online.

The "Team NFL" area will include message boards, team profiles and statistics, as well as game schedules and spots for live chat events.

Under terms of the partnership, AOL, the nation's largest on-line service, will be exclusive NFL provider during the regular season and official site throughout the playoffs and Pro Bowl.

Another ancient warrior

As if Larry Holmes' return from the boxing archives last week wasn't enough, USA Network's "Tuesday Night Fights" serves up well-seasoned Thomas Hearns for tonight's 9 p.m. 10-round cruiserweight bout against Earl Butler from the Palace in Auburn Hills, Mich. The undercard features Bronco McKart in a 10-round junior middleweight tilt with Roosevelt Walker.

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