John Papanek, PMHS Class of 1969, has been a nationally renowned and award-winning journalist, editor, and executive for more than four decades. He is well-known for being a consistent leader, visionary and pioneer in the convergence of digital and conventional media. 

As a student in the Patchogue-Medford schools, John focused early on his two main passions, sports and writing. In high school he played varsity baseball and, for a time, football, but soon moved to the sidelines to cover PMHS sports for the Long Island Advance. At the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, John took his sportswriting to a near-professional level, for the highly esteemed Michigan Daily, one of the top college newspapers in the country. 

Just a few months after graduation in 1973, John was hired as a reporter for Sports Illustrated, then far and away the nation’s premier sports publication. He rose rapidly at SI, becoming by turns the magazine’s youngest-ever staff writer, senior editor and, at age 38, its youngest-ever chief editor. His first bylined story, in 1974, was about a basketball player John had covered in high school, Bellport’s Randy Smith, who was just then emerging as a star of the NBA Buffalo Braves (later to become the L.A. Clippers). John went on to specialize in writing major profiles of NBA superstars such as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Julius Erving, Bill Walton, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, among others.

While at SI, John spent two years conceiving, creating and running Sports Illustrated Kids, the pioneering publication for 8-to-12-year-olds, designed to combat illiteracy by providing entertaining, challenging stories about athletes that provide positive role models. Lauded for its good works by President George H.W. and First Lady Barbara Bush, SI Kids ultimately reached more than six million readers each month, and received an enormous number of magazine industry and educational community awards.

John went on to become one of the very first journalist-executives in the U.S. to recognize the coming revolution in digital media in the early ’90s, and he was chosen to lead the development of digital strategies for all of Time Incorporated’s many magazines and book divisions. By 1998, an aggressive search by sports TV powerhouse ESPN to expand simultaneously into magazine and Internet publishing led directly to John. His creation, ESPN The Magazine, pushed the boundaries of traditional magazines to their limits, and was an immediate financial and critical success. Many of the magazine’s elements and perspectives soon morphed into, the company’s immensely successful website, which John next took over as editor-in-chief in 2003. 

After eight more years at ESPN, leading its efforts in digital media and in expanding the company’s growth internationally, John retired in 2011. In the years since, he has returned to focus on one more passion he developed as a student in the Patchogue-Medford schools: playing jazz on the tenor saxophone. He plays and lives, happily ever after, in New York City and Amagansett, L.I., with his wife Jackie Judd, a prominent New York City theatrical producer.