Layoffs, Firings & Sites Closing; What is the Future of Sports Blogging?
The Flood came right around 2009.
Which flood you may ask? The flood of independent sports blogs. Like any natural disaster it was a combination of things that caused the flood.
Social media, great improvements in technology, high speed internet, smart phones, tablets, the WordPress/Blogger interfaces, and the ability to make now make money via Ad Networks per page views. With all of this, you could literally start a website and have it online with real people reading your posts in less than an hour. Almost everyone is a sports fan or has some sort of opinion, so it was natural that everyone start their own site. That is exactly what happened and it changed sports media forever.
Next year, will be my 10th year-owning BlackSportsOnline. The analogy I like to use is that I was Dr. J before Michael Jordan, meaning I was around before things started to change. I always saw that as a good and bad thing (more good than bad)…if I knew what was coming, the site probably would have been called something else. But being around before hand, and also being schooled in the old ways of journalism at Ohio State, gave me a little bit of an advantage. Essentially I was out in the ocean, well before people were building their boats during the flood.
Sports blogs at the beginning were like the early days of Hip-Hop music. It was new, fresh, innovative, and groundbreaking, but not widely accepted by the mainstream. So to get noticed sites had to get creative and take more risks. They could take those risks because most sites were a one or two-person operation. Slowly, but surely, these alternative, regional, local, urban, satire and sports entertainment sites started to catch on with people who were tired of the status quo. You all know my motivation for starting BSO was Joe Buck calling Randy Moss a thug, for the least thuggish thing of all time. I wasn’t the only one who felt like that, so people were searching for voices to point those things out. So, like Hip-Hop, the genre of Sports Blogging grew rapidly. It went from people thinking it was just a fat white guy typing in his mother’s basement to a daily news source for people who were tired of watching the same SportsCenter for the 7th time in the morning.
It was literally perfect timing that the Social Media wave happened right along with the Sports Blogging wave, because bloggers and independent sites had one advantage over mainstream media…they could report in real time. Factor in the ability to get these social media applications on the ever improving smart phones and now you had a niche that, if done properly, could turn your small blog into a legitimate news source.
Many have turned something very small into a legitimate business and some have flipped it into multi-million dollars ventures. Same way some rappers like Jay Z literally started from bottom and turned it into a half billion net worth. There are many times that independent websites have broken stories and started the ball rolling on stories that would have never been touched by mainstream media. Just yesterday, the Jerry Jones story is something 10 years ago wouldn’t have seen the light of day. One random tweet from a crazy person and look what happens because we, the blogsphere, took hold of it. That is the power we hold as a collective unit in media now. You are seeing more journalists who worked for mainstream media now working for websites as full time employees. You are seeing more websites at events. The fact that I was able to get a 23-year-old black woman credentialed for the NBA Finals shows the progress this genre has made in being recognized as legitimate media.
Sadly, there is a downside because, with any flood, the market gets saturated. It is easier to be a big fish in a small pond, than a big fish in the ocean. Not to simplify things, but we are all reporting on the same stuff, so it became a lot harder for someone to make a mark within the industry.
Blogging is easy to start, hard to maintain. I didn’t make $1 for four years. I didn’t make enough money to walk away from my full time job for seven years. Granted, I probably should have done a lot of things differently. I was learning on the fly, but seven years is a long time to do something and not be able to live off it. If people want instant gratification this isn’t the business for you.
During the Golden Age of Sports Blogs (2009-2012) many were acquired by networks and media entities who thought they could use this new medium to be a step ahead of game. In some instances it worked brilliantly (Bleacher Report, for example, and Deadspin, which always had corporate backing, are two examples), but other times immediately the decisions were regretted because the market was so flooded it was hard to get a return on their investments. Then that is when it happened……..
You like the Katy Perry and Juicy J “Dark Horse” song right? Let me repeat that, you like the KATY PERRY AND JUICY J SONG RIGHT?
It didn’t take long for mainstream music to blend in with Hip-Hop music, which became a force simply by creating trends and being different. I knew there was going to be an issue with independent sports blogs and even ones that had been acquired when Adam Schefter from ESPN started tweeting out breaking news regularly. This was something that bloggers had been doing for years and once ESPN caught on, I knew things would never be the same.
Go look at your favorite mainstream media sites, you will notice almost three things immediately.
1- Most have taken on the look of a blog.
2- They all have a section for traditional sports blog news (SI Extra Mustard, FOX Big Buzzer, USA Today FTW, etc).
3- All of their big names are tweeting information in REAL TIME.
Mainstream Media is Elvis and Blogs are Chuck Berry. That isn’t surprising and they are very smart for doing so. In an honest moment (or if they would let us look at their numbers) their biggest stories are the ones that have nothing to do with sports and more about what is going on off the field. I am almost 100% sure ESPN figured out the trend when they started shoving Tim Tebow down our throats. People say they hate it, but they really love it. First Take took off when it became more like a WWE promo skit than actual news show. I wouldn’t say they stole our style, but they learned from the mistakes of buying up blogs and just started creating their own in house. Why buy a site for six or seven figures when you can use people you already have and just replicate what those sites are doing?
That is why I am not surprised by the layoffs at places like The Score, Sports on Earth and other sites, but also the layoffs and firing of long-time writers and reporters who haven’t quite caught up with technology. They are dinosaurs in this new age media.
When I saw the Sports on Earth layoffs, this one tweet is frankly what inspired this entire post.
Sad commentary on modern sportswriting that USA Today's For the Win thrives as it frees itself from Sports on Earth.
— Kevin Draper (@kevinmdraper) August 5, 2014
I thought about this for a very long time, literally all day and all night yesterday. I am not claiming to be the most gifted writer of all-time, but I am 1200 words into this post and haven’t felt the need to stop once and collect my thoughts. That is how my brain works. My professors at Ohio State, while getting on me about my grammatical errors (I know still an issue today), always said the ease and creativity of my writing would make me the ideal person to write editorials for a major newspaper. When I first started BSO I wrote long editorials…that is all I did. I studied and read Bill Simmons. That was my plan, to be the Black Bill Simmons, way back in 2006.
I did a conference in 2009 for Blogging with Balls in Chicago. I was on a panel and I was telling the Black Bill Simmons story and someone ask what happened and I quoted Jay Z.
I dumb down for my audience
And double my dollars
They criticize me for it
Yet they all yell “Holla”
If skills sold
Truth be told
I’d probably be
I wanna rhyme like Common Sense
(But I did five Mil)
I ain’t been rhyming like Common since
When your sense got that much in common
And you been hustlin since
Go with what makes sense
I know what I’m up against
We as rappers must decide what’s most important
And I can’t help the poor if I’m one of them
So I got rich and gave back
To me that’s the win, win
In 2009 I was broke. I couldn’t help anyone.I was being evicted from my apartment and my car was being repoed. But in 2009 I also wrote an article about Steve McNair’s murder and it was one of the biggest traffic drivers of all-time. The interesting thing about that article was I was scared to write it. It was “scandalous”, it was “gossip” and for god sakes the man was murdered.
But, I can’t help the poor if I am one of them, so I bit down and I wrote the piece. Google “Who killed Steve McNair” it still comes up.
I made a decision that day to simplify or dumb down things so I could financially get myself out of the gutter, while trying to help others, build a brand, and work towards legitimizing the site. That is why I am still here right now when so many other sites have been put out to pasture.
But, that Tweet still bothered me. It was something about the wording, the fact he said it was a “Sad Commentary”.
Is it a sad commentary or are we just being nostalgic?
When people say, “I wish more rappers were lyrical,” but then TURN UP to “Bandz a Make Her Dance”, are they being hypocritical? If you don’t support the lyrical “true” hip-hop rappers, how will they ever become popular? You ever wonder why Eminem comes out with those super pop songs first, before he would give you the lyrical songs?
Who exactly is the sad commentary on? The user or the supplier? Complaining, whining, ranting isn’t going to help the fact that it is unlikely your site will be a success if you don’t cater to a user base that frankly wants simple, low brow stuff. Some sites want to be liked so bad, they are afraid to get their hand dirty and take any risks. You ever think why Kim Kardashian is posted? You ever think why there are a #ForTheBros & #NotSports hashtags? You ever take a moment to think that maybe certain things are done because they are the key to survival? To use a boxing analogy, sometimes you have to take one punch to throw two back.
You ever consider all those one paragraph posts were done so I’d have an audience to post a 2000 word one and have people pay attention on a serious subject? You think it doesn’t bother me people threaten to kill my dog and do physical harm to me? People are so sensitive to criticism they would rather fail than embraced them head on. I rather be a success you don’t like, than a failure who is loved but can’t take care of his family. People celebrate people failing more than do them succeeding.
I don’t like posting negative things, but it is my job though and frankly you have to look at it like that always. Athletes, fans and other media members might not always like it, but when your bills due, you can’t exactly call up Joe Athlete and say hey I didn’t report that DUI like everyone else did, can you spot me $200.
I don’t like my share of people, but I never wished failure on someone, but when you hit a certain level, be prepared to hear it daily, you better have thick skin or you will never make it. You have to decide in this very critical stage of sports blogging, do you really want to make the sacrifices to be a success with a career or are you just happy with your hobby?
There is room for everyone, but you can’t be scared to kick down the door because trust me no one is just going to let you walk in. You will be standing outside for a long time. You have to understand you can’t please everyone and everyone has different tastes.
I like For the Win, I like Sports on Earth, I like Busted Coverage, I like Grantland, I like TMZ, I like Bossip, I like ESPN (somewhat) and etc.
I think in life sometimes we want things to be black and white. I remember I was tweeting some guy and we had two stories come back to back. One was a pretty high profile interview and the other was a completely fluff story. He complained about the fluff and ignored the interview, as if to say the fluff erased the interview. I don’t see things like that, I see things as if you try to cater to one type of individual you will fail. One of the main problems with new sites is they are so easy to start, but no one wants to put in the work to be a success. I work harder at BSO than I ever did at any 9-5 job or class I went to. I study what is going on in the industry, I look for ways to improve and trust the numbers. Journalism appears to be an easy business from outside the bubble, but it is extremely hard. Any one can luck up into a viral story, still relevant for a decade is an entirely different thing. If I ask you how many page views, uniques, referral links, mobile views, tablet views & etc do you know that information?
What is happening is that mainstream media is trying to swallow up what we started many years ago. It is a virtual hostile takeover, and that means getting rid of a lot of independent thinking and talented individuals and replacing them with their corporate drones. It is happening in real time and that is a sad commentary. Answer this for me, because I don’t watch as much TV as I use to, but how many times was Sheridan Hoops mentioned on mainstream Sports TV shows during the LeBron watch? Considering he is the one (and it doesn’t matter if he guessed or not) that said 100% before anyone else LeBron was going back to Cleveland? Why wasn’t he on Sportscenter? Fox Sports Live? NBC Sports? CBS Sports? They all have networks, why was he not front and center as the guy who truly broke the story? Why give him credit, when they can just keep it in house right?
ARE YOU PAYING ATTENTION???
So, that was a very long winded way of getting to the final question, which is, what is the future of Independent sports blogging?
I think there won’t be much of a future unless…….
Well, I think Triple H said it best, you better adapt or perish and have a Plan B, C and D. People believe you just write a post and everything will just fall in your lap. It is so much more to it than that. I am extremely lucky and blessed to have gotten to this position and I’ve tried my best to help anyone whoever asked for help, I am writing this as a wake up call.
Don’t get buried in the Evolution or drown when the next flood comes.