IACS 2019 Review (in Twitter form)

This past weekend, the 12th Summit on Communication and Sport, sponosred by the International Association of Communication and Sport, took place in Boise, Idaho. 

This is a very special conference to me. I've met many of my best friends in academia at this conference throughout the years. Unfortunatley, I wasn't able to make it there this year. But here is a look back at the weekend, in Twitter form:

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Who will last longer: ESPN+ or The Athletic?

From Awful Announcing today, an interesting roundtable discussion about which sports subscription service has the best chance of long-term success. The consensus among the writers was that ESPN+ has the best bet.

It's an interesting question to ponder, so a few thoughts:

  • Comparing ESPN+, B/RLive, DAZN Live and The Athletic feels a little bit like apples and desk chairs. The Athletic is written sports journalism, the other three are video based. However, subscriptions are subscriptions, and I don't think most people differentiate them in their minds. You look at the cost, you look at what's provided, and make the decision based on what kind of value you get.

  • It's the academic in me, but the article doesn't provide a key thing here — what do we mean by "long-term success"? Are we talking which is the last one in business? Which gets the most subscribers? Which brings in the most money? Which one drives the conversation in sports media? Which has bigger impact with readers? It may seem pedantic, but we can't pick which company is going to be the long-term success unless we know what that means.

Like the writers at Awful Announcing, I lean toward ESPN+ just because it has all the structural advantages. It certainly has the most potential of any of the services of being paradigm shifting. If we still accept the premise that live sports is keeping people subscribed to cable, anything that potentially changes that could have huge implications on the cable industry. But it's been slower growth than I had expected it to be, which leads me to believe that while it may last, it may not have a lasting impact.

On the other hand, The Athletic has surprised me. I was a loud doubter of the site for a long time, and those doubts were in large part my reaction to its bravado and its insanely rapid expansion a few years ago. But the site has settled into its place in the online sports journalism landscape, and while it hasn't shattered daily sports journalism like it promised, the site's writers are producing consistently strong work. To me, it's still the most interesting thing happening in sports media.

On the question at hand, I think I agree most with Matt Clapp

People will pay for good content. The Athletic has big names for every sport in seemingly every city/region now, and in-depth content. They continue to only add here, not subtract.

And building off that point, we already know what we’re getting with The Athletic. There’s certainty that it’s a good service immediately, and there’s no reason to expect that to change too much over the next year and beyond. The other subscription services have promising trends and additions (like B/R Live with The Dan Patrick Show), but just as many question marks, and people want certainty before they commit monthly/annually to a product.

Apple News+ revealed, adds WSJ

A long-awaited announcement from Apple today, the creating of Apple News+:

There will be over 300 magazines, such as The New Yorker, Esquire, The Atlantic, National Geographic, Men’s Health, and Vogue, and Apple News Plus will be “the only place” where you’ll be able to get all of them at once.

The Wall Street Journal will be the big new name that Apple adds to Apple News Plus from the newspaper business. An internal memo from Dow Jones, obtained by The Verge, notes that the WSJ will provide only “a specially curated collection of general interest news from The Wall Street Journal” to Apple News Plus subscribers. That leaves out the business reporting and analysis that’s at the core of the full subscription for the financial daily.

This is the closest thing we've seen so far to a "Netflix for News."

Is the offseason more important for sports journalists?

The interview that C.W. Anderson gave to Nieman Lab earlier this week has me thinking about ethnography in sports journalism.

The academic research of sports journalism is calling out for an ethnography of professional practices. There hasn’t been a large scale one, that I’m aware of anyway, since Inside the Sports Pages, Mark Douglas Lowes’ seminal work in 1999 (a book I’m revisiting and hoping to write more about in the co ming months). Good ethnography takes time, which is the challenge. I’ve wanted to do an ethnography of journalists covering the Buffalo Bills since I finished grad school. My first faculty grant application was to fund a season-long ethnography of Bills coverage, but that was unsuccessful and time and funding have made it impossible since.

It’s interesting, because when I think of an ethnography of sports journalism, I tend to think of in-season coverage. I bet a lot of you do, too.

But the more I read and think about the state of sports journalism in 2019, the more I wonder if off-season coverage might be more important to study. Michael Mirer and I are starting a series of research projects looking at this area of sports journalism. Think of NBA free agency, the baseball hot-stove league, the NFL combine and all the signings last week. The transaction has become such a focal point of so much pro and college sports journalism, that this feels more important to study than game coverage.

I mentioned this on Twitter this week, and got responses from Joshua Benton from the Nieman Lab:

And from my friend, the incomparable Matt Traub.

What’s fascinating about this is that this idea of off-season coverage being more important runs counter to how we’ve traditionally conceptualized sports journalism. From my dissertation:

Game coverage is central to sports journalism. A reporter’s work schedule, story selection, and sourcing decisions are almost always centered around the games of the team(s) he or she covers. An editor's planning of his or her section—both in print and online—almost universally centers around game coverage. Sports themselves revolve around games—from the NFL to high school football—so it’s natural that sports journalism has its roots in games. In fact, it can be argued that no area of journalism is so intrinsically tied to a part of their coverage as sports journalism is to games.

Despite the evolving nature of game stories, covering games remains the core of sports journalism. Games are still the focal point of sports and of sports journalism.

But the data, anecdotally, are telling us that off-season coverage may be more vital. It certainly feels more interesting.

A few years ago, I wrote about off-season coverage and said this.

Maybe the day is coming when a sports reporters' job is focused on the off-season rather than the season itself.

At the very least, that’s where our research should be focused.

The culture of the click, 10 years later

C.W. Anderson has been one of the most influential scholars in my career. His ethnography of digital news in Philadelphia is the dissertation I wish I had written. His thinking on digital news is must-read for anyone interested in this field.

Over at Nieman Lab, he spoke with Livia Vieria about ethonography, business models and more. This passage, about metrics in journalism, stands out:

Any journalist who would claim that they don’t need to know what their audience wants to read is deluding themselves.

But I do think that journalism as a professional category needs to make decisions for itself about what it thinks is important. That’s what makes a professional community: It’s a group of people who have a certain amount of expertise and then can decide for themselves what the important thing is. Journalism as a professional community is highly threatened — and that’s a problem, because it’s important for journalists to be professionals.

So I don’t think clicks and metrics alone are terrible for journalism. But I do think that insofar as they contribute to a larger deprofessionalization of this very important occupation, they can be part of a bad trend. The short answer would be: Journalists need to know what their audience thinks, but they shouldn’t become slaves to what their audience thinks. And they need to continue thinking for themselves about what their audience needs.

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In my Sports Writing and Reporting class at SUNY-Oswego, my students have started their own newsletters. Over the next three weeks or so, they are acting as beat writers and aggregating newsletters on a team of their choice. (You can find their work on the JLM312 tag on Twitter)

And since one of the precepts I live by in teaching is that I never want to ask my students to do something I’m not willing to do myself, it’s time to restart this newsletter.

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Mark Thompson on the subscription models and being indispensable

At Nieman Lab, Ken Doctor had a fascinating interview with New York Times’ CEO Mark Thompson. Some highlights that I didn’t see making the Twitter rounds:

I think there were good reasons to believe the benefits of advertising typically accrue at the platform level. They used to accrue to newspapers, where newspapers — because they control printing and distribution — were essentially platforms, with near monopolistic reach and therefore colossal pricing power. Once you take those advantages away, the model collapses, and instead it’s the major digital platforms who have the same kind of quasi-monopolistic advantages of distribution.

This is a really eloquent description of the situation facing newspapers, and I haven’t heard it put like this before. In the pre-digital era, newspapers were platforms. But today, Facebook and Google are platforms. Advertising works at their level, which explains in part why the digital ad market for newspapers has cratered.

More from Thompson:

But overall it’s the indispensability of The New York Times, and The New York Times being the center of lots of conversations. I think that’s very good for the indispensability of the brand in many people’s lives.

...

I think, firstly, I’m definitely an optimist on the level of consumer demand for quality content. In other words, I believe that if you’re producing journalism of value, there is no reason to expect that consumers wouldn’t be prepared, in some way, to support that — potentially to pay for it.

This fits with my theory of subscriptions. The key, as I’ll say again and again, is to provide readers with something they can’t live without.

Not something you think they can’t live without, or something you think they shouldn’t live without. Something that is truly indispensable to them.