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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.

So welcome back to the Sports Media Guy newsletter.

Here’s what you can find here:

A brief essay

I’m trying to get back into the habit of writing regularly. This will give me both the chance and the deadline to do so.

The top five pieces about sports journalism from this week.

The idea of this newsletter is to be a central place for news about sports journalism. Not necessarily sports media (there will rarely be any talk of TV ratings here), but sports journalism. If sports journalism is my scholarly beat, then this is the place to aggregate news on this.

To paraphrase Will Leitch, if you’re subscribing to my newsletter, I figure there’s a decent chance you’d be interested in my other work I do. So I’ll include links to posts on Sports Media Guy and to episodes of The Other 51 and The Flip Side. If you enjoy them, I’d be honored if you considered subscribing at the links provided.

You can subscribe to the newsletter here.

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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.

Game stories and the important question

Leading up to the Super Bowl, Jacob Bogage wrote an excellent piece in the Washington Post about the state of the game story in sports journalism.

It in inspired a Twitter thread from me about what we mean by “game story” and how I get the feeling that very few news outlets are using what we think of when we say “game story.”

In a way, this feels like a very important discussion. As I’ve said in many places the past few months, the kind of content that daily news organizations produce is critical in this age of subscriptions. If we accept the premise that you’ve got to give people something they can’t live without so that they will give you money every month, then the type of stories your writers write is really important to talk about.

On the other hand … man, this feels like a tired discussion. The future of the game story feels like something we’ve been talking about in this industry since I was in college in the late 1990s. Because of that, it’s starting to feel like the wrong debate to be having — or, at the very least, a less interesting one.

The unanswered question behind all of these debates is this: What do readers want from us?

Really, what do they want? Because so many of these debates are fueled by assumptions. Assumptions I have, assumptions you have, assumptions writers and editors have about the audience and assumptions the audience has about writers and editors. Assumptions fueled by metrics, and assumptions fueled by our traditional ideals.

“Nobody cares about a game story anymore … everybody knows who won the game already … everybody’s seen the highlights … people want analysis … the audience wants strong opinions … give people a good story well told and they will read it.”

All of these things could very well be true.

The point is, they are assumptions. We don’t know them to be 100 percent true.

That seems to be the next logical step in this debate.

If the key to our survival is giving people what they can’t live without, it’s important for us to really know what that is.

Subscriptions, business models and local news

My friend Jeremy Littau wrote a Twitter thread last week that literally went viral and is worth your time. The thread came in the wake of last week's layoffs at Gannett, Buzzfeed, Huffington Post, and other media outlets.

Jeremy's thread is worth your time, because it lays out the 20-plus years of struggles the news industry has had. It makes the case that fixing it is not just as easy as telling people they need to subscribe to their local paper.

The thread referenced the prediction piece I wrote from the Nieman Lab last year about what I see as the looming subscription-pocalypse.

I think that subscriptions can work for local news outlets. The argument I make in the piece is that they can't rely solely on them, or expect people to subscribe because of habit or obligation or a desire to serve the greater good. When people are already subscribing to national news outlets and various streaming services for music, movies and TV, a news organization needs to make a compelling case to the reader that they (the organization) are providing something that the reader wants or needs.

Jeff Jarvis wrote this years ago and it has stuck with me: No successfull business model is ever predicated on the word "should." Local news is vital to our world. But local news organizations aren't owed anything. In a world of subscriptions, they need to stand out.

"I wanted to be Bob Costas"

Growing up, I wanted to be Bob Costas.

As a sports fan in the 1980s with big dreams of being a sportscaster, Costas was my guy. My professional model. He was the guy I wanted to be when I grew up. He was young, he was funny, he called play by play and talked about sports for a living. He encompassed every dream I had.

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Casey Stengel and access in the 1960s

As someone who’s interested in the history of access in sports journalism, I found this quote from Sean Deveney’s excellent book “Fun City” to be very telling. Deveney, here, is discussing how Casey Stengel’s relationship with the New York City press corps was instrumental in the Mets’ off-field success:

More important was Stengel’s ability to charm fans and the media. Though sometimes cantankerous, he did not treat the local writers as enemies, and he was not the controlling paranoiac that many of his colleagues were. He understood the individual writers and he knew how their papers operated and the ways he could add color to their daily stories. He had an encyclopedia of good-old-day stories always at the ready, and he had a unique ability to peregrinate through the English language as he told them, sprinkled with his favorite phrase, “You can look it up” (which was actually an invitation to not look it up).

2018: A Year in Review

Thank you all for spending another year with me here at Sports Media Guy.

I love lists and countdowns, so here are a few.

First off: The 10 most popular posts of this year (I did not include the home page, the contact page or anything like that). All stats come from Squarespace analytics, which hosts my site.

  1. The history of sports journalism (Part 1 of 3)
  2. What gets left behind with The Athletic
  3. The history of sports journalism (Part 2 of 3)
  4. Where's our damn pizza? Why sports hates election night.
  5. The "problem" with women's sports
  6. The history of sports journalism (part 3 of 3)
  7. Tom Brady and white privilege
  8. What's changed about sports journalism?
  9. Welding and player boycotts: 10 years after my biggest story
  10. Earl Warren's view of the sports page

So the interesting thing here is that only two of the most popular posts were written this year. Heck, one of them was from 2013.

Here are the 10 most popular posts that were written in 2018

  1. What gets left behind with The Athletic
  2. The "problem" with women's sports
  3. What's changed about sports journalism?
  4. Refined thoughts on The Athletic
  5. The Athletic and the importance of diversity in sports journalism
  6. ESPN's new app is a huge disappointment
  7. What's changed about sports journalism: Social media and expectations
  8. What hasn't changed about sports journalism
  9. Leaving Sports Journalism’s never easy
  10. Interview tips and advice for sports journalists

And finally, the 10 most popular episodes of The Other 51 (stats via Podtrac).

  1. Episode 60: That's How Jobs Work with Shea Serrano
  2. Episode 59: What They Don't Know with James Mirtle
  3. Episode 67: Neutral Site with Bryan Curtis
  4. Episode 64: Beyond 24/7 with Jen McCaffrey
  5. Episode 73: Metro Community News with Richard Deitsch
  6. Episode 58: Seven layers with Mike Harrington
  7. Episode 80: Labor of Love with Jeff Pearlman
  8. Episode 71: Podcast Inception with Dr. Galen Clavio
  9. Episode 76: Going With My Gut with Kimberley A. Martin
  10. Episode 68: Watergate Baby with Kevin Blackistone

Kareem Hunt and Ray Rice and the NFL and scandal

From a book chapter I wrote for Scandal in the Digital Age two years ago on the Ray Rice story:

The presence of video surveillance of the domestic violence, particularly the video that showed the actual assault, changed the story narrative. Ironically, the graphic video of the actual assault did not bring additional criticism of the perpetrator (at least in sports media coverage) but instead changed the focus of the story to the institution of the NFL—a pattern familiar in media coverage of scandals. The social construction of news—specifically, news values of deviance and journalists’ reliance on sources—also led to the evolu- tion of the scandal. Because of these factors, by the end of the year, the Ray Rice scandal was about Roger Goodell and the institution of the NFL. The scandal evolved to the point that Ray Rice was only a tangential part of the scandal itself.

Several years later, the Kareem Hunt story is following a similar pattern.

This has become less about Kareem Hunt's actions and much more about the NFL and the Chiefs' instutitonal response to it.

Deadspin: NJ.com's Sports Director Sounds Like The Boss From Hell

From Laura Wagner

So much to unpack in this story about the editor behind the job description that made the rounds last week. But this stood out to me more than anything:

Thirty, 20, or even 10 years ago, when newspapers still reigned supreme, there were plenty of entry-level sports reporting jobs to go around, and the career track was clear: A writer would make his or her star at a small local paper, move on to a bigger regional paper, and then maybe make it to the big leagues, writing for a national publication. As newspaper jobs have dried up, the traditional reporting paths have changed. Places like the Athletic, whose stated goal is to make local newspapers’ sports coverage obsolete, primarily hire people with sizable social-media followings, meaning that to make it there, reporters have to have built a following somewhere. One way to do so might involve writing for little or no money and no benefits at somewhere like an SB Nation team site; another might involve working for a monthly stipend and no benefits at a place like NJ.com. One sportswriter recounted a conversation in which Manahan was frank about the realities of the industry, and about the ways he understands the dynamics involved.

“He essentially said why would he pay a Yankees writer $100,000 when he could pay two kids $50,000 apiece and run them into the ground for a few years,” the sportswriter said. “Then when they move on to something better or burn out, he can replace them with more young, cheap labor.”