Thursday, February 25, 2016

Why The Input Club's attempt to control longform isn't going to work

I got angry yesterday. This isn't a regular occurrence for me in general, but it's particularly unusual when it comes to sports media; there's plenty of frustration and disappointment in that world, and in discussing it, but there isn't too much that motivates me to outright anger. Yet, Esquire and ESPN The Magazine writer Chris Jones' "In Defence Of Longform" (which really reads like a defence of a specific kind of longform that he practices, a condemnation of all other attempts at the form, and an exclusion of those who aren't already practicing his kind of longform, but we'll get to that) and the subsequent Twitter arguments I had about it ticked me off in a way I hadn't experienced in years. I've been trying to figure out what exactly sparked that anger (after all, surely there are more controversial and more problematic things out there than an argument over longform standards), and I think I now know just why it bothered me so much. The case made by Jones (which was written in the wake of SB Nation running and then pulling a highly-problematic piece on convicted serial rapist Daniel Holtzclaw and then putting their longform program "on temporary hiatus" during the subsequent internal investigation), and by those who took his side, feels like the latest iteration of a highly-problematic subset of media, The Input Club, something that's used to limit the advancement of young writers and try to ensure they play by the conventional rules.

What is The Input Club? Simply, it's the belief that work should be judged not on its intrinsic merits (the output), but on who wrote it, what process they used to write it, and where it was published (input factors). This is something that's been used in the media wars before, and was a key part of traditional journalists' original arguments against bloggers. That war has now been lost, and you won't find many still taking outright shots at blogs and the web (apart from Michael Wilbon, that is), but that doesn't mean the anti-blogger, anti-young journalist sentiments have dried up completely; people have just moved the fight. In this case, thanks to the Holtzclaw story, it's happening over SB Nation Longform, which has produced a variety of incredible pieces. I'd rather read many of those than much of The Input Club's conventional longform, and I'd argue that the site should be judged on its entire body of work rather than just the problematic Holtzclaw story. They shouldn't be told to stay out of longform just because their longform vertical doesn't have the resources of conventional media outlets doing it. In many ways, that argument smacks of those anti-blogger wars, especially when you consider that many of the SBN pieces have been written by younger journalists, some with a blogging background.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

BWB6: Justice, society, and the rise of online and athlete activists

I'm in Chicago for Blogs With Balls 6 and taking plenty of notes. I'll be posting my notes from each panel here for the use of anyone who wants to check them out. Keep in mind that these are highlights, not complete transcripts. Every effort is given to be as accurate as possible; apologies for any transcription mistakes. Here are my notes from the "Justice, society, and the rise of online and athlete activists" panel that closed out the day. (Update: also see my take on this at Awful Announcing.)

Julie DiCaro @JulieDiCaro
Aaron Harison @FreeBeacon
Greg Howard @GregHoward88
Chris Kluwe @ChrisWarcraft
Cyd Zeigler @CydZeigler

Moderator: Kevin Blackistone, @ProfBlackistone

CK: "I'm a straight white male. My life is not hard."
CZ: "I don't watch much sports anymore."
"It's a tool for social justice for me. It's a tool to advance kids' lives."

JD:  "We have baggage we all bring. Before I wrote about sports, I was an attorney, representing domestic violence victims. I was a public defender."
On sports blazing a trail for society: JD: "The Bruce Jenner interview was an example of that. Sports sometimes goes first."
AH: "We warn about the dangers of the politicized life, what you're buying what you're rooting for based on your politics."
"Sports should be sports."
Jackie Robinson: "HE wasn't out there doing the Michael Sam reality show."
"You let your actions speak for your words."
GH: "I would disagree. I think a lot of things bleed into each other."
"It's not just about that. It's about the people who are scrubs. Do they gety to play baseball too?"
"Athletes are people too. They can have political opinions too."

AH: Chik-Fil-A:
"It's a shitty way to live your life if you're judging your chicken sandwiches based on the owners' position."
CK: "The society we live in is shaped by those people."
"If you're saying other people should not politically oppose that, you're giving the power to the status quo."
CK: "We are human beings as well."
"We would like to use that voice the way everyone else gets to use that voice."
"We're gladiators. Go forth and bleed in the arena. And then shut your fucking mouth. That's bullshit."
AH: "You did create a circus around yourself and played a position that's replaceable."
CK: "You're saying that we don't have to care that Floyd Mayweather is a serial abuser of women because he can box really well."

CK: "First Take is huge, it makes a ton of money, it's dragging us straight towards Idiocracy."
CZ: "This is the problem that everyone who doesn't agree with the power structure needs to shut up and sit down and get fired."
"People don't always link up their fandom with social issues."
On Tony Dungy raising money for antigay causes: "My business partner at Outsports is a gay man who loves the Colts. He didn't change his team. Fandom is irrational."
JD: "Everyone sits down and watches the NFL."
NFL brings greater discussion of domestic violence, rape, etc
GH: "To pretend sports is a vacuum is disingenous."

KB asked why don't more athletes speak up?
CK: "I think it's to do with the overwhelming corporate desire of our society."
"If you speak up, and you're not a Tom Brady or a LeBron James, teams can find reasons to replace you."

On Jameis Winston: CK: "Are we comfortable with that person being a role model for all the young adults in our society?"
"A lot of people have said yes. It's just sports. Why do we care what he does? He can throw a football really far."
JD: Winston: "He has not been exonerated by the court system."
Need to challenge things like Lovie Smith's comments on Winston
AH: "He hasn't been convicted!"
"I'm saying there's really nothing wrong with [Winston going first overall and playing in the NFL without punishment] at this point in time."
JD: "Most rapists aren't convicted. Most domestic abusers are not convicted."
AH: "What's your alternative?"
JD: NFL system of having experienced attorney look into it outside of judicial process has promise
"This idea that there's some kind of right to play in the NFL, that's not true at all. Teams can choose who they want to be associated with."

KB: Are NFL players being scapegoated for domestic violence?
GH: "Anyone who gets trashed or thrown in a hole for hitting a woman in the face deserves it."
"It should probably be mirrored in the real world, especially for how easy it is for those with means to get away with it."
CZ: "We are a capitalist society. We are driven in part by money."
NFL/media: "The people will let them know if they should continue doing it or not."
Freedom of expression: "When that video of Ray Rice came out, people overwhelmingly expressed themselves."
"It became really financially imperative for the NFL to take big steps."
CK: "One of the broader things we need to look at is not what are the results of these actions, what is the structure that allowed this to happen?"
"What are the underlying structures that allowed this to exist?" Socioeconomic background, high school, how they interacted with police.
"People do not exist in a vacuum."u
"We need to understand that all of our citizens are important."
"if you only focus on curing the symptoms, you're never going to cure the underlying disease and things will never change."
"That's why athletes should speak out, because we have a platform."

KB: Are media doing a good job on these issues?
JD: "I think the blogs are doing a much better job than mainstream media on some issues. And that's because you don't have as many people to go through."
AH: "Sports media, I don't think does a thorough job in covering theses issues, and the reason is because you've got a lot of people who agree with each other."
"I'm not saying don't do it. I'm just saying there are consequences."
GH: Speak out if you want. "If you don't have anything to say, that's okay too."
"If you recognize the humanity in athletes, it's a lot easier for you to not look up at them as freedom fighters. They're mostly guys in their 20s like me who don't know shit about shit."
AH: "I think a lot of the media's very lazy." See one guy write about it, everyone else does
"It's a very superficial analysis. That's what you get on a lot of these issues."
CZ: Calls AH out for "lazy opinion" on Michael Sam
JD: Expansion of the media improves coverage, different perspectives represented

KB: How do we be more proactive?
GH: "Be less white, be less male, be less old."
"It's not like Ferguson's the first time a black dude got killed."
Video catches mainstream interest, forces action
"We all fucking knew what happened."
AH: To be proactive, news organizations need to invest. Video is reactive, cheap.
JD: Idea that convictions require video "It's doing a huge injustice in our society."
AH: "It can be very expensive to do an investigation the right way."

Blogs With Balls' Don Povia ended with: "This is why we do this, to have conversations like this."

BWB6: Breaking Away From the Narrative: How to Navigate the Waters of 24/7 NFL Coverage

I'm in Chicago for Blogs With Balls 6 and taking plenty of notes. I'll be posting my notes from each panel here for the use of anyone who wants to check them out. Keep in mind that these are highlights, not complete transcripts. Every effort is given to be as accurate as possible; apologies for any transcription mistakes. Here are my notes from the  "Breaking Away From the Narrative: How to Navigate the Waters of 24/7 NFL Coverage" panel. Apologies for the short notes here; I was uploading some other notes during this panel.

Eric Edholm @eric_edholm
Andrea Hangst @fball_andrea
Maggie Hendricks @maggiehendricks
Robert Klemko @robertklemko
Keith Bulluck, @kbull53

Moderator: Michael Schottey @schottey

Maggie: [At USA Today] "I didn't necessarily always know my click numbers which was nice. It let me look for stories that are good stories."

How to balance the 24/7 nature of the NFL today: Andrea: "It's hard to have that separation between work and life." "It's something I'm thinking about all of the time." "My work is my life."
 RK: "There are things you're going to weigh in on and not know what you're talking about."
He cites mock drafts in particular; Eric agrees.
 MS: There are both internal and external pressures "We can all sit here and say mock drafts don't matter but we're all going to write them."
"It's something people like to read and they get informed, if you do it right." Not just the opinion, "It's about the process you go through in supporting that."
MH: Mocks can teach non-college football fans about draft eligible players
RK: "The better example of something that is completely worthless is the draft grades that come out the day after the draft." "Most of the times, it's driven more by your betters and what they want you to do."

MS: "Where is the line between a strong opinion and throwing something out there just to have a strong opinion?"
RK: Needs to be a thought you have a tough time editing to 140 characters.
AH: Needs a level of thoughtfulness, not used just to start fights.
 EE: You can write most great ideas on back of a business card, though, so just 140 characters shouldn't kill everything.

MS: "What's your process for writing something unique?" Hypothetical situation of Roger Goodell killing someone.
Maggie, work with editors, "Who's discussing the murder weapon? Who's discussing where it happened?"
EE: Have an idea where the story might be going
RK: "Spin it forward." Look at next commish. "What are the things I've done in my life that gives me a perspective on this?"
AH: "Get all the facts. Who did Roger Goodell murder? What weapon? Spin it forward, not just who the next commish will be, what does this mean for the NFL right now?" Sponsorships, etc.

KB: Do media members think about the person involved in drug charges?
AH: "I think about the person all the time."
RK: "I didn't always and then I had a couple of legal scrapes." "The more you do this [media job], the more cautious you are."
EE: Bad situations affect normal people, same as NFLers
MH: "I think of the families first."
MS: AP, Ray Rice: "I can't say your punishment is you never get to play football ever again." Not supported by CBA "You can morally believe what you want to believe, but at the same time, that's not how it works."

I asked about concussions and how that affects their coverage of the NFL.
 MH: "After Dave Duerson killed himself, I had a breakdown." Had to debate whether to keep covering football. Decided: "Use my loud voice for good."
RK: Attitudes towards concussions are a problem. He looked at concussion treatment at a rural HS, a valuable story that caused some major changes: "The problem is my story in that series got 5000 page views, the least on our site that year." "A lot of NFL fans don't want to read about it."
AH: "It's so clear as day that this is a huge problem." "You don't want to be faced with that." "I'm trying to do something good here even I know there's ugliness with this sport."
KB: "It's a reality for me." "They literally showed me my brain." "Players know. Some guys at 23 are retiring. They play four years they want to retire. And that's great." "The NFL is doing things to make this better for players." "I honestly don't worry about myself now, but what about 10,15, 20 years from now?" "We're modern day gladiators." Duerson story affected him. "All you guys can do is just make people aware. If they don't click they don't click."‎

This was a useful panel with a lot of different perspectives on football and how to cover it. I thought the responses to the concussion question were particularly good, addressing it from all sides (impact on players, impact on writers, public interest or lack thereof in stories).

BWB6: Your Pitch Is Futile

I'm in Chicago for Blogs With Balls 6 and taking plenty of notes. I'll be posting my notes from each panel here for the use of anyone who wants to check them out. Keep in mind that these are highlights, not complete transcripts. Every effort is given to be as accurate as possible; apologies for any transcription mistakes. Here are my notes from the very interesting "Your Pitch Is Futile" panel, a discussion about PR and the media. 
Mitch Germann (@mcg5)
Ryan Glasspiegel (@sportsrapport)
Robert Littal (@bso)
Dayn Perry (@daynperry)
Moderator: Zack Smith (@sportsflackzack)

The panel started with panelists asked to define storytelling and then describe either media (if they're from the PR side) or PR (if they're from the media side).

RL: Storytelling is about his own unique take. PR people : Agenda.
MG: "Storytelling is something that creates a connection with the audience." Media: resourceful, busy
RG: "[Storytelling is] informative, entertaining, and or funny." PR "Under the delusion that the product they're trying to sell is in and of itself intrinsically interesting. A lot of the time, I disagree." DP: "The visual element is important as the written word." PR: Involved, helpful, follow-uppy.

Zack asked the media guys about PR horror stories.
RL: PR pitch on Viagra. "They also gave me a sample. They wanted me to use the sample."
"The part where they say erections may last more than four hours, that is factual. I had to go to the ER."
RG on Stone Cold Steve Austin shilling a Wendy's sandwich: "Literally every answer was about the stupid fucking sandwich."

ZS: What are the benefits to PR?
RL: Does things for PR with expectation of them helping later "If you deal with the silliness and some of the dumb things, when something important comes up, they'll take care of you." Mayweather/Pacquiao example: he's helped firms, they've helped him gain access now
RG: "We're looking for somebody to be interesting and honest with us. Access in the absence of candour isn't that valuable."

ZS: What's important for PR firms to do in a pitch?
MG: Encourages brevity, personalization, creative assets (visual or video)
 RL: "A lot of bloggers' audience, they can smell BS. They can smell when you're shilling something. They expect that from mainstream media, they don't expect that from us."
Pacquiao: RL has to make fun of him to get people to read. PR needs to understand that.
"Everyone's not Whitlock with a playbook."
RG on PR expecting stories for free. "We have paid advertisers." "Why would anyone do that if they can just make something that triggers emotions that everyone will run for free?"
For RG to run something PR-based, it needs to be unique, something that could generate pickup from elsewhere

MG said there are two main ways for PR firms to get bloggers excited about their stuff: "Invite someone to come along and be part of the process that generates that content [or] create such good content that it drives the news cycle even without having to pitch it."
He cites a Madden spot with James Franco and Kevin Hart as an example; it got pickup without pitches.

 DP: Artistic content can help: "It can serve the advertising purpose and be artistic."
ZS: Athletes/products: "Our hope is that there is that authentic connection."
RL: Tug-of-war between what PR wants, what audience wants "I think that's the biggest challenge." RL on interviews with athletes set up by PR: "Really take it seriously and have a plan when you're talking to the athlete." "The best way to be taken seriously is to ask serious questions."

MG: "Our expectations when it comes to athlete spokespeople are very low." Avoid complicated corporate statements "Athletes are a lot more protective of their brand than they have been in the past." "The expectation is just one mention." Buster Posey as example: "Just start it with esurance, go into baseball and we're good." "Hopefully it's a win-win." "We try to set really realistic expectations with people we work with on both sides."

DP: "There needs to be a clear obligation on the part of the athlete to be candid." Matt Harvey/Dan Patrick interview: example where that didn't happen

ZS asked about The Players' Tribune: are they bypassing media?
RL: "It's an extension of [athletes'] social media." "It's good for fans, it's good for consumers to have as much information as they possibly can." Players Tribune can provide media/blogs with more content "I'm a proponent of multiple opinions and multiple outlets."
MG: It gives more credibility to regular media
RG: We have inflated sense of TPT thanks to being in media, seeing it in feeds
"It's not necessarily as influential as some might think."
DP: "It's not a new phenomenon." Jackie Robinson ghostwrote columns. As told to autobiographies also common.

I thought this was a really well-done panel. It had the potential to be dry, but Smith did a great job of moderating, asking interesting questions that were relevant to both PR people and media types and exploring some interesting parts of the issue (such as just what PR wants from bloggers and athletes). Great job by BWB on this one.

BWB6: Cyd Zeigler and Christina Kahrl

I'm in Chicago for Blogs With Balls 6 and taking plenty of notes. I'll be posting my notes from each panel here for the use of anyone who wants to check them out. Keep in mind that these are highlights, not complete transcriptsu. Every effort is given to be as accurate as possible; apologies for any transcription mistakes. Here are my notes from Cyd Zeigler and Christina Kahrl's conversation about trans issues.

On trans issues in general: CZ: "People don't know anything about this."

On Bruce Jenner and his recent ABC interview: CK: "Certainly it's an opportunity."
(to talk more about trans issues).

CK wishes they'd discussed sports element more on Jenner interview
On journalists looking to cover trans people and worried about pronoun use: CK: "Trans people are used to the (pronoun) question. Just ask."

CK on her own identity: "between my ears, I always have been Christina."

Discussing Grantland's piece on Essay Anne Vanderbilt, Dr. V:
CK: "The tragedy is that Essay Anne took her own life."
"It's not the teaching moment you ask for."
"You have to talk about the mistake. You have to own it and walk it back and see where you went wrong."
What you do with people is give them the opportunity." (and work to help before things go wrong)

ESPN is doing a panel for its own journalists this summer in Bristol with trans athletes and coaches. CK: "It's 'Here's how to do this right.'"

SI's Robert Klemko asked a question about trans athletes looking to compete in women's sports, especially in high school.
CK: "It's a copout to say its not safe."
 On hormone blockers "it's not a competitive advantage."
NCAA, IOC policies are positive
CZ noted that everyone has an advantage of some sort, so lines drawn against trans athletes are arbitrary. "Shaquille O'Neal has an unfair advantage against me." "Everyone has an advantage."

Christina was asked if she's faced challenges either at ESPN or in baseball thanks to her identity.
CK: "I havent found much discrimination." "I'm just another asshole with a microphone."
"ESPN has been a model workplace where no one has even misgendered me in terms of pronouns."

CK on why players respect her: "I'm not there to talk trans issues, I'm there to talk baseball."

CK said her decision to come out wasn't "brave": "I'm just exhausted with the fear of not being myself." "Given a choice between guaranteed unhappiness and the unknown, I'm choosing the unknown."

BWB6: Yahoo's "Grandstanding" podcast

I'm in Chicago for Blogs With Balls 6 and taking plenty of notes. I'll be posting my notes from each panel here for the use of anyone who wants to check them out. Keep in mind that these are highlights, not complete transcripts; this panel's highlights are particularly short, as I was uploading a previous panel's highlights during it. Every effort is given to be as accurate as possible; apologies for any transcription mistakes. Here are my notes from the Yahoo Sports Grandstanding Podcast, which did a special episode live from BWB focused on the NFL draft.

Panelists: Jay Busbee (@jaybusbee), Kevin Kaduk (@KevinKaduk), Eric Edholm (@eric_edholm)

On the draft in Chicago: KK: "I don't think the NFL knows how this is going to go."
"They're trying to turn this into a travelling roadshow."

If drug arrests really hurt a player's stock: EE: "I don't think they put a little marijuana flag by the guy's name."
KK: "They should."

During the Q+A, former NFLer Chris Kluwe asked about the recent rush to draft quarterbacks:
EE: "I think there are quarterbacks thrown into it." (and not given enough time)
KK: "I think that's a mark of a bad organization."

Someone else asked about UCLA QB Brett Hundley:
EE on Brett Hundley: "I didn't see much difference from his first few games to his last few games. I don't think he improved that much."
"I'm not excited about him, I don't know why."
JB: "The more time we have to look at these guys, the more flaws we find with them."

Apologies for the short notes here; this was a good panel overall, but I wasn't able to take a ton of notes during it.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

BWB6: SB Nation's Spencer Hall on their network's Josh Hamilton post

I'm in Chicago for Blogs With Balls 6 and taking plenty of notes. I'll be posting my notes from each panel here for the use of anyone who wants to check them out. Keep in mind that these are highlights, not complete transcripts. Every effort is given to be as accurate as possible; apologies for any transcription mistakes. Here are my notes from the Q+A session with SB Nation editorial director and Every Day Should Be Saturday's Spencer Hall, focusing on the questions he was asked about how the network handled the situation with a rogue post on their Angels' blog about Josh Hamilton (SB Nation has since parted ways with the blogger in question).

On the Hamilton post, and the challenges with having people in their affiliate network who are not full SB Nation employees: "It is difficult at times."
"Hopefully the goal is to groom people to run these sites in a way that's within our editorial guidelines."
"That's where you cross the line, where you do something inhumane."
He woke up and saw the post around 8, the guy was gone by noon.

On the Josh Hamilton post and how it differs from EDSBS satire: "The line itself is fuzzy,"
"It's the respect for the form."
Satire: The Onion is a good example: "There is no line for them."
"You have to have your definition of what you do and what you are as a writer and live within those rules."
"It seemed like something that was unnecessarily malicious, beyond all rationale."

BWB6: NFLPA: The Business Of Football

I'm in Chicago for Blogs With Balls 6 and taking plenty of notes. I'll be posting my notes from each panel here for the use of anyone who wants to check them out. Keep in mind that these are highlights, not complete transcripts. Every effort is given to be as accurate as possible; apologies for any transcription mistakes. Here are my notes from the NFLPA Q+A with assistant executive director (external affairs) George Atallah and president Eric Winston.

NFLPA: The Business Of Football
George Atallah and Eric WInston

Keith Bulluck asked about players in transition
EW: Worked with league to create The Trust
Helping guys find what they want to do and get into it
"When they get off that field, they've been doing something for so long. They've had that path and that path has always been given to them."
Been going for 24 months, over 1000 enrolees, all you need is one season
The Trust: NFLPA Affiliated organization, funded to nearly $25 million a year through CBA
GA: "Eric, who was a player at the time, and his colleagues, voted to leave money on the table to take care

On concussions: EW: "I don't think it's ever a done situation."
"We've changed a lot of those things and its obviously for the better."
"Hopefully we'll be able to produce new technologies that protect players more than we do now."
"I don't think it's ever going to be a state where we're good."
"It's going to be something we always have to push the envelope on."
Role as a union to push for that and educate their own players
"It's to educate our guys so they can make the decisions for themselves."

Chris Kluwe: "Do you think that having guaranteed contracts for the players would lower the pressure that players face to get back on the field?"
EW: "Without a doubt."
"Our work's never done until that happens."
Concussions: "This isn't an ankle sprain or some torn cartilige. It's much more serious than that."
GA: "No other major sport has guaranteed contracts because of their CBA."
Baseball: "It took an individual player and an agent."
"How do we improve the level of guaranteed money? We just had a phen FA period with the most guaranteed money ever. That's something we're looking to improve."

Leverage: GA: "It took us three years to get a deal on drug policies because players wouldn't agree to a deal that didn't have neutral arbitration."
"We have not accepted the league's new personal conduct policy as part of the CBA precisely because it violates the CBA."
"When there are policies enacted by the league unilaterally that in our belief violate the CBA, we have to stand up and fight."
EW: "It's not always shaking hands and figuring stuff out. Sometimes it's winning court battles."
"It takes time."
"That's how change has happened, unfortunately and fortunately, through the legal system."

Asked about 18 game sched:
EW: "For them, it's probably always in the back of their mind. We know how hard they pushed for it in 2011."
"I won't sign off on it."
More playoff games also an issue
"I don't know how much support there really is for any new games, whether they're playoffs or regular season."
Hitting in youth football: "I'm uncertain about it to a certain age."
Baseball analogy of starting with tee
"The idea that football has to be a contact sport at all times is kind of silly to me."
Specialization: baseball, basketball, football: "I played all three through high school."

On protecting younger players: GA: "Isn't it ridiculous that the NCAA hasn't adopted the NFL's concussion protocols? Isn't it ridiculous that FIFA hasn't adopted the NFL's concussion protocols?"

BWB6: The State of Chicago Sports (and media)

I'm in Chicago for Blogs With Balls 6 and taking plenty of notes. I'll be posting my notes from each panel here for the use of anyone who wants to check them out. Keep in mind that these are highlights, not complete transcripts. Every effort is given to be as accurate as possible; apologies for any transcription mistakes. Here are my notes from the fifth panel, focusing on the state of Chicago sports.

The State of Chicago Sports (and media)
Laurence Holmes (@LaurenceWHolmes), 670 The Score/120 Sports
Jon Greenberg (@jon_greenberg), ESPN
Dan Katz (@BarstoolBigCat), Barstool Sports
David Kaplan (@thekapman), CSN Chicago
Jen Lada (@JenLada), CSN Chicago
Moderator: Sarah Spain, ESPN (@SarahSpain)

David Kaplan: "Anyone with a Twitter account can actually break news."
"A story can get out there and it doesn't have to be vetted."
"You're competing with so many different people now."
"You go into the locker room and there's 100 different media, and then there are uncredentialed media."
"Even if its farfetched you have to track it down, and sometimes they're right."

LH: "There are still some of those guys who need someone to filter it."
"Matt Forte, I thought he did a shitty job" of telling his own story on Instagram of why he missed events
"His mistake was almost being flippant about the Piccolo award."
"It came off as if he missed the mark."
"I don't think he did himself any favors by the way he got his message out there."

JL: "If they want to reveal to me that they're an idiot by the way they use their social media, I'll take that."
"I'll use that to advance my agenda and my company's agenda."
"I probably broke four stories this spring on the Bears just by using social media."
JG: "People are like, "They're going to squeeze media out." Well, no."

JL: differences in Milwaukee/Chicago markets: "The access is very different in Milwaukee." Packers, other teams, want to encourage coverage. "Teams here, they don't necessarily need to, not buy the coverage, but encourage you to cover them."
Green Bay, distance: "You couldn't be there every single day. You had to rely on other people to do your job."
LH: "Teams, they want you when they want you."
Cubs: "As the team got worse, you could do more."
SS: "The Blackhawks used to beg for coverage. And then they got good."
"People who are doing good stories and are there every day are having a hard time getting access."

Dan Katz: Cutler and Rose are tougher on access because they've been burned by Chicago media
Dan Katz on Rose: "He's never going to be a polished, perfect speaker."
JG: "Jay stunk. That's why he's vilified."
LH: "I know there is the perception about Jay. I personally haven't experienced it."
"I've had national people come up to me and you can tell exactly what they're going to write, what they're going to say, how it's going to go before they hear a word." Rick Reilly as example.
JL: "You could argue that that's not doing your job."
"Rick Reilly, great, he's been very successful, but you can't walk in and assume your requests are going to be met."
SS: "In some cases, teams need to be more open."

SS: to Dan Katz on not being owned by teams: "You have the opposite, you don't have to answer to anyone."
Dan Katz: "I'm a true pirate ship."
"I don't have an editor."
SS: "We can tell."
Dan Katz: "I don't even want to be in the locker room. I don't want to be in that world. People want to see an outsider's perspective and a true fan perspective."

SS: "I was at the first Blogs With Balls in 2008 or so and there was a very blogs versus the mainstream media element."
"That isn't really the case anymore."
Asked Dan Katz how he separates himself from mainstream sites. "Do you have to get crazier?"
Dan Katz: "We don't break news. And I don't want to break news."
"I never ever want to get into that."
"Where we have cornered the market and where people resonate with us is that I'm an average guy."
"Everyone goes on Twitter today basically to be outraged."
"Sports are fun. They should be fun."

David Kaplan: Different kinds of blogs, some legitimate news sources, Baseball Prospectus: "I think they all get lumped into the same thing."
LH: "Deadspin is so inside now that they have to try to be outside."

LH on 120 Sports, national network, 2 minutes on anything: Run by MLB, NASCAR, PGA. Limited partnerships with NBA .
"We do two minutes on each big national story."
"You're seeing leagues create their own digital efforts. I think that's where the industry's going."
NFL locked them out, "We went around them, we now have a contract with the NFL Players' Association."
"We look at ourselves as a second-screen opportunity."

SS to Dan Katz: "Do you have aspirations to work at a more mainstream place?"
Dan Katz: Wouldn't necessarily turn it down, but likes freedom. "You get in trouble. I can't get in trouble."
"I think there's a place for us and what we do."
"I turn on the TV and its the same five or six guys saying the same stuff over and over."

JL "I have an issue with some of the stuff that's on Barstool. I don't like the WAG of the day."
"Can you exist without relying on that kind of clickbait?"
SS: Katz doesn't do that himself, but "You're always going to be associated with that."
Dan Katz: SB Nation, Bleacher Report, "All those blogs are owned by big coporations."
"We have to stay on the fringe."
"If we had millions of dollars and didn't have to post the WAG of the day, I'd be okay with that."
Big blog networks: "They sit on a pedestal and they judge everyone else."
"Jen, you criticize us for the smokeshow of the day. Those girls, or ladies, they ask to be posted."
"It's not as creepy as people say of it."
David: "If a guy or a girl doesn't want to read it, don't click on it.  Who has an issue with that?"
JL: "Women like me who want to be respected for their thoughts!"
Dan: "I tried to stop doing stuff like that where you take photos off the TV of someone hot."
"I think you can hold two thoughts at once. That you can say "That is an attractive woman" and still respect her opinion."
SS: "I think you can click on two buttons, one for sports and one for porn, and I don't think they have to be in the same place."

On the need for proper sourcing:
LH: "I'm from the school of get it right, not get it first."
David: "We get off on it more than anyone in the general public."
JL: "The people above us, the executives, they place emphasis on that."
SS: "That has been blown up so much because of everyone attacking ESPN over it. Now everyone's trying to do it."

BWB6: Like, Follow, Swipe Right: How The NBA is Connecting With Fans in the Modern Era

I'm in Chicago for Blogs With Balls 6 and taking plenty of notes. I'll be posting my notes from each panel here for the use of anyone who wants to check them out. Keep in mind that these are highlights, not complete transcripts. Every effort is given to be as accurate as possible; apologies for any transcription mistakes. Here are my notes from the third panel, focusing on the NBA and its engagement with fans.

Like, Follow, Swipe Right: How The NBA is Connecting With Fans in the Modern Era
Zach Harper, CBS, @talkhoops
Eddie Maisonet III, The SF Journal, @edthesportsfan
Andrew Nicholson, Sacramento Kings, @a_nicholson
Moderator: Lang Whitaker, NBA Digital, @langwhitaker

EM: On Twitter, you can talk about anything, even things not directly NBA related. Movies:
“Jesse Hall is the greatest MIghty Duck of all time.”
EM: “Getting a credential is not that tough for the NBA.”
ZH: “I started writing when I moved to Sacramento. When I started Truehoop’s Kings blog, the Kings reached out to me.”
LW: “The Hawks reached out to me.”
“The NBA’s been pretty forward-thinking.”
NBA popularity: “It’s come a really long way in a short amount of time.”
EM on Twitter: “We can read a Zach Harper piece on and we can call Zach an idiot and he can respond. Or we can have a deeper secondary, tertiary conversation.”
“You build these microcommunities and people can jump in and hop on.”

ZH: “I actually hate tweeting about basketball because it’s too difficult to get proper context in one tweet.”
“It’s this awesome force that brings people together.”

LW: “Why are we doing this? Why are we waking up and checking our mentions?”
ZH: “I literally have nothing else to do.”
EM: “You see personalities that emerge and are able to traffic whatever they want to traffic. ...The opportunity is legitimately there.”
LW: “You don’t have to be an expert on something, you just have to sound like an expert.”
ZH: “I can speak to that.”

AN on “Sauce Castillo”: team account jumped on it, players jumped on it
“Since that time, Nik’s signed his own endorsement deal.”
“It’s worked out well for everyone.”

EM: “If you can create GIFs and get them out to the people, you’ll have a following.”
AN: “One of our most popular posts on Facebook ever was the dunk show that took place during the third quarter.”
“We’re trying to tell the whole story, not just what happens on the court.”

EM: Twitter: “It’s by the fan for the fan. You get to see these diehard fans.”

AN: Does SM help small-market teams? “We found our niche in being able to provide access that no one else could. Social has given us an incredible platform to disseminate that across the world.”
LW: “The teams that aren’t as good seem to be more willing to take risks on social media.”
“It’s a way for teams that aren’t very good to have more of a presence.”

LW on odd stories like Hawks organist: “Nowadays, within two days it’s on every website.”
EM: “Find those little things that you think are interesting. More likely than not, other people will find them interesting.”

AN: “Teams pay attention to the communities that support them.”

LW on leagues taking down video, NBA not; it makes sense to let fans do stuff. “I’ve posted fan videos on”
ZH: “I think the breaking point is are you getting a sponsor for it.”
EM: “Being able to leverage that content, even if you didn’t create it originally, there’s an opportunity there.”

AN: Are owners involved in team’s social media? “From a team standpoint, we have over 40 channels that we have.”
“So much of the organization is on social media to continue to tell the story of why it’s an exciting time to be a Kings fan.” 

BWB6: Athletes Off The Field

I'm in Chicago for Blogs With Balls 6 and taking plenty of notes. I'll be posting my notes from each panel here for the use of anyone who wants to check them out. Keep in mind that these are highlights, not complete transcripts. Every effort is given to be as accurate as possible; apologies for any transcription mistakes. Here are my notes from the second panel, Measuring Online Influence.

Athletes Off The Field
Don Povia, @HHReynolds, moderator
Shawn Smith: @1stLadyXAMSport
Mike Dolan, @mikedolanaq
John Thornton, @JohnThornton

SS: Has an agency with her husband
“I do all the marketing, the PR.”
MD: “I’m the editor and publisher of Athletes Quarterly.”
“We’re the official magazine of major league toilets.”
JT: “I’m an NFL agent at Octagon. Before joining Octagon last year I had my own agency.”
“Before that I had a 10-year career in the NFL.”
“I forced the Bengals to upgrade their website because I had more traffic than them.”

SS: Connor Barwin: “The dude is so authentic to what he loves.”
Barwin’s big on environmental causes

JT: “Athletes are taken advantage of a lot because we have our eyes elsewhere.”
“That’s the biggest reason athletes get in trouble. We’re trying to be the best at what we do and we’re not focused on post-career.”

MD on athletes trying to differentiate themselves: “It’s an elite fraternity. If you’re in the NBA, there’s only 400 of you, but there are 400 of you. They’re trying to find ways to stand out in a culturally-acceptable way so the team doesn’t give them a hard time.”
“Building that audience gives them a bit more leverage with brands because they’re not relying on playing time.”
“It makes them a more valuable commodity.”

DP: “How has social media helped and or hindered the players you work with?”
SS: “In the old days, it was press releases.”
DP: “Do press releases matter now?”
SS: “Not at all.”

On account managers:
SS: Facebook: “We make it very clear that it’s third person, it’s a fan page.”
“I will never ever manage an athlete’s Twitter account.”

JT: “I played with Chad Johnson. He took to Twitter and it went crazy.”
“He was a good player so he could do what he wanted. If he was an average player, it wouldn’t have lasted long.”
“Teams are watching.”
MD: “There’s nothing in it for the team for you to be a star on social media.”

JT on agents: “As soon as they didn’t do what they promised, I fired them. ...I fired four of them in 10 years.”
“Athletes have to hold people around them more accountable.”
“It’s not about how much money you have, it’s about what can you do when you’re done? Can you find something to make you happy?”
Dhani Jones: “He made a career out of being a weird guy.”
“Every time I turn on the TV, he’s hosting something.”
“He did it the right way. He didn’t do it for right now.”
“He’s doing much better than guys that were getting bigger endorsement deals while he was playing.”

SS: “It’s about learning who they are off the field and what they’re really passionate about off the field.”

JT on shady competing agents: “Those people will be out of business soon enough.”
“I’m going to recruit them the best way I know how. I’ll be honest and I’ll play within the rules.”
“They’ll come back to me.”
“There’s so many agents and not enough players.”
“There’s shady people in any business. There’s probably shady people in here.”

BWB6: Intro And Measuring Online Influence

I'm in Chicago for Blogs With Balls 6 and taking plenty of notes. I'll be posting my notes from each panel here for the use of anyone who wants to check them out. Keep in mind that these are highlights, not complete transcripts. Every effort is given to be as accurate as possible; apologies for any transcription mistakes. Here are my notes from the introduction and the first panel, Measuring Online Influence.

Don Povia, @HHReynolds:
"I hate to call this a conference. It's more of a networking event."
"It's a community-driven event."

Panel I: Measuring Online Influence:

JR Jackson, @jrsportbrief
Brandon WIlliams, @bjw5002, moderator
Wes Davis, content director, MVP Index, @mvpindex

WD: "We're trying to become like a Nielsen ratings for teams."

"People aren't stupid. You know when you're being sold to."

"Where real engagement occurs is when an athlete is actually living the lifestyle of the brand. A brand I think does this well is Red Bull."

Athletes talking about Team Red Bull, not just the product

Images of Red Bull in instagram posts

"When you're being authentic and living that brand, it works."

JR: "People are able to start, foster and build their own communities online."

BW: "It's a matter of hitting them where they're watching."

JR: "If you'd told me 25 years ago I'd be watching the Rockets and the Mavericks and there would be a Rockets Twitter account talking about shooting a dead horse, I'd tell you 'Get out of here.'"

WD: Athletes ranked by reach, engagement, conversation score.
"We ranked the top three by reach and engagement and then we started looking at their tweets."
"Are these people being talked about with connections to drug use, DWI?"

JR on his own deals: "It's not a one-off situation."
"It boils down to engagment and loyalty."

WD: "It's the people who are more real and more authentic that are going to get better deals."
John Daly: "He's the 708th ranked golfer. He's our 8th-ranked athlete."
"He's engaging people, he's having those conversations."
"You're trying to bring an athlete partnership that is real. You don't want to force anything."

JR: "If I'm working with someone, it's "This is what I do. What do you do?"
"It's very important to set expectations."
"If all of this is discussed beforehand and everyone's aligned, I've never had an issue."
"I wouldn't tell Dove 'Nobody wants white soap. Make yellow soap!' They do what they do and I do what I do."

WD: "If you used all of Cristiano Ronaldo's accounts, you have the ability to talk to a third of the population of the U.S."
"Doing something locally is probably smarter."
"If you're able to influence the influencer to get that audience to interact with your brand...”
“You’re never going to be sure you’re engaging the entire audience, especially if you’re somebody with a million followers. A tweet lasts five seconds.”
“Don’t overtweet. I don’t want to see that you’re eating a croissant and five seconds later that it was good.”
[But with that said] “Frequency is important.”

BW: “Just because they have a handle and a lot of followers doesn’t mean it’s being used in an effective way.”

JR on multiple social media networks: “I look at everything as programming. ...It’s about figuring what bucket it goes in.”

On paying for a single tweet
WD: “I don’t think a single tweet can do anything. I think it can get some impressions, but you need a partnership, you need a campaign.”
BW: “People right now are seeing right through a lot of those single athlete posts.”
JR: “It’s short-sighted in my opinion.”

Tipping point for JR?
“I’ve been very meticulous in building a community, building a brand.”

How a PR firm should approach JR?
“Hi, what’s up?”
“I like to take a lot of the BS out of business.”
“I am the brand and it is me.”

Comments? Questions? Ask me on Twitter or via e-mail at

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Stompin' Tom Connors and hoserism

Wednesday's news that legendary singer Stompin' Tom Connors had passed away at 77 is making waves across Canada, and for good reason. Yes, he was known for his odes to hockey, football and more, but his impact went well beyond that, and even beyond his songs. One of the most poignant statements he ever made came in 1978, when he returned his Juno Awards in a protest of the American-focused state of the Canadian music industry at that time; Dave Bidini has an excellent piece on just what that meant here. It wasn't a contrived or spotlight-seeking moment; indeed, after doing so, Stompin' Tom withdrew from the Canadian music scene almost completely for much of a decade. Instead, returning those awards was a natural extension of what he believed, what he sung about and what made him so important to Canada.

A Twitter hashtag I use a lot is #hoserism, and I think I can trace its origins back to Stompin' Tom. It's my version of Canadian nationalism, and it's a little different than how nationalism often shows up. I'm not out to prove that my country or my province is better than yours, or that everything Canadian's automatically better than anything from anywhere else, or even that the sports team from my country should defeat the sports team from yours (which proves so much, of course). For me, it's more about celebrating the uniqueness and the diversity of what we do have in Canada. I unashamedly like and celebrate a lot of Canadian things, from Rush to SCTV to the CFL, and I'm just fine with that, but they each have their own attractions, and it's not about yelling about how one of these things is the best level of Canadian culture and everything else is inferior. In my mind, that fits in with a lot of what Stompin' Tom wrote about. Many of his songs are about incredibly specific Canadian places, their glories and their problems, but you never really get the sense that he's trying to boost one part of the country over all others, or even that he's trying to criticize the rest of the world. Instead, he was showing off his pride in this entire country, and I think that's laudable. His "Stompin' Grounds" is a perfect example of this:

Perhaps most importantly, though, Stompin' Tom constantly fought against the idea that the only real Canadian successes were those who went and made it big south of the border. Personally, I'm fine with Canadians deciding that living in the U.S. is a better fit for their life or their career; everyone's situation is unique, and a lot of those Canadian exports have done great things for this country's profile. What Stompin' Tom really promoted was the idea that that's not the only means of success, though, that it's just fine to be focused on a Canadian audience. That's something I try to embrace personally, primarily writing about the CFL the way I do. Sure, I do some wider-audience stuff, and that's fun too, but I don't necessarily need to cover a sport that's popular worldwide to have a fulfilling career. There's no shame in liking and writing about Canadiana even if it doesn't make you a huge worldwide name. Stompin' Tom's career is absolute proof of that, and the impact he had on this country is one to be admired.  

Friday, February 15, 2013

On Michael Jordan and the value of access

Wright Thompson's ESPN The Magazine article on Michael Jordan at 50 is getting plenty of praise, and deservedly so. Thompson paints an excellent, nuanced portrait of Jordan, highlighting both how he's changed and how he hasn't since he quit playing. In order to do this, Thompson gains plenty of access to Jordan's life and his inner circle, and he uses it well: there's plenty of insight in his piece into what drives Jordan, and it's a worthy read. However, while reading it, I couldn't help but think back to an earlier magazine piece on Jordan, Brett Popplewell's December profile in Sportsnet Magazine. Both pieces are well worth your time, and they highlight different aspects of Jordan, so it's not like we have to unequivocally declare that one is better. However, if I had to choose just one piece I'd recommend to someone curious about Jordan's post-playing career, I'd go with Popplewell's. That might surprise many, as unlike Thompson's, it doesn't contain a single quote Jordan gave Popplewell.

Access has often been seen as one of the holy grails of journalism, and for good reason. It can be extremely useful to hear what players and coaches are thinking, to hear their rationale on why they made the decisions they did and to try and understand them as people. Moreover, access of the sort Thompson had can be the most valuable; spending more time with a subject than a quick interview in a locker room can be extremely useful, as can seeing how they behave at home and how they interact with friends. Some of my favourite sports books have followed these lines, spending a season around a team and portraying how they behave on and off the court; a few examples include Jack McCallum's Seven Seconds Or Less, David Halberstam's The Breaks Of The Game and one I'm currently reading, Roy Blount Jr.'s Three Bricks Shy Of A Load. In all of those cases, the authors used their access effectively to portray the teams and characters they covered in a deep way, and the books are better for it.

However, there's often a lot of value to pieces written with little or no access to their subject as well, and that's what stands out about Popplewell's piece. It's an extremely well-researched, well-written look at Jordan after his playing career, and it gets there without a single quote from the man himself. In many ways, it's better for not having Jordan speak (technically, there's one quote from him, but it's an old one from a 1992 interview). Instead, we hear about him not primarily from the friends and associates Thompson quotes, but from the Bobcats' fans who watch Jordan's team, from the buskers in his city and from Popplewell's own writing. Both articles arguably have Jordan the crazily-intense competitor at their centre, but the accounts of Jordan's behaviour in Thompson's piece are tempered by comments from his inner circle about how critics misunderstand him (particularly, his Hall of Fame speech) and by humanizing, compassionate moments from Jordan himself. Given that this is Jordan we're talking about, it leads me to wonder how much of that's real and how much of that is him applying his legendary competitiveness to "winning the profile". Thompson's piece is no hagiography, and he does a good job of revealing and illuminating Jordan's flaws as well as his strengths, but Popplewell's seems to me to give a more accurate picture of the man.

Is that a call to throw out the old pillar of access, to move all journalism to the Deadspin tagline of "Sports news without access, favor or discretion"? No, it isn't. As mentioned above, there's significant value to access, and significant value to pieces' like Thompson's. I see the takeaway here more as that you can still produce some pretty remarkable journalism with little (while Popplewell didn't interview Jordan, he did interview some people) or no access. There's a long tradition of that in journalism too, as seen in articles such as Gay Talese's famous "Frank Sinatra Has A Cold" piece in Esquire and many of the works of another Thompson, Dr. Hunter S. (whose "Fear And Loathing At The Super Bowl" in particular might be my favourite thing ever written about a sports event, despite it including very few quotes from anyone involved). In my mind, that's an inspiring message as well, one to encourage people to get writing and keep writing regardless of if they're working for Sports Illustrated, ESPN The Magazine or just their own independent blog. Not everyone can hang out in Michael Jordan's penthouse, but that doesn't have to stop you from writing something great about him.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Don't stop believing, Manti Te'o

Continuing our quest to be your number-one source of sports song parodies, here's the most appropriate (far more than some, at least) way to summarize the saga of Manti Te'o and his fake girlfriend. Is that...Journey? Why, yes, yes it is:

Just an internet girl, livin' in a made-up world
She took the midnight calls from anywhere
Just a ND boy, living in South Bend, not Detroit
He made the midnight calls goin' anywhere

A hoaxster in a online room
 A smell of pizza and pot fumes
On the phone, they can share the night
 It goes on and on and on and on

Media, waiting, up and down the boulevard
Writing profiles in the night
Te'o, deceived? Or lying just to find emotion?
Hiding, somewhere in the night.

Working hard to get his fill,
Looking for that online thrill
 Payin' anything to talk to her,
 Just one more time

Some will win, some will lose
Some were born to sing "I'm used!"
Oh, this story never ends
It goes on and on and on and on

Media, searching, up and down the online trail
Deadspin breaking bad news in the night
ESPN, playing catchup, sending in Jeremy Schaap
He'll summarize interviews in the night

Don't stop believin'
Hold on to your feelings
For fake girls