Always The Same Mistake

Submitted by Brian on February 4th, 2011 at 5:48 PM

warning: internet/sports journalism/meta post. it's six on friday so no bitching.

A life preserver belt on blue water. 3D render with HDRI lighting and raytraced textures.

via press coverage

Way back in the mists of time when I'd just been fired from my engineering job for not doing much actual engineering I was wondering whether or not I actually wanted another one when Jamie Mottram emailed me. He asked if I'd be interested in being a "lead" for the college football section of this Fanhouse thing he'd convinced AOL to start*. I said yes and my career as a pants-optional blogger started.

A couple years later, Mottram was at Yahoo and I was on the phone with a guy who seemed to put "-ize" at the end of every verb trying to convince him that Adam Jacobi was a key asset even if he kept posting conversations with Joe Paterno in which he decried DIRTY IRISHMEN. This was the middle of the end, and a couple months later I was out, too.

By that point I didn't much care. I'd stopped posting much because headlines like "God Not A Big Fan Of Sam Maresh, Says Sam Maresh" were getting converted into things like "Sam Maresh Has Further Health Problems." The thing I owned was making sufficient money that I didn't have to put up with aggravation for ten bucks a post.

When I latched on with Sporting News a couple months later it was mostly so I could tell people I wrote for Company You've Heard Of X when that was convenient or lent credibility, and when that got shipped over to SB Nation I cut my workload there down to a couple things I do weekly. The business story of the blog is gradually in-sourcing all of the writing I do, even if it's about the World Cup.

"We're Not Bleacher Report"

Elsewhere, not so much. When AOL decided to blow Fanhouse up and give the Sporting News the brand for five million a year, I wasn't surprised. Ben Koo made a case that it was a stupid move, but we are talking about a company that's had a half-dozen people run Fanhouse in under five years, let Mottram walk out the door, immediately undermined his replacement with HAWT TITS, reversed course on that after 90 seconds, and then did another 180 to hire Jay Mariotti. It's not a surprise AOL has changed course wildly, hoping that doing the exact opposite of their last stupid idea will be the opposite of stupid.

What is something of a surprise is the naiveté shown by some of the outgoing. Dave Kindred interviewed a few of them for IU's National Sports Journalism Center and it's like they've never been part of an aging relic with a declining legacy business before:

"In December," Lisa Olson said, "we were told how great we were doing." Once a columnist at the New York Daily News, Olson remembered The National strutting on stage in 1990, a national sports newspaper hiring good people from everywhere. She thought of FanHouse that way, a gathering of veterans on a journalistic adventure. "We were all experienced and qualified, not some 25-year-old bloggers," she said. "The motto was, ‘Go, go, go. Grow, grow, grow.' And we did. Then, this. It's devastating."

This one in particular even referenced "The National," which lasted all of 18 months. Another complains "we had no idea this was coming," etc. More than one takes shots at bloggers. There's the one above, and then there's the EIC who ended up axing me** stating that when they arrived Fanhouse was nothing more than "a quirky blog."

The theme running through the piece all the way up to Kindred, who titles it "Waiting for the day readers march in and demand an end to the dreck," is journalists bemoaning the fact that their quality isn't recognized as they die by the thousands and Bleacher Report is getting eight-digit funding rounds. Kindred uses the recent press conference in which Jim Boeheim slammed the reporter who asked a question about point-shaving because the internet's been talking about it as a leaping-off point. You'd think they'd know by now.

You Are Bleacher Report

So… the column and those quoted in it are rife with misconceptions that speak to why AOL abandoned ship and why newspapers will slowly bleed readership until internet natives are at the helm in 20 years, at which point they'll just be another voice in the clamor.

They are:

Believing Bleacher Report is in the content business. Bleacher Report is not a content company any more than Demand or Associated Media. It is an SEO/marketing company that runs garbage through filters until it comes out with google/newsletter gold. The way they do this is clever, but their success—likely overstated anyway—has nothing to do with the success or failure of people who write for a living.

Believing Fanhouse content was functionally different than Bleacher Report's content. I only subscribed to the college football bit in my RSS reader, but it was a progression of boring AP-style articles, Clay Travis columns, the leftover guys who got in the door under Mottram who were cheap and non-controversial, and Brett McMurphy breaking stories about USF. Meanwhile the larger site had Marriotti.

You know what Mariotti and Travis are? They're trolls. They write controversial things they don't believe for attention. How much of the vaunted 50% non-AOL traffic—the same figure we were told, BTW—was either SEO or people stopping by to tell the various trolls why their stupid arguments were stupid? Mariotti is just a Bleacher Report writer with an editor, and he's the star attraction. This is not hyperbole.

A personal example from my time there: slideshows were pushed ever harder until people started editing posts to stick in random slideshows, hopefully vaguely sexy slideshows, whenever your post could be tangentially connected to one. Slideshows, man.

Fanhouse journalists complaining about how their quality is not appreciated aren't quite right. Anyone who reads above a third grade level can tell there's a vast gulf between it and BR, but when that gulf spans the gap between "offensive to the English language" and "newspaper stuff mostly about things I don't care about" it doesn't matter. Instead of widely loathed you're ignored unless you're breaking news, which is ephemeral.

It's no secret that I hate Deadspin. At least, I hate its bottom 20% and don't care about its middle 70%. But even though I don't read it much I still remember a dozen thingsgreat things—it's published in the past year. If there's anyone who understands making it in internet media it's Nick Denton, and he's decided on lots of dongs and lots of outstanding, smart, highbrow content that people will post on their Facebook wall. Minus the dongs, I try to do the same thing for my niche. That's quality that separates you from BR, not spelling "lose" correctly.

Believing a site that gathers metrics similar to Bleacher Report is long for this world. You can't out-troll Anonymous.

trollface

I'd love to know what Fanhouse's direct hit numbers were. Nobody went to Fanhouse from a bookmark. Fifty percent of this site's hits have no referrer; Fanhouse was probably under 10%. Again, that's Bleacher Report except BR has a legion of halfwits voting and commenting on each other's posts to get more RadPoints*** . And if you're like Bleacher Report except you're paying people—giving people benefits—you lose. How many BR halfwits can you vaguely curate for one Jay Mariotti salary? Thousands, and their content is no different except for the platform. Once that platform enjoys content-sharing deals with, oh, say, the Washington Post, the guy with the benefits is screwed.

------------------------------

Bleacher Report's secret is that it's awesome at being terrible. It hammers that dong demographic. Here I try to be really specifically awesome for a niche. Deadspin has it both ways. Fanhouse was just okay at the dong demo, okay at the boring stuff, and there wasn't one thing in the history of that site anyone would remember two days after they read it. That's the same mistake they always make.

When Mottram left for Yahoo he corrected the mistake he made with Fanhouse by creating a suite of independent single-source blogs that are run by a guy. You can tell because each of them comes with a picture.

imageimage

Not all posts are by these guys, but they own the blog in a way no one owned Fanhouse. Each is "quirky" to some extent. The soccer one has regular posts in which an obscure Polish goalkeeper rants about corn and his neighbor and the week's events. Doctor Saturday annually embarks on a defense of the recruiting-industrial complex. Each one is a central part of its sports blogosphere, written extraordinarily well by people who may have worked in newspapers but didn't live them. Most of the contributors are just people who write well. They haven't been blown up, and Mottram ascended the ladder at Yahoo to do the same across the company.

I don't know what to do about the fading ability of people to pay responsible news-reporting types. Fanhouse was run by incompetents and destined to implode anyway. But I might miss it if it wasn't so goddamn boring.

*[I imagine him crashing through the window of a conference room holding dozens of high-level executives on a chandelier, sword in hand, rose in teeth.]

**[Not that he should have kept me and my two posts a week output.]

***[mwa ha ha. Seriously, though, points here are for troll control and have only incidentally grown into an e-peen contest.]

Comments

SoCalWolverine

February 4th, 2011 at 6:39 PM ^

Really enjoyed this. As a former Journalism Major/Intern Sports Writer Slave turned Video Editor (because as you said, no one is willing to pay), it hit home. Its nice to hear a little quirky truth sometimes mixed into the monogamy that is the journalism industry and its two-faced lies about how its not about money (but it is), its about passion. It stings for those of us who were unpaid slaves, but the truth is brutal sometimes.

slaunius

February 4th, 2011 at 7:06 PM ^

Brian mentions (his editors?) trying to shoehorn slideshows into all of his articles.  Slideshows might be the worst innovation in the history of the internet (Bleacher Report included - I can avoid Bleacher Report), but I've always wondered why they became so ubiquitous.  I mean, there's obviously something motivating their use - perhaps a scheme to increase pageviews or time spent on the site?

I've wondered about this for a while, hoping someone here with more website-running savvy than myself might have an answer.

slaunius

February 4th, 2011 at 7:17 PM ^

Yeah, that's pretty much what I figured.  Damn, I was hoping it would be something more obscure/nefarious.

Also, it looks like you and I are kindred spirits of sorts - blog members since the inception (of membership at least) with almost no points.  If I could, I would posbang you silly.

Seth

February 4th, 2011 at 7:29 PM ^

I took a class at MIPA (high school journalism training, held at MSU in the summers, yes BIG NERD) that was basically all about catering to reader habits in editing. One exercise I've found useful for a long time is that we pulled open a USA Today (at the time, USA Today was basically Bleacher Report) and identified all of the neat tricks they use to pull readers in.

It's heavy psychology. The mind likes information to be delivered pre-organized for easy storage. Easiest package: A list of short, condensed messages, numbered, each with a photo.

Slideshow, man.

This is the genesis of the "more slideshows" way of thinking. It's also the reason people every day get addicted to Cracked.com. It's info-entertainment crack. To pretend like we don't do this would be hugely hypocritical -- you can't find a single Dear Diary or Post of Misopogonal logghorea where I don't at some point use one of these "pull you in" tricks that takes advantage of reading psychology. It's not evil -- just a part of the editor's bag of tricks.

For example,  you are probably reading this after wondering what the following list is about...

  1. Nerds.

  2. Michigan State.

  3. USA Today.

  4. Psychology

  5. Cracked.com

BlueDragon

February 4th, 2011 at 7:39 PM ^

The genius of Cracked.com is that they have high-quality articles pumped out on a daily basis by a huge stable of writers.  The writing style of short paragraphs followed by funny/explanatory photographs or clips is easy on the eyes and makes the article roll along very nicely.  There's a lot more to their business model then just Googling "hot Russian tennis stars" and making slide-shows.

I also like the photoshop contests Cracked runs on certain themes of the week.  A recent one that got some good submissions was "If everything was designed by 5-year-olds".  Holding contests like this (with real cash prizes for the winner!) increases page-views and reader engagement with the site and each other.  That's a quality that you just don't get in Bleacher Report and rotten places like that because the content is so dumbed-down to appeal to as big a market as possible.

Yostal

February 5th, 2011 at 10:07 AM ^

Cracked.com is bolstering my knowledge of the world of comic books*, and simultaneously finding really funny things about history that I know are vaguely true and then expanding upon them.  My one major bummer is that there isn't a PG-13 version so I can share articles like "Top 5 reasons why the Founding Fathers were kind of Dicks" with my classes without feeling guilty/getting sued.  Because the article actually nails a lot of larger contrarian points.

*-Plus, they basically have adopted Batman as their spirit animal.  I can see nothing wrong with that.

Seth

February 6th, 2011 at 10:40 AM ^

The article may have a few things too wrong to use for students. Like it claims Ben Franklin's playboy lifestyle made him ill suited to represent the American colonies in Britain, and that he had no interest in the Stamp Act. Au contraire, Franklin's main business was his printing operations (not to mention being one of the most prolific personal corresponders in America) so it's likely he would have been foremost among those affected by the Stamp Act. It's probably a greater sign of the judicisousness of the Stamp Act that such a person as Franklin thought it would be okay.

By the way, there are educational versions you can get of these. Let me see if I can remember how I did it before.

Dave B

February 4th, 2011 at 7:07 PM ^

So King Kaufman has hired on at BR to try and raise the level of the writing.  Not just by writing himself, but, I guess, editing others, etc.  I've always ignored BR due to all the bad things I've heard about it.  I'll try and keep up with him, since I loved his writing at Salon and his own blog.  Probably skip the rest.

Unfortunately, the second thing he posted was a slideshow.  When he took over the front page editing at Salon, there was an explosion of slideshows.  Not good.  Several folks questioned him about it at BR.  Hopefully it won't be all he does.

Don

February 4th, 2011 at 8:10 PM ^

But I wouldn't be able to tell the difference between Fanhouse, Bleacher Report, and Deadspin if my life depended on it, because I don't know if I've ever been to any of those places. If I have, it's only because Brian or some OP has posted a link, and I never stay there long enough for it to make an impression on me. If MGoBlog didn't exist, then my Michigan internet addiction would have to be satisfied by Scout/Rivals, Maize N Brew, TTB, and The Victors. I guess I don't really give a shit about non-UM-centric blogs/sites.

08mms

February 4th, 2011 at 9:16 PM ^

I sort of agree, I like to leave the cozy MGoBlogosphere for general knowledge, but there really hasn't been anything in Fanhouse/Bleacher/Deadspin to keep me coming back (Deadspin has potential, but I always feel like I'm wading through enough crap before I read something interesting that I lose interest).  The Yahoo! Sports Blogs Brian referred to are fantastic.  They are the perfect merger between the intriguing indie blogs and the resources of a major platform.

ForestCityBlue

February 5th, 2011 at 2:21 PM ^

As an older long time reader who has been reading MGoBlog almost from the very beginning, I have had a bit of a love/hate relationship with this blog and its community.  The main page of this site has been the best and most comprehensive free site for Michigan Football information and commentary for the die hard fan since day one.  Brian has his quirks and the site has evolved and become more serious as opposed to its heavily sophomoric beginnings.  The heart of what Brian does well is to get beyond "color commentator" sound bites to do in depth analysis of whether the team is doing well or not.   He has earned most of the accolades given him.  It is impressive that he has managed to make a living out of commenting on Michigan Football.  

On the negative, he has a bit of a hissy side and at times a rather self-inflated view of himself.  At times he takes on the self-important posture of the "pajamas in the basement" blogging crowd who see themselves as the most important thing happening, not just in media, but simply the most important cultural wave of the generation.  But usually it is something one can endure when it crops up, like in the above OP.  

Really, I don't care about his opinions of Deadspin or old media or old media involved in new media.  He has his opinions and is entitled to them.  It his blog and he is free to publish what he wants.  I still subscribe to the print version of Sports Illustrated.  I still think Peter King is the best sports writer in the business because of his combination of writing, insiderness, and his humble humanity.  He is just likable (to be blunt, in a way that Brian is not).  If I read nothing else sports in a week, I will read MMQB.  I still listen to Colin Cowherd because after Rush, he is the next best talent on radio.  He is often wrong and pinches the ideas of others without credit, but he is always interesting.  As he says, conflict sells.  And he does that in spades.  I read ESPN and SI online each day at breakfast and MGoBlog at lunch (if Brian posts in time.  Another frustration with this blog is the lack of deadlines).

As for the boards, they have always been over run with cliques, the most prevalent being the WLA.  This board has always been snooty and thinking itself better than all the other boards.  There was a time when that might have been the case, but no longer.  I dip into the boards only sporadically.  The vast majority of it is inane chatter.  I used to appreciate many of the diary posts, but those have become over run by the statisticians, engineers and clique insiders.  I have an appreciation for sabermetrics, especially when hard core stats can turn conventional wisdom on its head (like going for it on fourth down vs. punting; why 3 point shooting is so important and so forth; and why defensive passer rating is so important).  But many of the stats churned out by posters on this site have too much of the air of otherwise relatively unimportant people trying to prove that they are smarter than everyone else, usually stealing time from their boss at work or sitting up late at night in their pajamas, churning out irrelevant statistical analysis that add little real insight to our football knowledge.  Harsh, but true.  

Football, in the end, is about assembling a team of the most talented athletes possible, about breaking down film, creating missmatches, scheme and a game plan and then learning/teaching fundamentals and executing.  Game time decisions that statistics are based on only matter if you have the athletes who can compete, they are sound fundamentally, are prepared and the game plan is in place to create success.  This is why the UFR is so valuable.  Brian is a fan who has taken the initiative to break down film play by play and analyze it.  This is what separates Brian from all the other pajamas-in-their-basement posters.  It is why people are willing to put up with his smug crankiness.  He does his homework and has something meaningful to say about the game.  When he uses stats, he is selective and does not rely on them as a substitute for breaking down film.  This is also why of all the posters here, I respect Magnus the most, as he can actually break down film (as well as a couple of others).

I have been reading MGoBlog and dipping into the boards periodically, usually at times of high drama, like the coaching change or signing day or spring camp, and was completely turned off from the board for a long time (I had another account which I had since day one of accounts but walked away from when I lost the 1500 or so points that I had slowly accumulated over time because I had not posted or commented for a year) and thought I might give them a fresh look recently, but for the most part the content has continually gotten more inane and fights have gotten more petty and hissy.  Points have ruined the boards.  Opinions are evaluated as much on how many points one has as they are on the content of the post.  And the insiders do vote each other up and vote down dissent.  It is like a bunch of high school girls.  I was glad to get out of high school and am beginning to feel much the same about MGoBlog too, especially the boards. 

The site as a whole that used to find its identity in its spread offense nerdiness is now going through an identity crisis.  Brian finds himself back in a place from which he thought RR had liberated him, the conservative college level pro set offense and a team that will be built on defense first and will likely go back to maddeningly  scoring just enough points to win.  It is no wonder he is cranky.  As someone who does not sit in his pajamas in the basement in the dark blogging and posting, if I could find another site that gives the kind of information and analysis that this one did without the cranky smugness of this site's author (which rubs off on the actively posting readership), I would leave MGoBlog behind.

I think that this site is moving into uncharted waters with the new coaching change.  I, for one, appreciated Brian's defense of the "new football," but at the same time, my loyalty is to Michigan Football first and all it means to me, and not to MGoBlog.  If the crankiness continues, it might be time to move on.  I have already begun to regret dipping my toes back into this board community.

Why am I posting this?  Why now?  Why in this thread as a sub comment?  I am not sure.  something about what Don said touched a nerve and I can't put a finger on it.  Perhaps it is the recognition that I have spent too much time on this site, gotten too involved at times, knowing in the back of my mind there were better things to do with my time than argue with people who have nothing better to do than sit in their basements posting stupid shit.  It makes one feel like I have taken the "lesser road" made the "poorer choice," that I have diminished myself for getting involved.  Even now, I look at the time I wasted posting this thing and think to myself "why did I bother?"  No will care.  They will get offended.  They will mock me.  They will neg me.  Shrug.     For me, I am finding that I am enjoying reading the Detroit News as they are embracing the program as it moves into its next chapter more than the stuff of this blog when taken on the ballance.  I want to feel that same positive feeling here about moving forward.  I am tired of the crankiness and the smugness.  

Perhaps that is the essence of what Don does: he has asked, "What would I do without MGoBlog?"  I would miss the UFR and the recruiting news, but I think for the rest of it, I am getting to a spot where I am able to say that I would probably get by with other sources and do OK satisfying my needs as a new media football fan.  I am getting close to that point where I am considering moving on from this site.  I am not quite there yet, but lets just say that for me Brian is on probation.  He may see himself as smugly sitting high on his mountain of blog success, but the internet is a fickle place and I am at the point where his smug superiority is starting to run thin.

ForestCityBlue

February 5th, 2011 at 2:38 PM ^

Clever comment.  Took too much effort to stop scratching your balls as you sit in your underwear in your mother's basement to actually write, "Your post was too long so I did not read it"?   You make my point exactly about everything that is wrong with the MGoBlog Board participants.  Too bad you could not be bothered to take the time to read it.  As an old fart who learned to speak and write before the invention of text messaging, I did take a few seconds to figure out what you had "written."  I suppose you feel very full of yourself now and smugly superior to me for your clever and dismissive comment.  You, small man, are simply a rude person who bolsters their own ego by "slamming" others.  If Brian fails, it is because people like you turn off people like me.

MGoShoe

February 4th, 2011 at 8:22 PM ^

...e-peen:

I'd love to know what Fanhouse's direct hit numbers were. Nobody went to Fanhouse from a bookmark. Fifty percent of this site's hits have no referrer; Fanhouse was probably under 10%. Again, that's Bleacher Report except BR has a legion of halfwits voting and commenting on each other's posts to get more RadPoints*** .

That 50% number is pretty damn impressive and it speaks directly to how the site models differ between a site like MGoBlog (I'll call it the e-sports hyperfan/journo-ish site model) and the AOL Fanhouse/Bleacher Report model (I'll call it the e-sports hypofan/journo-less site model).

Speaking of MGoPoints and e-peen, I'd argue that the points serve a much more important purpose than the desired troll control and the less than desired e-peen contests -- they help to create a (non-static) cadre of dedicated reader/contributors who keep the level of discourse at a level that at least approaches the standards set by the owner/publisher/editor/head writer/MGoLeader.

BlueDragon

February 4th, 2011 at 8:57 PM ^

The points have taken on a life of their own.  We all know what "sending [handle] to Bolivia" means, and "posbang" and "negbang" are an intrinsic part of our vocabularies on this site.  The double-edged power of the neg, in particular, makes it an awesome tool for both curbing dissent (pessimistic interpretation) and for real-time feedback on new ideas (optimistic interpretation).

On a related note, does anyone know when for-real upvotes and downvotes will be back?  Two weeks without real voting is making me jittery.

Tacopants

February 4th, 2011 at 10:01 PM ^

For an elite few, that might be the case.  At this point, I've fallen onto the other side of the equation.  At some point, the Mgoboard devolved for me.  The vitrol and e-rage over the whole Rodriguez saga had a big part in this, but so did the whole Mgopoints saga.  The posbang threads were... interesting.

As much as I hate to say it, I think Brian's doing it wrong.  And as much as people hate things like the RCMB, I would say that their board format is just done better than Mgoblog's.  If people want to create threads that are off topic, there should be separate boards.  If somebody wants to post a link to a doc sat, EDSBS, or whatever newspaper article, they should have their own subsection.

As for points, I'd support more of something like up or downvoting, and just not keep track of total points by user (or make it hidden).  Look at soemthing like SBN or, god forbid, like Youtube*.  Lots of upvotes on SBN mean the post is "recommended", which highlights it and makes it easier to read.  Lots of downvotes means the comment is hidden.  I think that's a great system to control trolls: it's impossible to troll if nobody can see your content.

In conclusion: I don't even know what I'm talking about anymore.  The first rule of Mgoboard should always be that we do not talk about points.

*Youtube is still doing it wrong.  The featured comments are usually something like "Thumbs up if you like Peanut Butter!!!!11!"

MaizeAndBlueWahoo

February 5th, 2011 at 12:36 AM ^

In another example of rival jealousy, Buckeye Planet has more than just upvotes and downvotes....the more points you have, the bigger the posbang or negbang you can hand out.  I like this.

<--- (why I think this is a good idea, partly)

I can see why it might cause even more complaints about an oligarchy, though.  But, if you're the kind of person that can't get a high point total because you're constantly getting negged, your opinion on what's a stupid post shouldn't mean as much anyway.  It would also make me think twice about negging for egregiously shitty grammar, which I do.  I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing.  I also like that you can see who negbanged you.

SysMark

February 4th, 2011 at 11:05 PM ^

Classic case of how different something can look depending on where you sit.  To many the high point totals just reflect a small group of very frequent posters intent on controlling the discourse and validating each other's opinions at the expense of any they don't like.  Many people here have a lot of good things to say but just don't want to bother with being shouted down.

Not directing this at you or anyone in particular - just another opinion.

FGB

February 5th, 2011 at 1:49 AM ^

but why do people give a fuck?  Who cares what someone with a lot of points says about your post?  

Secret:  points are worth a small piece of shit.  That's it.  Not even a large pile of shit.  They mean nothing

(this is absolutely not suggesting that every idiotic post has worth even after its shouted down by the masses.  sometimes a dumbass post is just a dumbass post)
 

 

blue95

February 4th, 2011 at 9:02 PM ^

I've been in Chicago for the past 15+ years, and I read the Sun Times every day at lunch.*

Mariotti was the absolute worst!  I recall his "going away to join the l33t innerwebs while you dweebs in print die off" column.  Boy am I glad he's gone to die a cyber death.

 

*The reason I read that has nothing to do with quality of journalism, but rather because it was tabloid fold style whereas the Tribune was double fold (has now gone tabloid) and was too big to page through in a small area when you had a sandwich in one hand.