Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Future of Soccer Journalism Continued

Very broad and interesting response to my post yesterday. I just want to speak to some of the comments I received over the course of the day as I recovered from a nasty sore throat.

First, the post was not a protracted whinge about soccer writing not paying my bills. I know there is a route whereby money can be made from bloggin' about soccer, and I know several of us have commandeered that route with great success. However, that approach, sorry to say, has little or nothing to do with the sort of long-form journalism and first person reporting we've come to take for granted from print media.

For one, a money-making approach to blogging requires one, in part, to cover those areas that will garner the most web traffic possible. Because newspapers were traditionally purchased as a whole unit, leaving consumers at the whim of the entire editorial staff to read what they chose to cover, beat writers had the luxury of chasing some out-of-the-way stories on their individual merit, rather than having each and every individual tailored to the interest of the broadest audience possible.

The digital publishing revolution has killed that for good, for better or for worse. It's rare even for newspapers to take risks on more in-depth sports stories anymore. Individual blogs will still fill in those gaps (Inside Minnesota Soccer was instrumental in bringing details of the USL-1 TOA rift to light), but they're not going to generate the sort of revenue that will allow you to go into the story as in depth as an accredited newspaper once could. That's not me whingeing, that's just the way it is.

Also, recommending products to consumers through your blog poses some fairly weighty conflict of interest problems if a blogger wants to do serious journalism. What if a company includes you in their marketing "hub," but later becomes involved in a controversial sponsorship deal with a lower league club? Can you report on it and risk losing a mainstay of your income from being cut out of the loop as a response to a story?

I guess what this comes down to is that entertainment blogging is not the same thing as long form journalism. But neither are they two separate entities; you can't write about how much of a twat Ferguson is unless you've been able to read interviews with him via traditional papers, read reports on agents with first hand dealings with him via traditional papers, get an in-depth understanding of the debt problems at Manchester United via traditional papers, the list could go on. What Clay Shirkly is talking about, and what no one at the Huffington Post or Politico seems to get, is that traditional papers are going the way of the dodo, and there isn't anything there with the capital resources to replace it. Once that goes, internet blogs that have relied on print resources much more than they would care to admit, will be caught out. Everyone will.

Or, we soccer bloggers can continue to put our image or brand out there, keep our names alive, in the hope that somehow, something akin to the newspaper model rises to the surface and traditional media goes on its merry way again. While Shirkly would see anything resembling a continuation of the pay-for-content newspaper model as optimistic piffle, there are signs that bucking the trend has some advantages.

Fake Sigi posted up an interesting article yesterday in response to my post on papers that have managed to operate successfully post print, yes, with a reduction in core workforce, but with a focus on content that works well for the web. There are also examples of newspapers remaining profitable, growing even, after erecting the dreaded paywall, most notably the name I dropped yesterday, Walter E. Hussman Jr., publisher of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. We've long heard about paywalls, how stupid they are, how they fly in the face of thinking on web access, who someone will always reliably route them and copy articles. Shirkly himself gives the example of kids copying Dave Barry articles.

Would kids go to the trouble of illegally re-posting Jonathan Wilson articles? What if tomorrow, every single UK newspaper, and ESPN on-line, Sky, decided to pay-wall content? Take a look at your reader: what would disappear? Now take a look at what's left: how much is being reported there that isn't already sourced from the above? Are you going to patiently watch Sky Sports News in anticipation of back story news from your club? What are you going to blog about?

More on this this later...


Elliott said...

I think I have two slight quarrels with you Richard, but no major fisticuffs.

First, I think the "write about popular stuff" to get traffic idea is antithetical to the Google/search engine algorithm - if you are king of an obscure key word, but king, then you still get traffic. My most popular post was a Spanish language recap on a 0-0 world cup qualifier between Chile and Ecuador.

Why? Because nobody else even wrote a one liner about it.

Second, I think bloggers can get anonymous tips just like major papers, so the fact gathering gap has narrowed. Also, more players are giving interviews to blogs - so the celebrity elbow rubbing has also commenced.

I know we are at a transitory state where the big reputation looks a dinosaur compared to nimble but nameless upstarts, but that's capitalism for you.

The Soccer Source said...

I still think the biggest mistake newspapers and magazines ever did was to give their content away for free online. I know why they did it: at the time advertisers were willing to pay big bucks to sites with a lot of traffic. Plus let's not forget that many print pubs survived on advertising alone prior to that. Content was important, sure, but often only as something to place the ads around. How many people bought the pub was secondary to its DISTRIBUTION, which is what attracted advertisers.

What you have now is a much "purer" market for content if you think about it. You can't just print a million issues and expect to get advertisers. You need to produce quality content, but even then it's not going to be able to survive through ads alone. The past five-10 years have proved that.

So you need to charge for content. It's that simple. And why shouldn't you charge for something that is as labor-intensive as an exclusive news story? Or a compelling piece of longform journalism? In some form or another, pay walls are going to have to go up. Personally, I'm looking forward to that day because then I might actually be able to earn a few bucks.