Friday, January 7, 2011

Enlarging the talent pool: In Bed with Maradona

Before I get labeled another Guardianista, back-slapping sycophant for writing this post, I should say I find In Bed with Maradona deeply annoying. Not the site itself, but the site's need to constantly self-promote along the lines of tweeting things like "We got four hundred billion hits today on our piece on underground cockatoo football in Djibouti, we must be doing something right, or at least so says our buddies at a certain AC Jimbo employing newspaper formerly based in Manchester!!!" (I know that's over 140 characters).

So that's me being mean. On to the nice. In Bed with Maradona is a fantastic website. Its mandate is to cover what you wish more English-language newspapers would cover if they had the dosh and drive, and it allows anyone with a bit of a track record writing on the football to hop in and do it. By way of example, the lead stories on the IBWM mainpage as of writing include FC Nantes in crisis, transexuality in football, and an article on the current state of the game in once-mighty Hungary. And that's all just a fraction of all the good stuff up at the mo. IBWM is the British answer to the Tom Dunmore's once-mighty Pitch Invasion (which again makes the site's "revolutionary" claims a bit grating. Oh yes, nice nice!).

Anyway, with such a good debut (yes, you're great, please don't include another blurb on your blurb page, nice nice nice!), it was interesting to read the always-great European Football Weekend's interview with IBWM editor Jeff this past week. The interview should have anyone interested in the future of football journalism as a provider of meals and rent shaking in their collective trainers. First of all, the current incarnation of IBWM, while excellent, is according to its editor just the beginning. Said Jeff to Danny Last:
Right now IBWM is 1% of what I want it to be. We have some amazing things lined up for 2011 and we will continue to do things differently with moves into new directions, so keep watching. I really want to create something that reflects what a truly beautiful game this is. Football is a religion and I want IBWM to celebrate that. There are a myriad of stories created each week and I want to look at all levels and emotions of the game. Articles, analysis, opinion, films, photography, artwork, music, poetry, multi-layered and interwoven, all with the common theme of football set out across a website that looks and feels like nothing else.
This is exciting and ambitious. This is what we all want a soccer blog, hell, a soccer news site to be. And, considering the scope of these plans, it's certain Jeff plans to make a decent buck while doing it. Right? RIGHT? Oh, wait, Jeff's still talking:
If you get involved in this malarkey with the sole intent of making cash then you'll be disappointed. It would be great to make a living from running a website, but you have to be realistic, it should be something you care about rather than a means to an end. I'm talking to different people about developing the website further, but I've no interest in coating IBWM with irrelevant ads or pop ups, so we're unlikely to ever get rich from that! I'm more interested in ensuring that our writers get the opportunity of paid work and this is something that we always push when we talk to other media outlets.
Some might argue IBWM and similar high quality alt football news sites are directly undercutting the higher-paying media organizations these sites are supposed to attract as "payment" for their contributors. The attention the site is getting from established soccer journos seems to blow Jeff's mind, which I guess betrays a large amount of respect for the better quarters of established print football media in the UK and elsewhere. But good writing is good writing, and interesting stories are interesting stories. My rhetorical punching bag Barney Ronay might get the comparatively big bucks, but he's on equal footing (pun not intended) with a host of other writers toiling away out of love and the rest of it.

Or perhaps the great soccer writing gangbang that is the current blogosphere might help everyone out equally. In the interview Danny Last mentions Iain MacIntosh's hope that the soccer blogosphere will provide a "talent pool" for interested newspapers. I've experienced a bit of this myself with some unsolicited freelance work during the World Cup (I'm not a freelance writer because I hate querying strange editors; once I get over that fear you can kiss this blog goodbye, cheapskates!), so it's not a total fantasy. Blogging sometimes yields financial rewards in addition to the other ones.

But with more and more quality sites coming out of the wordwork, and with more and more of them getting respect from major media outlets, we've started down a road that I don't see ending with bloggers getting plum journo jobs at newspapers around the world. I see Clay Shirky's vision of print journalism as an independent hobby. Which is actually fine with me, so long as my countertenor voice doesn't give out over the next twenty years. But with all hobbies, it's a problem of perserverence (something you might remember from my Pitch Invasion media series). The question is how long IBWM will last. Let's hope for IBWM's many admirers, me included, that Jeff takes the lessons of Pitch Invasion to heart and doesn't get too involved with other exciting projects three to five years from now.


Jason Davis said...

Devil's advocate point (while I avoid mentioning that I've not yet partaken of IBWM - a function of my NA focus, because there's only so much time in the day and room in my wreck of a brain): Isn't the proliferation of writers working for free, no matter where, and actually doing damage to the market? Even more so when said writers are getting notoriety at a site like IBWM?

It's a Catch-22; writers want to get noticed so they can get paid, but by building up the outlets they're using to get noticed, they're flooding the market with quality work done for nothing. I suppose certain traditional outlets, especially in their online iterations, will always be willing to pay for top level quality. But we're also talking about budgets shortening in this conversation (yes, I know - that's more germane to the NA paper tour), so if a media outlet only has so much money, and they can convince someone of slightly lesser quality to work for nothing more than the glory of having their byline under the masthead, what's to stop them?

I rambled, and may have lost the point.

Richard Whittall said...

No Jason, I get you. I tried to give both sides of the writing great stuff for free coin, as I've experienced both benefits and drawbacks.

Interestingly I'm not as orthodox on the question of whether it's a good idea for talented people to give away their product for free. It's similar to the debate in England over whether televised matches would mean fewer tickets sold to matches. Perhaps the old guard will always pay a living wage simply because it's the old guard, similar to how we'll all still going to read paper books no matter how many kindles get sold.

Still, I see your point, and as I said, as the MP3 did to the music industry, so might blogs do to the soccer journalism factory.

Jeff Livingstone said...

Hi Richard, apologies for the delay in responding.

Thanks for the kind words, I agree with you on the twitter promotion, I've long since reeled in on that now, ill judged on my part.....file under experience I guess!

IBWM will continue, but I'm keen to make sure it stays as what it is, a blog, with other bloggers contributing. The phrases 'business plan' and 'end game' don't exist here, it's something to read and look at, no more than that.

There will be changes at IBWM later this year, and the plan is to be very different again.

Keep up the good work.