Most of the "web is killing writers' livelihoods" rants come predictably from the old guard—established journos at money-losing newspapers who are still under the illusion that written content has intrinsic monetary value. Like a lot of people, journalists confuse "use-value," i.e. the original, well-written and newsworthy article, with "market value," once measured in print advertisement dollars and now determined by the more economically unforgiving page-views. I've written about this before so I don't want to have to break it down again, but because publishing no longer requires a capital-heavy investment (the print press) which paid for itself by giving individual publishers an inherently large market share, the value of written content per se in the internet age has taken a nose dive. Magazines and newspapers now compete with a vast, free and self-published behemoth with millions of unpaid content producers, who sometimes aren't even aware they're producing content at all.
This doesn't however mean the end of soccer writing as a career for the aspiring sports journalist.
In the old days, if you wanted to be a sports writer, you hustled. Maybe that meant starting out as an intern at a newspaper or magazine, doing a fifty-word side-bar blurb once every six months in between fetching the entire editorial staff coffee every morning. Or maybe it involved hours of researching stories and sending out queries with self-addressed envelopes from your basement with a one in ten success rate, if you were lucky. The stories themselves were of course tailored to whichever publication you wanted to write for, and if you were smart, would reflect the general editorial tone of the magazine or paper. After a while, if a certain publisher liked you, you got hired on full-time as staff. If you were a shitty researcher, interviewer, fact-checker, and writer, you wouldn't get very far. It was, as far as meritocracies go, pretty equitable.
But ultimately, the bar to entry was high, and labour-intensive. There was no time for taking risks, putting yourself in the articles, or trying a few off-handed thought experiments. If you were too stuck on one particular niche, you wouldn't get a lot of work as a writer. Spots in print publications were very limited and you had to work your ass off to match your vision with the editor to get those spots.
Today with the Interwebinet, you can basically skip the whole "impress the editors by proving your a great journo" hustle and jump right in to writing whatever you bloody well want to write about in soccer in whatever style or format or focus. This is however by no means a guarantee of success with readers. For example,
- If you're a shitty writer, no one will read you.
- If you're not a shitty writer but you want to write Premier League match-reports for your own self-published blog, not very many people will read you unless your match reports are truly something special.
- If you're a good writer but you decide to start out by writing for someone else's soccer blog and not take the time to create your own, you've made it all the more difficult for readers to notice you.
- If you spam other blogs with comments, not because you have something to say and want to say it because you're a normal person, but because you read on some shitty blog about blogging that told you to do that to "get links", you've got the soccer blogging equivalent of the plague.
- If you use twitter not as a means of communicating but as a means of spamming for your site, you have the soccer blogging equivalent of malaria.
- If you view any social media as a means of "building relationships" rather than having fun and meeting like-minded people who love football, well, you're transparent.
- If you view the blogosphere as a career ladder rather than a community, you're wearing a scarlet letter.
- If you expect to make money from soccer blogging, well, you're delusional.
In other words, the bar to success in soccer writing is still pretty high. But what's important now isn't proving your journalistic and editorial chops to total strangers via clippings from community newspapers—it's honestly loving soccer, thinking about soccer a lot, reading about soccer a lot, wanting to think of new and better ways to write about soccer, and wanting to connect with other people who love to write about soccer too. In other words, the bar to success in soccer writing now is honesty. You can smell a fake from a mile away on the internet. If you're in this because you want to be "discovered," well, that's fine. But if that's your sole motivation, rather than offering something for your readers about the Beautiful Game that you love and want to share, well, it's going to be obvious. And you'll get passed over as just another aspiring soccer journalist, rather than an active soccer writer.
Ultimately, success in soccer writing comes from the same place it's always come from: doing the work. But while "the work" to get paid/respected for what you do is still very very hard, it's much more fun. Watch a lot of games. Read a lot of op-eds, or books, or bad player memoirs. Think about why you love the game. Watch games twice. Learn more about tactics, watch old clips of Sindelar on youtube, consume art, read non-soccer related things, be self-deprecating about your team, be funny, swear, link to things you like and say why you like them, talk to other writers like a normal person and not a "networker." Say yes a lot to things you think will let you do more of the above. And don't ever expect a paycheque unless you think you're being used and not appreciated.
*the title should in no way lead the reader to assume a presumption of success on AMSL's part.
Photo: Annie Mole.