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Daily Bullets

On the Future of Sports Media

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I know in my features section I promised I would only write Sunday Letters to a person associated with OSU, the Big 12, or college athletics in general, but something happened this week that’s too important to not write about. So my SL this week will be not to someone but rather about something, and I have to admit, I might be doing a little more of this in the future. Not because I consider myself a sage of the world but because one can only write so many letters to Oklahoma State coaches and athletes. Try to think of it as me expanding my scope rather than me lying about my content…

You might have missed one of the most important transactions in recent memory for the world of journalism (and mostly) blogging. I suppose Mubarak kind of buried the lead with his shenanigans in Cairo, so in case you didn’t catch it, let me give you a quick bullet-point recap:

  • The Huffington Post (according to Wikipedia) is a progressive American news website and content aggregating blog.
  • In layman’s terms that means they’re “a liberalized landing page that combines other sites’ work with original content from paid journalists and bloggers who write for free.”
  • AOL bought the Huffington Post this week for $315M.
  • People freaked out for two reasons.
  • The first was because it brought to light the fact that the Huffington Post is capitalizing on those thousands of unpaid bloggers (to the tune of $315M).
  • The second was because people feel like Arianna Huffington (the creator) and Tim Armstrong (AOL’s CEO) are flushing quality content down the toilet in hopes of building the digital equivalent of a brothel — a place people mindlessly visit over again despite (or maybe because of) the lack of quality content.

Despite the lack of obvious correlation, both of those last two bullet points affect this site and others like it.

The other day I listened to a fantastic podcast by Richard Deitsch (Sports Illustrated) and Jonah Keri (freelance sports writer) in which they talked about what’s next for sports blogging, journalism, and the general media world.

In it they mentioned how difficult it is for the 20-something guy or girl trying to get started in the sports media business because, well, Bill Simmons wins and because where he doesn’t, the unpaid bloggers above do.

Free labor > paid labor if free labor isn’t your only source of content, as is the case with the Huffington Post. That free labor helps attribute to the monolithic behemoths being created everywhere right now.

Dietsch goes on to say that the calmest place to dock your digital ship is in the harbor of a major corporation like Sports Illustrated whose reach extends beyond print and journalism. Diversity, in other words, is the safe haven of the future.

Here’s why I think all of this is kind of flimsy. First, unpaid bloggers working for someone else cannot possibly create the quality content necessary for an entity to thrive and you can’t convince me otherwise. How can I take myself seriously if I’m working for someone else, not getting paid, and not even being given the journalistic freedom to write whatever I want to write? That’s ludicrous and the Huffington Post, and now AOL, will suffer because of it.

Second, the bigger and more bureaucratic websites get, the less personal they become. If you follow ESPN or Yahoo at all, you’ve seen them try to combat this. What have they done over the past 24 months? Created specified blogs and niches of their landscape that pander to a small, if not fanatic, audience. The bigger all of this gets, the more small and local will win. That’s a good thing for quasi-indie blogs like mine that aspire to one day be on the level with Royce’s and Jason’s.

I trust that readers will go to where the best content can be found and not necessarily what is shoved in front of them on Google’s front page. Facebook and Twitter cater to that very notion. You want to read and look at what your friends are reading and looking at, not what an algorithm written by someone a lot smarter than you says you should read and look at.

So what does that mean for Pistols Firing? Well, I think Dietsch is correct when he says the safest place to be is with a large, diversified corporation. It’s a great gig if you can get it. But I also think there’s a place for blogs like this one because I (and probably you) know more about Oklahoma State sports than anyone who works at ESPN or Sports Illustrated. That’s not a knock on those sites, just a fortunate reality for me.

I truly think we’re headed towards small because readers are so much smarter and more informed than ever before. It’s difficult for leading sports websites to employ the number of writers necessary to stay ahead of the knowledge curve of the fan bases whose teams they’re covering. This is actually what SB Nation is trying to do and it’s intriguing, if not a few major tweaks away from succeeding.

So all that to say, thank you for keeping me on edge and accountable to producing content that matters and words that are important. This is a very naked job, I don’t get to hide deep in the archives of a sports content machine like so many others. My posts get challenged and my tweets get questioned, and if not for that constant friction from all of you, I might just disappear into blogging oblivion.

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