Court Vision: NBA Lead Writer, Bethlehem Shoals

Bethlehem Shoals@freedarkoNBA Lead WriterAugust 22, 2011

I write for a living, mostly about sports, mostly on the Internet. That's why, starting this week, I'll be contributing regularly to Bleacher Report.

The Internet is a scary, slippery, uncertain place. It's constantly evolving, changing shape and generally making it harder for traditional, print-based models to stand up to scrutiny. Those of us who have made a career of it know this all too well; every year, there's less work, less money to go around and fewer outlets. Big plans get abandoned when they don't pan out, and perfectly gifted writers find themselves at the mercy of someone else's panic button.

What makes this company so impressive, and why I'm excited to be working with them, is that they actually care about understanding the Internet. After having spent three days at the Bleacher Report offices, seeing the guts of their operation, getting a sense for their goals and priorities, and meeting the brains that make it go, I feel perfectly comfortable asking you to forget everything you know—or think you know—about Bleacher Report.

SEO, the punchline B/R is often reduced to, is part of the equation. However, I see it as a tactic, not a strategy. Bleacher Report wants to figure out a medium (and tech-enmeshed marketplace) that isn't getting any less crowded or tangled. There isn't going to be a mass extinction of social networks or web-capable devices.

Maybe that sounds soulless or mercenary to you, but to me, it sounds like the future—or maybe just common sense. Bleacher Report describe themselves as a platform, but I think it’s equally valid to view them as a foundation. They have built up a massive traffic base with writers no one has ever heard of; they’re constantly analyzing trends and trying to better understand traffic patterns, things that any web writer worth his salt has been doing, informally, for years now. I know Bleacher Report will find an audience for the pieces I write here.

Sometimes I wonder how many critics bagging on Bleacher Report’s approach or content actually ever look at the site—or their own. Slideshows are everywhere now; maybe a lot of writers here are still learning their craft, but there are plenty of name bloggers and columnists who could stand to go back to school. What’s more, this place knows it has to get better. They brought in King Kaufman to help their writers; when Harvard’s Nieman Lab does a story on the program, you know it’s being taken seriously. I regularly get emails asking for career advice, tips on how to break into the business. They could do far worse than to start out at a place that can guarantee them eyeballs; get input from King that will help them as writers; and learn about what people really want to read in a way that doesn’t limit their options. Oh, and start to get paid while they’re figuring it out.

Whether these writers stay with Bleacher Report, or go elsewhere, is beside the point. What matters is that, in a perfect world, a writer’s education could be self-contained within a single platform. Could Bleacher Report be that? I don’t know if I’m ready to go that far yet. Maybe a better way of putting that is, what other advice could I give to anyone trying to break into sports blogging these days?

I know, again with that reputation problem. Remember, though, I'm writing this because Bleacher Report wants to move forward. It's a company still working to become what it wants to be, and there's no reason someone like yours truly can't fit into that. I simply don’t understand how an extremely smart company making a commitment to the quality of its content is a bad thing.

As we’ve learned a hundred times over in sports, instinct alone just won’t cut it anymore. The pieces I write here won’t be dictated to me by a computer, but they also won’t be shots in the dark. 

So, writers established and aspiring, it’s on us. I suppose we can choose to waste a resource like Bleacher Report to prove a point, hammer home a grudge, or enforce conventional wisdom. Me, I’m more than willing to give it a try.

You can find my first article at Court Vision on Friday, Aug. 26. 

Court Vision plans to add contributing writers.


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