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Oct 3 / Matt Miller

The top 5 ways Bleacher Report changed my life

Joe Eskenazi’s article in the SF Weekly this week takes Bleacher Report to task over alleged content farming and modern-day enslavement of would-be journalists and sports fans.

Eskenazi is a talented writer and he does a great job of stirring up emotions by quoting, mostly anonymously, former B/R employees and using lines from a speech King Kaufman gave nearly two years ago.

In the piece, “Top 5 Ways Bleacher Report Rules the World,” Eskenazi weaves a tale of Search Engine Optimization and of a corporate ladder designed to take advantage of young writers—sometimes even high schoolers—while bowing to the almighty advertising dollar in a dark room, begging Bleacher Report editors to lie and steal their way to the top.

That last sentence contains a fraction of the hyperbole the original piece does.

What the author didn’t touch on is how Bleacher Report has changed the lives of so many. As quick as Eskenazi was to point to the many people writing without pay—as many if not most would be doing on their own blogs if Bleacher Report didn’t exist—he failed to underline that Bleacher Report hires young writers looking for their break in the sports journalism world. Like me.

I don’t consider myself special in any way, but I do consider my story to be an example of what B/R can do for an aspiring writer. Two years ago I worked in marketing for a large company while hoping to someday be discovered as a football writer. In my spare time I owned and operated New Era Scouting, a football scouting website centered around the NFL draft.

We averaged roughly 1,000 visitors per day and very few people knew who we were or what we did. That daily grind led to my applying to B/R. After an evaluation period I was approved and began working with an editorial team centered around the NFL and NFL draft.

It’s key to point out that I applied and was reviewed and then accepted. There was no walking in and firing up the Word doc without anyone seeing my work beforehand.

Fast-forward to today. I’m no longer in marketing, I now work full-time for Bleacher Report as an NFL Lead Writer. I have benefits and vacation time. I have a salary. I have these things because I was able to work my way to the top at B/R.

I wasn’t handed a job based on my résumé, I was able to show that work ethic and a willingness to learn and improve pay off. We talk a lot about B/R being a “meritocracy,” and it’s true. Hard work, not page views, pays off.

While I may never be on par with Peter King or Jason La Canfora in terms of journalistic ability, I do count them among my 36,000 followers on Twitter. I also share the screen with Todd McShay and Adam Schefter in EA Sports’ Madden NFL 13 video game. None of that would have been possible had I not sent in an application to Bleacher Report.

Two years ago I was begging for a career change, now I’m the Lead NFL Draft writer for the third largest sports website in the country. That’s the power of B/R.

As with any company, there is good and bad at Bleacher Report. We are striving to leave behind our reputation for mixed quality, and while we still have lots of work to do, our reputation will inevitably lag behind the reality of our improvements.

We’re focused on building a brand that is reputable, credible and innovative. No one remembers now that ESPN started by showing strongman contests and Australian rules football. All today’s viewers and readers know is that ESPN is “the worldwide leader in sports entertainment.” Pasts can be forgotten, and improved upon, with the kind of dedication to quality I see every day working at Bleacher Report.

I’ve been with B/R for 22 months, and in that time, contrary to what you might read in the SF Weekly, I’ve never been handed a headline I couldn’t say “no” to. I’ve never been told what my stance was on a player or a team. What I have been given is a chance at a dream job, an opportunity to show that an underdog does have a chance.

That’s the true message of Bleacher Report: Giving people like me a platform where, if we work our tails off, we can prove we belong.

* * *

Matt Miller is Bleacher Report’s NFL Draft Lead Writer and the most read author in B/R history. Follow him on Twitter @nfldraftscout.

  • Jesse Reed

    Meritocracy, indeed. I started writing daily here back in November, treated it like a paid gig and showed the bosses what I was capable of doing on a regular basis. Nine months later, I was brought on to the B/R five-man NFL analyst team—a full-time, paid gig.

    I’m gunning for a job like the one you have, Matt, and I appreciate you telling your story.

    • Scott Carasik

      That sounds like a sweet gig Jesse. My goal is to join you on that team one day.

      • Gary Davenport

        Watch him…he hogs the Doritos. :)

        Other than that I agree 100% with everything Mr, Reed (and Mr. Miller) said.

        • Mike Hoag Jr.

          I’m jumping on the pile of dudes supporting Matt. Dude pile!

    • Shaun Church

      Not to sound like a follower and not a leader, but I agree completely with Scott. I would love nothing more than to be part of the B/R NFL analyst team.

      I do have a long way to go, but Matt’s testimony is encouraging to me—and should be for all who aspire to accomplish big things with B/R. A renewed focus on my end was needed; I had been falling into an almost boring funk with the site (being honest here).

      Matt Miller has provided me that renewed focus, and for that I am indebted to him.

  • Phil Watson

    Thanks for that, Matt. I worked in mainstream journalist (newspapers) for 20 years and somehow got away from my one true passion, which was sports. Thanks to B/R, I’m back to that now. And much like Jesse, I treat it very seriously.

    I, too, have yet to find an assignment I couldn’t talk to the assignment desk about if I was uncomfortable with it. Some of those assignments I wouldn’t necessarily agree with, however, lead me to do some of my most difficult and taxing research because if I opt to take on a contrarian position, I want to do it well. And when I’ve done that, I’ve clearly identified it as being “against the grain” or “in contrast to conventional wisdom.”

    I’ve been nothing but impressed with the dedication and professionalism of those I’ve encountered at B/R.

  • Scott Carasik

    Yeah, I’ve never had a day here where I’ve said, I don’t want to write that article. And if I did, I’d either talk to Schottey or Ian and they would work with me on a different one.

  • Tom Urtz Jr

    Bleacher Report has been an amazing opportunity for me. It has given me a platform to showcase my opinions, and it has helped me improve as a writer. I look back, and see where I started, and when I compare it to where I am now, I am just amazed.

    Bleacher Report is what each writer makes it. I choose to use Bleacher Report as a way to give the everyday fan a voice. I would have never thought at age 20, I would be in a situation where I could be paid to write.

    Matt, you did a great job summing up what opportunities Bleacher Report can open for a person, and how thrilling the overall experience is.

  • Andrea Hangst

    Exactly. Bravo, Matt!

  • Kelly Scaletta

    I’ve received assignments where I didn’t agree with the position. The response was always, “Give us a HED that has the same keywords but with a position you agree with.” They might tell you what to talk about, but they never tell you what to say.

    • Scott Carasik

      Bingo. One of my assigned articles this summer was about how Tim Bradley would beat Pacquiao. However, I didn’t agree with it, so I asked my editor if I could write something else. She said to just write about Bradley-Pacquiao, but to take the different angle and have a strong headline. So “5 ways that Tim Bradley stays undefeated in his fight with Manny Pacquiao”, turned into, “How Manny Pacquiao will dominate the undefeated Tim Bradley”

  • Will Leivenberg

    love it. powerful piece, Matt. I’m not a Lead Writer, but I too began as a writer and worked my way up to what is now a full-time job with B/R as Community Coordinator. There’s something vibrant and dynamic about the environment B/R has created, be it as a regular viewer on the site, or a staff member in the HQ in San Francisco. Like Matt said, this place is radiating with sports fans who are intelligent, driven and eager to be creative about how we can create the best experience for other sports fans out there. I’d say we are doing a good job.

  • Tom Firme

    Thanks so much, Matt. Climbing the ranks with Bleacher Report was as much about writing clean, effective content as it was about getting people to read my work. I knew how many people were reading which articles. I knew that I wouldn’t be raking in the reads for all of my Grizzlies or White Sox articles like I was with my Cowboys articles (when I was writing about the White Sox and Cowboys). That’s why I tried to write from angles that others weren’t writing from. Generally, I try to clarify or bat down trade rumors instead of purvey them. Earning medals is always fun, but the joy I get is being able to look back at an article and say to myself that it was special and that it was fun to write. Moreover, the B/R experience for me has been about finding angles that I could and should take and chase them with the liberty that I’m afforded here and may not be afforded at other places. I might be assigned a certain headline as the SF Weekly article mentions, but that doesn’t stop me from crafting a unique angle within that or even asking to take the opposite approach, as I have done. Also, I believe that editors push us appropriately to do the best we can.

    As for what the article said about the many gems that copy editors find, I know all about that, having worked on that side of the organization. But as much as I expected to find such articles, they don’t make up a great portion of our content. As the editors and content folks push for higher content standards, those articles don’t seem as common.

  • JoeBaywatch

    Miller. You are one of only a few who has risen through the ranks at B/R, so your story really means jack shit in the grand scheme of things. Every company, good or bad, has helped someone’s life, whether it be an employee or an everyday citizen. Just because you succeeded doesn’t make B/R any less of a content factory or a page view whore. Sure, I’ll admit that the quality of the site and its content has most certainly improved over the past 6-8 months, but that doesn’t erase the God-awful content that still exists on the site. Slideshows really have ZERO value to readers. They are simply ways to grab additional page views. But hey, B/R is no content factory, right? Congrats on succeeding through hard work, but don’t sit and try to paint this shit a different color, because shit is still shit, no matter the color. If you guys just owned who you were, more people would accept you. It’s rather unfathomable that you and Kaufman have taken the time to try to defend B/R when 90 percent of the article is positive. The first of its kind, too. Nobody ever says anything positive about B/R. Haven’t you ever heard the notion that all press is good press?

    • Kelly Scaletta

      As a writer who has written a number of slideshows I’d like to point out that a slideshow is just like an article, it can be well done or poorly done. If you do one well, you write each slide as you would an independent, short article which is related to all the other “articles” in the slideshow.

      It’s frankly wrong to say they have zero value to readers. Who gave you the right to speak to what has value to every reader? If a reader takes the time to read it, he/she feels it has enough value for them to read it. If it is getting page views, then people must be reading it.

    • Mike Schottey

      “One of only a few…”

      Excuse me? You have, quite literally, no idea what you’re talking about. There are dozens of full-time employees at B/R who started as unpaid writers. At the same time, there are many writers who have gone from unpaid to great compensation at B/R. Still yet, there are even more writers who went from unpaid B/R writer to paid writer at other companies based on their work here.

      Your assumption is false.