Bleacher Report has taught me a tremendous amount about writing concisely, attracting readers and creating content that inspires further discussion. But the most valuable skill I’ve learned as a member of the Advanced Program in Sports Media involves what happens after my writing is complete.
How do I best engage my readers once they start commenting on my articles?
That was a question I began asking myself early on. I had no previous experience interacting with readers, so my initial plan was to respond to as many comments as I could and do so punctually. That meant the second I got a notification telling me someone had commented on my article, I went right in and replied to them with my own insight.
I quickly realized this wasn’t the best route. Almost every time I replied to a comment, the thread died. It was as if readers felt like it was pointless to chime in if the original writer of the article was going to get involved.
In many cases, I was responding to comments with the same information I included in my article. I was repeating myself. Why would my readers want to read the same argument twice?
It’s just as important to pick and choose which comments you reply to and which threads you let run their course as it is deciding what you’ll say in your response. Our work is intended to further discussion among readers. We’re not in that category ourselves.
When someone’s comment is a direct question to me, then I absolutely respond, and I try do so punctually since that increases the likelihood the commenter will reply. But I’ve learned to leave the majority of comments that are just disagreeing with me alone.
The type of comment I steer clear from is one that suggests an alternative answer to the one I provided without directly addressing my arguments.
For instance, I wrote a piece predicting an exciting season for the Baltimore Orioles. One commenter disagreed and said the Orioles are set to have a dismal season. I chose not to respond because I had already given my point of view in the article.
The result was a fairly long thread with people choosing sides in the debate. It wasn’t a thread I would’ve been able to add much to.
Sometimes, you have to trust your readers to engage in meaningful conversation without you.
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One Thing You Need to Know is a series in which we ask members of the Bleacher Report Advanced Program in Sports Media to write about just that: One thing they’ve learned that they would pass along to other aspiring writers.
You have to know your audience if you want to speak intelligently to them. That’s why reports like The Personal News Cycle: How Americans choose to get their news by the American Press Institute’s Media Insight Project can be so fascinating.
The report, released this week, is based on a “nationally representative telephone survey of 1,492 adults conducted from January 9 through February 16.”
The survey finds that a lot of cherished ideas about how people consume news is obsolete. Here’s a big chunk from the overview:
Contrary to the conventional wisdom about media consumption dividing along generational or political lines, a new survey finds that the nature of the news itself — the topic and speed of the story — largely determines where people go to learn about events and the path they take to get there.
The findings also suggest that some long-held beliefs about people relying on just a few primary sources for news are now obsolete.
In contrast to the idea that one generation tends to rely on print, another on television and still another the web, the majority of Americans across generations now combine a mix of sources and technologies to get their news each week … Where people go for news, moreover, depends significantly on the topic of the story — whether it is sports or science, politics or weather, health or arts — and on the nature of the story — whether it is a fast-moving event, a slower-moving trend, or an issue that the person follows passionately.
The data also challenge another popular idea about the digital age, the notion that with limitless choices people follow only a few subjects in which they are interested and only from sources with which they agree — the idea of the so-called “filter bubble.”
And one more quote, because I think this is the real take-away: “The data from the survey, which was designed to probe what adults distinguish most in their news consumption in the digital age, offer a portrait of Americans becoming increasingly comfortable using technology in ways that take advantage of the strengths of each medium and each device.”
What that tells me is that we have to think about the strengths—and weaknesses—of each device that we’re creating content for as we create that content.
The report is huge. Full disclosure: I haven’t read the whole thing yet, though I do recommend the first section after the overview, How Americans get their news, which talks about behavior of news consumers: How often they look for news, how often they delve deeper than headlines, when they do those things, and so on.
Today’s version of Our Changing World of Sports Media comes to you from spring training, where the Washington Nationals, unlike certain fellow citizens of our nation’s capital, have agreed to stop using drones.
Poynter’s Andrew Beaujon reports that the club had used a quadcopter to take aerial photos at its complex in Florida. NBC Sports used similar vehicles at the Sochi Olympics, after obtaining permission from Russian officials. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration bans the commercial use of unmanned aircraft, and the Nationals didn’t get or even seek any kind of exception.
“No, we didn’t get it cleared,” an unnamed team official told the Associated Press. “But we don’t get our pop flies cleared either and those go higher than this thing did.”
I would think that the quadcopter would have to go higher than pop flies if it’s going to be used regularly. Otherwise, it might get hit by a pop fly. What’s the ground rule on a batted ball hitting a quadcopter? Betcha Henry Chadwick never thought about that one.
MLB can contemplate it while we on the media side think about how quadcopters and whatever’s next fit into our coverage. You may be off the hook for never figuring out how to edit photos with your phone.
Meanwhile, a federal judge has ruled that the FAA has no jurisdiction to ban the use of commercial drones. The agency is appealing that ruling, Beaujon writes. According to the AP, the FAA argues that there are safety issues that need to be addressed for unmanned vehicles before they can fly alongside manned aircraft.
We’re going to stay all-basketball for this edition of Shoutouts. Let’s start with one of my favorite subjects, the ridiculously stupid press release issued every year by some publicity-seeking firm that presumably does something useful the rest of the year. This release uses made-up numbers and false assumptions to supposedly estimate how much the tournament costs American business.
I regularly lampooned this nonsense in my Salon.com column years ago, and this year Tom Weir picked up the baton in Bleacher Report with a piece asking, “Is the NCAA Tournament Really a Bad Thing for the US Economy?”
Spoiler alert: Ha ha! What an idiotic question!
Skipped work time predates Internet streaming by decades. The NCAA version is merely a first cousin of last-minute Christmas shopping, parent-teacher conferences and the April anxiety rush to get taxes filed on time. The only difference is no one celebrates buying a gift for Aunt Mildred the way they do a buzzer-beater.
Here’s a crazy thing Weir does to counter the press release’s silly assumptions: Looks at the data. If the tournament causes this horrible annual downturn in productivity, wouldn’t that show up in economic figures?
Spoiler alert: Ha ha! What an idiotic question!
Jason King, who made an appearance in the last Shoutout with his profile of Wichita State guard Fred VanVleet, checks in again with a look at the growing phenomenon of Nebraska basketball. His piece Look out for Nebraska, a Budding B1G Power and Dangerous NCAA Tournament Sleeper centers on coach Tim Miles, who may have “librarian glasses and the big smile,” but has now galvanized two programs.
I think I could spend quite a bit of time listening to Howard Beck and Ric Bucher argue about the NBA. Thanks to the Team Stream Now videos they make together, I can do that. Two recent examples: Can Phil Jackson Help Deliver a Championship to New York Knicks? and Should Tracy McGrady Make the NBA HOF?
Spoiler alert: Levy thinks the greatest of all time is … Billy Packer!
OK not really.
If you’ve got a little time, here’s some heavy reading that I think you’ll find interesting. It’s a keynote speech by Steve Buttry, Digital Transformation Editor at the news publishing company Digital First Media, at a Digital Journalism Ethics Symposium last week at the University of Colorado.
Buttry, whose wisdom is often quoted in the Bleacher Report Blog, argues that as society changes and technology transforms communication, journalism ethics must evolve. He notes that the ethics behind such revered documents as the U.S. Constitution and the Hippocratic Oath have changed over the years. The former originally considered blacks subhuman, and the latter required doctors not to take money for teaching medicine.
An important thing to remember about a code of ethics is that it’s nothing more than a set of rules. Rules can be broken. So having the rules doesn’t guarantee ethical behavior, and, as with the Constitution and the Hippocratic Oath, there’s no guarantee that what the rules say are ethical will always be considered ethical. Buttry writes:
I want to note that efforts in this nation to outlaw abortion or marijuana or alcohol or marriages by gay and lesbian couples didn’t come close to stopping people from ending pregnancies, altering their moods or expressing commitment to their lovers. That’s something to keep in mind if you’re drafting an ethics code for your news organization … Good journalism ethics don’t grow from strong rules. Good journalism ethics grow from strong conversations about our values and about making good decisions based in those values.
Buttry notes that while many organizations agree on the core principles of an ethics code—usually some variation of the Society of Professional Journalists’ “Seek truth and report it; minimize harm; act independently; be accountable”—there are often shifts in emphasis over time. Buttry writes that in his own writing, he has changed his view to value transparency (“be accountable”) more than independence (“act independently”), as he often blogs “about matters in which I’m intimately involved.”
I disclose those involvements and my readers can decide whether that involvement influences my judgment or heightens my insight or both. Or neither. But if you read my blog, you know my experiences and connections.
The teeth of Buttry’s speech is his “thoughts about the guidance we need to offer journalists today about accuracy, attribution, confidential sources and social media.”
I won’t go over it here. It’s 5,000-plus and worth the read. But as one example, I’ll mention that Buttry writes about the continuing refusal of many outlets to link to digital sources, and how ethical codes have been slow to require linking. “Anyone striving for relevance in ethical leadership needs to address the issue of linking in digital content,” he writes.
We at Bleacher Report, which has long required its writers to link to any digital source of information, obviously agree.
Do you agree with Buttry? Should ethics change over time or are they fundamental and unchanging?
Superstar athletes are a lot less accessible to the media than they used to be. There was a time a writer could cover a football (soccer) match in London, file their report on the whistle and then share a few pints in a pub with the players afterwards, but not anymore.
Agents and teams fiercely control their most valuable assets in today’s world, which makes any exclusive access the media can procure all the more precious. To get one-on-one with a truly global sports star is no easy thing to achieve and can take months to broker—even for a brand as powerful as Bleacher Report on home turf.
All of which makes our B/R UK Google+ Hangout this week particularly remarkable, and something none of us involved with will forget. Just a week after first discussing the opportunity, we were joined live by none other than Lionel Messi—the greatest footballer on the planet and arguably the finest ever to lace his boots.
Messi is as big a “get” as they come. His cameo might have been brief, but to have him address our Hangout guests and Bleacher Report readers was a major coup for our world football coverage and B/R’s profile globally. He was only too happy to offer up a signed Argentina shirt for a competition and to pay his respects to our marquee columnist Stan Collymore.
— Bleacher Report UK (@br_uk) March 13, 2014
It was fleeting, but it was class personified. Flanked by B/R writer, and Messi biographer, Guillem Balague, Messi came across as he’s always been portrayed by those who know him—as humble, gracious and appreciative of his millions of fans worldwide.
To think that just four years ago our world football coverage would have barely registered outside of the U.S. Here we are now, building towards the 2014 World Cup, and the game’s biggest star—or at least those who manage his time—considered it a worthwhile exercise to attach himself to Bleacher Report’s brand.
Messi’s appearance is added to a number of other world football exclusives we’ve managed to broker this year—including interviews with Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers, their forward Daniel Sturridge and Barcelona’s Gerard Pique.
It’s becoming harder and harder to make these things happen in today’s sports landscape, which makes it all the more special when they come to fruition. Sometimes it’s timing, sometimes it’s luck. In the case of Messi’s appearance, it owed everything to the increasing strength of Bleacher Report’s global brand.
Messi on Bleacher Report. Now that’s a “get.” Here’s to more of the same.
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When you’re writing on a tight deadline and you’re trying to figure out how you’re going to get this fact and that opinion and the other piece of sharp, witty analysis into this mess, it’s easy to forget the bones of it.*
We’re telling stories here.
Poynter.org’s Kristen Hare has a piece about the annual Power of Narrative conference in Boston next month. Poynter is a sponsor. The conference, a decade and a half old, is built on the idea that storytelling, one of the oldest things we humans have, will always be in style.
“Good stories are good stories,” says Adam Hochschild, co-founder of Mother Jones, to Hare in an email. “We can all learn important lessons in technique from them no matter in what medium they are told.”
Hare writes aboutone of the scheduled keynote speakers, Raney Aronson-Rath, a deputy executive producer for PBS’s “Frontline.” Aronson-Rath was 22, a young reporter in Taiwan during the handover to China:
She couldn’t get at the big political stories, though. There was a senior reporter for that. So she found another way. Aronson started spending time with a group of young Taiwanese. They’d vote for the first time, their parents never had that chance. Through them, she told the story of mainland China and Taiwan.
Before then, it never occurred to Aronson that she could tell a story about real people that would resonate beyond just those people and their lives. But it did.
Telling stories well is a huge part of engaging an audience. I was struck recently on a visit to the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco by snippets of interviews with Walt Disney that appear on screens throughout the exhibits.
Disney is remembered as an innovator in animation, TV, movies and theme parks, and as an astute businessman. But just listening to him talk, off the cuff, to one interviewer or another about something that had happened in his boyhood or his early days in business, I kept finding myself hanging on his every word, even though the actual content of the tale meant almost nothing to me.
I really don’t care what Walt Disney’s dad did for a living when Walt was a boy. But dang! That guy could really tell a story!
I bet it’s not a coincidence that he could really draw a crowd too.
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* I learned the phrase “the bones of it” from the legendary baseball broadcaster Ernie Harwell. He said that whatever stories, catch-phrases or style a baseball announcer put into the broadcast, “the bones of it is ball one, strike one.”
Laird presents the brief career stories of three of them in their own words: Kevin Cote, Senior Director of Digital for the Golden State Warriors; Amanda Vandervort, Director of Social Media for Major League Soccer; and Will Yoder, Digital Lead in the Octagon Talent Division at Octagon sports agency.
I find it interesting, and not at all surprising in these rapidly evolving times, that none of the three started off in the direction of their current job. Jobs like “senior director of digital” and “director of social media” didn’t even exist when all but the youngest folks in the workforce were launching their careers.
Cote talks about taking any unpaid job or internship he could get his hands on with his college’s athletic office and local pro teams, which led to a job with the Warriors in what was called “e-marketing” at the time. That led to running the whole digital operation—something he’d never considered. Vandervort played and coached soccer before getting into social media as she helped launch WPS, a women’s league.
Yoder started off pursuing journalism before he “kind of realized where that industry was going.” From context, I’d guess Yoder means old media when he says “that industry,” because he turned next to blogging about the Washington Nationals and helping launch his college’s first online newspaper. He also worked in web development and interned with a couple of NHL teams before someone referred him to the sports agency, where he got the gig.
All three were open-minded, flexible, ambitious, resourceful and unafraid—or desperate enough—to pursue something that hadn’t been part of their original plan. That’s a pretty good set of qualities to get you someplace interesting and rewarding.
I thought it would be fun to ask Laird, the writer of the piece, for his own story. Here’s what he sent me via email:
When my sixth-grade teacher asked me join the school paper, I said no, which I’ve come to regret. But I got a do-over my senior year at UC-Santa Cruz when I signed up for the campus paper there. I loved it from Day 1.After college I spent two years bouncing between different journalism and non-journalism jobs, then ended up going to J-School at Cal. That was a great experience, largely because I was lucky to freelance some good clips while there. I also fell in love with sportswriting—I’d always loved both sports and reading/writing, but had tunnel vision toward politics or civic news as far as my own work. After graduating in 2011, I spent six months freelancing but quickly got sick of the constant pitching and meager pay.I wanted to stay in the Bay Area, but the media landscape here’s fairly dry. I saw a Mashable internship, applied and got it. Worst case, I figured, I’d learn more about technology and that’d help me get a real job in the area later. But I hit the ground running, they offered me full-time a month later and I said yes.At first the job was mostly covering tech. That was fine but not really my jam. But I’d also get all the sports stories that did come up. Over time, sports has grown from maybe 25 percent to 50 to now 95 percent of what I write here.As Mashable’s grown, the scope of what I do has also developed from a narrow social/digital focus to including viral stuff, to now I simply cover good/fun/cool stories. Period. Everything from 4,500-word HTML5′d-out longform stuff to 1000-word news/analysis posts to quick viral hits. I love the variety now, but it’s really been a process that’s developed over my two years here.It’s funny: The job today is pretty much ideal for me, and a lot like what I wanted to do after graduating from Cal. But it’s not at all the job I signed up for two years ago, or anything I could have imagined doing in college—or sixth grade.
Magazine editor Ann Friedman, who says she’s been in the biz since 2005, writes in an essay at CJR.org, “Journalists my age and younger have never operated under the illusion that a staff job at The New Yorker or a New York Times column was in our future. But nearly a decade into the digital-media revolution, another shift has occurred. It’s not just that journalists understand former “prestige” jobs will be nearly impossible to get. Now we don’t even want them.”
Friedman writes about the recent trend of high-profile journalists leaving “prestige” publications to work for startups or even create their own.
“One of the arguments against older media and in favor of sites like Gawker and Salon used to be that you could find a far bigger audience online,” she writes after pointing out that Ken Layne had left a full-time reporting job at Gawker to start the environmental blog Greenfriar. But: “In an age of noxious comment sections, a large audience isn’t the draw it once was. Layne wanted to hand-pick the readership for his work—and set the editorial direction himself.”
The bottom line: The ground is moving. What it means to have a career in media is changing. What used to be a “dream job”—Friedman’s reference to that staff job at The New Yorker or a New York Times column—has become less attractive than some others. The headline of Friedman’s piece is “The new dream job: And the end of old-media prestige.”
That’s why I’m always bugging people to read up on the latest goings on in the biz if they’re trying to launch or sustain a career in media. It’s hard to get ahead in a business if your idea of that business has become obsolete.
The Society of Professional Journalists,” or SPJ, had an event in Kansas City last week, and at one panel, “participants put their brains together to think of qualities of a good journalist and qualities of a good leader,” according to an SPJ Instagram feed. “Many of them overlap.”
Here’s a tweet from Ayana Stewart, a journalism student at the University of Florida, that shows some of those traits:
— Ayana Stewart (@AyanaStewart) March 7, 2014
I can see: Curious, well-read, timely, persistent, people-person, accuracy, informative, unafraid, thoughtful, proactive, skeptical, researchers, versatile, team players, prepared, listeners.
From the Instagram photo, I can also spot: Ethical, fair, integrity, frugal, individual, realistically balanced. I have no idea what that last one means—as opposed to unrealistically balanced? I also don’t know what it means that there’s a heart with an “X” through it next to the word “math.”
I don’t know whether good journalists need to love math or not, but they do need to be smart about it. In my days as a copy editor, I learned that whenever there’s math in a story, you have to check it and double-check it. There’s almost always a problem.
Nothing much to add. I just find it interesting to think about what qualities or traits make up a successful anything. Any qualities missing from that list? One Twitter wag suggested “workaholic.”
By the way, the SPJ Blog Network is a pretty good collection of blogs for writers and other journalist types.