Bleacher Report on Rehashed Material: It's "The Business of Journalism... Shit Happens."

Late last year, Deadspin's Barry Petchesky published a post that called Bleacher Report out for rehashing the same topic 25 times in 2012. No less, these similar slideshows were actually assigned to the same writer, bringing a more literal feel to the idea of Bleacher Reporters being hamsters on wheels.

"SEO is less of a priority for Bleacher Report than it used to be because search is less important than it used to be," said King Kaufman, Manager of the B/R Writer Program.

"The landscape is changing," he continued, "Bleacher Report is the fourth-largest sports website. If it got zero traffic from search, it would still be the fourth-largest sports website. SEO is not central to our business model.

Bleacher Report does not use 'black-hat' SEO tactics and does not create any content designed strictly to capture search traffic. We create content to entertain sports fans. When we create that content, we also optimize it for search—just like pretty much everybody else in the industry does."

The amount of rehashed material that the site puts out contradicts Kaufman's sentiment, though.

Publishing the same topics so frequently is a great way of telling your readers that you absolutely do not give a fuck about what they click on. All that matters is that they are clicking on something.

But B/R's writers, especially the more experienced ones, have to be hip to this, right? Do any of them ever speak out to their superiors about how terribly cheap these tactics are?

One of the site's top Featured Columnists, whom we'll simply refer to as "The Writer", offered me further clarity on the ways in which editors handle the site's thoughtcriminals a few months ago. The Writer opened up about a frustrating exchange that he had with his section's editor, Rich Thomaselli, and sent me the series of emails in their entirety.

It starts out with The Writer commenting on how remarkably stupid a topic was. He also brings up the site's affinity for recycling its topics, and from there, it evolves into much, much more.

Bleacher Report has had incidents in the past due to a lack of proper editorial oversight, but according to those in high places at the company, those days are behind them. Today, editors are more carefully selected.

They are people who think, represent, and embody the Bleacher way.


The Writer:

I don’t want to sound like a complainer, but articles like this one hurt BR’s credibility.

http://bleacherreport.com/articles/15712...

This is what I was talking about when I said that I didn’t want to do assignments anymore. Not only is the idea a pointless space-filler; it’s also recycled. The writer basically just copy and pasted the same article from last year.

http://bleacherreport.com/articles/11107...

That was really my big initial complaint. There just seems to be so many recycled articles.

Example 1

http://bleacherreport.com/articles/15739...

http://bleacherreport.com/articles/11092...

Example 2

http://bleacherreport.com/articles/14887...

http://bleacherreport.com/articles/15611...

Example 3

http://bleacherreport.com/articles/15392...

http://bleacherreport.com/articles/15428...

I could list more examples but it just bums me out. I don’t understand this philosophy of rehashing the same stuff.

Thomaselli's response:

Because since this time last year we have an increased audience traffic of 157%???

Because we're putting forth both new material and material that previously worked before that new audience that maybe didn't see it before???

Because we mix a combination of serious / analytical / entertaining / contemplative content, and the worst-dressed story certainly falls into the category of fun or entertaining (not to mention it engenders debate and fun comments)???

Because I could show you myriad examples of how virtually every media organization in the world at some point mimics its own material that might have previously clicked with its audience??? WHY? Or, to answer your statement of not understanding the philosophy ..... Um, because we're a business? Just like ESPN and Yahoo and SB Nation are businesses?. All of whom have recycled some of their best stuff? Because it helps pay the bills and pay their writers?

Because I can back it up by using two of the very examples you provided??? Your story has less than [x] reads in 2 months; the latest iteration has [x] reads in 10 days. When all is said and done, we'll see how the 'why cfb beats march madness' story falls once this latest version is programmed.

As for the Everett Gholson story, we have 4,000 active writers on the site. Four Thousand. Sometimes they end up with the same topic.

Shit happens.

As I've said many times, you are supremely talented. But you don't know the business of journalism or the business of what goes into running a company.

(And, as for 'credibility', our biggest critic, Deadspin, just went to a similar model as B/R by utilizing Kinja. I'll continue to take my chances that B/R is setting the agenda for the way the digital sports media business will evolve).

The Writer:

It's a "fun" article that generated "fun" comments such as:

"This was a stupid article, and apparently, BR felt they gave the story to the columnist that could relate to it the best."

"another fluff piece that has no bearing on the game or sport. Please, earn your money and write about something relevant to football."
"What a waste of an article."

"Not only does this piece have no relevance to on-field performance, but some of your complaints are just downright moronic. "

"Shut the hell up about fashion and write something about football."

"No sense whatsoever"

"all of this is merely opinion & has little to no bearing on the game itself"

"What a pointless article, if you feel the need to write about this, whatever this is, at least make your points valid."

"Your article doesn't convince me of much...what is wrong with a dude wearing his school colors? These guys coach football , not ice skating."

Yeah that one really seemed to be a big winner with the readers.

Maybe we should try redoing the Sexiest Coaches Wives slideshow next.


I guess the "business of journalism" is to just treat readers like idiots and keep regurgitating the same copy and pasted ideas over and over again because it drives traffic. Even though it basically just feeds into the one major criticism that most people in the sports journalism world have about BR: that the site floods the market with as much mediocre content as possible in order to get as many page views as possible.

At this point, I'll just stop caring. If no one else wants to care about the site's reputation, I won't either.
Thomaselli:
And once again I say to you, it's just 1 component of what we do. For instance I have not seen you mention the bleacher Report 1000, in which we rank the top 1000 players in the NFL. I have not seen you mentioned any of the video component that we have done. I have not seen you mentioned any of the chalk talks that Michael Felder has done. These are all original components of what we do, yet you seem to be focused on just 1 segment.
By way of example, I think the New York Daily News is a great paper with great writing. They do great stuff. However, every day, and I mean every day, they have a slideshow on their site right on the homepage that has a t*** and ass pictures. Why? Because they are servicing 1 segment of their leadership.
Again this is all part of what we do, I also don't think we are flooding the market with mediocre content. I'm pretty sure that the worst dressed coaches piece isn't popping up at the top of Google when you search for college football, unless you're typing in specifically worst dressed coaches.

And furthermore, I'm pretty sure we're not treating our readers as idiots when we are also serving them some of the best written pieces out there, and some of the best, most innovative content, that is out there with some of the aforementioned pieces that I just used as examples.

Examples that you conveniently seem to ignore and continue to focus your criticisms on 1 very small part of bleacher report .

Once again, if you are that dissatisfied with the site, then I encourage you to seek a new platform for your work where you will be happy, you mentioned SB Nation in your previous email, and while they do some fine work. I would be happy to share with you some statistics that show they are flooding the market with NCAA basketball tournament copy, not all of which is very good mind you, at the moment. Why? Because it's what everybody is searching for right now, and as I said to you previously, there are numerous media outlets that mimic or recycle some of their content previously clicked with their readers.

If you have studied Bleacher Report as a whole, instead of focusing on just this 1 segment you seem to keep harping on, then you would realize it has been a long, long time since Bleacher Report has been involved in a volume play just in order to get page clicks. And now, with the acquisition by Turner Sports, and new platforms for our work like CNN, CNN.com, and headline news, as well as the promotional push we are getting from Turner, GPS, and more, we don't need to do that.

In summation, I find your criticisms unfounded. If this was a year or 2 ago, maybe. But now they are way off base. And the insinuation that we do not care about our readers, or that we don't care about our reputation, is, frankly, a slap in the face. Again, I encourage you, if you don't want to write for Bleacher Report, that is your choice.

The Writer:
OK. Agree to disagree. Really, I don't want to start a big fight or cause a stir.

I like and respect you, Rich. I like where the CFB section has gone since you took over.

You're clearly a very smart and savvy individual who knows the business, knows the sport and knows what he's doing.

Bottom line, point blank, there's things I really like about BR and there's things I really don't like about BR.

Obviously, the thing I don't like is the recycled slideshows about stuff that really has no bearing on football. The 10 worst dressed coaches, the 25 coolest new uniforms, the 25 celebrities who could play college football. Honestly, you're an old-school journalism guy; you can at least admit that a lot of that stuff is just pure fluff.

And that's OK. Trust me, I get it. I know everyone else is doing it. I've seen SI's Extra Mustard section and all the silly stuff that other sports sites are doing. But I don't see why we have to do it at this point. Let the RantSports and all those shitty sites have that stuff. If BR is as popular as you say it is, then why do we have to stoop to that level? I know there's some market for that. But at this point, why not focus on new stuff? Let's try to break new ground.

I get irked when I see the same ideas getting reused, and the execution isn't even that good.

That "Why the Bowl Season is Better Than March Madness" show I saw recently, most of the points made no sense. The writer was contradicting himself on half the slides.

And yeah I went to work today after reading your initial reply, and I was irked that you would throw a criticism at me like well that guy has [x] reads on the same slideshow you came up with on your own two months ago and you only have [x] reads. Come on, he basically copy and pasted the whole list I did and then added [redacted] and [redacted]. Wow, what an innovator. Let's give him a medal and a pat on the back.

At this point, considering I've probably burned this bridge, I guess I might as well lay it all out on the table.

I think the model at BR is flawed. Or maybe it was flawed. I don't know anymore.

You say you have 4,000 writers. I imagine a lot of those contributors are younger folks, a lot of them probably just out of college looking for a future job as a sportswriter (same situation as I was in 2010).

So you have all these guys/gals, who are chasing that worm, and by that worm I mean the prospect of moving up at BR and becoming a paid columnist. I was doing the same thing a few years ago.

And then comes the big announcement. "We're going to be hiring lead writers for every sport. Send in your applications."

I initially thought, well I've proven myself as one of the top college football writers on this site. I've ranked in the top three, sometimes No. 1, for most months. I've shown I can both handle assignments and come up with really good stuff on my own.

And then this company, whose entire foundation for success was based on a field of unpaid writers who gave it there all and were grinding and working to churn out all this content and copy in hopes of moving up, goes and hires a bunch of outside guys instead of hiring from within?

That was complete and utter bullshit.

BR basically spit in the faces of every writer on the site who helped the company climb up the ladder and become popular. I know a few writers who I developed a close bond with who quit right then and there, and I thought about doing the same thing.

I would understand it if you were bringing in Bruce Feldman or Dan Wetzel or at least some accomplished writer that's built a name for himself in this industry. But you brought in a bunch of bloggers. Why? Because they have a couple twitter followers?
If you're going to base your hires on how many twitter followers someone has instead of the hard work they've done for the site, then go out and hire Justin Bieber or one of the Real Housewives of New Jersey to be your new lead columnist.

So yeah, I'm probably a bit jaded when it comes to the site, and maybe there's some sour grapes there. Not because I specifically got passed over to be a lead columnist, but because I and every other writer back in the 2010 and 2011 generation who were here helping churn out all that content that got all those unique page views that made the site appealing to Turner got passed over.

What's the argument there?

"Well that's just the way the business works"

OK. Well then how do you convince all these new kids that it's worth writing for the site?

What's the end game for them?

Hey maybe one day they'll come up with an original quality concept and then BR can have another writer plagiarize the shit out of it.

And that's really my complaint. Why copy and paste things. And why defend copy and pasting things?

"Well it drives traffic."

Traffic, traffic, traffic. We're a business, we need traffic.

Fine, whatever. As I get older, I'm trying to grow as a person. Part of that is realizing that it's pointless to get upset and angry about things you have no control over.
Like I said, I have no problems with you Rich. I have a few problems with the site, and I'm man enough to admit that I probably do hold a grudge from what happened in previous years.

So yeah, as much as I just rambled on, most of it probably made no sense to you, but for me, it was things I had to get off my chest.

I don't want to write for another site. Hell, I've been here since 2010. That was only three years ago, but there don't seem to be a lot of guys here now that have been here since then. I'm still here, albeit a little more cranky and a little more jaded since then. But here nonetheless.

I'm here. I'm going to continue do stuff for the site.

I don't know what the future holds. Maybe I should stay, maybe I should go. Maybe I should just stop doing the sports writing thing and focus on my short story fiction stuff. I don't know. I'm [young]. I'm not going to pretend like I have all the answers. I have none of the answers. I don't even know what the questions are most of the time.

All I know is that I've got opinions, and sometimes those opinions are right and sometimes those opinions are wrong, and I've learned to live with the consequences of expressing them.

Sorry if I caused you any trouble with my silly ramblings.