The views expressed below are not ones authored by me. They also are not views which I fully endorse. The piece below was authored by Daniel Flynn, a Bleacher Report writer whom readers of the BRR have come to know as "The Writer." Since a brief hiatus from posting on Bleacher Report, he has started writing for the site again. Last month, he asked me to modify a post that I created on here in June. I did not do that and was confused by the request since he had previously praised the work that I did with the BRR as recently as early July.
Last night, he requested that he be given an opportunity to create a post for the BRR. He insisted that it be published without editorial oversight from me, and while I disagree with his sentiments regarding our relationship and the nature of past dialogue we've shared with each other, I've opted to give him the same platform that his email exchange was published on as an outlet to share his thoughts.
He's earned it, and at the very least, Flynn deserves to be rightfully cleared of any and all suspicions of being Bleach.
How to Improve Bleacher Report: The Writer’s Take
I am Danny Flynn, the Bleacher Report writer who was referred to simply as “The Writer” on this blog.
First and foremost, I would like to start by apologizing to Rich Thomaselli, the editor named in this post: http://thebrreport.kinja.com/bleacher-repor…
Back in the spring, I was contacted by the author of this blog, who asked me what my current situation was with Bleacher Report. At the time, I had just had that heated email exchange with Rich, which was ultimately published in that post. I initially explained to the author of BRR that I really wasn’t sure what my current status was with the company. He asked why, and instead of trying to explain, I opted to show him the email conversation with Rich’s name redacted and substituted simply with “My Editor.”
What followed was a series of questions from the author about the inner-workings of Bleacher Report and what it’s like to be a daily writer for the site. Admittedly, it was a time when I was frustrated and discouraged by what the site had become, and I had a very negative view of BR.
I answered the author’s questions as honestly as possible. I told him that he could feel free to quote me on anything I said, and use my name if he felt that was best, as long as he promised not to take what I said out of context. At the time, I got the impression that the author was trying to put together a similar type of investigative story as the acclaimed “Top 5 Ways Bleacher Report Rules the World” story written by Joe Eskenazi for SF Weekly. He told me he would likely publish the story on his own sports blog. I didn’t realize at the time he was planning to create a watchdog blog devoted entirely to criticizing and “exposing” Bleacher Report.
I figured, at worst, he would likely use some of the rougher, more critical things I said about the company. What I didn’t realize, though, was that he would simply copy and paste the entire email exchange and identify Rich as the editor in question and put his picture up for all to see.
Since the day he first sent me a link to the post, I have regretted ever showing him the exchange. I’ve felt terrible that a private conversation I had with an editor was published for the public to see. It’s weighed heavily on my mind every day since. That was a violation of trust, and it was inexcusable on my part. I can claim naivete, but ultimately, that was a big mistake and I hurt a good man who has done many good things for me over the past few years.
Since that post was published, I’ve asked the author of BRR to remove that post, or at the very least switch Rich’s name to anonymous editor and take down his picture, especially since he chose to keep my name anonymous and refer to me simply as “The Writer.”
He declined, so instead, I asked for the chance to explain my side of the story and to give my views on Bleacher Report.
Since this blog has focused on much of the negative aspects of BR, including the “Rehashed Material” post I was initially involved with, I figured it would be best to write a somewhat positive post about the ways I believe BR can improve and get better.
These are my thoughts...
Warning: What follows is admittedly long-winded and probably way more detailed than it needs to be. If you have no interest in Bleacher Report, or are one of the short-attention-spanned internet readers who often employs the “tl; dr” philosophy, this is not the post for you.
I guess it would make sense to at least give some sort of summary of my back story with BR, and how I initially got involved with the site.
I joined Bleacher Report back in February of 2010, when I was a senior at West Virginia University. I was 21 years old at the time, and I thought the idea of potentially becoming a sports writer seemed like an interesting career path to at least try out, coming out of college.
This was back in the days before the site had an application process, so anybody could just sign up and start writing, and that’s exactly what I did.
Within a few months, I was offered the chance to be a West Virginia Football featured columnist. By the time the 2011 college football season rolled around, I had become a paid columnist with the title of national college football writer. During my time writing for the site, I’ve produced over 1,000 articles and my work’s received nearly eight million views.
Considering I’ve been here longer than many of the writers and editors that are currently involved with the site, I consider my view of the company to be somewhat unique. Over the last three and half years, I have had the fascinating, yet also frustrating insider’s view of watching the site grow into one of the most popular, yet also one of the most criticized and despised sports sites in the constantly evolving new media landscape.
A few years ago, when I used to tell people I wrote for BR, most would look at me with a puzzled, confused look and ask “What’s a Bleacher Report?” The few who actually knew what the site was would respond with a look of disappointment, and say something along the lines of “Oh man, that site sucks.”
Nowadays, I mostly just get the second type of response. Unfortunately, I’ve yet to get an “Oh man, that’s awesome, I love BR!” response.
I’ve always done my best to defend BR to the detractors and the critics.. However, I’ve also realized that there are still some glaring flaws and problems with the site, even now that it’s been acquired for a mind-boggling amount of money by Turner Sports.
Still, even when I was extremely frustrated and fed up with the site this past spring, I would always try to think of ideas and ways for how to improve things, because even though it’s become wildly successful, there’s still plenty of room for improvement.
Here are some of the main ideas I have concerning how Bleacher Report can improve for the future. (Note: I’ll refrain from putting them in slideshow format).
Value Credibility and Integrity Over Popularity: Positive Reviews > Page Views
Is Bleacher Report anything more than just a sports-themed Buzzfeed?
I’ve asked myself that question on occasion. I still haven’t come to a rational conclusion on what the answer really is. The fact that I can’t answer that question with a definitive “No!” bums me out.
BR’s popularity is at such a high point right now, but the problem is, it’s credibility is still at the bottom of the barrel.
I can’t tell you how frustrating it is when you bring up credibility concerns to an editor, and they basically tell you that they don’t care. “Hey, we’re so popular, who cares about what our critics say!”
Well, for one, I care about credibility. Most people in the journalism world do. I care about the fact that when I apply for a well-paying writing job, I basically get laughed at and downgraded if I include Bleacher Report on my resume, because the site has such a negative reputation. I feel ashamed when I get asked if the site even has editors. That’s terrible.
The site has enough popularity, which has led to plenty of financial backing. Now, it’s time to repair that reputation.
It’s OK to sacrifice a few page views (Yes, Swagger section, I’m talking about you) every now and then in order to avoid adding more fuel to the critics’ fire. As far as the much-criticized “Swagger” section is concerned, it’s certainly not my cup of tea, but let’s be honest, everyone’s peddling that same crap nowadays. It’s easy clicks, and an easy page view booster.
If you don’t believe me, go check out Sports Illustrated’s Extra Mustard section (http://extramustard.si.com/).
Or if you really want to enter the land of brain-numbing drivel, go google “Hot Pictures of Cheerleaders Rant Sports” (On a side note: Rant Sports sucks)
Maybe that just reflects more poorly on our culture in general—the TMZification of America so to speak— that this is the type of stuff that so many people are interested in clicking on.
Still, the key question is: What kind of readers and audience do you want to appeal to?
The frat boy/meathead bros who get easily awe-struck by words like “Sexy, Hot, Bikinis, Cheerleaders” or serious, mature intelligent sports fans, who appreciate great, smart analysis about the sports they love?
We’ve got some of both right now, which I guess means that there are ways to successfully simultaneously appeal to both crowds. But if it were up to me, I’d try much harder to connect and click with that second group.
Far too often I’ve seen stuff which just clearly shoots at the lowest-common denominator of humanity. I’m not saying that there isn’t great content being produced by great writers on BR. There certainly is, but it often times seems to get overshadowed by the dumb slideshows, which are devoid of any real worth or meaning.
If you demand better quality content, you demand more from your readers, and ultimately, everyone’s better off.
Let’s leave the “Sexy Slideshows Of Cheerleaders/Sportscasters/Women Athletes” for the Rant Sports of the world to have. Let them own that territory. Just Thomas Delatte, alone, has done enough objectifying of women already. http://deadspin.com/5971859/the-25…
I have done plenty of slideshows I’m not proud of during my time at BR (case in point: http://bleacherreport.com/articles/85812…), but at least I can say I never did a show that despicably degrades women.
The Philosophy That It’s OK to Recycle Content Needs to Be Left in The Past
It’s absolutely shameful to foster an environment where plagiarism and the copy-and-pasting of other people’s ideas isn’t just tolerated, but promoted. That’s initially why I wrote the email to Rich in the first place.
Bleacher Report has become notorious for recycling content. I’ve seen first hand just how bad it can get, since I was privy to the weekly assignment sheets during my time as a paid writer.
When I got asked to rank College Football’s 50 Best Student Sections, at first, I stopped and wondered to myself: Wow, how do you even “rank” student sections? Aren’t they all basically just a bunch of loud drunk, 20-year-olds in matching colored t-shirts? How would I even go about trying to “rank” any of them, let alone 50 of them.
Curious, I decided to at least Google “College Football’s Best Student Sections” and wouldn't you know it, of course the first result was a Bleacher Report slideshow, published just a few months before, which covered that exact same topic in 50 slides..
Hey, look at that: http://bleacherreport.com/articles/12065…
That was the point where I just became fed up, and I told my editors I didn’t want to do any more assignments, because most of them were either A) Pointless B) Rehashed or worst of all C) Both.
Luckily, they gave another BR author the chance to regurgitate that topic a few months after I declined to do it.
Hey, look at that: https://bleacherreport.com/articles/17324…
Maybe the site would instead be better off ranking every college football stadium.
Actually, on second thought, I think we’ve covered that topic enough.
Enough with the recycled click bait BS. Treat your readers with some dignity and respect.
More Fringe Thinkers in Editorial Roles; More Edge in Assignment Ideas
It’s been sad to see how many talented young writers have come and gone from Bleacher Report during the years I’ve been with the site. I don’t know if “wasted talent” are the right words, but I can’t think of any better ways to describe the situation.
What’s really sad is when you consider that of the thousands upon thousands of contributors that Bleacher Report has had throughout the years, none of them have gone on to bigger and better things and a made for themselves at a more well-established, well-respected platform like ESPN, or CBS Sports, or Yahoo, or Fox Sports.
NONE! Zero. There has been no great Bleacher Report success story. No one has been able to use the site as a stepping stone. What does that tell you?
There have been so many kids who had the potential to do great things, but they ultimately got stuck doing stupid slideshows like “10 Are You Afraid of the Dark Monsters Who Would Make Great Head Coaches” and aggregating news that had already been published on a 100 different sites.
Personally, I love the SB Nation longform section (http://www.sbnation.com/longform). It’s great. I made the suggestion to some folks at BR that we not so much copy what they’re doing, but try to focus more on in-depth stories of that nature. That’s real sports journalism. Those are stories you really absorb, not rankings and slideshows and stuff that gets forgotten about five minutes after you click on it.
Their response was basically, if you want to do that type of stuff, go write for SB Nation, which was frustrating, especially since I’ve seen some of the talented writers we have on BR, who would be perfect for longform stories. Hopefully, with the influx of more well-established columnists, who have proven they can write long, entertaining stories, this could be the direction that the site goes in the future.
Now on to my biggest pet peeve: Stop giving writers already formed opinion headlines (i.e. Why Devin Gardner Is the Big Ten’s Best QB, Not Braxton Miller, or Why So-And-So Is the Most Overrated Player), and then tell them to basically just fill in the blank space with a couple hundred words, embed a few tweets and a video for good measure and then publish.
That’s what always pissed me off about the assignments. You can’t tell a writer how he has to feel about something, much less tell him that he has to argue that point, even if he doesn’t agree with it. If his heart isn’t in it, that shows.
Let them explore their brain space. Creativity is the key. Don’t force opinions on them.
BR needs more fringe thinkers in editorial roles. They need more creative minds, who can come up with those stories that have an edge that can truly catch the attention of a wide variety of readers.
There’s the potential to produce great groundbreaking content. I believe that with better resources, there’s a much better chance of accomplishing that goal. Still, at this point, it’s a dream, not a reality.
Give Writers Helpful Feedback and Constructive Criticism That Will Actually Make Them Better
I have been given one “writing review” during my years with Bleacher Report. I won’t say who gave it to me, but I will say that the person is supposedly considered to be a mentor figure on the site.
I can remember the review word for word. Unfortunately, that’s because it was really only one sentence.
“Your writing generally is strong and readable.”
It was then followed with a short paragraph which was pretty much copy-and-pasted from the BR Writers Blog, which talked about the need for good ledes and proper sourcing—stuff that was obvious to say the least.
I chuckled when I read it, mainly for the fact that at the time, the site had been touting these “reviews” as great instructive criticism from veteran writers, which was going to help us young lads all improve by leaps and bounds.
Strong and readable, eh? What does that tell me exactly? All it tells me is that the person churning out those inane reviews is basically stealing a paycheck.
Now, in fairness, I do have to say that “feedback” was given to me back in the spring of 2012, so maybe the reviews have hopefully become better and more in-depth since then. If they haven’t, then shame on the reviewers.
If you’re going to take the time to review somebody’s work, actually make it worthwhile and come up with constructive criticism that has some bite to it. Don’t just pull an old tenured 3rd grade English teacher and mail it in.
Care More About Return Views, Not Unique Views
I always used to shake my head when we would get the celebratory emails talking about how many new unique views the college football section got that month. In the beginning, I guess, that’s OK . But at some point, “unique views” stop being something you should hang your hat on.
Your readers are your customers. Businesses that have a bunch of different one-time customers will only be able to survive for so long. It’s the businesses that can build a sustainable base of repeat customers that will be around for the long haul.
The focus has to be on building a strong, consistent fan base full of repeat readers. Getting someone who googled an athlete’s name or whatever the “hot trend” of the hour is to click on a BR article is a good start. What’s key, however, is hooking them in with that article's content and making them say, wow, I like this writer, I like this article, and most importantly, I like this place, let me bookmark this site.
Slideshows Are Actually Good…..In Moderation
Besides the hijacking of Google, the main criticism of Bleacher Report centers around its reliance on slideshows. Well, call me crazy, but I actually like slideshows, and I think they’re cool ways to present certain ideas, and they help readers interact with the media.
Maybe it has to do with the fact that I was the guy in college who always loved getting powerpoint assignments and assembling shows.
Now, even though I like slideshows, I will concede that there is a point when it becomes too much.
As a person who has had to assemble more than a few 100-plus-slide slideshows, I have to say that those shows seemed to be so tedious to put together. I can’t imagine what the experience must have been like for anyone trying to actually click through all the slides and read it.
Limit the slideshows to mock drafts, team rankings and things of that nature. We won’t need things like "Georgia Football: 10 Reasons Why Mark Richt Deserves to Be Fired" or "Notre Dame Football: 20 Reasons Why The Irish are College Football's Most Hated Team." Just write an actual standard article that flows nicely from paragraph to paragraph. It's not that difficult.
Message Boards and Podcasts?
Lastly, I’ve always wondered why Bleacher Report never added message boards and podcasts into the fold. They seem like two logical enhancements that would really add a new dynamic, yet still fit in with the overall theme of the site.
You have all these commentators, who are looking to express themselves. Give them a message board and a forum to do it. Give them another reason to continue to come back to the site. Let them develop their own personalities in their fan-specific forums, and you’ll have a whole new community begin to grow internally.
And let your top featured writers have podcasts. You’re already exploring the video component, which is great, but podcasts are a whole new avenue for writers to express themselves and connect with fans. Plus, it’s another space to potentially put ads and earn revenue dollars, which isn’t a bad thing.
Final Thoughts on BR
Recently, I was having a conversation with a few friends of mine, who admittedly have never been fans of Bleacher Report. They asked me why I still write for the site, even though I no longer get paid.
I couldn’t think of a solid answer for them at the time. Maybe it has to do with the fact that I chose to stick around for so long, and I have seen the site get better over the past few years, even though there are still some notable problems. I’ve spent so much effort to defend BR through the years, so to jump off the ship now would make it all seem like such a waste.
I’m not proud of everything I’ve done. There were times when I complained about article ideas and the general direction of the assignments, and in hindsight, I probably should have just kept my mouth shut. Although at least I can rationalize those mistakes by saying that I only had the greater good of the site in mind.
I’ve also been asked how I feel about the fact that I was part of that forgotten 2010-2011 generation. I was one of the many kids who helped churn out all that copy that got all those page views, which in turn made the site so appealing to Turner Sports and helped make a lot of other people rich. I’ve been confronted with the idea that now that the site has all that financial backing, it’s only going to go out and hire established big-name writers, instead of promoting from within.
In a way, it sucks. But in a way, that’s just life. We all get used to some degree. Corporate America pisses on everybody.
Like I said in that email I sent to Rich, I probably do hold on to some sort of grudge for how it all went down, and I am a bit jaded and upset about the whole “lead writer” picking process.
Instead of promoting some of the kids who were working their asses off and who showed great loyalty to the site, the company slapped them all in the face by bypassing them and hiring from outside. As much as I understand it from a marketing standpoint, that really was complete bullshit, and no one will ever convince me otherwise.
How many of those “big” hires are still around?
How long did they all last?
How much money did the company waste on guys like that, instead of investing in the young dedicated talent they already had?
Ultimately, though, I can harp on the past now, and whine and complain, but that does no good. That wasn’t my intent or focus with what I wanted to post here.
Honestly, I don’t know if I have a future at BR. I haven’t talked to anyone from the site since that email exchange with Rich, but then again, I never really had many conversations with anyone even when I was a paid employee with the exception of a few complaints about assignments. Now, I just view it as a place to occasionally post some mediocre football picks, and talk NFL draft because that’s what I’ve always liked to do in my free time.
If I had to grade myself as a writer, in NFL draft terms, I’d probably give my knowledge of sports a solid second-round grade, and my writing chops a third-round grade. I’ve gotten considerably better since I started back in 2010, but I’d still consider myself a developmental prospect at this point.
As for where I think Bleacher Report is headed, it’s stock arrow is firmly pointing up. Anybody who says otherwise just isn’t giving the company its proper due. It’s already a juggernaut, and it’s only going to continue to grow from here.
Yes, you can take shots at how BR’s obtained that success. There were some shady tactics involved without a doubt. But it really doesn’t matter now. Even Bleacher Report’s most vehement haters have now accepted the fact that it’s here to stay.
After getting an inside look at the company’s incredible rise to prominence over the last three years, I’m certainly interested to see just how much the site can improve in the years to come.