Over the past year, there has been intense speculation surrounding the high churn rate for Bleacher Report's NBA Lead Writers. I was not going to release this, but I think doing that would be an insult to the blog's readership. I believe the views expressed below are those of Bleacher Report's managing editor from early 2010 - August 2013, Tim Wood, as relayed to me via the email address given to me in a DM from Wood on Twitter.
From a different address, Tim Wood informed me that he "alerted Google that there was clearly something that went on" and only formally acknowledges the validity of the first five emails of our exchange. I think he's making excuses since the emails exist as one long string. To validate the first five emails validates the entire thread.
However, all readers should take this post with a very small grain of salt. It is possible that Tim Wood's email was "hacked"... Maybe he wrote to me in his sleep and deleted everything after it was sent to me.
I would also tell anyone reading this post to read the views expressed by various Bleacher Report writers here as well in order to acquire a more complete understanding of the situation.
Me: Can you explain the reason for such a high turnover rate in the NBA section over the past year at Bleacher Report? Are there editorial issues in that department?
Wood: [The former writers] all have their own explanations that they have out there to the incestuous circle on Twitter.
All these guys started out as bloggers. They have never worked in a newsroom. Yes, you want them to have their freedom as much you can, but as editors, there are times when they have to do assignments and big-ticket mainstays like power rankings.
I might be antiquated there. Internet gives a more direct route to fame, but there is humility and "paying your dues" that get lost, and there is an instant sense of entitlement because of it.
And a lot of this falls on me for missing the mark on the hires.
Shoals - most mature of them all, but he mailed in a lot of his work for us throughout. We got his intellectual scraps. Would consistently see great stuff from him published elsewhere, ideas he said he didn't feel passionate enough to write when we broached similar ideas. I think he was in a spot where he could take a risk without it sticking to him long term if it was a mistake. Problem was, he just never really tried to be an ambassador for us beyond his welcome post. Always seemed like he was apologizing and trying to appease his hipster crowd. And he had The Classical in the works, so he never really had the time to go "all in" with us. I don't blame him. I just wish it had worked out better.
Mahoney - Just wasn't a fit. He always had one eye on the next gig. Had 5 other gigs going as he was working with us. Didn't take well to assignments, yet ironically, a lot of what I see him doing for SI is exactly what he was doing for us. Ended amicably. He just got a better job.
Holly Mackenzie - My worst hire in my time at BR. Man, I totally bought in to all her Web hype. She was all talk but when it came time to actually write opinions, she consistently wimped out. Worst work ethic I have seen of any writer I have worked with. Never committed to actual shifts, would just disappear for days without ever alerting editor. She is pretty and has built a following, and she markets herself well. But she wants to be every players friend. Would be much better doing player PR. Human interest stories are great and it's her strength but we hired her to be opinionated. Our writer review committee (internal group that approved or denied my lead writer hires), they all said she was soft and didn't want to hire her. I overruled them. What a waste. Gladly ended her contract early, something I vowed to never do. She earned her exit.
Sherwood Strauss- I'll say it to the day I die. The best in-person interview I have ever witnessed. Said all the right things. Hell, I was ready to hire him as NBA editor. From that day forward, it was just a real bad match. Always came off as better than us. But writing showed promise and we were really ready to get in bed with him despite his personality. (We later found out from numerous NBA PR guys that he was least professional writer in the locker room.)
Always referred to himself as a mercenary when we tried to talk contract extension with him. Despite all the hiccups, I believed in his talent. But we consistently got on him because he never tweeted out any of his BR work and would take shots at other BR writers on Twitter.
He never got along with our NBA editor because our editor didn't feel he was bought in. Turns out he was right. He stiffed us walking out on his contract at start of NBA playoffs. And as it turns out, I was told from very reliable sources that he was bragging to other "in crowd" writers about being an anonymous source in the SF Weekly article.
Short story; a weasel. Good riddance. Karma's a bitch. You keep burning editors, you will be exposed and the jobs dry up.
Crazy part of Mahoney, Mackenzie and Strauss: none of them wanted to work live during NBA playoff games! They all just wanted to write next day, didn't like having to stay up late. Absolutely blew our minds.
Spencer - he got a raw deal. Most we paid for any lead writer to date. I thought he was worth it. And he was. He was all in for us. Left a teaching gig and a gig with Comcast to come to work with us. EIC initially took credit for finding him at first, backed the big $$, then stabbed him in the back when folks started squawking that they needed to spend money on bigger names than him. Never really got to work in-season for us. Really a shame. That one should give us a black mark. We earned it there.
Me: I had it on good intel that gender discrimination was at hand in the Mackenzie firing. I was told by a couple of people that you guys started demanding she be in more videos because she was attractive. When she refused, you cut her. Where do you think a rumor like that might have come from?
Wood: Whoever told you the whole female discrimination video thing just bought into Holly's spin of the situation.
Video was a major part of why we hired her and she knew that. We believed in her potential there. But she never worked on improving as she said she was excited to do. She was standoffish and non-communicative with our video team. Never took constructive criticism there, made it clear very early she just wanted to write — which was a direct violation of our agreement with her. Was the fact she wasn't ugly a bonus on the video side? Sure, but I'll say that her video look was much different than her Twitter photo. She markets herself well, but both in her appearance and her substance, the actual delivery is a real letdown from what she's selling.
Even then, we were prepared to move forward with her focused on writing. But her writing was run-of-the-mill at best and as I said before, leaned heavily toward saccharine, cheerleader coverage with next to no analysis or commentary. I have let go interns who wrote better than she did, which isn't saying much.
According to a source, Mackenzie was actually brought on mostly to write. I've reached out to Holly Mackenzie for comment on multiple occasions to no avail.