This discussion about BlazersEdge losing its access credential touches on several fascinating topics, but what I want to delve into is the extreme individualism which seems to have taken hold of web-based sportswriters, and how this is frankly a terrible thing for online journalism. Dave and others frame the Blazers’ decision as one about format: web sources are shut out in a move by an organization averse to change.
In a two-tiered media system in which independent sites like ours are systemically excluded from access, opportunities to see things through a different lens disappear. No site–traditional, independent, or team-sponsored–gives you a completely unfiltered picture. Your chance to wear a different filter while viewing the events backstage (to get a more complete picture) is being pushed aside. This is not being done on the basis of merit or public trust, but because of a blanket categorization that devalues diversity of view and assumes it’s not important to you.
I have a different take on this. The distinction between an SBN site and the Oregonian, the Columbian, and CNN has nothing to do with how the media is disseminated. It has everything to do with the relationship management has with its employees. At a legacy newspaper, the reporter earns a salary. The reporter is a cost-center for a period of time while she gets better, then becomes a profit center who contributes institutional knowledge to the existing company, and eventually leaves for more money or independence, or a better beat. A company’s commitment to pay salary demonstrates faith that with training the employee will become an asset, allows freedom to work on projects which may not be immediately profitable, and places the employee in a collaborative environment where her success is not immediately at the detriment of colleagues.
Fundamentally, working for a firm allows people to take risks they would not otherwise be able to take, provides them training they need to improve their skills, and provides resources that individuals would not possess on their own. Having a firm pay salary even when the employee is likely a short term cost center is a massive vote of confidence in the employee’s potential. This is a dynamic that aspiring writers should encourage rather than denigrate. Dave’s discussion of the meaning of “merit” is particularly shortsighted in this regard:
If “proving yourself” means traffic and credibility with readers, you will not find an independent site that equals this one. Its meteoric rise and sustained success are undisputed. If proving yourself means dedication, professionalism, and longevity, you can point to thousands of articles here covering the Blazers from every angle. Nobody in existence writes more than we do about this team. If proving yourself means adhering to high standards, quoting accurately and completely, demanding sources before a story is run, citing sources when you’re building on someone else’s material, we do these things scrupulously.
The question of course is who is “we.” Dave, Matt Moore, and others would have you believe that BlazersEdge is essentially Dave’s personal brand, and 8 years of quality work should entitle Dave substantial deference in appointing a writer to report on behalf of the BlazersEdge brand. The problem is that BlazersEdge has no institutional structure for ensuring quality reporting. It has no mechanism for training a cub to get better.
Beyond the specifics of this case, the idea of “proving it” in any industry is just a terrible method of vetting new entrants. Kids out of college are going to mostly suck at their jobs. That’s why they need training! If you expect someone to prove she is good at something before she can get paid to do it, your industry is going to miss out on scads of talent that just needed a little training.
At this point SBNation is essentially operating as a content farm where writers are independently contracted, appear to be paid by the click, and where the mothership has zero investment in the future of any individual writer because nobody outside the very top of the pyramid is on salary. This is a very bad thing for sportswriting. It means between SBN and Bleacher Report, a huge amount of the content, clicks, and revenue are going to organizations with no interest in working with their content creators to improve.
The radical individualism of the internet allows for the pernicious belief in bootstraps. Writers believe they are so good they will get noticed if they keep pounding their keyboards for a break. In reality, most people succeed when others invest time and money in helping them improve. While a few will float to the top and make a few dollars, without a support structure most will flounder. I’m disappointed that Dave, Matt Moore, and others fail to see the value of this support and how it differentiates a one-man blogging operation from a newspaper employing dozens.