Bleacher Report: The Problem With Sports Journalism
May 15, 2011 5 Comments
For those of you that aren’t aware, I wrote for Bleacher Report for almost three years. The majority of that time, I was first a “Community Leader” for the Philadelphia Flyers, then eventually a “Featured Columnist” for the NHL section. At one point I was the “Top Writer” on the site (based on their strange, quantity-based statistics). But would I have traded it at all away?
Yes. Probably for a sandwich or something.
When I started at Bleacher Report, the actual top writer on the website was a colleague named Bryan Thiel. Ironically, he continued to be their best writer for years, until he eventually came to his senses and left the site for bigger and better things – namely, a real job with a real company. It was a small community in which we all debated and argued with each other, and the heads of the site were constantly in contact with us, eager to help our work improve.
Unfortunately, it started to become about the business, and not about the writers. About the time Zander Freund, the site’s community coordinator, left, Bleacher Report went down faster than Osama bin Laden staring down a Navy SEAL.
Soon after, it was apparent that those in charge cared nothing about their writers, and all about the mass amounts of money they were making. They immediately began dangling potential paying gigs in front of their “top writers,” including me, claiming that “if you write more, you’ll be considered for these jobs.” To this day, I still have not spoken to a single writer for Bleacher Report that got paid.
The NHL’s community coordinators, Adam Hirshfield and Tab Bamford started to show me that the website was nothing more than a toilet bowl filled with the crap of every wanna-be writer in the world – which is fine. Every great writer was once bad. That’s a fact. And there is no problem with people wanting to write a lot, improve their writing, and pursue a career in journalism. That’s what many of my colleagues wanted (and still want) to do.
But the problem was with the way in which business was conducted. Adam and Tab (whom I have no problem with, personally. Both are great guys. However, it was the nature of the beast that is B/R that irked me) began sending emails out as if they were a mass-marketing company. Numerous emails per day, sometimes within minutes, each one demanding writers to take on more commitments. And when a commitment wasn’t met, to the minute, writers were criticized and reprimanded. There were numerous times I had to remind both that we were not paid, and that they need to cool it with the orders – to which I was always blown off.
In every email, writers were instructed how to build their headlines. The rule was to build them as such to maximize Google searches and increase exposure. Which is wrong. The object of a headline is to teach a writer to be creative, not to trick Google’s search engine. However, whenever I saw a creative headline on their website, within minutes, it was changed by an “editor” (who did less editing and simply dirtied up articles with incorrect facts and corrections).
I even got emails from Tab numerous times, with the phrase “IMPORTANT,” “URGENT,” or “EMERGENCY NEED HELP RIGHT NOW.” Naturally, I jumped to my BlackBerry to see what was wrong. You know what it was? “I need an article on this written right now” or “You guys haven’t claimed any articles that I need written.”
You mean to tell me that I need to drop whatever I’m doing, the second I get this email, because you told me so? As an unpaid writer who was never given any benefits, nor given any perks or respect by anyone who worked for their website, I constantly just ignored these emails and wrote at my leisure. And the one time I dropped an article I was writing because I (and a colleague in the NHL) felt it was disrespectful to write it, I was told by Adam what a terrible writer I was and that I was never going anywhere. Sounds like the way you treat an “employee,” right?
After I published my book, The Great Expansion: The Ultimate Risk That Changed The NHL Forever, I emailed a contact in the B/R office, asking if they could help me market it, as I was one of the first Bleacher Report writers to ever publish a book. After bringing in over a half-million visits to the website in my “career” there, I expected them to welcome my request. Instead, I was told that because there was no benefit for them, that they didn’t want to help me out. Even The Hockey News put me on their XM Radio show. Hey Bleacher Report, do you have a radio show on XM? Didn’t think so.
Lastly, for anyone that thinks this article is just because I’m “bitter” or “resentful” because I was never paid by them, just ask around in the NHL for people’s opinions on Bleacher Report. The Philadelphia Flyers’ PR department has never treated me better ever since I left B/R. The NHL now accepts my media requests, and my colleagues at The Hockey News were ecstatic with my departure. After all, this is the website that THN writer Adam Proteau claimed was on his “shit list.”
I’ll bet you $100 it’s on everyone else’s as well.
And you might ask me why I didn’t leave earlier. The true reason is that after getting about 1,000 reads per article on B/R, I was nervous that posting solely on my own, personal website would garner me just scores of views per day. However, as an esteemed, Hall-of-Fame member of the NHL told me, “It’s better to get one view on your website than 1,000 on Bleacher Report.”
Alan Bass, a writer for The Hockey News and THN.com, is the author of The Great Expansion: The Ultimate Risk That Changed The NHL Forever. He has worked for the Philadelphia Flyers’ Fan Development department, going to schools throughout the tri-state area to teach about fitness and the importance of teamwork. He is the General Manager of the Muhlenberg College Division II hockey team as well. You can contact him at Alanbasswriting@aol.com.