What We’re Doing at The Basketball Writers

Dating back to my days at Bleacher Report’s NBA Department—can’t believe it was 10 years ago I started at B/R already—I’ve been near constantly asked by students, family, friends, etc.:

“How do I get involved in sports media? How do I break through? How do I have a career?”

I almost grimace when it’s time to answer.

I’ve been pursuing my dreams of being an NBA broadcaster since my first radio show in 2004. I’ve had a lot of amazing adventures that paralleled into editorial, writing and video all leading to my co-founding bballwriters.com. I know that the 10-year old version of me who was obsessed with David Robinson, Kevin Garnett and every single NBA roster is proud.

But there’s nothing particularly special about me.

Sure, I like to think of myself as hard-working, detail-oriented, caring and helpful to my peers, but I’ve also been blessed with so many unpredictable doors that opened at strange times that it’s pretty non-repeatable except to encourage people to put in the work and prepare for if their opportunities ever come.

I compare it to preparing to run a marathon: “Have your B, C, D, etc. Plans ready to go for how you’ll put a roof over your head and stay in the game long enough until others eventually drop out.”

Many are dismayed to hear that because they’re prepared to work hard for a sprint.

I’ve had my teaching degree and a few other gigs to keep me running, but lately, with industry-wide layoffs and masthead losses, it can feel like running that marathon up a mountain in a snowstorm. One starts to wonder if everyone is going to drop before they reach any sort of finish line, which for most is a full-time job with benefits.

I was blessed with that exact thing at B/R-Turner, and it was an amazing experience filled with countless creative people and many good ones too. But I chose to leave it all behind a couple years ago. Why?

Because it ate away at me how compromised the whole industry was.

Advertiser tentacles (especially “branded content”) were ever encroaching upon actual NBA storytelling while good writers, editors and support staff who literally helped build B/R from the ground up kept getting left behind or just plain dropped because of questionable financial goals and/or chasing a new big fish hire with more Twitter followers. And every year it was noticeably getting worse.

“If this is what it’s like at one of the few stable, growing outlets”, I thought, “how bad is it at the receding mastheads, clickbait farms and fringe players?”

I could have stayed for love of the NBA, but I didn’t feel like I was helping anyone actually advance their career, much less my own. I took a year out of the industry in 2017 and HATED that too. (It’s waaaay worse in other journalism spheres, I found.)

Frustrated, I started lamenting, “How can I work in the NBA on my own terms without being an advertiser shill (though sponsors aren’t inherently bad), a cutthroat capitalist liar who only exploits others, or a starving hobbyist?”

That’s when I found that fellow B/R alum Kelly Scaletta was asking the same questions. And so was mutual friend Ray LeBov of basketballintelligence.net. The more we talked, the more we realized how fed up we all were with the clickbait, homerism, ads, pop-up videos (videos themselves aren’t bad, but that delivery is), data selling, writer exploitation and reader pandering.

And a strange thing happened. We began to identify click-based advertising as the root cause of all these ills.

Maybe that’s oversimplifying the tides of commerce and technology, but online media companies sell their souls to get an eroding share of pennies based on often fraudulent numbers and sometimes downright unscrupulous tactics for the almighty click.

It changes what they’re willing to publish, how they hook a story, why there’s unstable revenue, etc. Beyond that, the whole market is being crushed by Facebook/Google/Amazon driving those ad prices down. So online media scrambles into branded content, hidden ads, etc., which only makes the storytelling and writer/reader relationship that much worse. But they need the revenue to meet their overhead and margins to make shareholders happy.

Truth is, almost everyone in the industry hates clickbait as much as you do. Most writers don’t create it unless they’re ordered to. And they have to eat too. Most readers don’t want to read it, but often don’t have many alternatives anymore.

That’s why we created bballwriters.com.

Yes, it is a subscription site. And yes, I know there are very relevant concerns about the proliferation of walled gardens making content inequitable and/or the optics of “paying for something I used to get for free!”

(It wasn’t free, though. The costs to you were hidden in time, data, unsustainable ad margins, and today’s Apocalyptic loss of good journalism, writing, editing, content, etc.)

So yes, we are a subscription site, which isn’t very revolutionary on its own. But what we’re doing with it is supposed to be.

This approach has gotten us back to the game of basketball we all fell in love with, digging into real stories instead of fluff, clickbait, irresponsible speculation, etc. It’s allowed us to build a clean, devastatingly fast mobile site (because no ads to clog up the download time!).

It’s let us send 35 percent of every sub DIRECTLY to the writer while we all essentially cost-share the rest of the operating expenses. (And that stake will likely grow in the coming year!) Writers are literally able to earn their keep based on what they create and their relationship with their audience.

It’s allowed us to unyoke ourselves from advertiser expectations and shareholders’ insatiable need for conscience-less growth.

It’s ensured we DON’T have a stable of execs leaching off writers’ hard work, paying them pennies while they buy another yacht. Our three founders are all on the front lines as editors and development, working free for nearly a year to launch this project. And loving it!

It’s allowed us to actually spend time editing with care (something most sites cost-cut a LONG time ago). It’s allowed us to reach underserved markets like WNBA, EuroLeague, Fantasy Basketball and more (coming soon) that the rest can’t/won’t cover because it doesn’t click in the millions.

It’s allowed us to treat readers with respect.

You want a “basketball lifestyle brand”, a try-hard cool-kid hipster vibe, an NBA TMZ, or firebreathing homers to blow smoke up your butt about your favorite team? Want a brainless Comments section insult factory? We’re not for you. Thanks for playing.

But if you want an oasis of TALENTED, comprehensive, diverse, fair-minded hoops content that celebrates the game and players we all love, even when it means an honest look at flaws, then we might be just what you’ve been searching the Internet wastelands for.

If you want to directly invest in our All-Star crew of Nekias Duncan, Ben Dull, Sara Peters, Adam Spinella, Jeff Siegel, Bryant Toporek and Antonis Stroggylakis, know that we’re going to take that and directly invest it in even better content, additional writers, niches and especially your experience.

We’re making bballwriters.com a place where writers love to create and know we have their backs. (Don’t believe that’s possible? Just ask them!) We’re making it a place where readers know we love the game as much as they do and want to share that with them.

We’re just getting started and would love you to join us. We’ve made it accessible at just $5/mo. for an Annual subscription but also offer Monthly and Daily options for whatever you’re up for.

Even if you’re not ready for any of that, you can still help spread the word about what we’re trying to do here: Changing sports media (and the Internet) forever. For good.

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