Like many other writers and readers of Bleacher Report, I recently got an email from co-founder Dave Finnochio. He was pretty excited about Ted Turner’s $200 million investment in the site. “When we started the company in 2006,” he said, “we never imagined how big this would become. Turner is going to help us move even faster to give fans the best experiences out there for following their teams.”
It seems a world away from the Bleacher Report I started writing for in 2009 when my 10-year-old brother Gabe first got me started. By the time he told me about Bleacher, Gabe was already writing for the site, though when I say “writing,” think of Jonah Lehrer (The New Yorker writer recently fired for fabricating Bob Dylan quotes). He would copy and paste excerpts from other stories or even Wikipedia pages, combine them with his own work, and publish to the site. To make it look like he had a big following, he created user names of fake people, “sock puppets," and then praised his own articles with comments. (Just like Dilbert creator Scott Adams.) The main difference is that Gabe wasn’t being paid for his work. And he was 10.
When I created my account, I saw it as an opportunity to write, and I started immediately. There was no process, just write. It was liberating. I had a soapbox to share my views. Sports have always been a huge part of my life and to be able to write about it felt completely natural to me. I know what I'm talking about, unlike pretending to understand Shakespeare at school. Over time the process has gotten a little more professional. These days you have to submit an application that includes a writing sample, and it can take up to 10 days before you hear back. You can be kicked off of the website if you are inactive. In other words, my brother's opportunistic tactics no longer work. At least he learned his lesson early.
Nowadays Bleacher Report even offers internships, as well as paid positions. Before this, the highest rank you could be on the website was as a featured columnist, where you wrote a few articles per week on a certain team. With that rank, you also have the ability to get press credentials for games from Bleacher, which gives you access to interviews, and to see the inner workings of what is really going on behind the scenes. As a featured columnist, your work is often published on the homepage of the site. Also, you can see how many views each article gets. I recently wrote a piece on five NFL head coaches who should be on the hot seat for the 2012 season. It's gotten over 8,000 views, and for a wannabe sportswriter, that’s a big deal.
But why should you read what I have to say? Or any of the other thousands of amateur sports fans? How can you take a fan's perspective seriously? In fact, it turns out that people like getting opinions from a fan perspective. With its signature slideshows, Bleacher Report makes the site smooth, easy and entertaining to read. Its heart is the passion of the fans who write the content. It's what makes the site so unique, and it’s what Bleacher Report prides itself on. Many readers have no idea that it is fellow fans writing what they’re reading, but if it were no good they’d soon stop. And aren’t all sports journalists fans anyway? Don’t they all have an undying love and passion for sports? They aren’t in the sports field by accident.
Will $200 million make a big difference for Bleacher Report? It's safe to say for future wannabe sports journalists, the game is going to be a lot harder in the Big Leagues.