The Bleacher Report I Know
For months, Joe Eskenazi of SF Weekly has researched Bleacher Report for a cover story set to run in this week’s edition. I first learned of his ongoing research when a writer came to me on Aug 28 with “kinda an emergency question.” Someone, it seems, was
“asking a lot of questions about the process at B/R” and was “very direct…”
So, I knew this article was coming, I wasn’t prepared for how ridiculously inaccurate it would be.
I have been with Bleacher Report since May 8, 2009, coming to the site through a Facebook ad about a “writing competition.” At the time, I didn’t consider myself that much of a writer. In fact, I was in radio–hosting a weekly AM sports radio show and covering Minnesota pro sports. I wrote, sparingly, for DraftTek.com where I still serve as an analyst. However, most of my writing was done for college where I was about to graduate with a major in Biblical Languages (Green and Hebrew) and a minor in Confessional Languages (Latin and German.)
See, since 6th grade, I had wanted to be a Pastor and had gone to Prep School and College toward that end. Yet, as I had stood in the Metrodome, digital voice recorder pressed toward Brett Favre’s face after he had broken the NFL career touchdown record, I knew sports was for me. I had dabbled in coaching, broadcasting and the aforementioned radio. B/R was about to give me a chance to jump into writing.
Fast forward a few months, and was I named one of the first B/R Featured Columnists. I would take assignments from an editor and, in return, those articles would get pushed by the site more than general contributors. Also, I would get a small “signing bonus.” So, as I started as an FC, I was a recent college graduate with a wife and a child on the way. I worked two jobs–in healthcare and retail–continued to write for DraftTek and maintained my radio show and a podcast.
I worked my butt off because I had talked to plenty of people in that Metrodome pressbox and elsewhere that had told me about paying dues and sitting at the newsdesk at all hours taking highschool scores and laying out pages for little-to-no pay. I knew that this wasn’t the same route, but why wouldn’t this route work too?
About a year later, I was asked to help the new B/R College Internship Program as an assignment editor. My wife and I were about to move to Florida in order for her to take a teaching position, so the timing was awesome. I knew the economy was struggling where we were headed and a job I could “take with me” would be awesome. Unrequested, within days of starting the position, B/R increased my pay by almost sevenfold. They wanted this position to work and they wanted to take care of me so I wouldn’t have to work two jobs ever again.
During 2010, B/R raised my pay twice more.
As the company was growing, they made sure I had a place (and ownership) in it. I watched as the tiny office in San Francisco was replaced by a bigger (and eventually another bigger) office. I was amazed as full-time employees were being hired hand-over-fist while other media entities cut writers and support staff.
Moreover, I was impressed with how much content had improved since my first days at B/R. Personally, I know my own had gotten better. During that year I joined the Pro Football Writers of America and won an award from that group for column writing. I owe much of that improvement to the B/R copy editors and the content standards crew as well as many mentors (both within and outside B/R who constantly helped me along.) Around me, that B/R system was working for others as well, but as King Kaufman and others entered the company, the message was that “good enough” was no longer “good enough.”
In 2011, right before the NFL season started, I moved from the internship program into doing our content department as an NFL Associate Editor. I had loved training young writers, but the NFL was how I got into sports and has always been where my heart was.
During my time as NFL AE, I directly supervised almost 100 unpaid Featured Columnists at both the team and league-wide level. I also helped bring phenomenal amounts of talent to the site–talent B/R could not have attracted in years past, as I was told time and again. I could, intimately, see the content of B/R increasing and I was happy to be a part of it and I was happy with all of the investments B/R was making in the quality department.
This year, just a few months ago, I transitioned again into a role as NFL National Lead Writer for B/R. I joined guys like Josh Zerkle, Matt Miller, Dan Levy and many others to become one of the faces of B/R’s NFL coverage. I’ve gotten to be a part of the front-facing aspects of the company and work with more people in our higher-level content and video departments.
This is the Bleacher Report I know and it looks absolutely nothing like the B/R Mr. Eskenazi wrote about. Perhaps, that is because Mr. Eskenazi didn’t talk to me. He didn’t talk to King Kaufman. He didn’t talk to Dan Levy. He didn’t talk to Matt Miller. The list of people Mr. Eskenazi talked to is lengthy, but dwarfed by the amount of people (who actually and intimately know B/R) that he didn’t talk to.
This is the B/R I know:
1) Bleacher Report Provides Opportunity:
Rather than elaborate more on the opportunity B/R provided for me, I’ll point out this post by Matt Miller on the B/R blog. As other media companies are laying writers off and asking them to take unpaid furloughs, B/R is hiring…like gangbusters. For a company that “doesn’t pay its writers,” we’re paying an awful lot of them an awful lot of money.
We’re also constantly looking for more great writers–internally and externally. That’s more opportunity for young writers than any other sports media entity out there.
2) Bleacher Report Is Intensely Dedicated to Getting Better:
Every day, great ideas are sent back and forth on how to make B/R better at a variety of levels. We operate, on many levels, as an internet startup company–where human capital is more important than venture capital.
Incredible investments have been made on the quality end at B/R including a writer self-improvement program (B/R U), a writer training program (Internship), a writer blog managed by King Kaufman, a new writer feedback system going above and beyond the copy editors.
Where we are is vastly different than where we were. Where we’re going looks even better.
3) Bleacher Report Allows Cream to Rise to the Top:
As an editor for B/R, I fiercely defended my writers and advocated for them at every turn–with almost no exception. When it was time to hire, I always brought internal candidates into the discussion even as I recruited externally. I made sure promising writers knew about writer-training available to them and I made extra-sure that my best writers were considered for paid opportunities. Not every good writer was able to get one of those positions, but I’m confident more opportunities will become available because of the trajectory B/R was already on and because of Turner’s acquisition.
Does B/R use unpaid writers? Yes, everyone knows that. We do it. Our competitors do it. The ivory towers and papers of record do it. ESPN does it. Everyone does it. This is not a new phenomenon of journalism or of the internet. No one complains about the massive page views generated by unpaid writers at Blogger or WordPress. People aren’t forced to write for B/R, they do so for the platform–a platform proven to work. In return, some of those writers will eventually move on to paid positions, many will not. Yet, that is far more opportunity than almost any personal blog or even (in this economy) that stereotypical sports desk position at the local semi-weekly newspaper.
4) Bleacher Report Is Very Serious About the Editorial Process:
Each week, B/R’s NFL editors have to generate assignments for paid and unpaid writers alike. With the internship, as well, I was tasked with coming up with a large amount of assignments (often on the fly) for the interns “sports desk” days. Mr. Eskenazi’s fictional B/R would’ve been much easier for me, but a computer algorithm never did my work for me. Knowing what readers were looking for informed my process, it never drove it.
At all times, Bleacher Report seeks to lead the discussion around our reader’s favorite teams and topics.
This is not gaming any system or taking advantage of any aspect of the media landscape. Our editorial discussions mimic those around newsrooms around the country when they decide layout, assignments, etc–we know, because many of our editors have jumped ship from those failing newsrooms. In truth, maybe our meetings are more informed by analytics, maybe ours talk more about search results, but that’s because the landscape has changed. Others (NFL.com, USA Today, etc) are frantically trying to catchup to processes we’re already refining.
Perhaps the most offensive part of Mr. Eskenazi’s article was how often he described how I did my job as a B/R editor and how incredibly and ridiculously false his descriptions were.
5) Bleacher Report is a Well-Oiled Machine, but Driven By People:
Very little impresses me as much as B/R running at full speed (see: Olympics coverage, every NFL Sunday). As impressive as those times are, though, nothing is automated. Nothing is running on autopilot. The well-oiled machine of B/R is people driven. B/R’s editors, support staff and writers work as hard as any others in the media. Again, much like the other startups in Silicon Valley, it’s in our DNA.
This idea that B/R is some shadowy corporate boardroom that takes advantage of the masses is nonsense and has no basis in reality. Spend five seconds at the B/R offices and you’ll realize that. The biggest problem with the coverage of B/R is that very few ever take the time and legitimately get to know the people and culture that make B/R run.
Many people who’ve had a negative impression of B/R and have actually taken the time to get to know B/R, come away with a positive impression. Not all, I’m sure, but the vast majority of my experiences have bared that out.
If the Bleacher Report described in Mr. Eskenazi’s article were–in any way–factual, I would not work for that company. The Bleacher Report I work for isn’t perfect (no work place is) but it has provided me with an incredible opportunity and has provided for me and my family. I count many of B/Rs many employees among my friends and am happy to do so.
The Bleacher Report I know works incredibly hard to get better, every day. We, as a company, are as introspective, self-deprecating and honest with our failures as any company I have ever been around. Most importantly, we accept our past as prologue and embrace our future–which is brighter than ever.