If There Are Too Many Sportswriters on Earth, Where Are They Supposed to Go?

By Jordan Teicher August 11th, 2014

“Old media, new media. It happens. Somebody pushes a button, and then there’s an earth-shattering kaboom.”

ESPN anchor and moral arbiter Keith Olbermann spoke those words last week as he declared USA Today Sports Mediagroup and Major League Baseball Advanced Media the world’s worst persons in sports. That kaboom was the news that Sports on Earth had been forced to cut 95 percent of its staff. The once-hopeful home of smart sports journalism was flattened two years after it launched. Many talented staff writers and freelancers lost their jobs, and apparently, they all found out on Twitter.

Some might take the news as another reminder that journalism is in trouble. But I’m not sure that’s true. BuzzFeed just received $50 million from Andreessen Horowitz. 21st Century Fox invested $70 million in Vice last year. Journalism as a whole can point to enough wins to balance out the losses. But sports journalism in particular seems to suffer more crushing blows than the New York Mets. (I’m a fan of both, unfortunately.)

As someone who earned a significant chunk of my income writing freelance sports articles last year, it hurts. I never contributed to Sports on Earth, but now there is one fewer quality publication offering to pay for sportswriting. Awful Announcing asked if the demise of Sports on Earth was “another nail in the coffin” for quality sportswriting. I’m not willing to bring down the hammer just yet.

For those keeping score, the list of established, healthy sports publications includes: Grantland,, Yahoo Sports, and Deadspin. The first two have ESPN as a sugar daddy. Yahoo Sports gets by with an impressive roster of journalists who have a lot of credibility in their respective fields. Deadspin became a success story by elbowing its way into relevancy as a sports gossip site.

Bleacher Report and SB Nation belong in their own group of financially-viable outlets that mistreat and underpay most of their contributors. Bleacher Report may be successful with Turner as its sugar daddy, but its business model relies on garbage tactics, meaningless pageview incentives, and generates revenue from clickbait articles with titles like “7 Pictures That Prove Chris Bosh is Really a Camelopard.” Similarly, SB Nation runs on the fuel from hundreds of smaller blogs and a reputation for not compensating most writers.

Six successful mainstream outlets, that’s really it. And two of them got on the list by gaming the system. Still, each site has a shtick that makes it unique. Even, which is just an extension of a cable network, is unique in the way it acts as a batting cage for television personalities who want to supplement their talking points with the written word. Sports on Earth never really had a shtick. It was a sports site full of good writers who prioritized being smart over showing off. That’s a respectable direction, but one that made it tough to stand out. There were many smart voices saying smart things, but there was never really a cohesive voice.

However, it is possible to be smart and show off. We just need to wait for the next round of innovators to figure out how to marry the two. FiveThirtyEight—also backed by ESPN—has built an audience by taking on sports, news, and pop culture with a data-driven analytical approach. If there are already enough outlets reporting from the inside of sports, maybe we look outside. What about a mainstream publication that only focuses on the economics of sports? Or retired players? Or minor leagues? Or a site that only wants to cover the ineptitude of sports bureaucracy? Surely, there’s more than enough content for that.

So now that the kaboom is over, and the former employees of Sports on Earth are looking for work, there’s a chance for upheaval. You need time, money, talent, and luck to get a new publication off the ground, but it’s possible. Especially with the talent that’s now available.

And it’s possible for writers to say something new about sports; they just can’t try to say everything.

Image by Associated Press
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