Bleacher Report. Say the words, and it conjures up different things. In 2010, the outlet that allowed anyone that wants to publish material sports related, and has since made it mandatory to file article examples. According to King Kaufman, about 75 percent of writers are turned away. Still, BR has found itself on the wrong side of a credibility issue as some content that was, at best, poor analysis and poorly written, flew in the face of a behemoth that has taken sports and SEO (search engine optimization) and turned it into the Web’s fifth largest sports media destination with nearly 20 million monthly unique users.
Bleacher Report can’t be ignored. Its back end – the incredible number of users each month – has had a credibility problem with its front end, the writers creating the content.
That changed earlier this year when the outlet hired King Kaufman from Salon.com to oversee and manage writer development as part of a commitment to provide sports fans with the highest quality coverage and content of their favorite teams.
Today, Bleacher Report has pushed that mandate further as they have announced the launch of its new Lead Writer Program. According to Bleacher Report, “Lead Writers will help give direction and guidance to the company’s vast contributor base, as well as shape content and conversation with readers through social media platforms. “
“Bleacher Report is powered by our strong contributor base and we’re constantly looking at ways to improve the experience for our writers and readers,” said Dave Finocchio, Co-Founder and Vice President of Content and Product at Bleacher Report. “The Lead Writer Program will help Bleacher Report solidify its reputation as a thought leader in sports media.”
As part of this new program, Bleacher Report has tapped an initial class of five Lead Writers who have an interesting take on the sports scene. Those writers include:
- Dan Levy, National Lead Writer – As host of the critically acclaimed On the DL podcast, former writer at SportingNews.com and contributor to WashingtonPost.com, Levy is well versed in the world of Web 2.0 publishing and social media platforms. With more than a decade of experience in the sports media industry, Levy has become a trusted and respected voice.
- Matt Miller, NFL Draft Lead Writer – Founder of the NFL draft site, New Era Scouting, Miller’s work has been featured on NFL.com, SI.com and USA Today as well as utilized by NFL, CFL, and AFL teams. Miller is known for his in-depth scouting analysis and real-time breakdowns.
- Dan Rubenstein, College Football Lead Writer – Co-founder and co-host of The Solid Verbal, the Web’s most popular independent college football podcast, Rubenstein formerly hosted and produced the SI Tour Guy video series for Sports Illustrated and wrote weekly columns for SI.com’s Extra Mustard page. Dan is known for creating original college football content across all mediums.
- Josh Zerkle, NFL Lead Writer – Co-founder of the popular NFL blog, Kissing Suzy Kolber, former contributing writer for Deadspin and WashingtonPost.com, Zerkle’s trademark contrarian opinions will lead Bleacher Report’s robust NFL coverage.
- Bethlehem Shoals, NBA Lead Writer – Bethlehem Shoals is the founder of the wildly influential NBA blog FreeDarko and a co-author of FreeDarko's two books. He is a regular contributor to GQ.com and has also written for Sports Illustrated, Deadspin, and AOL FanHouse.
The interesting thing is, as BR has grown, they have been aware of their need to have respectable content. Where the outlet could have been happy with SEO driven page views, the company seems genuinely concerned about being seen as a top-tier outlet that can go after Yahoo!,SI.com, ESPN, or FOXSports.com.
The interesting twist is that the writers that have come on board have been some of BR’s sharpest critics. And yet, they have bought into the change.
“Me, the guy who has publicly ripped this company on my podcast, in writing and on Twitter more than almost anyone in the last three years, is now part of their Lead Writer Program,” says Dan Levy. “I am a part of Bleacher Report. This is not a dream.”
As Josh Zerkle adds, the idea that BR can morph get past its stigma may be a case of being unable to get past the site’s original dilemma: one of “wide open” blogging where quantity could unearth poor content.
“Our community sometimes resembles a bizarre, cross-country clique, one whose favorite pastime has been to publicly ridicule this site,” says Zerkle. “To us, Bleacher Report was a faceless factory of slideshows and sportswriting gruel, and nothing more. I was a part of this clique that took shots at Bleacher Report every chance we could get. In a lot of ways, we were blasting the very blogger meritocracy that we’d been trumpeting in front of traditional media. Why should ANYONE be able to top the Google search rankings? Only WE should be able to do that. B/R was not something any of us held in high regard.
“But one of the things I’ve learned over the last year is that a lot of folks outside of our clique did not share this negative view. They saw the site’s audience of 20 million monthly visitors. They saw their consistent efforts in attempting to engage readers. And I’d imagine that they also saw the efforts the company was making to pay their better writers.”
As a matter of commentary, I have seen Bleacher Report and have been drawn to its allure while also being repelled by it. When King Kaufman was brought on – a highly respectable writer – one had to wonder, what was in the works? Recently, John Thorn penned work for BR, someone that’s incredibly respected and now MLB’s Official Historian.
The media landscape is changing. The fall of newspapers. The fall of AOL Fanhouse. The rise of Twitter…. Bleacher Report. Somehow, nothing seems impossible anymore.
But, there’s something intriguing about how BR is taking content so seriously and how they went about courting these writers. They are not Peter Gammons or Joe Posnanski, but they are not run-of-the-mill authors. They produce great quality material that is a clear step in the right direction.
Watch Bleacher Report. Good, bad, or in-different, they are going to be a player on one level or another. Whether a stable of great writers is able to break the “poor quality” stigma will play out in the coming months.
Maury Brown is the Founder and President of the Business of Sports Network, which includes The Biz of Baseball, The Biz of Football, The Biz of Basketball and The Biz of Hockey, and is a contributor to Forbes SportsMoney blog.. He is available as a freelance writer. Brown's full bio is here. He looks forward to your comments via email and can be contacted through the Business of Sports Network (select his name in the dropdown provided).
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