@Google Presents: Sports Journalism Today

Uploaded by AtGoogleTalks on 20.07.2011

>>Male Presenter: So, welcome everyone. Today we are very fortunate to have three big-name
Bay Area sports journalists with us. [chuckles] Closest to me, we have King Kaufman, who spent
several years at Salon.com and is currently working on Bleacher Report. Just to his side
is Ethan Sherwood Strauss, or
[Strauss responds off the microphone]
>>Male Presenter: Yes. [chuckles] Yes. He, currently he works on the ESPN TrueHoop blog
as well as WarriorsWorld.net and you've also done some work for Salon in the past. And
then on the end there we have Tim Kawakami, who writes for the San Jose Mercury-News.
And this is gonna be, I guess, a bit of a panel discussion here, but we'll hear from
each of our speakers for about ten or fifteen minutes and then we'll have some time at the
end for some questions. So, Ethan, if you wanna come up to the microphone, please. Thanks.
>>Ethan Sherwood Strauss: Hi everybody. And thanks to Tim and King for coming out here.
It's just fantastic just to spend some time in this space with two of my favorite sports
And thanks so much to Justin for inviting us out. Well, I think the idea is we're talking
about sports journalism today from a multitude of perspectives,three. And my particular perspective
is more of a small-time, scrapping, trying to knock at the door of the business, and
trying to really make it in sports journalism.
And I love it. I really do. It's fantastic. I've been a fan of it for years. I've been
a fan of sports for years, obviously, and a fan of sports writers. And it's been great
so far, despite the frustrations it has. And what are the frustrations?
[Ethan Sherwood Strauss laughs]
Which is my segue [chuckles] to basically some of the things that are interesting to
me so far, now that I've been writing in public and on ESPN. Well, the irony of sports writing
to me is that you talk about this thing that everybody loves, or at least, a lot of people
People love sports, but so much of the feedback you get is negative. It's very emotional.
It's very angry. And I think that some of that has to do with just creating things in
a public space and the nature of the internet and the way people feel comfortable anonymously
I think, to paraphrase Tina Fey, I think she once said that if you're ever feeling too
good about yourself, there's this thing called the internet. And,
I think that rings true. But I do believe that with sports, fans tend to react more
vituperatively and on a more emotional level. And I think it's a unique beast. And why is
it a unique beast?
Why is this so? I think because sports often are this environment where people are living
vicariously through the participants. When fans watch their favorite players on TV, they're
really, they've bought stock in their favorite player getting assessed and him winning and
our collective praise of that player.
So when you slight that player, or that team, or it's a perceived slight, then they take
it personally. It's like you insulted them. And it's very interesting to me. Take a Derek
Rose fan. He's a really popular player on the Chicago Bulls. He's gonna win MVP. I've
gotten angry emails from fans about this particular player and I think it's because they feel
sort of one with Derek Rose, even though he's a total stranger.
And this, the angry emails were my masculinity gets put into question. It's usually in a
way that's either homophobic or sexist and I think it's different from actually the writing
at Salon.com, where King once hired me as an intern. I think many of the comments there
more pertains to intellectual vanity.
The commenter wants to prove he's smarter than you on a political issue, in the political
arena. But this, in this way, may of the fans of sports, they wanna prove that they're tougher
than you are. Or that you're a little girl [chuckles].
So, I find that curious. I also think that, much like the Salon commenter, in the sports
arena, I'm deriving my masculinity and my identity from proving that I'm smarter than
this commenter, or smarter than the conventional wisdom. So basically, the upshot is that we're
all crazy, I think, [laughs] is my eloquent way of putting it.
So, how did I get into this? Well, much like the angry commenter, it was out of frustration.
A while back, I had come back from New York with my tail between my legs, having worked
NBA PR. I couldn't find a job and I had a lot of free time. So, I just wanted a respite.
I wanted something enjoyable to do. And so I sought out the Golden State Warriors. And
as anyone who follows the Golden State Warriors, might be able [chuckles] to jump ahead of
me in the conclusion. It was not relaxing. Indeed, it was actually just more frustrating.
And born from that frustration, I started writing about them online and trying to convert
some of that negativity, some of that free time in my own life plus frustration with
the team into something positive and creative. And it's worked well. It's gotten the ball
It's gotten me doing stuff that I think is creative and fun, despite the carping I'm
doing about commenters. And it's really put me on the path to making my avocation my vocation,
which is great. And since, obviously I think you can deduce that I hate proper segues,
[chuckles] what is the state of basketball writing today from my perspective?
I think to a consumer it's fantastic. And I mean, I mainly consider myself a consumer.
With the internet and with the blogs and there are so many perspectives and so many talented
people trying to parse this sport in so many different ways. We have more information in
We have Synergy Sports, which can just give you any basketball play that you could ever
desire from any player and categorize that. And you just learn more and more. Not only
that, but we have more advanced statistics to inform you as to what the hell's happening
in the game.
And well, as Rob Mahoney of the New York Times' "Off the Dribble" Blog elucidated we're sort
of screwed in that respect because we're never ever going to completely figure basketball
out despite our advanced statistics in it. It's just exciting to try. And you just have
more information and the journey is more fun than it ever has been before.
So, for a consumer, it's great. For a writer, eh. I mean, it has its upsides and downsides.
Economically, it's certainly tough out there. It's tough to get paid. Monetizing content
is a broader issue and one that, this is just one small facet underneath that umbrella of
the problem of monetizing content.
So, just know that many of the basketball writers and sports writers out there are doing
it out of love, probably against their wiser inclinations. And emotionally, many writers
have dismissed the effect and impact of the negative feedback that I mentioned earlier.
But I just think that it has to have some sort of effect, positive or negative. Positive,
all the negative feedback that you might get from writing about sports perhaps it would
make you stronger and tougher and more inclined to search within for what you think is honest
and true and correct and just develop a thick skin.
But you could go the other way. I mean, perhaps that you would just become more inclined to
say something conventional and not get drowned in torrents of internet flame and internet
rage. And so, I think it could go one of two ways, but it certainly has an impact and that's
really interesting to me.
It's a new medium. Essentially, the internet has returned us to Elizabethan England where
you perform on stage and you get rotted fruit and vegetables thrown at you immediately.
So, I just think it's an interesting by-product of the times and I think that it does have
an impact on the profession.
On the balance, the creative community is great in basketball. I'm assuming it is for
baseball. I'm not a big follower of baseball. I know that King and Tim are. And I also want
to mention that Tim does a lot of great basketball work. I forgot, too. It's part of why the
creative community is so great.
Not only do you have young bloggers within the ESPN TrueHoop network, but you have guys
in print who are adopting some of the fantastic aspects of social media and Tim has a fantastic
blog that has a great command of tone and has a lot of reporting and breaking news combined
with the great voice and tone and opinion.
So, there's so much out there for the consumer. The community is great. I think a lot of the
bloggers, even though writers are by their nature narcissistic and insecure and all that
stuff, they work well together and we work against our worser baser instincts and we,
it's pretty much good times. So, I'm just gonna quickly go through my frustrations because
that's what started me on this path in the first place. What could be better about basketball
writing? I think that, I don't think that we police ourselves well.
I don't think that we really question writers who use anonymous sources too often, or who
use anonymous sources for the wrong reasons so as to insult a guy in a snarky way with
no name attached. I think that's unethical and immoral, but yet, I don't see other writers
really calling out that kind of behavior.
So I think that's one of the reasons why it persists. And I think I'm part of the problem
in that respect. I'm hypocritical for even bringing it up because I think a lot of people
are in my position of economic insecurity and not wanting to burn bridges and that's
why we don't go, "Hey, that's not the way to report this. That's not the way you should
do it."
So, that's a frustration. I also would say that my second frustration pertains to race
in sports. Sports are just fraught with racial issues. I mean basketball. It's a majority
black sport with a majority white fan base and majority white coaches and owners and
all that stuff.
So, obviously there are racial tensions and racial issues, but white sports writers, my
ethnic ilk, they just don't want to talk about that for the most part. And there are just
two ways it goes. It's either they say race is not an issue on a particular issue because
they're angry at an athlete, like Barry Bonds or LeBron James, and race can't be an issue
because otherwise their opinion might,
they might be in a sticky situation. So, the one way white sports writers go about it is
to say for the most part, and I'm generalizing here, there are some who make good comments
and observations. But the way they go about it is to just dismiss the issue entirely.
Or, if they think that race is an issue, then they just don't wanna talk about it and believe
that there are great black journalists and reporters who do talk about these issues.
But I think that conversation is worse or the majority of sports writers, and that would
be white sports writers, to just ignore all of the sociology of sports and a lot of these
I don't think that makes the conversation better. So, those are my frustrations and
I'm ending when I'm talking about that being as starting my whole journey in this process
in the first place. So I might as well. And thank you so much for having me and we're
gonna be doing questions at the end. And King, are you up right now? Is it,
>>King Kaufman: responds off microphone
>>Ethan Sherwood Strauss: Oh Tim's gonna go? OK. Cool.
>>Tim Kawakami: Thank you. I'm Tim Kawakami with San Jose Mercury-News. I think I'm representing
old journalism in this and knowing that probably about two more years left of old journalism.
So, if there are any job openings, please let me know. And in fact, that is what I tell
people. I have high school kids or college kids asking me, "How do I get a job?" And
I tell them, in sports writing in particular, you cannot follow my path. You can't go to
journalism school, which I did at Northwestern.
You can't get internships, like I did. You can't work your way up through newspapers.
I started in Philadelphia and worked my way back here. 'Cause those jobs aren't available.
None of those jobs are available. I say, "Go get a job at Google and figure out how to
get started writing there."
I don't know that they do that at Google, but I don't understand how you would do it
and that's what we're all figuring out. I won't go through the whole spiel because I'm
certainly, any questions are probably gonna be better than anything I say. But I do find
I'm watching Deadwood right now. I don't know if you guys watch that, the HBO show, which
I'm loving right now in DVD. It's an unincorporated land where they’re mining for gold in the
1870s. Part of no country. Part of no state. They're all just trying to fend for themselves.
And I do find myself thinking like I'm in Deadwood right now. I'm not sure if I'm the
bad-assed whorehouse runner or I'm the broke bartender or perhaps I'm one of the whores.
I don't know. We're all figuring out. We all have jobs, the ones of us who do. I got a
pretty good one and I don't wanna lose it.
But I don't know that,we're looking for Montana to annex us, or South Dakota to annex us,
or the Navajo Nation to annex us. 'Cause we're going away. We're not attached to anything
that's gonna last very much longer. We don't like to admit it, but it's true.
What we do, the journalism that we do, is important and I think people will continue
to want to read, whether it's sports or world news or politics, obviously. There are more
people reading us and more people wanting to read us than ever before. They're just
not paying for it.
And we're hoping the iPad application works out for us. I don't know that that's gonna
be the savior. We're hoping for a whole lot of things. We don’t know. And we're trying
to find out how we're gonna get attached and it's not specific to the newspaper. Each person
in the newspaper is trying to figure out how we're gonna attach.
And that's where I come in for here, is I'm just grabbing at anything. I would say up
to the year 2007, newspaper journalism was pretty much the same for the last 50 years.
And then from 2007 to now, it has changed more than it has ever changed from 1940 to
There's blogging. Now, there's Twitter, tweeting, which I'm doing all these things. The appropriate
thing for me to say is, conveniently for me, I might have been a decent columnist in my
day, I don't know. I'm a much better blogger than I was a columnist. I'm a much better
tweeter than I was a blogger.
And whatever comes next, I might be better at that, too. I just shapes, it fits my thinking.
I like fast things. I like quick comments. I like being embedded in the situation. Go
to the Chinese game yesterday and ask about Brandon Bell, the big prospect, if he's gonna
make the team.
I like getting that out quick. I like spinning it quick. I like knowing the back story and
putting that out fast, not wandering in the forest, jumping into something and grabbing
onto it, whether it's the Warriors, whether it's the 49ers.
When they're hiring their coach, Jim Harbaugh, and he had five other offers, I was tweeting
that and it got 2500 new Twitter followers in two days, because I was on top of it, generally
was not wrong on it. Generally, people were wanting to know about that.
And whatever is next up after Twitter, I'm gonna be on that, too. Whether that keeps
me going through my employment history, I don't know. But that's why we're all kinda,
I don't know. And I don't know when 19-year olds ask me what are they gonna do, I tell
them, "You tell me what we're gonna do, 'cause you're the one who's gonna decide it. ’Cause
I don't know what the jobs are gonna be."
I'm one of the youngest sports writers, main sports writers, in Bay Area newspaper sports
writing. That's pretty bad. 'Cause I ain't young. We're not building up that next generation.
The next generation of sports writers is Ethan, or is, maybe not him, though.
I'd be disappointed if it was. It's a lot different. Well, Bleacher Report, which is
one of my arch enemies, by the way, and I don't think King is specifically representative
of that, or maybe he is. But that's part of the fun for it for me, too. Bleacher Report
has attacked me and I've attacked them and we've gone back and forth.
And again, I don't know if it's been King or not, but it's OK. I don't mind it 'cause
if I can't stand it, then I shouldn't do it. And if they can't stand it, they shouldn't
do it either. And we're both still standing. And that's OK. There's certain things that
have gone on that I don't like between various other things.
There's certain things that I've done that other people haven't liked. Other old journalism
people haven't liked that. I don't mind it. I think that's part of it. I don't mind Al
Davis yelling at me and people like to laugh about that. A back and forth and accountability
that isn't just for the sports people, which I do believe they must be accountable.
But for me, too. I don't mind it. I don't mind people. You know, I turned on the radio
once just going home from watching the Warriors game on TV at my dad's house, turned on KNBR
and I heard my name on the post-game show about 17 times. What is going on here?
It's because I had a controversial position about David Lee, one of their players. The
talk show host was talking about my opinion, how wrong it was and callers were calling
up saying how wrong I was. I said, "Is this a show about me or about the Warriors?" I
don't mind that.
It perhaps means I've been accused of being too much involved. I involve myself too much,
but I also think that's part of the new journalism, if I'm gonna be part of it. It's partially
participatory, not "I am the story," or "Ethan is the story," or "King is the story," but
how that story bounces off of us and how that is reflected by us.
And if it stinks, if what I'm doing is wrong, what I love about it is you don't have to
read it. In fact, you probably won't read it. You don't have to buy a newspaper. In
fact, I guarantee most of you do not buy the San Jose Mercury News. If you read it, you
read it for free.
It's a push of the button. It's a click. If it's not being delivered to you by what I'm
doing, then you're gonna go click to somebody else. And if it's TrueHoop, if it's Bush Report,
if it's Google News, I don't know. It won't necessarily be judged by what your father
bought and what his father bought and what is delivered on your doorstep.
And I like that. I don't mind competing in that marketplace. If it's gonna be Deadwood,
then I'm gonna have a couple guns on me and I'm gonna play some poker. And if I survive,
I survive. And if I don't, I don't. And I'm kinda combative like that if you might have
been able to tell.
But I'm certainly, any other questions beyond the Deadwood analogy, I'd be happy to talk
about, but I'm gonna pass it on to King here.
>>King Kaufman: Hi. I'm King Kaufman. My background is similar to Tim. I went to journalism school
and started in newspapers. I worked in the old Hearst San Francisco Examiner, which is
not the same paper that you see today as the San Francisco Examiner.
It was the afternoon paper. And Tim said something interesting a minute ago. He said that newspapers
hadn't changed for about 50 years until 2007. And I left the Examiner. I left newspapers
at the beginning of 1996. And the reason I left is 'cause someone offered me a job.
But the reason I leaped was because the world was clearly changing around us. And the newspaper
I worked for, the entire newspaper industry was not changing with it. And it said. It
was a huge industrial failure for newspapers to not react until whenever they did,2007
or 2003 or whenever it was.
>>Tim Kawakami: 2003.
>>King Kaufman: Yeah, the mic. You have to turn the mic on at the bottom. But he said
he couldn't agree with me more. [audience laughs]
>>Tim Kawakami: [shouting] I couldn't agree with him more.
>>King Kaufman: Yeah. He agrees with me. And newspapers just completely failed to react
to the internet except to react with fear and loathing. We ran endless stories in the
Examiner about how the internet was nothing but a bunch of pedophiles and to lock it up
from your kids.
And we did nothing about this. I mean, our audience was voting with their feet as quickly
as they could, as quickly as the technology came online, that this is how we want our
information. And, at least while I was still there, we were doing nothing about it.
I went, eventually, after one or two other jobs, I went to Salon.com, where I worked
for 14 years until this past January. And I did a lot of things there. Most of what,
if anybody knows my name, because I wrote a sports column there for seven years. And
I recently, two months ago, took a job at Bleacher Report, which Tim mentioned.
[microphone feedback] So, sorry. And the person who runs the Bleacher
Report Twitter feed, which is not me, likes to go back and forth with Tim. I think that's
what he's referring to.
[Tim Kawakami responds off the microphone]
>>King Kaufman: OK. Bleacher Report has been an education for me after more than 20 years
in this business. And I wanna tell you a little bit about why that's been. The epiphany that
Bleacher Report has taught me, and working there has been like learning a foreign language.
And what really dawned on me is that journalism is practiced as an art form. I don't think
the people, I don't think those of us who do it would use those words. We wouldn't say
we're artists, but basically the decisions made are mostly aesthetic. We think this is
what we should cover because it's our judgment that we should cover these things.
The marketplace plays a part. You cover the Giants and not the local Pony League because
more people are gonna read about the Giants. But there's certain things. You cover the
water board because you have to, because that's your judgment that it's important.
What makes a good story beyond the basics of "it can't be plagiarized" and that sort
of thing, what makes a good story is an aesthetic choice. We know it when we see it. We judge
what is a good story. It makes us feel a certain way.
And then you make some concessions to the marketplace, like "well we have to cover the
Giants," or it may not be the most important thing in the world that there's a Megan Fox
movie coming out, but we're gonna run three feature stories this week about Megan Fox.
That's a marketplace decision. Bleacher Report is the opposite of that. To Bleacher Report,
what is a good story is the one that gets the most hits. And at least in the early part
of the company, the early history of the company, which has only been live for about three years
I think, the quality of it has been secondary.
Essentially, it's a product company. It's not an art company. The product is content
for sports fans. And it acts the same way it would act if it were making a car or a
piece of software:figure out what the demand is and try to supply the demand the customers.
And here's what has been really fascinating to me, learning about this, is that a couple
of months ago I would've said, "This is a recipe for disaster." If you approach content
that way, you'll do nothing but lowest common denominator crap and it'll be horrible.
And a lot of what Bleacher Report has done has been lowest common denominator crap and
it's been horrible. But what Bleacher Report has learned, and what I've learned, is one
of the things the market demands is quality.
And Bleacher Report has in the last six months, I'm not exactly sure how long 'cause I've
only been there for two months, but it's why I was hired, is in this effort to raise the
quality of the writing at Bleacher Report. Why are we doing that? 'Cause the market's
demanding it.
The Bleacher Report reached a point where it couldn't make that next level of deal,
whatever company was saying, "We're not gonna put our logo next to your logo 'cause you
guys are publishing crap." And so, OK, that's the market speaking. And the readers complaining
on Twitter, complaining everywhere, complaining in our comments.
"This is a crap article." "Bleacher Report is terrible." It was not a decision made by
the CEO who got tired of his friend's saying at parties, "Boy, Bleacher Report's content
is terrible." It was strictly a market-based decision to increase the quality. And I was
hired as part of that effort to educate our writers.
We have a huge roster of unpaid writers. You have to apply to write, but anybody can apply.
And if you're good enough, you start writing about your favorite teams in sports. And the,
what we are hoping is that you will take advantage of our editing resources and our educational
resources and our feedback, and you improve as a writer and there's various steps that
you can go through to get to the top of the writing pyramid. And at the very top there
are some paid positions, but most of the people writing for us are writing for free.
And this is what Tim and Ethan were talking about and I'd be happy to talk about it, too.
It's hard out here for a sports writer because there's an awful lot of content and there's
a lot of people who are willing to create that content without getting paid for it,
or without getting paid very much.
So, it's awfully hard to justify the idea you're gonna pay somebody to do it when you
can get people to do it for free. It's not impossible to justify that and there's good
reasons to pay people and there's good reasons to pay some people a lot of money. But it's
made it a much tougher market for simple, lemonade stand reasons.
But that's been the fascinating thing for me is learning about how the market can demand
quality and the market asked us to raise the quality of what we're doing. And we are in
the process of trying to do that. And so, that's where our little corner of sports writing
today is, is we are a voice for fans.
We let fans write about their favorite teams and sports if they're good enough. And some
of them are just fans. Some of them are Google workers by day, sports writers by nights.
Some of them are people like Ethan, or a lot of them are a lot younger than Ethan, high
school and college students, and they're just aspiring sports writers and this is a way
for them to get some training and get some feedback and get their work in front of a
pretty large audience.
And it's just been fascinating to me. So, that's my spiel on Bleacher Report on the
state of journalism today. I don't know where we wanna go from here. If anybody has any
questions for us, I guess. Do we have any questions from the web?
>>Male Presenter: So, we have one question internally. Somebody said, "My son is a freshman
in college and is pursuing a sports management journalism major. What recommendations do
you have for him as he looks to get into this competitive field?"
>>King Kaufman: What's he studying?
>>Male Presenter: It was sports management slash journalism.
>>Tim Kawakami: I said it before, I tell people, "Go work for Google." I don't know where those
jobs are coming from. That's, they're not coming from a newspaper and that's been the
training ground for years and years. Whether you start in newspapers,
a lot of the Yahoo or the formerly AOL FanHouse or ESPN.com writers came from newspapers.
The best ones did, that's for sure. That's not happening now and now writers are coming
up from other places that are not newspapers. So, the normal pathway is not there anymore.
It's very hard to say what it is, other than I think Ethan is an example I've used and
I can use some other people, is you just go find a place to write if you're gonna write
and someone discovers you. And Bleacher Report is gonna be one of those places. And whether
that morphs into something bigger as a reporter or morphs into something at another website,
probably not a newspaper.
I think that's how that's happening and I see it, how many different NBA bloggers are
out there now that just created something SI.com, ThePointForward, various other sites
have just kinda morphed out of nothing and I don't know how much money they're making,
but they're making some.
And they're creating careers out of this. And it's not the path that I know, unfortunately.
But I think good writing is sought after. People wanna read it. Good analysis. The only
word I have is a lot that is happening for people who aren't out there covering teams
every day and asking questions.
Ethan's out there. But a lot of people I read aren't. And I worry about that because, we
were just talking about this at lunch, the one thing that I think is very important that
might be getting lost is if I write something that is tough on somebody, I know I'm gonna
get yelled at very soon afterwards by that person.
And it has happened a lot. And it affects what I write, but it does not affect how I
write, or even vice versa. I'm not even sure if I said that correctly. I don't want the
next generation of writers, or the next many generations of writers not having that background
where if I write something bad about Al Davis, I'm gonna hear about it from the Raiders the
next day.
That's OK. Because it's important that I write what I write and knowing that they're gonna
react in a certain way.
>>King Kaufman: Yeah. I just wanna say I agree with Tim that if you wanna be a writer, you
write, that you find a way to write. You find a place to write. And the great thing today
is when we were starting out, if you wanted to write and have somebody read it, you had
to convince somebody to let them work for you.
And there are only so many of those spots available. And now, everybody's a newspaper.
Everybody's a publisher and you start writing your own blog, or you start writing for some
place like Bleacher Report or ESPY Nation or any one of a number of places that are
hosting writers and you get your work out there.
And if you're good and if you're passionate about it, you'll be doing it a lot and you'll
start to build an audience. And you have to go out and work it. You have to make those
connections. You have to try to get access so that you can do, it's not just writing,
as Tim points out.
There's also the reporting edge of it and that's harder to get into because there can't
be that open market for access because you just can't fit. The world can fit 50000 NBA
bloggers, but you can’t put 50000 people in the Celtics locker room. So, that's a harder
part of it.
But you start writing and that's the way to get somewhere. Find a place where you can
get people reading you. And you can create that place on Blogspot.com or any other place.
>>Male Presenter: I think Tim and King covered that question quite well. Is there a question
in the back?
>>MALE AUDIENCE MEMBER #1: I'm not sure this is even relevant to today, but we don't have
a whole lot of other people waiting, so I'll try this. [chuckles] I went to Sundance and
saw 13 movies and my favorite was Big Fan. Did any of you guys see that?
>>Ethan Sherwood Strauss: Yes, yes I did.
>>MALE AUDIENCE MEMBER #1: So, it's about the relationship of the fan to his favorite
player. The guy actually gets beaten up by his favorite player. [chuckles]
>>Ethan Sherwood Strauss: Quantrell Bishop, I believe.
>>MALE AUDIENCE MEMBER #1: Yeah. So through a lot of this event, I just wanted to bring
that up and see what you thought of that movie.
>>Ethan Sherwood Strauss: I thought it was a very good movie and it made me feel actually
a little sad and pathetic as a sports fan and a sports writer. And how you know it's
good. If a movie makes you feel a little, if it makes you feel anything, [chuckles]
especially shame, then it's probably doing something right.
And I think I sort of touched on that when I spoke earlier about how it is a little ridiculous
to watch sports and to be a fan these complete strangers. And I think, at least for men,
and I'm speaking from that perspective, a lot of times it's as though we're trying to
siphon masculinity from these warriors. [chuckles]
And we're trying to feel more manly vicariously through them. And I think that was something
that movie lampooned. And it's certainly something I do on a certain level and it's certainly
something that's a little bit ridiculous. So, that would be my response to your question.
>>Male Presenter: Any other? OK.
MALE AUDIENCE MEMBER #2: Just wanted to follow up on one point that you guys both made, Tim
and King, on access. And the question I really have is do you think that quality has been
forever compromised with a decline in access.
I know when I was, maybe ten years ago, I don't even like baseball, but I used to love
reading Peter Gammons 'cause I knew that he talked to everybody. He knew exactly what
was going on. He had the inside scoop. And if he said the Giants were gonna be good,
then the Giants were gonna be good.
No offense to Ethan, but if somebody else said the Giants were gonna be good but he
didn't have that sort of inside knowledge, I'm gonna have less interest in reading. Given
like all the other channels now that teams have,
the players have their own Twitter feeds and blogs and teams, I think, are much more savvy
about the way they put the information out, letting in behind the scenes, do you think
that we'll ever have that again where you have that truly unique access and voice that
professional writers used to have, given their relationship with the teams they cover?
>>King Kaufman: I think you have more access today than you had 15 years ago reading Peter
Gammons. And I don't think you even realize how much you know today that you wouldn't
have known 15 years ago.
Like you say, the teams put out more information. The players have, I mean, any source, any
story has access to you directly. You hear and see more than ever would have been heard
or seen when everything that you had to know had to come through Peter Gammons and however
many other beat-writers your local team had.
There will always be some access. There's always gonna be somebody who's got that access,
whether it's the Peter Gammons' type, or they'll start letting the top bloggers in. They're
never gonna close the clubhouse. I don't think that, even if Tim is right and newspapers
are going away, some thing or somebody will take their place.
So, I think the access is getting better all the time. Although, countervailing that is
that like you say, teams are getting savvier all the time. And they are smarter about what
they, how they train people and what they are willing to say. And they know they are
being watched 24/7, but they are being watched 24/7.
>>Tim Kawakami: I just wanted to make a point that I love, 'cause I do talk about this,
it does, credibility isn't something you can just go out and grab. And Gammons, probably
more so five, ten years ago than now, but people like Gammons have earned it because
not they're the one that you see.
They're the one you trust. And my old retort was "it's gonna come out in the wash." There's
a thousand people maybe writing now. The five best ones are the ones who are gonna last
because they're the ones people want to read and they care about reading.
And whether their newspaper goes down, or ESPN doesn't hire them, but however, if they're
good, they're good and people are going to trust them and gonna believe in what they
write and will want to read what they write the next day. That always is my definition.
Something big happens, who do I wanna read? I wanna read this person, period. And what
you speak to, is that sort of sensibility. I think it will come out in the wash. I think
people do vote with their fingers now and the audience is gonna be there.
But the strainer is gonna be more immense now because it's instead of a hundred people
to choose from, like King said, it's a thousand, it's 15 thousand, it's the Twitter feed, it's
MLB.com, it's Fox Network. Katie Rosenthal writes for Fox: very authoritative. All the
writers for ESPN.com: very authoritative.
In San Francisco, we may have a few of our own. I'm not gonna name them because if I
leak people out, I wouldn't want to do that. But it's gonna take that sense of "I need
to read somebody accountable and I don't necessarily need to read the five people the team wants
me to read."
The Warriors maybe do this. Maybe other teams don't do it as much as the Warriors do. But
that is always gonna be worth something. Websites are paying for people who have this kind of
ability, nationally more so than locally. Unfortunately for many of us, the money is
in the national news.
But it's still gonna be there because people still wanna read it. 'Cause you wanna read
it because many people are like you. It's taken more time than I would like it to have.
I wish there was a more marketplace in the Bay Area. This is a big place. We don't have
that. ESPN has gone to LA, New York, Chicago, Dallas, with varying levels of success.
I still think it's gonna be needed. I just don't, and again what I don't know and the
frustrating matter for me is that I don't know who's gonna pay us for it. Comcast is
now hiring writers and with some amount of credibility and some with great credibility.
I'm still a little leery of that because in the Giants zone, 40% of them they have contracts
with all the teams.
I had my own blow-up with them over the Warriors. Again, I have marginal faith in something
like that. It's still possible. And they still need people to trust what they're writing
isn't coming strictly from an athlete or a team. And I do think they are out there and
they will continue to be out there.
>>Ethan Sherwood Strauss: I think the money-making, or at least the wealthier sports publications,
respect and just crave writers with access, maybe even to a fault in some instances.
Although, I should take that back. Not to a fault, but they crave people with access.
That's why Brian Windhorst, he covered the Cavs. He knows everything about LeBron James.
He's been following him since, I believe, middle school. And he was the Cleveland Plain
Dealer writer.
Well, when ESPN set up a blog to cover the Miami Heat, they brought Brian Windhorst along.
Why did they bring him along? I mean, he's a Cavs writer. Well, they brought him along
because he has access to everybody in LeBron's camps.
So, I think that companies do value that and I also think from the team side, they'll try
to restrict access and they'll try to sanitize it for the sake of their PR, but I think they
know that even bad publicity is publicity. And if you grant access to writers and you
just have more people out there talking about your team, even if it's negative, there's
a value in that.
So I think that it will always be around. And I guess what I also want to say is that
there are more ways to contribute value than just having access. You can be a great writer.
You can have an artistic way of conveying your thoughts.
You can be very smart about statistical modeling and be able to know something about the outcomes
and how good a team is that perhaps the guy who's embedded in the clubhouse doesn't. So,
there are various ways to provide value. And the best way to get noticed is to be good.
>>Male Presenter: Any other questions?
>>MALE AUDIENCE MEMBER #3: So first of all, thank you so much for being here and I'm gonna
ask a question which nobody really knows the answer to, but I wanted to get your three
perspectives on it anyways.
Which is, the million dollar question, up until 2007 the newspaper industry has been
very similar for the last 50 years and it's been going through a lot of extreme changes.
From all three of you, how do you predict over the next 20 years, 30 years, that journalists
will be paid?
And what types of new revenue models might we find if any? Or, will it be closer to there's
so many people creating content that 80, 90% of them are doing it for not enough to get
paid a full living's worth? And then there's the 10, 20% that have that access, that have
the job at ESPN.
Or could it be that, sorry, could it be that maybe a newspaper like the SF Chronicle isn't
as much of a way that people make money but there's personal blogs where the overhead
is a lot lower, but it's enough to cover a single person's living? Just wanted to get
everybody's thoughts on that.
>>Ethan Sherwood Strauss: OK. I guess I'll go first. I can tell you how I personally
handle that problem of not knowing where the next paycheck is coming from, or not knowing
if it will be sustainable in the future. And for now, that's just not having kids.
Or planning to have kids anytime soon, mixed with some naiveté and the hopeful belief
that since I love this and since it's a passion of mine and perhaps in my grandiosity I feel
like I have something to offer that eventually I'll be able to make money on it somehow become
a star in the field.
So, I handle it with narcissism, naiveté, hopefulness. And I don't know what's coming
around the corner, but I know in the current state I feel good about what I'm doing. And
I'm just hoping and praying and I'm sure Tim and King have some good answers.
>>Tim Kawakami: I can say that I don't think newspapers are gonna survive. They're not.
But I more talking in specific a newspaper that's printed on newsprint and delivered
to homes and has advertisements for cars and classified ads for apartments. That's what's
Going to go. It's not gone yet. It's still paying me, thank God. I think we've seen that
the titles mean something. We haven't seen these newspapers fold, or many of them, a
few of them, despite the prospect of, very little prospect in the future of making the
kind of money that these companies want.
My dearest hope [chuckles] is that the titles mean enough that when the transition happens,
and I mention the iPad app. There's various ideas floating around about iTunes like payment,
micropayment structures. I don't know if I believe that's actually gonna work or not,
but at least there's ideas out there that we should have been thinking about as gains.
We should have been thinking about it since 1995, but we didn't. The title itself, that
what, again, without planning it, the reason why I blog, the reason why I tweet, the reason
why I do those, or I'm on the radio and they don't pay you when you're a guest on the radio,
unfortunately, is that if and when there's a time when they streamline newspaper or whatever
is next, and I'm just gonna say it's newspapers.
Say there's a San Jose Mercury-News idea, maybe not printed up, or maybe it's a weekly,
or maybe it's something other, or some other form, the actual reporting and the website
will have enough behind it where that will be enough. The San Jose Mercury-News is an
It still means something to people. If the San Jose Mercury-News says something--. If
I put--. I'm not the first. If I blog something and reporters across the nation quoted the
San Jose Mercury-News, it really wasn't the San Jose Mercury-News. It was my blog that
says San Jose Mercury-News host.
They don't edit it. And they don't write the headlines. They don't monitor the reporting.
They trust me with it. And if I was, again, would go into the marketplace here, if I was
bad at it I assume that people wouldn't read it to the level that they do. The same goes
with my Twitter feed.
They don't touch my Twitter feed, it's; I push a button. It goes up. That idea that
the Mercury-News, even if people aren't reading the newspaper, which they aren't very much
anymore, [audience member sneezes] means something. It carries me. The next thing, when there's
an idea that we can monetize this that it will mean something in whatever it is.
But it hasn't folded. The LA Daily News loses money, owned by my company, loses God knows
how much money every day. San Francisco Chronicle loses God knows how much money every day.
We don't. We don't make enough. And they have not folded.
There's a reason for this. In my optimistic world, it's because they still, the title,
still means something that if the title goes away, I don't know what replaces it that is
anything even close to it. So, when we figure out a way, an economic model, and again, I
don't like,
and those people are very much still the ones who ignored the changes in the late '90s are
still very much the same people trying to figure out what the moves are now. I would
have much more faith in any cross-section of people who I saw walking around this campus
today than the people running.
And I hope the people running this paper are not looking at this right now, [chuckles lightly]
but when there's something, and the marketplace will find it, I think, I think the titles
will still be there. I still might not be there myself, but I think the titles still
mean something just because the Chronicle should have closed three years ago if you
look at the money of it. It hasn't and I don't think it will.
>>King Kaufman: Yeah, I agree. I think that there's tremendous demand. That's not going
away. We still have the same demand. I mean, the same societal needs for watchdogs on our
institutions and we need to know what's going on in our town with our government and with
corporations and we wanna know who won the ball game.
And even in sports, I think the demand is ever-growing. And even with, at Bleacher Report
with this big tent , come write for us. We have a hard time. We're publishing five, six,
seven hundred articles a day and we're having trouble feeding the demand. If we could figure
out a way to publish a thousand articles a day, people would read them.
The hard part is finding enough people to write them. The fact that writers have gotten
paid for writing for newspapers for the last hundred and whatever years, 200 years, is
an historical accident. I mean, people really weren't paying for the writing. Nobody was
really buying the paper to read about the water board.
What we were really selling was a big, giant hunk of paper that had advertising in it.
And that's what was subsidizing all this coverage. And that product, that big hunk of paper,
has gone away. That doesn't exist anymore. And so, what's left is the part that didn't
have as much value as that big piece of paper with all the advertisements in it.
And so, we need to figure out some other way to run the business, some other way to subsidize
all the writing and reporting. And we haven't found it yet. That's the big project of journalism
of the next however many years, is figuring out what that is.
It's probably not gonna be one magic bullet thing like, "Oh, here's a substitute for the
big hunk of paper." There's lots of different ways that are being tried. There's Spot Us,
which is voluntary giving, voluntary payment to, it's a website where you pay to fund certain
You're a freelancer, you put up a story idea. "I wanna do this story and if I can raise
this much money, I'll do it." And people donate. And if you get to that point, then you do
the story. There's non-profits that take donations. There's businesses that are doing other things.
There's MLB.com, which is, that's the company covering itself and putting it at arm's length
sometimes and saying, "OK, we don't approve this story, but our writers have some independence."
And we all, as intelligent consumers, know, "Well, OK. MLB.com's not working. I'm gonna
go for the breaking story about the steroids scandal."
But for the 90% of the rest of it, I can get it there. And so it's this, it's gonna be
this big patchwork of who knows what and nobody knows what it all is, but I'm with Tim in
being optimistic about this because there is this huge demand for it. And where there
is this kind of demand, our society always figures out a way to fill it.
And 200 years ago, compared to us, they were uneducated, ignorant, racist, sexist pig farmers
and they figured out a way to cover their society.
>>Tim Kawakami: We need to return to that, frankly. I need that back.
>>King Kaufman: I think we can do it, too. It's just taking time.
>>MALE AUDIENCE MEMBER #4: You sort of touched on this, but I was wondering how important
it'll be for an aspiring writer to live in a major market. So as before, the idea was
to work for the New York Times or the LA Times, 'cause these are large market newspapers with
large market sports teams.
You could cover the Yankees, Lakers or something. And that could still be important because
these teams still play in those areas, but if you're an aspiring sports writer or any
other kind of writer, you wanna be affiliated with a major title. I know Ethan, you're affiliated
with a national, ESPN is a national title and no one considers it like the Bristol,
Connecticut newspaper or whatever.
But if you wanted to be, take the next step and become a major national writer, would
you have to be based in Los Angeles, or New York, or Chicago? Or, could you still be,
let's say, come from Minneapolis or something? Would you have to be located in one of those
major markets?
>>Tim Kawakami: I'll just come in quickly. It might not be an exact example, but maybe
the best, maybe my favorite and maybe the best sports writer in America right now is
Joe Posnanski out of Kansas City.
>>King Kaufman: I was gonna say the exact same thing.
>>Tim Kawakami: Yeah. Kansas City Star columnist was writing miraculous stuff out of there.
I couldn't believe how good it was out of that paper. And Jason Whitlock was there also
at the same time.
And I can't say anymore. He's went to FoxSports.com. If you have a big vision, if you have a big
talent, he would be big, I think, in any town. But because of now of the internet is just
a press of the button, and he's the same to me as what The Chronicle is, he's probably
even easier for me to read.
And at SI now, but he was even easier because San Francisco Chronicle's got a pay wall that
I don't subscribe to. If you are, again, it's my free market vision, is that yeah, it's
because he writes about big things in a big way, in a way that is compelling to me. Joe
Posnanski's in Kansas City.
He couldn't be bigger. If he goes to New York, he wouldn't be any bigger than he is right
now because he's ridiculously good in Kansas City, because he's found what to write. He
writes about big things and he just so happens to be based out of Kansas City.
>>King Kaufman: And I think it's a really interesting question because I think 20 years
ago, Joe would've had to go to New York to get that job at Sports Illustrated, which
is his dream job. I think he probably would've had to move to New York and now he's writing
for the Kansas City Star and then he started his own blog, also.
And SI came after him and they're happy to have him living and working in Kansas City
writing for this national magazine. And I think that's much easier to do today. I mean,
he travels all over. He goes to wherever the events are, but that's easier to do now than
it probably was 20 or 30 years ago.
>>Ethan Sherwood Strauss: Yeah, I think that's a great question. And it's a complicated one
to unwrap. It sort of depends on what your approach is. I think Posnanski, he only wants
to be known as a writer.
I heard on a recent interview on Jonah Keri's podcast he was saying that he doesn't like
doing the radio stuff and I think doesn't like doing the TV stuff. But if you do want
to expand your brand and be one of those TV or radio guys, it might work out better to
be in one of those bigger markets.
Jason Whitlock's the counter example. I think he moved to LA in part because there are more
TV opportunities there and Fox can help him extend his brand. But as an aspiring sports
writer, as a younger guy, I mean you can't even be that choosy. You just have to work
where people will hear you.
And I know Royce Young does great work covering the Oklahoma City Thunders. He lives in Oklahoma
City. He just started blogging about them and his work was good enough to give him recognition
and it helps that they're a good team that people pay attention to.
But I think that if you're starting out? If you're starting out, market is almost ancillary
to what you're trying to accomplish. I think for athletes, big market is more important.
Is there another question?
>>Male Presenter: Yeah. I think the hour's up, so I just wanna thank King and Ethan and
Tim for coming to talk to us.
>>King Kaufman: Thank you for having us.