Monday, March 02, 2009

Chris Tomasson: Future of NBA News?

I feel for Chris Tomasson, Nuggets beat reporter for the Rocky Mountain News -- as I feel for everyone at the shuttered paper. (I work with a ton of ex-Rocky folk, and they are awesome.)

So what should Chris do? The 2008-ish thing to do would be to immediately launch a Nuggets blog and use all of his unique resources and insights (previously funded by the Rocky) to establish himself as the pre-eminent Nuggets blog. He has the reporting skills and the credibility among mainstream NBA reporters to make it work.

But how to pay for it?

Maybe he can cut a deal with SB Nation. Actually, they already have good one: Pickaxe and Roll. Or maybe hook up with Henry Abbott's TrueHoop Network on They already have a fine Nuggets blog, too: Roundball Mining Company.

And here's the thing about those very good team blogs: The great work they do? It's on the side -- neither blog pays for doing the job full-time, so consider the quality work they do is on top of their "day job."

So here's the problem: Chris can't get paid full-time by a newspaper (or its online-media proxy) to cover the Nuggets. (God bless him if he can find that work, btw.) He could start a blog, but he'd have to (a) find a rent-paying job first, and (b) cut a distribution deal, with the two leading players off the table.

Oh, and on top of that, tirelessly (but not too shamelessly) attempt to market his own work to generate the audience -- the links on higher-traffic blogs, maybe a link-back, maybe a blog-roll, ideally reaching his absolute core audience of Nuggets fans -- enough to make it worth it for a partner to give him more exposure and perhaps the chance at a few bucks in ad revenue -- provided he take all that work to create an audience and assign it to the network.

And he still needs that day-job, which -- as any blogger with a day-job will tell you -- saps time and energy like nothing else. It's what makes most team blogger output -- most blogger output, period -- so amazing. This all, of course, presupposes that he can wrap his mind around blogging -- because it's not like reporting and great info, alone, doesn't win.

I can think of one other option (and I believe Mark Cuban wrote about this a few weeks ago): Cut a deal directly with the team to create and write a blog on behalf of the team.

The team gets the credibility of an established journalist covering the team; the reporter gets access and just enough funding to continue his work. Can he write the expose about the two players violating the NBA substance-abuse policy? No. Can he write about a Jason Hart signing? Or analyze the team's performance on the floor? Or preview the next opponent? Or write feature-y puff pieces about how great LeBron is? All day.

(Then again, it's not like NBA teams are flush with cash to carry full-time bloggers. I will say that the teams doing this best -- the Hawks and Suns and Rockets come to mind, though I don't mean to dis others -- are getting a terrific ROI.)

Here's the reality: NBA fans -- particularly at the local level -- have a tremendous appetite for content. NBA team blogs are arguably the best of any pro-league blogging ecosystem. It is getting more crowded by the week; it is getting harder and harder to "break through" without a legacy of audience or an existing mass-distribution system. And it is certainly harder than ever to make money doing it.

So there are two choices for him: Get very very innovative (and lose the reporter's notebook for a little while and practice up on running some Excel spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations to convince someone to pay you to do what you love)... or get a day job and cover the Nuggets for fun.

You will be welcome either way.

-- D.S.

PS: This was totally inspired by a post by Rob Neyer (itself inspired by a post by FanGraphs' Dave Cameron, himself in the "gold standard" tier among team-specific bloggers.)


MM said...

It's already happening in baseball, with the Giants at least. They have two former newspaper veterans writing blogs: ex-San Jose Mercury News beat writer Chris Haft and former San Francisco Chronicle reporter/columnist Joan Ryan. It's not a bad deal, it gives the team some credibility by using familiar, trusted writers, and it provides the writers with jobs. However, when you get down to it, it's glorified PR for the team. I don't blame the writers, they need a job and there aren't any newspaper ones these days. But I don't think you can underestimate the importance of independent reporting. Would a team blog have ever broken anything on the steroid scandal? Or a player's arrest? Or back-door dealings for a new stadium? Hooking up with a team is a nice stopgap measure so you can pay the mortgage, but it's not the big-picture solution. Not if fans want real news.

MM said...

An addendum: Here's another veteran newspaper beat writer-turned-blogger, writing on the importance of having professional reporters:

0s0-Pa said...

Im sure he can hire some1 to do it for him, at least most of the work.
-Jack @ Sportz Buzz