A few weeks ago, a group of local sportswriters started a website entitled SportsPress Northwest. A well-put-together online periodical, SportsPress Northwest was founded by Art Thiel and Steve Rudman, two former Seattle Post-Intelligencer journalists who had been struggling to stay relevant since the newspaper closed up its print operations in March, 2009. First glance at the website will tell you that a) this project was decently-funded, b) these guys have a talented supporting cast around them, and c) they clearly know how to write about sports. And yet in spite of all that, no one really cares.
It’s an unfortunate circumstance of the newspaper industry slowly falling to pieces, but unless your words are plastered on the pages of a daily print production, you might as well be Casper the Friendly Ghost. To remain apropos in the online world, you have to either do something that nobody has done before, or do whatever it is you’re doing better than everyone else who happens to be doing that very same thing. Most people don’t realize that. Thiel, Rudman, and their SPNW cohorts are guilty of this naivety.
Watching these once-revered journalistic gods channel Kenny Powers in their collective attempt to locate the comeback trail is disheartening. Back in the day, the faces of these columnists landed on the doorsteps of homes all around the Greater Seattle area every single morning. Now, though, the befallen few are clinging to the only profession they truly know by attempting to compete with major news outlets. You can’t compete with the mainstream media. No one can. And yet former mainstreamers, for reasons no one can explain, seem to think it’s possible. It’s not.
If you don’t believe me, take a look at the Seattle PostGlobe. This upstart website was spawned by a group of former P-I employees shortly after the paper folded twenty-one months ago. Thiel was among the writers that helped launch the PostGlobe. Unfortunately, the venture was, and continues to be, a dud missile.
Where the PostGlobe fails is in its venue. This is mainstream news in a non-mainstream format. A square peg in a round hole. This template doesn’t work for a number of reasons. In some cases, lack of media credentials are to blame. In others, it’s a speed of information issue. In others still, it’s the underwhelming caliber of reporting. Why would anyone read your outdated information when they already received better, faster, more reliable information from a superior source? What makes your voice unique? What makes it special? What makes it interesting? These are all questions that former mainstream media members have failed to answer in their quest to join the blogosphere. And it’s what prevents many would-be bloggers (and yes, I still very much hate the word “blog,” in all its forms) from finding success in the mysterious world of the interwebs.
So how does one go about succeeding in this empire of journalistic anarchy, anyway? Good question.
Fact is, there are a lot of boring-ass blogs out there. Everyone wants to be a writer, yet they don’t really know how to write. Worst of all, they try to cater to an audience that, frankly, doesn’t exist. Allow me to explain.
When I first started Seattle Sportsnet, I had this vision of being a local sports media guru. I was going to tell you about everything that pertained to the Seattle sports scene. Occasionally, I would interject my opinion and try to draw emotion out of the readership. But most of all, I would be a news source. I quickly realized that this was an epic fail waiting to happen.
Like I said earlier, you can’t compete with the mainstream media. If you think you can, your an idiot. (Hopefully, you caught my improper use of the word “your” in the previous sentence. That was done on purpose. My friend Jerry Brewer once told me that “your an idiot” is one of his all-time favorite quotes. I tend to agree. I also just dropped a name on you. Allow me to pick that up. I don’t usually drop names like that.)
Whether or not a mainstream media member is any good at his or her job is completely irrelevant. Whether you happen to be a more talented manipulator of the English language than said mainstream media member is also irrelevant. What really matters is the audience. Mister or Miss Mainstream Media has a vast audience the size of Jupiter. Your audience, by comparison, is more favorable in mass to Rhode Island. Even if the mainstream media spews crap like an overflowing septic tank, people will still read what emerges on that newsprint every day. Will they read your shizz? Not unless you make it appealing. And that’s the task facing all bloggers (or as they say in East Asia, broggers).
Too often, I watch other local sports aficianados attempt and subsequently fail to foster their own online creations. Instead of focusing on unique commentary, they concern themselves with game recaps and half-assed analyses. Does anyone care? No. Why? Because any reader with half a brain would rather read an account of the same event in The Seattle Times. It’s as simple as that.
Which leads us to what works.
Remember how I said that in order to succeed in the online world you need to either a) do something that nobody has done before, or b) do whatever it is you’re doing better than everyone else who happens to be doing the exact thing? Well there’s a third option. You can do what everyone else is doing, but do it in a completely different way. Competing with no one, and yet always besting the perceived competition. Because readers will always see you as an option, see other bloggers as competitors. In your own mind, however, if you’re not competing, if you’re just doing this for fun, then you cannot lose.
My favorite writer doesn’t even consider herself to be a writer. She’s someone who writes about her life, random occurrences, funny incidents, little things that might not matter to a lot of people if it weren’t for her ability to recount every detail in an amusing way. The tales she tells are completely unique. They draw on experiences that are entirely singular to her and her alone. No one else has ever written on this particular topic before because no one else has lived this moment. There are no other scribes vying for this write-up because no one else has been made privy to the story. No competition. No repetition. No possible way of screwing this up.
Starting out your blog with zero chance of failure is only the bare minimum. Not failing doesn’t equal success. To be successful, you have to take your game to the next level. You have to give a soul to the script, infuse your words with emotion, give each sentence a heartbeat, pump rhythm into every paragraph. Write with passion, type with a purpose, then put everything together and lay it out as vulnerably as you can before the world. Leaving nothing behind, your audience will come. They’ll care. They’ll consume. They’ll crave. And all you’ll have to do is communicate.
Blogs were originally meant to be online diaries for average people. They’ve since become sources of revenue and entertainment for the masses. As blogs have transformed into something greater, the people behind the articles have shifted strategy. Instead of just writing to write, they’ve begun writing to make money, writing to sell something, writing to sell themselves, writing to an assumed congregation of nobodies. The secret to blogging is to be unique, have a voice, write passionately, and provide a distraction from the everyday articles we consume through our mainstream pipeline. If you can’t do that, or simply aren’t willing to, then you might as well give up. Your audience will fail to materialize. Your words will never be consumed. You’ll just be wasting your time.
If you can’t put heart and soul into something — be it a blog or anything else — it won’t flourish. Blogs demand your heart and your soul. The words demand the same thing. The audience respects the realism, respects the authenticity. And at the end of the day, this is all just a game. It’s supposed to be fun.
Think of Chevy Chase’s character in Caddyshack. Best golfer ever. Never kept score. Always had fun. He pissed everyone off because he wasn’t playing their game. And yet in some crazy, mixed-up way, he won in his own mind. That’s how you have to view this game of blogging. The same way that construction tycoon Ty Webb viewed the game of golf. If you can’t lose, you’re only left with one option: to win.
It’s only a game.