We're running a segment here at The Big Picture where we'll interview some of the biggest names in the sports blogosphere. What's the point? Well, these guys spend countless, thankless hours writing, so a little recognition from time to time is well warranted. Think of this as the blogger's version of a reach-around or something.
Up today is Dan Shanoff who is the creator/writer of the former ESPN Page 2 column, "The Daily Quickie." He's now taken his show to the blogosphere and runs the site Dan Shanoff, a name which we're sure he spent hours coming up with. Oh, and he's got his own Wikipedia page. Whoa! Big time! Here's Dan to take it away. Be nice.
1. The rundown:
Name: Dan Shanoff
Location: New York, NY
Favorite team: Florida Gators
Links to your favorite all-time posts you've written. (3-5)
V-Day 2007 (on Free Darko, 5th item down)
Obama/Arenas in '08!
BCS Mess Solution
Simmons vs. Colbert Live-Blog
Jags '06 Preview (on Deadspin)
Time per day spent blogging and perusing the blogosphere: 3-8 hours.
2. Take us through a typical day of blogging for you.
1. Up really early to see what to write about.
2. Scan mainstream media outlets (news only).
3. Go through my favorite sports blogs.
4. Put together daily "morning" post
5. Read blog-user Comments
6. Post again if inspired
Repeat 3 and 5 obsessively/compulsively
3. We're journalists and suspect we have many readers who are or aspire to be too. You being a well-established writer, can you please walk us through your career, perhaps starting with your days at Northwestern and early jobs and internships. And how did that turn in to a column at ESPN.com?
I stubbornly refused to leave Chicago after college, but stubbornly insisted on a career as a sportswriter. In 1995, there was only one place for me: Online, where two MBA drop-outs were getting money from AOL (Me: "So what's this A-O-L?") to start a sports site. All I knew was that they were going to pay me to write about sports.
Most importantly, they gave me the freedom to write about whatever I wanted -- and there were no rules about what was appropriate for online. So I and my co-workers ditched traditional journalism notions for a far more "fan-centric" voice. That seems ubiquitous now, but back in January 1996, that seemed really cool and revolutionary. And readers really clicked with it.
Meanwhile, a huge part of our editorial strategy was to let fans have a voice, so we did some really cool things with user-generated content. Again, this was back in '96. (I'm misting up now...not because of the good times, but because I was far too short-sighted to realize that there was a LOT of money to be made with that concept. Guess it took about a decade.) But I was having so much fun: Being paid right out of college to write whatever I wanted about sports, all while living in Wrigleyville with my best friends? Ridiculous!
Anyway, that experience set me up the rest of my career, because I enjoyed early-mover status in "online content." From the start-up, I was recruited away to work for ESPN.com in Seattle. I was the college hoops editor, working nights and weekends. But imagine the best sports-argument you've ever had, with the smartest sports fans you've ever met, every night. That's what it was like working on the news desk with that group. I get all Glory Days-ish, and some of those guys went on to great things: Kevin Jackson was NFL Editor and is now Executive Editor of ESPN.com. David Schoenfield was MLB Editor and is now Editor of Page 2 at ESPN.com.
I ended up heading back East, and through relationships and my experience, I worked for the NFL (on NFL.com) and for SI (on then-CNNSI.com). I had a quick jaunt at a stereotypical Silicon Alley start-up at the peak of the dot-com boom before jumping ship after the crash for business school. And that's a segue to your next question, where I'll answer how that turned into the Quickie...
4. You have an MBA from Harvard. Um, what are you still doing writing?!
Funny: I get that question more than any other. First, I'm writing because I love it. Second, it's because that two years getting my MBA gave me the perspective to step back, evaluate what I really wanted to do -- and then successfully pitch ESPN.com to let me publish the Daily Quickie.
Consider what I was asking: A five-day-a-week column. About virtually anything I wanted. In what was essentially my own "time slot." And in the "short-form" style I preferring writing in -- and saw was becoming the consumers' preferred choice.
I never would have had the confidence to pursue that without the MBA, which not only affirmed that writing was what I wanted to do, but also helped me analytically frame the column's pitch: As much as it was a "dream" column for me, it filled a real need within ESPN.com's editorial programming -- and a previously unmet reader appetite.
The work I put into pitching the column was as much of a business analysis as it was an editorial analysis. I loved writing the column, but it was equally satisfying to see the traffic, the reader-satisfaction and the revenue I had projected be realized.
If you'll indulge me, let me briefly dovetail both of the last two questions, because I want to at least take a stab at the "take-aways for aspiring journalists" thing:
At its most fundamental, I recognized an unmet consumer need, then was able to articulate how to fill it (and, critically, how that makes sense for a company) and to pair that with some very good relationships. But it all started with recognizing that need.
The good news for aspiring journalists is that there hasn't been a moment of such "unmet consumer need" in the media in our lifetimes. There are opportunities all over the place, because media companies are diverting resources from their traditional platforms and flooding them into new platforms like online (where they should be, because that's where the advertisers are going, because that's where the consumers are going.) That's good news for aspiring writers -- or should I say: "Content producers." There's no shame in that new-fangled label.
Will you get to do your "dream job?" Not necessarily. But you might very well find a reasonably interesting writing or editing job that you get paid to perform.
I'd hammer home this defining question: What is your niche and how unique is it? And is it enough to generate an audience that is large enough to attract sponsorship or acquisition prospects?
5. Any glaring differences between writing the "Daily Quickie" for Page 2 and now writing a blog?
Glaring? Yes: Getting paid.
Otherwise, blogging is similar to the Quickie in that it's a lot of short-form, quick-hit items, and I get to cover most everything people are talking about. The voice in my blog is virtually the same as was in my column.
In the blog, it's nice to be able to write a little longer if I want to. It's nice to curse when that might be appropriate. It's nice to talk about unsubstantiated rumors or stuff that isn't necessarily appropriate for a family audience.
It's also nice to be able to do more media criticism, if only because that often reflects what fans are talking about. Oh, and it's nice to be able to be (even) lazier in my analysis if that's how I'm feeling at that moment.
And I think the sports-blog community is unbelievably cool and supportive. That's not to say that my colleagues at ESPN.com weren't great -- they absolutely were.
But the sports-blog universe has been awesome. There are very few notable feuds or rivalries -- everyone seems to be rooting for each other. For the most part, we admire each other's work (at least, I admire so many other bloggers...can't say they feel the same way about me!)
6. Dream job? Go.
Wait: Didn't I have it with the Daily Quickie?
When I hit the moment where I was writing the Quickie, doing a bunch of radio stuff and finally breaking through in TV to get on "Around the Horn," that was pretty close to the dream.
(But, wow: I would hate to think that my best career years are behind me. At 34? Cripes, would that be depressing.)
If I was getting really pie-in-the-sky, I'd say Commissioner of a sports league or President of my own TV network. (And the HBS grad in me would say, "Hey: Why not?")
7. What was it like working for ESPN.com and more specifically, Page 2? Did you get close with any editors or other writers? (We talked to Jim Caple a few months back and he said he only met Bill Simmons once).
I know you want some dish, but I'm going to disappoint. This is not b.s.: I personally couldn't have had a better experience working for ESPN.com.
Let's see: I brought them a concept that was pretty much my dream scenario. They bought it. I got to write every day, with a bunch of supportive, hands-off editors who allowed me to develop this uncharted gimmick and voice. And they let me do it for nearly four years!
Working on Page 2 was pretty amazing. I started in January of 2001, writing random off-the-news columns and, eventually, the remarkably shallow "What's Hot, What's Not" column before I launched the Quickie. I'm not quite sure I will have a professional thrill that makes me prouder than being affiliated, in any way, with Ralph Wiley. And I was part of the ill-fated "Writers' Bloc," which coulda/shoulda/woulda been the Huffington Post for sports.
I connected with the Page 2 editors more than the writers, and I consider all of the editors terrific friends, even today. I didn't see the writers too often face-to-face, but whenever I emailed to offer compliments or ask a question, there was always a friendly response. That's the experience I had with nearly every ESPN.com writer. It's a great bunch of guys.
I know if I was a reader of this interview, I would have been disappointed by that answer, if only because it lacked the catfights. This is what I get for being sequestered alone in my apartment.
8. There are all sorts of wonderful blogs out there. A few you'd recommend?
Wow, where to start? Deadspin, obviously -- both Will and MJD. And while I love that the sports-blog world is mostly fragmented by specific sport or team coverage, I appreciate the handful of blogs that, like mine, try to cover it all: The Big Lead, With Leather, We Are The Postmen.
I constantly read sport-centric news blogs like ProFootballTalk and TrueHoop. I love the hilarity of Kissing Suzy Kolber and The Wizznutzz. And I think Free Darko covers the other side of the spectrum, the more existential. They all represent individual parts of what make sports blogs such a powerful whole.
That's worth elaborating on: Sports blogs are absolutely eclipsing traditional sports media (newspapers, magazines). Dominating. Eating their lunch. It's laughable, and if you discount the current state of blogs because the audience isn't as big as a newspaper or the writing isn't considered "professional," you're not seeing the tectonic shifts right now -- and the implications for the future.
Traditional sports media is primarily (perhaps entirely) valuable for exclusive or breaking news only.
(And even that gets commoditized, literally within minutes: As fast as a newspaper can "break" a story online, I and 50 other bloggers can poach it. The funny part is that newspapers think that just because we "credit" the paper -- which happens a lot more honestly among bloggers than among mainstream media -- that doesn't mean the paper's competitive advantage was eroded to nearly nil. Fans don't care where a story comes from; they just want to talk about the story itself. That's where blogs surge ahead of the original story source.)
Meanwhile, bloggers are becoming more and more of a primary source for news and rumors. Consider how many of your local or national sports section's stories or gossip or "trend" pieces started first among bloggers. (Though you'll still rarely see mainstream media credit that source of inspiration.)
For commentary and opinion, meanwhile, mainstream media is way behind bloggers, and the gap is widening: For timeliness, for depth, for insight, for almost everything. Mainstream sports-media columnists are becoming less and less relevant, because they can't offer nearly the insights and passion -- not to mention timeliness -- of someone who has voluntarily devoted their free time to an expertise in a single issue, team or sport.
(Differences in writing quality? Please. It's not like mainstream media sports columnists are Hemingway. If you took your standard newspaper sports column and posted it on a blog without listing that a "name" columnist wrote it, most newspaper writers/editors, bloggers and readers would not only laugh at the quality, but rip its flaws in argument. Consumers' appreciation for the meritocracy of sports blogs is at the heart of its advantage over the top-down force-feeding from traditional sports media.)
I'm about to oversimplify, obviously, but here goes. When you talk about the basic fan consumption progression: (1) There is the ESPN.com front page (and sport-specific national "Headline News" coverage). (2) There is your favorite teams' coverage (perhaps a newspaper but, more and more, simply on a favorite online message board or blog). (3) There is your chosen fantasy provider (Yahoo, ESPN or SportsLine, most likely). (4) And then there is the universe of independent blogs, which -- taken together -- are capturing an ever-increasing part of that consumer experience. Everything else is fighting for relevancy.
(I'm not speaking in absolutes here. There are plenty of examples of great offerings on ESPN.com and every other major sports site, as well as individual newspapers or sports-media outlets. I'm painting in VERY broad strokes to try to illustrate the larger point: There are several basic sports consumer needs to be filled in a broad way, then a very VERY fragmented universe of choices that reach consumers individually. And I'm arguing that blogs -- taken as a whole -- are now part of the fans' "broad" consumption.)
Let's remember that that's what it comes down to: Consumer choices. And, from all evidence, blogs are doing a hell of a lot better job of feeding that consumer choice than newspapers do -- or perhaps even can.
While I'm doing an industry analysis (damn you, MBA!), I would like to point out two of my favorite blogs that I find notable for specific reasons:
(1) AOL Fanhouse. First, it cornered all of the leading team bloggers and got them to post daily (or more). Second, they created the only unique editorial strategy out of all the other major sports sites trying to compete with ESPN.com. The others all try to compete head-on with ESPN. That is such a huge mistake; it's nearly impossible to identify any of their unique value propositions. (Maybe Yahoo, but that's for fantasy.) But AOL managed to circumvent that by targeting a specific, "growth" niche that they could own. (And they put Fanhouse impresario Jamie Mottram on Cold Pizza, too.)
(2) D.C. Sports Bog by Dan Steinberg, which is the Washington Post's lead sports blog and, without question, the template for how every "traditional" media outlet should be approaching blogs: Original reporting, distinct (and likeable) voice, fundamental understanding of the sports-blog universe. He's not a beat reporter doing a blog, which is fine and good, but incredibly limited. He's a blogger, exclusively, filtering every beat. Steinberg has created the gold standard, and even if you don't care about sports in D.C., you should be checking out his blog to see how it should be done.
9. Any interesting job offers lately?
Ha! Any sports-media entities out there interested in a daily columnist to write about anything he wants, working across every platform, while getting paid handsomely to do it?
No, seriously: I've actually been dabbling a little bit with my MBA (finally). I have been doing some consulting for a phenomenal cross-platform (TV, online, film) production shop that specializes in sports. Developing new TV shows is pretty damn fun. And, from the rambling above, I obviously enjoy analyzing the online-media industry for opportunities, both mine and clients'.
Like every good writer (or blogger), I've got a book proposal (or several). And damn if I won't sell an option on this completed screenplay sitting on my desktop before the month is over...
11. Most rewarding parts of blogging? Most frustrating?
Most rewarding: Feeling like part of the sports-blog community. Connecting with fans. Editorial freedom and flexibility. The occasional curse word.
Most frustrating: My blog traffic (while totally flattering and appreciated beyond words) is a fraction of what it was for the Quickie. I can't calculate the number of regular Quickie readers who didn't know that I launched the blog after the column folded. And who doesn't want to get read by as wide an audience as possible? Oh, and did I mention the money?
12. Dude, you predicted the Super Bowl correctly in August! Have you been telling everyone -- like everyone -- you know about that?
I tried not to be TOO obnoxious, but that was pretty much the greatest prediction I will ever make in my life – and I've made so many... so many WRONG ones! I feel like I need to get SOME credit, but I've recognized that there is very little that a sports fan or pundit can say that is less endearing than "I called it."
(Past interviews; also found on right sidebar: Dawizofodds; Matt Ufford; The Mighty MJD; Jamie Mottram; The Big Lead; The Cavalier; Will Leitch).