AVIOUSLY

Views on the media, IU basketball and sometimes both.

The dangers of generalization in 2016 America

(inspired by Tim Layden’s excellent column for SI on division in American society and sports, which you can and should read here)

There are days I wish I had stayed in my bubble.

I grew up in an upper-middle class suburb of Baltimore, Maryland -the state which has gone blue in every presidential election since Reagan in 1984. My street had 32 houses on it, about 28 of which had Menorahs in their windowsills during holiday time rather than a Christmas tree. I went to a Jewish high school…to go along with the Jewish sleep-away camp where I spent summers. My worldview was insulated not just religiously, but with social class, political beliefs and race. At the time, I didn’t really think it was a problem. At the time, I didn’t even acknowledge it.

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Get you a news organization that can do both

 

giphy (2).gif

I have a confession…I watched a 90-second video of baby pandas stumbling down a slide today and it was glorious. It was so great I watched it again…ok, maybe three times.

News organizations are watching. They know I love baby panda videos. They know you and millions of other people also love baby panda videos. So I am both delighted and horrified that news organizations will devote time and resources to making more baby panda videos.

The push for user-driven content has never been greater; user-driven content meaning news coverage dictated by what will attract the most readers.

 

Some examples: 30-second recipe videos, pretty much any list or ranking based on opinion, most sports news, (#) signs that you (relatable human experience), most entertainment news and so on.

This type of content isn’t evil, it’s just a guilty pleasure.

I know I shouldn’t want to watch 1.5 minutes of baby pandas sliding down a slide, but dammit, I had a bad day and want to watch 90 seconds of baby pandas.

or

This random blogger has no credentials to be judging the 10 best college basketball uniforms of all time, but yea, I’m sorta curious how that list turned out.

On the surface, this seems to make a lot of sense:

Let’s create stuff that a lot of  people want to read/watch/etc.

Yea, I’m on board with that idea. More readers means more money from advertisers, means more influence and means more resources for the company.

And so more and more newsrooms are repurposing their efforts to fit what their readers want.

But here’s the problem: the majority of the population doesn’t exactly know what’s best for itself. The coverage we crave isn’t necessarily the coverage we need.

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The man who outsmarted the journalism world without meaning to

I remember two things from the Indiana University School of Journalism’s alumni panel discussion on Nov. 15, 2011:

  1. Chad Millman, then the editor-in-chief of ESPN the Magazine and now ESPN’s vice president and editorial director for domestic digital content, made a R-rated joke that got a lot of laughs
  2. I sat next to Dan Carson, who I was surprised even attended

It’s not that Dan was a bad guy or that I had anything against him, but he just didn’t seem like the type of journalism student who would go the extra mile to show up for these sort of things. This was the guy who wrote humor columns for IU’s Greek student newspaper, The Odyssey, which was even made fun of by Greeks as a glorified coloring book. This was the guy who wrote a column in The Odyssey about his favorite bathroom stall on campus.

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Yes, that’s the picture that ran with the column about his favorite stall.

In the vain, competitive world of student journalism, Dan wasn’t even on the radar. He wasn’t up for any of the awards we coveted because he wasn’t part of any on-campus student media organization (well, except for The Odyssey). I pegged him as a “public relations job in Chicago living in Wrigleyville after college” kinda guy. Dan breaking into journalism after college would be like attempting the black diamond course without knowing how to ski.

Earlier this year, Dan Carson was hired at Fox Sports as a senior writer.

He has never worked a day of his life at a newspaper (unless you count the Odyssey).

He never slaved away in some podunk town for meager pay, hoping for his big break.

He didn’t take the usual career route, perhaps cheated the system, and is probably better for it.

“I skipped some steps,” he said. “A person who went a much more traditional path might ask how this happened.”

So I did.

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IU Athletics is now paired with the IU Media School…so is sports journalism screwed?

On Wednesday, Indiana University announced a partnership between its Athletics Department and the newly-formed IU Media School, in which students would be able to use equipment and facilities at the new, $5 million Mark Cuban Center for Sports Media and Technology.

In the minds of (some) sports journalists, the idea of marrying independent student journalists to the entity they’re charged with covering was worrisome to say the least.

To learn more about how this partnership would work, the future of IU sports journalism education and perhaps how this is all a micro chasm of the changing media landscape, I spoke with Galen Clavio, who became director of IU’s National Sports Journalism Center earlier this month.

In response to many of the questions, Clavio wrote this point-by-point article on the NSJC’s website, but I wanted to delve a little deeper with him.

You can listen to the whole interview below or a transcription below that. Please note that I did not transcribe some of the background talked about in the beginning of the interview because my fingers were about to fall off after 3,000 words of transcription. Rather, I’ve embedded releases about Clavio, the IU Media School, Cuban Center and partnership in the above intro.


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Three years of headlines, three years of lessons

My first day as a professional journalist was Oct. 1, 2012 at the Beaumont Enterprise. I wish there was some sentimental reason I remember that, but Oct. 1 is also my birthday.

A year in, I wrote this, reflecting on what I had learned.

Now, after (about) three years, here’s some more things I’ve learned:

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#SportswriterProblems

1) Janitors

Most commonly found covering: High schools

When time has expired and the crowd has shuffled out, all that remains in stadiums and arenas are those in charge of covering games and the maintenance staff.

Establishing a rapport with this staff is crucial -especially for high school reporters. In collegiate and professional venues, there’s normally a press work room and there’s so many seats that the clean-up takes a good while. But in high schools, reporters are not only in a race against deadline, but also for when it comes time to lock-up. Charming the maintenance staff can mean the difference between finishing your story and stats in a cozy press box versus the front seat of your car.

Worst situation I’ve ever been in; was told I couldn’t stay in press box because they were locking the stadium, proceeded to resume work in my car for a few minutes before I was then told that I couldn’t finish in the parking lot because that too was being locked for the night. So with deadline approaching, I parked my car in the vacant field across the street and made sure my doors were locked.

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Independence Hall

Alex Bozich was taking a leap.

Actually, screw that. This was much more than a leap.

In 2012 he had a perfectly fine 9-5 job, a 2-year-old son and another child on the way.

It wasn’t the ideal time for risks, but with his financial future on the line, Bozich quit his job and poured all his energy into a website that was little more than a fan blog a few years prior.

“Do I want to follow my passion and do what I really want to do, or do I want to look back in five years and say ‘what if?’” he said.

Bozich’s gamble would have perhaps made more sense if his site, an Indiana University basketball blog named insidethehall.com (ITH), was protected by the safety net of a network like Rivals, Scout or 247sports.com, but it wasn’t.

Instead, he believed that the site could thrive by continuing the stay independent, ahead of the curve and popular-even though it was never supposed to be.

The Postmen

ITH was born out of a common phrase.

“When I graduated I didn’t really know what I wanted to do,” Bozich said.

As a senior at New Albany High School (IN), Bozich started a pro wrestling website, but followed a non-journalism path in college, graduating from Indiana University-Southeast in 2004 with a degree in political science.

In addition to a day job out of college, Bozich spent nights and weekends covering games for the Courier-Journal, where his father was a sports columnist. But he wanted to get back to doing something with the web.

In May 2007, Bozich linked up with then-recent IU graduates Eamonn Brennan and Ryan Corazza, who co-founded the blog “We Are the Postmen” while they were in college. With an email chain that lasted two months, Inside The Hall was created.

“We didn’t look at it as competing with traditional outlets,” Bozich said. “We looked at it as writing from the fan perspective originally. When we first started out, we used nicknames as author names. We didn’t look to make any money off it, we didn’t think it was going to be anything major. We just found something we were passionate about and started writing about it. There wasn’t a plan to make it a career, at least for me.”

All three co-founders -Bozich, Corazza and Brennan- had full-time jobs while contributing to ITH on the side. Bozich said that in the first two or three years none of them were making a penny off the site.

“I remember trying to find time at lunch while at my 9-5 job to crank out a blog post or write it at night,” Bozich said. “I enjoyed it and didn’t look at it anything other than a hobby -that was key.”

With Bozich living in Louisville and Brennan and Corazza in Chicago, none of ITH’s writers covered IU press conferences or games. ITH wasn’t credentialed and didn’t try to be. The content strategy was to produce at least one post a day and make it something that “people wanted to read,” Bozich said.

Differentiation was key. The posts were playful, unorthodox and had a fan edge, like this one from Dec. 2007:

Screenshot of ITH

Screenshot of ITH and hey, good call on the mascot.

Since ITH didn’t do its own reporting at the time, it aggregated reports (a practice now commonplace in online media):

Screenshot of ITH

Screenshot of ITH post from 12/27/2007

And about those author names…

Screen shot of ITH post from 12/07/2007

Screen shot of ITH post from 12/07/2007

Screenshot of ITH comment section attached to post from 12/06/2007 (PRITCH)

Screenshot of ITH comment section attached to post from 12/06/2007 (PRITCH)

“Back in 2007, the mainstream media was calling bloggers, ‘guys who were writing in their mom’s basement’,” Bozich said. “I guess I wouldn’t put it in quite those terms, but it was just us giving our opinion on things that were happening, but doing it from afar.”

And what a time it was to be doing so.

Eric Gordon, Indiana’s Mr. Basketball, played a much-anticipated freshman (and lone) year at IU in the 2007-08 campaign. In the concluding months of that season, then-head coach Kelvin Sampson was ousted amidst recruiting violations. The season was a soap opera, interest in the program was high and ITH filled a void some serious/traditional media outlets couldn’t by speaking from the perspective of pissed-off alumni.

Here’s the lede of an Indianapolis Star column from the day after IU’s 2007-08 season ended:

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And then here’s an excerpt from a Brennan post on ITH that ran two days after the one from the Indy Star, on March 24, 2008:

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Out of mom’s basement

In Dec. 2009, as the site was gaining steam, Brennan left to become a college basketball writer at ESPN.com, concluding his writing with ITH.

It was around this time that the gears were set in motion to transition ITH from a “mom’s basement” site to something more.

Bozich said he began talking more and more to Chris Korman, who became the Bloomington Herald-Times’ sports editor earlier that year, about making ITH a site that actually covered the team.

“If I wanted this to be something I wanted to do for a living, I realized you could only go so far as a fan blog,” Bozich said. “We realized to build readership and build the site, we had to cover games and day-to-day news.”

Zach Osterman, then a sports journalism grad student at IUPUI, was hired as the site’s first beat reporter not long after Brennan’s departure (Osterman is now on the same beat…for the Indy Star). Talks began with IU media relations to get ITH credentialed for home games. Writers on the site started using their real names.

The site was becoming more legitimate while keeping its content fresh.

“Our coverage is a little different,” Bozich said. “We don’t write traditional game stories. One thing I talk about with Ryan (Corazza) is how we can differentiate our coverage. That’s one thing we’ve built a niche for is five takeaways, film sessions, stuff like that. Those are things you can only find on our site and it builds readers.”

In addition to being ahead of its time in game coverage, ITH was jumping on social media.

“In 2009 I joined Twitter and had no idea about it,” Bozich said. “Ryan (Corazza) told me about it. Six years later we have a pretty good following (25.1K followers is indeed, pretty good) and it’s a key way we share our content. Through analytics we can see where our readers are coming from and originally Google searches were bringing us traffic, but Twitter and Facebook have surpassed that. Anybody who’s not progressive there is getting left behind.”

And Indiana fans weren’t the only ones taking notice of ITH’s growth.

Stevie Nicks said it best

By 2012, as the IU basketball was starting to win again, ITH had arrived.

Through social media and digital word-of-mouth, it became part of the IU media landscape.

ITH's yearlyl pageviews, as compiled by quantcast

ITH’s yearly pageviews, as compiled by quantcast

Bozich said larger sports website networks approached he and Corazza about possible partnership, but ITH declined.

“The amount of interest we got from different places gave us a good idea that if we needed to (be absorbed), eventually we could,” Bozich said. “It came down to being able to dictate what we do on a day-to-day basis. A lot of the talks we had with other companies included us also covering football, which is something we had no interest in doing because it’s a basketball-only site. Plus Ryan (Corazza) is a web developer who works on our site and going to a bigger company would put us in a place where everything would be formatted the way it is on their other sites. We wanted to keep doing our own thing.”

After consulting with people he trusted, Bozich decided to quit his job and work on the site full-time.

The site continued to grow as the team became more successful. For the entirety of March 2013, ITH attracted a record 2,241,375 pageviews, according to quantcast, the service ITH uses to track traffic. In Nov. 2014, the site had 1,836,800 pageviews, but a little over half of those were from mobile traffic (935K mobile versus 901K on desktop). To adapt with its audience’s habits, Corazza has made the site completely responsive for mobile and tablets.

While some sites grappled (*grapple) with how to monetize digital content, ITH kept everything free, except for a forum, which launched in 2012.

In April of this year, ITH attracted 1.8 million pageviews.

“Not bad,” said Bozich when he was interviewed on April 29.

IU’s season ended on March 20.

Identity (non-)crisis

“How do you view your own website? What is it? How would you pitch it to me?” I asked Bozich.

He paused and then responded.

“Hmmm. That’s a good question.”

More pause.

“It’s hard to say, it’s not the same thing as a newspaper, but we’re targeting the same audience,” Bozich said. “It’s a tough question and I don’t know how I would categorize us. I don’t know. I’ve never really thought about it. That’s a good question, I’ll have to think about it.”

Perhaps Bozich’s answer is key to ITH’s success.

What do you call sites like ITH, MGoBlog or 11 Warriors? A few years ago some would lump them together as silly fan blogs, able to be dismissed as sounding boards for spewing homerism.

But wait.

ITH is credential at home, away and postseason games. It’s part of the U.S. Basketball Writer’s Association. And judging by the numbers, it’s where fans go to get their news.

Some will argue the site’s coverage still has traces of bias from its early days.

“I think we try to be as neutral as possible,” Bozich said. “Obviously I don’t think we’re as critical as others have been at times. I also don’t think we’re like some of the other fan sites out there. I think we do a good job of presenting information and letting people form their own opinions on what the news is saying.”

So if it’s not a fan blog and it’s not a traditional, establish media entity, what do you call ITH?

Its lack of ties to any one label frees the site to adapt to what readers want. I’m sure there are newspapers which used to scoff at making webpages full of memes and gifs because they felt like that would compromise their integrity, but do so now. And then on the other end of the spectrum, there are blogs which will never make the jump to respected news sources and the consistent web traffic that comes with it.

While ITH has strayed from the goofy/funny angle, it continues to differentiate its coverage by presenting content in easy-to-digest ways that go beyond traditional story forms like five takeaways, podcasts, IU-centric recruiting pagesscholarship availability tables (which continually come in handy…), video and more.

Simply put, if an IU basketball fan wanted to build his/her own website, it would probably look something like ITH.

We’re carving out our niche within the market,” Bozich said. “I think there’s always going to be a place for traditional coverage, it’s just that it’s changing; look at the H-T and Indy Star. From our standpoint, if you continue to grow, you’re producing something that people are enjoying and connecting with.”

What do you call ITH?

For now, we’ll just say successful.

The Perfect Season

My perfect season began by being tossed a bottle of purplish Vitamin Water in an office at the Indiana Daily Student. The sports editor who would be overseeing and choosing the Indiana men’s basketball writers asked me to  describe it.

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When the Walls Cave-In

I’ve seen this one before.

Sure, the characters and circumstances are different, but the themes are the same.

A little over a month before Pat Knight was fired at Lamar, his team lost to rival McNeese State by 15 points. There was really no reason this loss was that different than the various others I had witnessed, but this time Knight grew defensive to a question that wasn’t even meant to ruffle his feathers.

At the 2:53 mark I asked Knight if he ever questions himself:

Here are some of the highlights:

“If this isn’t enough, fire me. Get another guy in here. I got no problem with that, I’ve been fired before. If fans don’t think I’m doing a good job, that’s part of coaching.”

“I’ve already won a banner. There’s a lot of coaches that haven’t won a banner here if we’re going to talk about that. If this was such a great job to begin with, why did it take 20 years to win 23 games? Why was there 12 years between going to the NCAA Tournament? It’s not like I’m walking into a situation where we win 20 games all the time. We’re building something and it takes time.”

“(You should expect) struggles (the first two seasons),” Knight said. “It’s tough. Look at other people who have built programs. People, do your homework. What are (we) supposed to do? Win right off the bat? This isn’t North Carolina or Duke where we have McDonald’s All-Americans coming in. If that’s not enough, fine. Fire me, get another coach and then fire him when you get upset with him after two or three years.”

Keep in mind the McNeese loss dropped Lamar to 1-15 on the season. This was not a time to be defiant and defensive. Knight didn’t hold the chips, but he was pushing back against faceless opposition with vitriol. He was acting bigger than the program and it came off that he was better than the job he had.

That press conference was the first thing I thought of as I read some of the quotes coming out of Tom Crean’s radio show Monday night.

In the course of three days, IU had won PR Disaster Bingo.  In an act that can be described as standing on the edge of a volcano, looking at the fiery abyss and jumping in, Crean went on his weekly call-in radio show Monday night.

This was a good move, as opposed to something along the lines of…

I was unable to listen to the show, but kept up with tweets and later read recaps. The callers were predictably vicious.

From IU SportCom:

The second caller identified himself as a former Indiana University student athletic trainer under Tim Garl, which the caller said allows him to “bring a little different perspective than most might.”

He asked: “My question for you tonight Coach is how do you respond to fans like me who place the blame for the recent legal issues on the shoulders of the team’s leadership, mainly you, as the head coach?”

And Crean’s response from the Indiana Daily Student:

“You’re more than welcome to put that on me,” he said. “My shoulders are fine.”

And more from IU SportCom:

Phil asked: “How much of that lack of true, three-, four-year senior leadership is a result of what is going on off the court these last 12 months?”

Crean said it might play a role, but it’s not as significant as what one might think.

“There’s always issues in a program,” Crean said.

He continued: “Leadership matters the most when we’re not around, when there’s nobody of authority around and decisions have to be made that aren’t comfortable or easy, teammate-to-teammate, that’s leadership, and that’s probably what we’re lacking.”

With so much going on around the IU program, in Crean’s big chance to make a positive public appearance at a Holiday Inn in Southern Indiana, he fell victim to some of the same missteps as Knight.

Now was not the time to be defiant. It wasn’t the time to say My shoulders are fine. The question that preceded that answer was legitimate and polite. The answer was short and defensive.

And then “Phil” gives Crean a bit of an out, asking how lack of experienced leadership plays into things.

The answer: “There’s always issues in a program.”

Please. Downplaying one player in the hospital and three suspended in such a short amount of time is not the thing to do.

In every online article I found relating to or including Crean’s comments, I searched the page with “sorry” and “apologize” (or variations of the like).

Nadda.

When coaches are backed against a wall, the right move is not drawing a knife and frantically swinging it in the hopes the assembled mob will back off.

Instead, it’s the time to show some humility. It’s the time to admit mistakes, whether your own or those of the program.

For Knight, the pressure came from losing too much. For Crean, it is some major off-the-court problems and underlying lack of winning, which is feeding into public discontent.

When those listening were out for blood, the two coaches just added gas to the fire. Be honest and tell people what’s going on. Tell them what you’re sorry for, what went wrong and what can and will be done.

Now more than ever,the weight of a basketball program’s problems and it’s frantic followers are heavy on Crean’s shoulders, but don’t worry, they’re fine.

Black, White and Maize all over

If you ever get the chance, take a look at Tim Rohan’s class ring.

“MICHIGAN DAILY” is engraved in the space on the side normally reserved for a major.

Rohan came to the University of Michigan thinking he was going to leave with a degree in engineering, just as his mother had. But on his graduation day in 2012, Rohan had earned a diploma in sports management.

“(Sports management) was a little less rigorous and allowed me to spend more time at the newspaper,” he said.

Rohan covers the Mets for The New York Times, his first full-time job out of college.

A year before Rohan graduated, Ryan Kartje finished his bachelor’s in American Cultural Studies.

“If you can tell me what that is, good for you,” Kartje said with a laugh.

He is the UCLA beat reporter for the Orange County Register and an on-camera contributor for Fox Sports 1.

Nicole Auerbach, another 2011 grad, came to Ann Arbor considering a future in business or economics. During her freshman year, the best friend of the student living across the hall introduced Auerbach to the Daily.

“Had I known I was going to go into sports journalism, I would have applied to Syracuse, Northwestern and those journalism schools,” she said. “But I wouldn’t trade this for the world. If I didn’t go to Michigan, I wouldn’t have made the connections I have. I think everything, including running into that girl at my dorm, happened for a reason.”

She is a national college basketball reporter for USA Today, her first full-time job out of college.

All three went to Michigan, which neither has a school of journalism nor offers a journalism degree program. Yet, their success, and the success of other sports journalists coming out of The Michigan Daily, proves a formal education in journalism is not needed to succeed and brings into question whether students are better off without it.

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