Deadspin published a guest article today from a former Bleacher Report intern and writer, naming many of the company’s flaws as it pertained to his quest to become a professional sports journalist.
There is some vulgar language included (It’s Deadspin, after all), but if you’d like to read the article, you can do so here.
One of the main issues the author brings up is his incredible amount of effort he put into doing all of the things that Bleacher Report asked him to do, and getting paid next to nothing to do it. There are other stories and things mentioned, including referencing the writers B/R hired during the past few years, but the overall scheme of this article, and many complaints against B/R, is the unpaid model which has helped drive the website to the top of the sports media food chain.
The idea of writing for free doesn’t make sense to a lot of people, especially not those who have been classically trained in journalism and moved from internships to freelancing to beat writer or magazine editor roles. But in a world where many do enjoy writing for free, and producing halfway decent content as unpaid contributors, being a “volunteer” writer is often the only way to start.
Before I go any further, I offer this confession. I like to pretend like I know what I’m talking about when I write things. When I write about football, I write with a sense of authority, because I am confident that what I write is accurate and defensible.
I have no idea how to make it as a writer. I can’t claim that same level of expertise on this particular topic.
With that said, I do know from my limited experience that writing for free can be extremely rewarding, but it’s obviously not for everyone, and not a long-term solution.
My writing “career” began by starting my own blog, on WordPress, and posting every now and then. It was awful, awful stuff. I’m embarrassed to go back and read it today. But it was how I got my start.
Because that blog was enough to attract the attention of Josh Hill of the Pewter Plank, who quickly snatched me up as a staff writer for the site in December of 2012. I became co-editor shortly after that, and eventually editor once Josh moved on to a different role.
That means I spent about five months as a writer, and one month as a “syndicated” writer, without getting paid. My story is not the norm. My path is not like the path of many. I was very fortunate to be in a good situation, and I took full advantage of it.
I left the temporary job I was working at to focus on my writing full-time, and helped grow The Pewter Plank to record heights during my time in charge. But again, this sort of situation isn’t for everyone.
I was making in a month what I would make in four days at my nine-to-five job, and were it not for a unique set of circumstances, I couldn’t have lived off of my writing profits alone.
I began writing for free for numberFire, as well, after reaching out to editor JJ Zachariason. And similar to my previous writing experience, despite being free, it has been rewarding as a learning experience, an increased opportunity for exposure, and as an example of “free writing as networking.”
But again, my situation is unique. What makes B/R what it is today is a ridiculous amount of content churned out by a variety of different types of writers. The original article I linked to describes the situation for some, but not for all.
Because I also wrote for Bleacher Report, and my experience was nothing like the one described. Was I asked to write slideshows? Yeah, of course. But I also learned, and grew as a writer, and admittedly, got paid.
I worked with B/R under two different circumstances. The first was as a member of their Sports Media Program, which is a certificate program to teach the B/R basics and funnel students into the system and get them involved at B/R. The program never claimed to launch me to star writer status, but it did promise to pass along information to improve my writing skills and give me a chance to write for B/R in the future. And it did just that.
Shortly after starting the program, I was approached to write about the Buccaneers for B/R for the 2013 NFL Season. I accepted, and had specific terms laid out for me as to what I would write, and what I would receive in return.
In both cases, there were never goals or plans to become Matt Miller 2.0 or become a career writer for the company. I was simply taking the opportunities presented to me, and doing my best to improve as a writer and make a name for myself.
And the things I learned at B/R influence my writing to this day. My time as a writer there ended, and I was a better writer than I was at the start.
But like the author of the Deadspin article, I didn’t get where I wanted to be thanks to B/R. Because B/R is a for-profit business which has decided to focus their finances elsewhere. What began as a site full of unpaid writers raking in pageviews is now a reputable source of analysis and information Just like ESPN. Just like Yahoo.
Matt Miller being the “only” “homegrown” writer of prominence at B/R isn’t a sign that the company is betraying its unpaid underlings. It’s a credit to Miller that a serious sports writing outlet would pay him enough to make a living based off of largely amateur work performed prior to his time with the company.
B/R is under no obligation to hire someone they don’t see as a profitable producer of content. Especially not when they can pay much less (or nothing) for a gaggle of other writers producing similar levels of content every day.
Does it suck for young writers trying to make it in the business that B/R isn’t using their vast “minor leagues” to promote to big-time positions? Yeah, it does. But it also sucks that I follow dozens of very talented writers on Twitter who get paid next to nothing by smaller sports sites to create incredible content that’s getting them nowhere in the grand scheme of sports media.
I don’t claim to have all the answers. I wish I knew a better way for the sports media world to work. But it’s certainly not Bleacher Report’s fault that any one person didn’t get hired for a job or hasn’t found the success they deserve.
I can only blame myself for not having a full-time writing job. And I can only keep writing to try to change that. And if that means cranking out “listicles” for Bleacher Report, then so be it.
Because working under new editors, learning new best practices, and getting new input on your work is the only way to truly grow as a writer. Read, write, and listen to your audience. Take every opportunity you can get, and accept every criticism as a chance to do better.
Thanks to Josh, JJ, and Sander for giving me a chance, and giving feedback on my work. I appreciate it, and even if I never turn this into a career, I am grateful that you took the time to give me a platform and provide me with feedback.