By Anna Pulley
By Erin Sherbert
By Chris Roberts
By Erin Sherbert
By Rachel Swan
By Joe Eskenazi
By Erin Sherbert
By Erin Sherbert
Illustration by Michael Waraksa
LAST YEAR, sportswriter King Kaufman stepped up to the lectern at a symposium held on the Google campus. In a 14-year haul at Salon.com, Kaufman earned a reputation as one of the best and most cerebral sports journalists on the Internet. But his subject that day was his new job, improving the content quality at Bleacher Report — an outfit with a reputation almost directly opposite Kaufman's own.
The San Francisco-based site is an aggressively growing online giant, tapping the oceanic labor pool of thousands of unpaid sports fanatics typing on thousands of keyboards. Launched in 2008, Bleacher Report meteorically rose to become one of the nation's most popular websites, and one of the three most-visited sports sites. Its dramatic success came via valuing site growth and pageviews over any semblance of journalistic "quality" or even readability. Operating a sports website on a supply-and-demand model turns out just as one would expect: High-trafficking Bleacher Report articles include "25 Wardrobe Malfunctions in Sports," "The 20 Biggest Criers in Sports," and "10 Possible Tiger Woods Porn Spin-offs: Mistress Edition." The site quickly earned a rep for expertly employing the Google search engine to inundate the web with horrible, lowest-common-denominator crap.
"A lot of what Bleacher Report has done has been lowest-common-denominator crap, and horrible," Kaufman admitted to the audience. His task was to alter this perception of the company. But this was not due to any sense of embarrassment or a late-night visit to the site's brass by the Ghost of Journalistic Standards Past. Like almost every move the company makes, this was a business decision. And a smart one.
"This was not a decision made by the CEO, who got tired of his friends saying at parties, 'Boy, Bleacher Report is terrible,'" Kaufman continued. "Bleacher Report reached a point where it couldn't make the next level of deal, where whatever company says 'We're not putting our logo next to yours because you're publishing crap.' Okay, that's the market speaking."
Several thousand miles away, Bleacher Report's hiring of Kaufman and a platoon of professional writers — but continued reliance upon an unpaid cast of thousands — was interpreted differently. During a meeting in New York City, an executive at one of the nation's largest sports media companies quipped that Bleacher Report's new strategy was akin to spritzing a little room deodorizer after leaving a steaming deposit in the toilet and failing to flush. An attendee recalls everyone laughing uproariously.
In August of this year, Turner Broadcasting announced it was quite willing to put its logo next to Bleacher Report's, scooping up the website for a purported $200 million. Bleacher Report has joined the Huffington Post in the exclusive club of web properties converting free, crowd-sourced content into nine-digit paydays. The transaction was not just a valuation, but a validation.
"Information has become more important than the source of information," says Michael Hall, director of new media for the New England Sports Network. In today's world, information is money — and few move information faster or more efficiently than Bleacher Report and its roughly 6,000 contributors. "They understand, probably better than any media outlet today, the exact value generated for them for every monthly unique visitor, every pageview served," continues Hall. "They understand that revenue impact better than anyone out there. Better than we do."
Every media entity questioning the wisdom of throwing down $200 million for Bleacher Report, notes Hall, is already co-opting the tricks mastered by Bleacher Report. "It's here to stay," he adds, "because it's what people want."
No one is laughing anymore.
There's no single narrative to encapsulate the ascent of Bleacher Report, a site that churns out around 800 articles a day penned by 2,000 "core contributors." The site is as polarizing as it is popular. And it is very popular. In August, some 14.2 million users visited it. Astronomical pageview numbers have translated into loads of advertising revenue — media reports peg the site as on pace to gross $30 million to $40 million this year.
It could be argued that Bleacher Report's success is a 21st-century iteration of the American Dream. Four twentysomething sports nuts, friends since they attended the elite Menlo School in Atherton, quit their jobs in 2007 to found a sports website written by the fans, for the fans. In doing so, they harnessed the energy of the legions of sports enthusiasts who would have otherwise been yammering on call-in radio or laboring on obscure blogs and message boards, and bundled the labor into a platform that could be backed by advertising dollars.
The site's deft use of search engine optimization (SEO) — the tweaking of content and coding to increase online visibility — propelled its unpaid, amateur writers' fare to the top of Google's search engine results, placing it on equal footing with original work created by established journalistic outlets. It's a rare sports-related Google search that doesn't feature a Bleacher Report article among the top results. And once readers click onto Bleacher Report, they stick there — visitors are besieged with applications to subscribe to team-specific newsletters or mobile applications, or drawn into click-happy slideshows, polls, or other user-engaging devices that rack up massive pageviews per visit (to date, a slideshow titled "The 20 Most Boobtastic Athletes of All Time" has amassed 1.4 million views).
@evangoldin hmm always wondered what the deal with bleacher report was... now I know! Love the comments from disgruntled contributors!
@Zimmsy Read that yesterday. Do you actually believe that, or is that your play on the general sentiment? It's hard to tell via Twitter.
Can't stand B/R. You have to click through 82 pages to read a average story, nothing but a click-generator.
I would like to see a poll of who in B/R believes what. Personally, as a former F/C myself I have been essentially forced to write on topics that I was less than enthusiastic about. I went back to writing for my own blog because I'd take 500 well earned views over 5000 cheap views.
As a past Featured Columnist for B/R covering a top college football team for 2 seasons, I can confirm everything you said in the article. Many promises to me were broken including press passes to team practices and games, and I was selected twice to cover the Rose Bowl but B/R did not have the credibility to get any of these press passes. Sensationalistic articles were assigned, point systems created to motivate article reads, and the quality of most writers work was abysmal. It became embarrassing to write for B/R and combined with the broken promises, I finally stopped writing. I continue to monitor B/R and it hasn't changed much. It has become too much work to find interesting and well researched articles.
As a current writer at B/R I can assure that the vast majority of this article is true. Your headlines are SEO mandated and CANNOT be changed as I have been told over and over again in recent editor assignment emails.
Additionally I am one of the unpaid people who write free content though I am higher up in the food chain than just a basic contributor. Based on the recent B/R response I feel as though I should be getting paid based on the terms the set forth about who is paid.
The B/R style guide goes against every ounce of AP style that I have had ground into my head by my journalism teacher over the last two years. There is nothing remotely close to actual journalism that occurs on journalism.
Further more if you go out and collect your own factual information you have to source it with another website in order to be considered credible. Your own information no matter how credible it may be had to be sourced by a real paid journalist.
There are times where your own opinion or observation has to be sourced.
To say that B/R is voluntary is absurd...voluntary implies you can write what you want when you want. I can assure you you do not get to write what you want when you want. There are two to three articles a week that are mandated that follow the B/R style and SEO requirements to which you don't get paid for.
Some articles are completely baseless in the reasons they're written written specifically to create controversy and generate traffic.
So yes even after $175-million purchase B/R still doesn't pay 90% of it's staff.
@joshjurnovoy lots of BS. Definitely not a perfect site but not the craphole the article makes it out to be
Here's a little fact I forgot to throw out in my last post: This humongous article is going to boost B/R even more in the search ranks. It is also going to boost SF Weekly, because that's how SEO works. One major internet presence attaches itself to another with keyword rich articles, the other responds by doing the same. B/R and SF Weekly may be on opposite sides of the fence, but they are sure as heck hopping over from time to time to scratch each other's backs. Example: Writer's of SF Weekly wrote this article, King Kaufman countered some of the statements made in this article in a post on B/R's Writer's Blog. Each of the major entities in question are now linked to each other, and loving each and every comment we're making regarding the Subject matter at hand.
I couldn't agree with this article more. I was once a NFL Featured Columnist that got booted because B/R's NFL poster boy, Matt "Little Girl" Miller, had an issue with me. It seems as though this article struck a chord with some of the B/R staff, namely King Kaufman. I say this because I got one of those annoying, automated e-mails from King 'Hairdo' himself, basically stating that there was no cause for concern over this article. King, you're pathetic, just like the rest of your B/R wannabe cronies. I know for a FACT that writers are bullied into writing fluffy, search engine friendly garbage, because I was one of them. If you don't answer to the crack of their whip they want to push you into their laughable Bleacher Report University for some good old-fashioned SEO brainwashing. I'll be one of the happiest people alive if I never have to read another one of B/R's "Top-(insert any number from 3-100)" slideshows. I can't believe I wasted a year of my life contributing to the Walmart of sports websites.
@SirBen_WE It was a good article written from a local. But they got very few current negative opinions for the article. Good write up though
But you read and love its fantasy baseball content, right? Right?@MatthewBerryTMR I found this article fascinating: http://t.co/JMJdUDdC …
@MatthewBerryTMR this is more fascinating: http://t.co/uh3ssY1v
@MatthewBerryTMR taking ur advice and selling high on Turner with A Hawkins for Fred Jackson. A little risky but what do you think?
@carloscollazo__ How did I miss the "10 Possible Tiger Woods Porn Spin-offs: Mistress Edition"? Oh that's right, I don't read BR...
@MatthewBerryTMR I need to pick between James Jones or Maclin as my 3rd wr/TE in a ppr. Thoughts?starting Graham and D Thomas
@MatthewBerryTMR I edited for them for a few months, quite a challenge. I got an email today from BR citing inaccuracies, I didn't think so
@sean_morrison @newsmonkey8 @DeWittCBS The Fake Bleacher Report Twitter feed is priceless, and sometimes tough to discern from "real" BR.
@sean_morrison Not a fan of Bleacher Report myself. Created a generation of fandorks w/ nothing to say who think they're "sports writers!"
@rogersmith So why do you continue to write for them?
@brstinks I think you owe Walmart an apology for comparing them to Bleacher Report. Bleacher Report is filled with BS that is written just to get hits. Walmart sells people products (made in Chinese sweatshops) that they need that actually work.
@brstinks I have no idea why anyone would be "bullied' by BR unless they were getting paid...and paid well. If I was writing for an organization that I knew was throwing crumbs in my face to do the heavy lifting while those at the top became millionaires, I'd laugh in their faces if they tried to "bully" me.
That's kind of like someone in the early 20th century slaving away on the Ford assembly line, except without any pay at all, then cowering when Henry Ford walked into the factory.
I'm all for capitalism, which is why I'm not against B/R on a legal or ethical basis. But until writers respect themselves and draw a line in the sand, sites like B/R will continue to get away getting rich off others nailing jell-o to the wall.
Interesting reference to Walmart at the end. That's kind of what I was thinking the best analogy was for B/R. But then "sports pornography" popped into my head, and it seemed much more appropriate. For MANY reasons....
@brstinks Sounds like you are really bitter. I am a paid FC for B/R and have written for the site for three years and never once was I forced to write an article I didn't want to. I'm sure every experience is different since all writers are not on the same level, but for every gripe like yours there is also someone who appreciates the opportunity to have their work read on a large scale. I appreciate everything B/R has done for me, and the money I earn is just an added bonus.
@MatthewBerryTMR Being 1st v fact checks/proofreading & writing good content. If that doesnt summarize new v old media I dont know what does
@Zimmsy @newsmonkey8 @DeWittCBS However, as the article says -- and sadly for journalism professionals -- their model acts as it intends to.
@SportsGamerShow Too big a debate for Twitter. That's not the point of article. We disagree. Be well.
@MatthewBerryTMR labor they are receiving. The article was very accurate in that they are so dependent on free labor, it works to their...
@MatthewBerryTMR ...quality of the work on the site, and b) the amount of work they require for "reward" is not equal to the amount of free
@MatthewBerryTMR seemed to be defensive (naturally), ironically i stopped working for them b/c a) you begin to question the journalistic...
@MatthewBerryTMR also stated that the reward system was simplified in SF Weekly article, and good work is rewarded meaningfully
@MatthewBerryTMR email said writes do have flexibility to change their assignments and are encouraged to speak out if they don't like them
@sean_morrison @Zimmsy @newsmonkey8 Yes, right now the model works, but google is going to shut down their SEO spam eventually.