The web version of this newspaper has on occasion dogpiled on breaking stories, and published the lists and slideshows commonly seen on the web. And we have undoubtedly engaged in aggressive online practices in hopes of pushing our content and getting pageviews.

Bleacher Report, however, "is 'made-to-order news.' They'll make up whatever people search for," says Vivek Wadhwa, a researcher and tech columnist for Bloomberg BusinessWeek and the Washington Post. The triumph of Bleacher Report, he continues, is the natural outcome of gauging success and profitability based on Google-derived clicks. "This is custom-manufactured garbage. It is being mass-produced. This is a dumbing down of the web."

And that leads to another great irony of Bleacher Report. A site laden with so much content even its own writers and editors decry as "stupid" is expertly run by some of the smartest executives on the web. Transforming data into editorial directives, as Grey stated, "is kind of where digital media is going." Bleacher Report is already there.


The next David Halberstam, Bill Simmons, or A.J. Liebling may well be toiling as an unpaid, lower-level Bleacher Report contributor. But he or she will never rise up the site's chain of "reputation levels" without garnering pageviews — the currency of success at Bleacher Report. Writers are divided into six ranks ranging from "contributor" to "chief writer," with ascending subdivisions of each plateau (I, II, and III). Earning a promotion to "chief writer I" earns a writer a free Bleacher Report sweatshirt. He or she will also receive less tangible — but far more consequential — perks such as access to plum spots on the site or within team newsletters, and mandated deference from copy editors.

Writers earn "medals" for high-trafficking or much-commented articles and "badges" based on monthly performance numbers. Along with a running pageview count, these plaudits are visually represented on a writer's profile page. Medals are delineated into seven "gem levels" based upon an article's popularity: bronze, silver, gold, platinum, sapphire, ruby, and diamond.

In the world of social media, steering contributors toward desired behaviors via virtual bling is called "gamification." It's not unlike visitors to an animal-centric website being allowed to spiff up their profiles with cute avatars — but only after they leave a requisite number of comments.

"Within the Bleacher Report community, [medals and badges] are a point of pride," says one writer. "It's hard not to feel like you're getting somewhere if you have a bunch of badges. It makes you want to work your way up to being an all-star journalist. But you're just working your way up to being an all-star Bleacher Report journalist."

A former editor at the site estimates that, even with continued editorial hiring, at least 90 percent of Bleacher Report's gargantuan writing roster remains unpaid. Unable to earn actual crumbs, they compete for virtual crumbs. This is increasingly de rigueur for even established writers — and likely the only model today's young adults have ever known.

The ostensible goal of any enlistee is to ascend to the "featured columnist" position. A recruiting pitch on the site blares: "Ever notice those credibility-enhancing 'Featured Columnist' icons in article bylines and on B/R Profile pages? Well ... so has everyone else."

Featured columnists form the backbone of Bleacher Report, and some earn a monthly stipend many told us was in the ballpark of $600. This usually covers three assignments a week. These often require a major investment of time: "Predicting the Next Loss for Every Top 50 College Football Team" may be an inane subject, but its sheer size likely makes it laborious.

The road to the promised land is paved with virtual sapphires and diamonds — and real pageviews and revenue generated for the organization. Bleacher Report's higher-ups have provided neophyte writers a wealth of materials to help them thrive, and thereby meet the site's bottom-line needs. The first lesson offered to students of "Bleacher Report U." — a self-guided new-media training curriculum — is to "key on a keyword." In short, write about the stuff people are searching for: "The Hot Keyword Database is an updated catalog of the web's most popular search terms — and your ability to incorporate these terms in your articles will be instrumental in your efforts to generate visitor traffic and maximize your exposure."

One of Bleacher Report's top-five strategies for up-and-comers is to pen "hyperbolic headlines" and "always aim to either overstate or understate your position." As such, "NBA: LeBron James Signs with the Miami Heat," while accurate, is an unacceptable headline. The right take is "LeBron James Signing Makes the Miami Heat the Best Team in NBA History."

Finally, writers are urged to "cater to the masses." "For better or worse, readers love breezy sports-and-culture stories. If you really want to maximize your fanbase, your best bet is to give the people what they want." But, at the same time, don't forget to "beat against the mainstream." The exemplar of contrarian thinking offered within the site's curriculum is a Bleacher Report article titled "Why Tom Brady Is the Most Overrated Quarterback in NFL History."

This piece epitomizes much of what frustrates the site's detractors. The article's author, an affable 19-year-old college sophomore named Zayne Grantham, tells us he still thinks Brady is an overrated "system quarterback" who largely succeeds thanks to his team's capable defenses. (The New England Patriots advanced to the Super Bowl last year with the 31st-ranked defense in terms of passing and overall yardage in a 32-team league.) But even Grantham doesn't believe Brady to be history's most overrated quarterback: "In hindsight, I may not have used that headline. I'll be one of the first to say he's one of the best quarterbacks we've ever seen."

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228 comments
Jean_Knight
Jean_Knight

thanks for the cool informative stuff

rana1901
rana1901

Good job Joe. write to me sometimes

tweeting_p
tweeting_p

@evangoldin hmm always wondered what the deal with bleacher report was... now I know! Love the comments from disgruntled contributors!

newsmonkey8
newsmonkey8

@Zimmsy bleacher report is a huge bet on stupid... and stupid is winning.

sean_morrison
sean_morrison

@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.

DeWittCBS
DeWittCBS

@Zimmsy Google could stop them in one move of the mouse. But it won't.

TitusMcGillicutty
TitusMcGillicutty

Can't stand B/R. You have to click through 82 pages to read a average story, nothing but a click-generator. 

itistrue
itistrue

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.

George
George

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.

rogersmith
rogersmith

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.

 

 

Eli_Marger
Eli_Marger

@joshjurnovoy lots of BS. Definitely not a perfect site but not the craphole the article makes it out to be

maryannjohanson
maryannjohanson

@culturekills There's no "but" about this. It's the exact same shit.

RossMLucas
RossMLucas

@MatthewBerryTMR Which is more than can be said for anything ever written in Bleacher Report!!

brstinks
brstinks

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.

brstinks
brstinks

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.

crazybobsavage_
crazybobsavage_

@MatthewBerryTMR Gotta be honest. I didn't get past the second word. #noattentionspan

JoEburGett_WE
JoEburGett_WE

@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

AndrewGould4
AndrewGould4

But you read and love its fantasy baseball content, right? Right?@MatthewBerryTMR I found this article fascinating: http://t.co/JMJdUDdC

_ucsdamg006
_ucsdamg006

@MatthewBerryTMR would you trade Hakeem nicks and Donald brown for Ryan Matthews and jahvid best?

604to305
604to305

@ConnorMeaks jokes website lol they make outrageous posts

chris_rondeau
chris_rondeau

@MatthewBerryTMR taking ur advice and selling high on Turner with A Hawkins for Fred Jackson. A little risky but what do you think?

kyle_tait
kyle_tait

@carloscollazo__ How did I miss the "10 Possible Tiger Woods Porn Spin-offs: Mistress Edition"? Oh that's right, I don't read BR...

JeromieMoss
JeromieMoss

@MatthewBerryTMR I need to pick between James Jones or Maclin as my 3rd wr/TE in a ppr. Thoughts?starting Graham and D Thomas

ajgruber515
ajgruber515

.@MatthewBerryTMR. Whoa - Good shit, TMR! Nate would hate this article. BECAUSE HE'S A #WEASEL!!

springtime151
springtime151

@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

Zimmsy
Zimmsy

@sean_morrison @newsmonkey8 @DeWittCBS The Fake Bleacher Report Twitter feed is priceless, and sometimes tough to discern from "real" BR.

Zimmsy
Zimmsy

@sean_morrison Not a fan of Bleacher Report myself. Created a generation of fandorks w/ nothing to say who think they're "sports writers!"

Anonymous
Anonymous

 @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.

pzaroo
pzaroo

 @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....

hadariijones
hadariijones

@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.

ConnorMeaks
ConnorMeaks

@604to305 ya man. Such useless slide shows.

MatthewBerryTMR
MatthewBerryTMR

@chris_rondeau getting F Jax + Hawkins for MT? Like it

CarlosCollazo__
CarlosCollazo__

@kyle_tait im guessing the bulk of their traffic is 13 year olds

SportsGamerShow
SportsGamerShow

@MatthewBerryTMR but on a totally unrelated note, huge fan of the podcast. #whoacrazycrazy

SportsGamerShow
SportsGamerShow

@MatthewBerryTMR Being 1st v fact checks/proofreading & writing good content. If that doesnt summarize new v old media I dont know what does

sean_morrison
sean_morrison

@Zimmsy @newsmonkey8 @DeWittCBS However, as the article says -- and sadly for journalism professionals -- their model acts as it intends to.

MatthewBerryTMR
MatthewBerryTMR

@SportsGamerShow Too big a debate for Twitter. That's not the point of article. We disagree. Be well.

springtime151
springtime151

@MatthewBerryTMR detriment, b/c it floods the site w/ poor quality work.

springtime151
springtime151

@MatthewBerryTMR labor they are receiving. The article was very accurate in that they are so dependent on free labor, it works to their...

springtime151
springtime151

@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

springtime151
springtime151

@MatthewBerryTMR seemed to be defensive (naturally), ironically i stopped working for them b/c a) you begin to question the journalistic...

springtime151
springtime151

@MatthewBerryTMR also stated that the reward system was simplified in SF Weekly article, and good work is rewarded meaningfully

springtime151
springtime151

@MatthewBerryTMR email said writes do have flexibility to change their assignments and are encouraged to speak out if they don't like them

DeWittCBS
DeWittCBS

@sean_morrison Google released a new update Friday night but doesn't seem to have killed off B/R.

sean_morrison
sean_morrison

@DeWittCBS @Zimmsy @newsmonkey8 Hopefully sooner rather than later.

DeWittCBS
DeWittCBS

@sean_morrison @Zimmsy @newsmonkey8 Yes, right now the model works, but google is going to shut down their SEO spam eventually.

 
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