Football, Blogs and Newspapers Unite? Part Five

This series came about in part from a post from the not-so-anonymous-anymore blogger, Fake Sigi, which discussed the post rate on Pitch Invasion since the end of the summer, especially in light of the editor’s new column at BigSoccer. FS wrote:

My main concern was that Tom [Dunmore] would start posting more and more at BigSoccer, leaving Pitch Invasion to slowly decompose. From my experience, it’s hard enough to maintain one web writing medium when you’re not a hard core freelancer. And mostly those fears turned out to be unfounded through July when Pitch Invasion posted something on the order of nearly three new articles a day.

And then Tom went on short “week-long” hiatus on August 12, and Pitch Invasion has for all intents and purposes gone dark since then.

From there, FS goes on to say—to use an expression that jumped the shark years ago—PI has jumped the shark. So I spoke to Tom about the drop-off in the rate of posts here, and he put it this way:

It’s really rather simple…I was finishing writing a 400 page soccer book and running the Chicago Fire’s Independent Supporters’ Association…the former took up about 20 hours a week, the latter 40 hours a week, and I blasted out a few BigSoccer pieces for some $ as well, in part for the cash, in part for the interest of reaching a new audience. And I also have a life!

Plus [PI contributors, including yours truly] eased up post-WC on PI too so the site lost its regular momentum.  I guess at the end of the day, it’s not a successful business (nor was it ever meant to earn full-time income for anyone) and it’s not going to run itself when nobody has 30 hours a week to work on it for very little $ reward.  At the end of the day, I’d rather run nothing on it than run low quality crap.

And there you have it: one major pitfall for any successful blog (and blogger) is the lack of any solid financial return on what can be an enormous investment of time and energy (it’s a “hustle,” as Jason Davis wrote). And it’s not as if there is money awaiting the hard-working blogger down the long and windy road, outside of using the blog as a platform for almost invariably better-paying external freelance work. Needless to say, Dunmore, nor anyone (save me on occasion) has anything to apologize for with regard to Pitch Invasion’s contribution to independent football writing. The problem is that for most of us (hi Brooks!) right now, blogging is for the most part its own reward. Which is why so many great blogs, even those loaded with up PPC banners and decent ad deals and a bunch of subscriptions, will eventually start to peter out, oh, say, around the three year mark.

For some, this isn’t actually a problem at all. Blogs are great in part because of the low threshold involved in starting up. Anyone can get a domain on Blogger or WordPress and hang their dirty footballing laundry out to dry for millions to read (or not read). And anyone can just as easily stop posting, often with nobody the wiser. This is in many ways what makes blogs great. They live and die in the moment, they have their time, and then they cease to be relevant. Then someone else fills in the empty space, although never in quite the same way.

Other writers question whether there is any intrinsic financial worth in blogging at all. Local Kings Cross blogger William Perrin, quoted in the Alan Rusbridger lecture I keep banging on about, believes there isn’t anything about independent journalism that “deserves” remuneration:

[The site] costs us about £11 a month in cash, which is about three of four pints of beer … we have a very strong community of people around here who send us stuff. None of the people who work with me are journalists. I’m not a journalist by any stretch of the imagination; it’s an entirely volunteer effort … Some people what I do in my community some people label journalism, it’s a label I actually resist.

Indeed, once you add the expectation of post-rates, editorial control, the concerns of a legal department, and the expectation you will always cover a certain topic in a certain way—all, by the way, possible elements of any network blog/newspaper partnership—well, it’s not blogging anymore, is it?

With some of these questions this in mind, I spoke with a successful blogger who is already branching out into a major media organization with his Guardian Chalkboards feature, Zonal Marking author Michael Cox. I asked him if he thought ZM would continue unaffected even with the prospect of further outside work, and whether he thought there was any incentive for blogs and media orgs to cooperate:

Yes, ZM will continue, really the Guardian stuff is irrelevant from that point of view – not to do it down, it’s great and a privilege to do, but but doesn’t really change the way I operate. I just do a column for them on Monday mornings, and will happily go in for the podcast if I’m invited back, but ZM is still my main task. There hasn’t really been any change in it now that I’m working for a ‘bigger’ publication.

I suppose it depends if the blog can sustain itself on its own financially (through other means than through a link with a mainstream organisation). If not, then the blogger will probably be forced to either accept money from a publication (in which case editorial control might suffer, understandably) or they’ll just work full-time for the newspaper and do the blog as an ‘extra’. But that’s not really the case here – ZM’s got me a chance to write for the Guardian but now that’s me doing it, not Zonal Marking being featured on the Guardian.

Cox, like most football bloggers, considers his blog an end in itself. When I started my own site, A More Splendid Life, I deliberately intended it to be an experimental platform for my own football writing, just to see if I could do it. After a while though, it took on a life of its own. Even when it was in my best interest to stop, I kept going because people kept reading; I didn’t feel it was right to just kill it off. To this day, I have often contemplated chucking it out entirely and starting my own personal site featuring writing on a host of different topics, but I don’t want to wreck AMSL as a soccer-only site.

The sense of your blog as an autonomous creation is a powerful motivation to keep going, but it over the long haul it is no match for sustainable financial incentives. Even if you’re wildly successful at blogging, additional freelance work will sap your energy and resources. A very small percentage of individual bloggers might get bought or “sponsored” by print pubs, able to maintain the creative and editorial control they had before, but the reality is most independent football writers will either hand over the reigns to someone else, cut down on the post rate, or just stop. That might not be necessarily a bad thing, but when readers come to rely on certain sites to provide coverage on a topic badly neglected by mainstream media organizations with finite resources, the loss of an excellent independent blog leaves a marked gap. While most football bloggers have more than a little William Perrin in them, it’s worth considering that establishing a means for providing sustainable financial rewards for bloggers might not necessarily corrupt the spontaneity, freedom and creativity of the medium.

Image Credit: CarbonNYC.

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