Five steps to running an independent media platform

A couple of months ago, I mentioned that I attended a New England Press Association seminar called Rebooting the Web. I addressed some notes from the seminar and expounded on my thoughts therein. Now I bring another byproduct of the seminar. A speaker (sorry, name escapes me at the moment) mentioned five steps to running a platform. I’ve adapted those steps to running an independent media platform (except one, which we’ll get to). These steps were designed for interactivity on a newspaper but can easily be applied to independent/social media.

Keep in mind that most of the people in attendance hailed from newspapers and the like and the seminar was geared to promoting social content on the Web site. The five steps to doing so are important to everyone and rather simplistic to model.

1. Identify your audience and objectives (“What do you want them to do?”)

The crux of every blog created or social platform is the identifying of your audience. When I created Fire Brand of the American League, I did so with several objectives in mind. First was to have this Web site be a haven for Red Sox fans to find intellectual and engaging content. Second was to offer a unique voice, and third was to have the Web site to be perceived as an informative and opinionated resource for Red Sox fans. I have succeeded on all three levels. That is what makes Fire Brand successful to this day, and there is no other Red Sox blog that has been able to match Fire Brand in the demographic I have assigned it. (There are, however, several other fantastic Red Sox bloggers that I read that do an excellent job in matching the demographics they build around.)

The second aspect was to define what I wanted readers to do. In the old model, I wanted them to come to Fire Brand, read our take on the Red Sox and then provide feedback. We are still stuck in this model for now, but we’re making strides towards a new model where I will be able to make readers part of the Fire Brand fabric, not part of the Fire Brand commenters fabric. More on this later.

2. Consider different technology models

MVN, since it’s advent, has been housed on WordPress. It made the switch to WordPress MU a year ago, which has been a godsend. While WordPress has allowed us to do many things and I am a fan of it (as evidenced by it being my blogging tool here) it has also become sadly outdated for what MVN needs in its next platform, which we in the know call MVN 3.0. (The current MVN is known as 2.0, or 2.5 if you factor in recent design tweaks, and the former MVN on mostvaluablenetwork.com is known as 1.0.)

Our Content Director and Web Administrator went through many different prospectives for a new platform, and it seemed as if the “best” platform shifted every day. Finally, however, the most cost-efficient platform was settled on. While it did represent a small shift in how we envisioned 3.0, I sit here today thinking that this paradigm-shift was for the best.

If we had been unwilling to recalibrate the idea we had in mind for MVN 3.0, we would have not chosen the platform we did — Moveable Type Community Solution. We would have gone for a more expensive platform that would have given us what we thought we wanted, and in the end, would have been worse off for the wear. As you explore various platforms to deliver your content, please try to keep in mind that not only does the content make the platform, but the platform makes the content. Don’t hesitate to adapt your thinking if necessitated. Life is about change, as much as we all hate it.

3. Assign people to moderate

This is something that is a bit underutilized on MVN as is and I suspect will continue to be on 3.0, but it is something that newspapers swear by. Comments on MVN (and most competitors) are allowed to run amok with very loose guidelines. Compare that to a newspaper which has very stringent guidelines and are constantly moderating comments. On MVN, we may not reach double figures in deleting comments the entire year, but double figures are easily reached each day at the newspaper I currently work for, The Patriot Ledger.

I am not knocking either MVN or the Ledger; the two come from different business models and points of origin, but assigning people to moderate only depends on a) if you feel you need moderation and b) what should be moderated. Right now, MVN does not need a moderator — it deals with comments as they are brought to attention while newspapers regularly screen comments before allowing them to go live. As MVN grows and develops into the new platform, moderators will undoubtedly be needed to keep tabs on both comments and user blogs, but I very much doubt MVN will ever reach the screening phase. Case in point is ESPN.com, which has hundreds of thousands of comments a day, and I very much doubt they have someone moderating each and every comment (although I profess no knowledge).

In the end, however, some sort of moderation is needed on every social media platform. Earlier, I mentioned that MVN does not moderate comments too much. However, what we do do is make sure that the profanity policy and other MVN policies remain in effect for writers. These policies will largely still exist on MVN 3.0 although only targeted towards specific people. For now, however, these polices exist all across MVN and we need to ensure that the product we deliver is in accordance with this policies.

As with any endeavor, regular maintenance is essential to success.

4. Get people to participate

Earlier, I mentioned that I had started pushing Fire Brand to a more involved type of Web site rather than a site where people come to read and leave. I am pushing Fire Brand to be a site of community, where people can come engage in discussion on the Sox. Some things I have implemented:

  • For a long time now (over a year) we have had polls, which continue to rise in popularity. I ran a test in which I put up polls but did not put up an article with results; put up polls with an article with just results; and polls with an article with results and reaction. The latter idea got the most reaction, response, discourse, and more voters on future polls. Gee, I wonder why.
  • We have added QuickPosts, which enables our readers to keep coming back throughout the day instead of having each day consists of a morning opinion piece, a game thread and ending with game recap. A reader used to be able to come just once a day for fresh, unknown content in the morning and then not return. That needed to change.
  • We also, as writers, needed to get more involved in the community. Readers need to feel like they are being heard, and writers need to converse with readers to build community, rapport and get ideas. Since I started being more heavily involved in responding to comments, I have found it easier to have the blog topic ideas come. Not only that, the readers have responded by leaving more comments, which is, after all, the idea.
  • We have added trivia posts that enable more comments to be left that also give readers an ability to “compete” and win “prizes” such as naming the next poll topic, the next trivia question, writing game notes, picking article ideas… the list goes on. This facilitates involvement and gives the reader a sense of inclusion. Speaking of inclusion…
  • When Fire Brand moves to its own layout, I am looking to implement diaries, something that SB Nation has done very well. As a matter of fact, MVN 3.0 is taking the concept of diaries and pushing it one (or two, or three) step further. However, that’s a network-wide concept. For a singular blog concept, diaries works very well, and I look forward to readers having the ability to submit their own articles to Fire Brand for engagement and discourse therein.

5. Intercede to minimize objectionable content

This is a little too similar to No. 3 for me, so I’m going to change it. Besides, there’s one other key point to independent media that I don’t think newspapers grasp because they are, after all, mainstream media.

5. Provide fresh, original content not found elsewhere.

Why is Fire Brand considered one of the best Red Sox blogs out there; a blog that Peter Gammons says club officials of the Sox read? Easy: it’s an original voice that you can’t find anywhere else. Same for Surviving Grady. There is a clear flavor to the posts; a clear topic delineation, a sense of consistency in how often there are updates and what those updates are. If you’re in the mood for opinionated, analytical Sox talk, you head to Fire Brand. If you want to find the humor in the Sox and perhaps rant obscenely as well, you head to Surviving Grady. (This is not a knock on SG — it is an absolutely fantastic site, and since more people love ranting, there’s a reason why it gets hundreds of comments per post.)

The key is that you can’t find this content elsewhere. Definitely not SG. Could you find Fire Brand content elsewhere? There have been blogs that try to, but they haven’t quite matched up to daily, informed takes on the team. The closest is probably the Boston Globe with their daily coverage, but they don’t delve into strict opinion/analysis — a newspaper relies on just facts, remember? No, the reason why both sites are so popular is because they update consistently with a singular voice and engaging content.

Mainstream media just needs to outspend and outproduce other media outlets to be declared the victor. It needs quality reporters, quality editors and a good marketing budget. Those media outlets win. With independent media, quality writing is of course, integral. A good marketing budget sure helps, too… but the end all be all?

Any independent site is destined to fail unless it doesn’t provide fresh, original content found elsewhere. Find your voice and deliver it consistently. The audience will find it.

NEPA: Rebooting the Web

On Saturday, I attended a New England Press Association seminar called Rebooting the Web, dealing with new media forms such as blogging, vlogging and the like.

I was very interested in Steve Garfield’s presentation in which he spoke of his experiences vlogging and other media. He maintains a Twitter page (so do I) and showed me a fantastic site in Qik.com that has me considering whether or not to invest in the appropriate phone to do it.

Some other notes from the seminar I wanted to address:

Instead of “Comments (0)” have it say “Get involved” or “Join the discussion.”

I really, really like this idea. I have personally struggled for a while believing it smart to say “Comments (0)” and as a matter of fact, changed this on my old site for Fire Brand of the American League, back when it was on All-Baseball.com (now defunct). I didn’t have the coding knowhow to make the “(0)” disappear, but I did change the wording from “Comments” to “Discuss.”

Comments, I think, is an outdated term of usage. In this day and age of blogging, discussion becomes the tool to drive traffic. People aren’t “commenting” on articles anymore as much as they are using the article to drive discussion on a topic.

Most speakers recommend making users register to leave comments.

I hate, hate this concept. Commenting (or per my previous note, discussing) should be easy and simple.

I have certainly ran into difficulties over my MVN.com career with spammers (easily taken care of with a spam filter) and obnoxious commenters that cross some serious lines. Some of the vitrol these commenters spew… it makes me ashamed. I’m getting off on a tangent here, but I can’t believe how much comments in an article are skewed towards negativity. Sitting at a computer without any liability of having to look at people, etc… it’s amazing how much people just start ranting and raving and just in general, being mean.

But anyways, I don’t like this idea. Comments should be easy to leave. A reader’s attention span is very, very short. Asking them to sign up will eliminate commenters who come for the first time and don’t particularly care to leave a comment but will if its easy.

I know that when I’ve gone to leave comments on other sites (or to read newspaper articles that force you to sign up to read the rest of the paper) I just leave it. I abandon it. I don’t care enough. More often than not, they lose me as a returning visitor.

I feel requiring signups is a mistake. Heck, the standard commenting system on MVN is just to leave a name and e-mail. On Fire Brand, I require neither.

Simple and easy. That’s how you get comments and returning visitors.

Three things that make a blog: recent post first, link elsewhere, comments. What, content doesn’t matter?

Buster Olney is the only “true” blog I read, where most of his content comes from linking to outside sources. I find it a great resource, but more often than not, I don’t click any of the links. I read his daily take on a subject, then I read his summaries of the links and move on.

Content matters. Others may disagree, but links should be used to further conversation on the subject. Not to mention Olney usually links to just newspapers. That’s another reason I really like Rob Neyer’s blog — he links to other blogs and talks about the subject the other blog talks about.

THAT is blogging. Not just linking to other sites and telling readers to go there.

A speaker says all blog entries should be edited before posting.

I’m not sure how I feel about this one. On one hand, I see a great need for it. On the other, for sites that can’t afford it — like MVN.com — I can’t see how MVN would benefit from three full-time editors. Maybe later. But not now.

Not to mention that blogging doesn’t HAVE to (should?) conform to typical AP standards. Blogs have a voice, and those come from slang, conversational tone, intentional misspellings, etc.

Not sure how I feel about this, again, yet. Any opinions the readers (all two of you) might have on this?

Reading habits; self-help books

I used to be a very avid reader. I would devour at least two books a month in high school/the early part of college. Mostly fiction — John Grisham, Vince Flynn, Michael Connelly, Dean Koontz.

However, with MVN taking up so much time and my increasing interest in following the sports news, the amount of books that I have read have taken a downturn. Now, my bookreading is basically saved for the annual week-long vacation to Cape Cod. I’m trying to change this in a variety of ways.

First is using DailyLit (hat tip to Cory Humes) to read Moby Dick, which I’ve never read and always wanted to. Every weekday, I get roughly a 500-word e-mail of the book that I can read quickly and conveniently. It’s awesome!

Secondly is trying to motivate myself to read more — that’s simple. And I’m convinced I’ll succeed. In my college dorm I have a bookcase with two shelves that I just add books to. I recently cleaned out a full shelf of books that I had read and brought it to my parents’ house and put it in the attic. I’ve read so many books that our attic is literally covered with books and my four-shelf bookcase in my room at my parents’ house is also jammed.

Now that I only have one shelf left, it looks very manageable and I’m sure I’ll be able to finish all the books. One habit I’ve gotten into that is terrible lately is starting a book and never finishing it. Take for example, ‘My Life’ by Bill Clinton. I got it when it came out, read a couple chapters, and it’s still sitting on my bookshelf. I plan to finish it.

Same with the “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.” I got it for Christmas last year, read the prologue, and then put it down and never finished it. I’ve kept it by my bedside for a year to try to make myself read it but I never did. I just read the first chapter, finally, and loved it. This is unsurprising because I loved the prologue … when I read it a year ago.

This book, coupled by “The Double Win” by Dennis Waitley and “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor Frankl is probably going to be largely responsible for me being able to change my life for the positive.

“The Double Win” is changing the tenet of “win/lose” to “win/win.” Basically, the world is dependent on “I win, you lose.” Why can’t it be “I win, you win?” It’s a pretty simple concept and I ripped through the book fairly quickly.

“Man’s Search for Meaning” has two parts. The first part is his account of how he survived the Nazi concentration camps during the Holocaust and the tenet he embraced called “logotherapy.” This is a fantastic tenet which I have already applied in the short time I have known this.

There are two things I have learned from this. The first is that you are only what you choose to be. A simple tenet, but it really hammers it home. As a matter of fact, I had a discussion the other day that I would have normally gotten very upset about during the discussion. However, I told myself “you are choosing not to be upset and let this affect your mood. Just treat the discussion as a discussion, there is no reason to get upset.” It worked.

Second is a form of reserve psychology. If you don’t think you can do something, you won’t. So challenge yourself not to do it — and you will. Frankl’s examples mostly deal with sexual impotence (A man is insecure about his potency and thus every time he engages in procreation he thinks to himself that he must show his potency and often doesn’t). This example was eye-opening for me. In the example I just cited, Frankl would have that man tell himself “Let’s see how long I can last before showing my potency” and he says it works — the man often ends up being able to show his potency. As Frankl says, pressure is naturally counteracted by counter-pressure. If you pressure yourself to do something, you won’t — or vice versa.

I haven’t had a chance to apply this tenet yet, but I’m looking forward to it.  Just an example of how I can do it: when working out, sometimes I will add on so much weight that I think to myself “Boy, there’s no way I’m going to be able to do this six times.” Instead of thinking that, I’ll try to prove it. I’ll tell myself to try to not do it six times.

The only problem with this example is that this involves physical strength, not mental apitude while Frankl’s tenets reside mostly in the mental apitude, but the point is there.

Lastly is the “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” which mentioned Frankl in the first chapter. The first chapter talked about being proactive, not reactive. He gave an example of a company meeting of three days in which the days were broken out like this:

What is the environment like? The company decided that the environment was one of low capital and its competitors were doing much better. Everyone was disappointed at the end of this day.

The second day asked what the company was doing wrong. Naturally, disappointment reigned the day.

The final day asked “what can we do about it?” and it was a very positive meeting as everyone discussed being proactive to get things done. The conclusion at the end of the day was despite the depressed market, the company was doing very well and would continue to do well if applying the concepts they came up with during the meeting.

Another example deals with a boss who is very creative and bright but is always telling people under him to do things. (This is a true story, by the way.) The employees of the boss would often get together and complain about the boss but never do anything about it. One employee one day decided to do something about it and went above and beyond what the boss asked for. He gave the boss analysis of what the boss wanted, and then continued on by explaining the analysis and giving possibilities to act on this analysis.

The boss told the author of this book that he was very impressed with the employee. At the next meeting, he delegated tasks to all the other employees except the proactive employee. He asked that employee “What’s your opinion?”

After the meeting, the other employees sans the proactive one got together to complain about the boss and his “favored pet” of the employee. That’s them being reactive, while the employee was proactive.

Also, I learned that often it is not that you can’t. It is that you choose. When people say “I can’t,” “If only…,” etc… it’s often not the environment hampering them; it’s themselves hampering themselves.

I’m largely a reader of fiction, but I would recommend the above three books to anyone — and I’m not even done reading the Seven Habits one yet! I have a feeling it’s going to be a book I constantly re-read.

The Power of Baseball Blogging

The below is a sample of some of Evan’s work as a journalist.

Jayson Stark, a columnist for ESPN.com, loves blogging. He loves how blogging is a “cool, flexible medium.” Stark has been writing columns for ESPN since 2000, after spending 21 years at the Philadelphia Inquirer. You would think he prefers articles that show up in print, or on the Internet in typical print form. You would be wrong. He loves blogs because it includes “stuff that was slipping through the cracks before,” says Stark. “Now it all just fits right into the 24/7 texture [ESPN has] woven.”

Millions of citizens are using the power of blogs, Internet journals, to make their voices heard and change history. Political blogs, an influential part of politics nowadays, have already been successful in bringing down Congressman Mark Foley in a sex scandal in 2006. Baseball blogs are also an influential part of the sport now, and the blogs serve as a way for fans to voice their opinion on anything related to baseball, and there are many fans doing so. There are 1,441 baseball blogs registered with SportsBlogs.org at the time of this writing, and thousands more read them every day. Not only read – but comment. This means there are a staggering amount of people out there writing, reading, and thinking about baseball.

In blogging, other fans can comment on a blogger’s opinion by leaving a comment under every article a blogger writes. This causes a horizontal flow of information to occur, where people are talking to each other. Instead of newspapers and other media companies talking to readers on a vertical line in the flow of information, now they find themselves on a horizontal line with bloggers and their commenters. Sports journalism is being changed in a profound way because now newspapers and sports companies have started blogs of their own to have their columnists speak with their readers, not to their readers. The media benefits from this because they still maintain the power that being the media gives them to find out news when it happens, something that very few bloggers enjoy.

As a result of blogging, fans are becoming far more informed about the game. In the old days, fans picked up the local newspaper and read the opinions and news of sports columnists, and then talked around the water cooler with their co-workers. Today? Today, fans can reach millions across the world with their own opinions and information. Information is flowing in many different directions, and some bloggers have parlayed that into a paying job with a sports corporation. We know far more about baseball today than we did even five years ago. The amount of detail and opinion on each player, both with statistical information, scouting information, and opinion of that player is staggering. A lot of that can be attributed to the explosion of baseball blogging.

There are many different ways one can approach blogging about baseball. Blogging about baseball can be an enormous task, and can spin you off in a million different directions. The reasons behind baseball blogging vary widely from doing it as a hobby to marketing oneself, to doing it for a job or to get a job. The one common theme that unites all baseball bloggers, despite their intentions is passion. Jamie Mottram, the director of AOL Fanhouse, the AOL sports blogging network, believes passion is a large part of baseball blogging.

“If someone is getting paid to blog … that passion has to be there,” Mottram says. “If someone is blogging because they want to turn it into a paid position, then they should still really know and love what they’re doing. If it’s just for kicks, then it should be all fun, all the time,” he says.

One such company that has embraced blogging is ESPN, the dominant sports media corporation in America which has turned all its prominent columnists into bloggers, including the aforementioned Jayson Stark. “At ESPN.com, we’re interested in exploring every form of communicating with our audience that we can utilize,” says Stark, who happens to be paid for blogging. “Those blogs are a great device to do things and communicate in ways that wouldn’t work or fit anywhere else. Blogging just fits right into that picture.” There are concerns that big media corporations, including ESPN, are seeing blogging as a fad that they are utilizing to be more popular with readers and gain money while the fad lasts. Stark disagrees, saying that ESPN’s style is to be innovative; the idea is to be “at the forefront of all technology and all media, not to follow.”

Stark goes on to explain that his blog, called “Useless Information,” was originally designed to incorporate his “Useless Information” columns into a blog-style form, but that it was expanded to make it “more wide-ranging and free-form.” He continues, saying that “since Peter Gammons and Buster Olney [ESPN baseball columnists] are writing more serious blogs, the idea was for mine to be a different kind of blog whenever possible.”

Any baseball fan who goes to ESPN.com to drink up the latest baseball news knows that the blog section is where one should go to get the best opinion and analysis. The aforementioned Gammons, Olney and Stark combine with ex-Toronto Blue Jay assistant general manager Keith Law to make baseball blogging a powerful force at ESPN.com. Indeed, baseball blogging has many people from many different walks of life involved, not only at a sports media company, but across the world.

One such person is Christian Ruzich, a devout Chicago Cubs fan. Ruzich, the founder of All-Baseball.com along with Mark McClusky (which got bought out by Most Valuable Network, owned by this author, in March 2005), got his start in the late 1990s. He started writing about the Cubs before any popular blogging tools such as Blogger.com started up, but lost interest. When baseball blogs started gaining interest, he jumped back into the fray and has been blogging since at The Cub Reporter at MVN.com.

Stark and Ruzich come from vastly different backgrounds. Stark is a baseball writer for ESPN, while Ruzich has no baseball ties whatsoever other than being a fan. What tie these two together are a love for sports and a love for writing. Blogging is a tool to get opinion out in the Internet and it is made far easier by the sport they blog about, baseball. Baseball is such an easy sport to blog about and much of that reasoning has to do with the fact that baseball is a year-round sport. People always have something new to talk about, thanks to 162 games per team being played almost every day in a baseball season. In the off-season, there are winter leagues being played with players from all organizations. Free agency and trades continually keep the “hot stove” burning and through it all, people are listening, reading and writing. As Ruzich explains, “People have been writing about baseball for as long as there has been baseball, which is a long time. It is such a part of the fabric of American society people who watch it and talk about it feel compelled to write about it.”

In addition, he cites the revolution of sabermetrics as an important contributor to blogging. Sabermetrics is the analysis of baseball through objective evidence and was popularized by statistician Bill James, who currently works for the Boston Red Sox. As Ruzich explains, this revolution now enables people to argue about not just baseball in general, what moves the manager or general manager should make, but also “arguing about statistics as well as arguing about arguing about the statistics,” Ruzich says. “It’s the only sport that’s achieved this level of meta-discussion.”

In addition to baseball blogging allowing no shortage of baseball material, another aspect about blogging that people love is that a blogger is their own boss and can write what they want when they want. “There’s a lot of freedom to it and if you do it well and write about an interesting subject in an engaging way, you’ll develop a loyal readership,” says Chad Finn. Finn, a former columnist for the Concord Monitor in New Hampshire, now is an editor at the Boston Globe. He started blogging because he missed the voice he had with the Monitor and decided to start up a blog at touchingallthebases.blogspot.com to replace that missing voice.

Tyler Bleszinski, a blogger at AthleticsNation.com, agrees. “It’s great to know that there are people out there who are just as obsessive as I am about the Oakland (Athletics),” he says. “It also gives me an outlet for writing, as I have always loved writing and wanted to make it my career. With blogging, I get the best of both worlds. I get to be a fan and write about the team I love from a biased viewpoint.”

Finn and Bleszinski also believe that while blogging is slowly becoming accepted, it still has a long way to go. Finn has received freelance opportunities from his blogging work, but as an editor at the Boston Globe, can see firsthand how reluctant people are to give credibility to a blogger. “In some circles, it’s almost like ‘blogger’ is an insult or a dirty word,” says Finn. “It just takes some time to convince people you’re not an angry dude sitting in his mom’s basement spouting opinions.” ESPN adding bloggers has dramatically increased the credibility of bloggers, but Finn notes that the only true blog that ESPN does is by Buster Olney, who usually writes a lead about the news or hot topic of the day. Olney then collects links from around the web and disseminates them with comments. The other blogs on ESPN tend to be regular columns or “watered-down notes columns that you’d read in the Sunday newspaper,” as Finn describes them.

Bleszinski agrees on ESPN adding credibility to blogging and also helps get the word out about blogs. “People who haven’t discovered blogs yet might find out about them through the more traditional means and then look for the best quality ones,” he says. Bleszinski has suddenly been making multiple media appearances and says that baseball blogging can gain universal acceptance by getting “acceptance from the media then acceptance from the mainstream then acceptance from Corporate America which wants to reach the mainstream.”

As blogs gain in popularity, so do the aspirations of bloggers. Nowadays, it is common for people to start blogs with an eye towards financial gain. A question then arises on how blogs should be treated or viewed – as a hobby or a job? It is Stark’s job, it is Ruzich and Finn’s hobby and Bleszinski approaches it as a job. Finn cautions that it is very hard for a blogger to attain riches, although it is a commendable goal to have, while Bleszinski says it all depends on the desires of the blogger. In the end, a blog should be approached as something that one has passion to write about and shouldn’t expect a job to materialize out of it. Doing anything with passion will get one noticed, and baseball blogging is no exception.

For John Vittas, a blog got him a job. Vittas wrote a blog on the Texas Rangers on Blogger.com before being recruited by Most Valuable Network to be its Rangers’ correspondent. Vittas approached blogging as a hobby until December 2005, when he gained press access to the baseball winter meetings, where most free agent signings and trades occur as general managers hunker down for a week in a hotel that changes venues every year. Vittas decided at that point that whether or not others viewed blogging as a job, he wanted to be taken seriously and be appreciated for his love of writing. It allowed Vittas to reach the next level of writing and get an offer from Scout.com to become its Texas Rangers’ correspondent. “Writing for the Most Valuable Network was a great way to garner more exposure and I doubt I would have ever been given the opportunity to expand my horizons at Scout had I not been a part of MVN,” Vittas says.

For John Sickels, it is a job because he makes it a job. Sickels, long known as a respected minor league columnist, worked at ESPN from 1996-2004. After ESPN decided not to retain Sickels’ services as a minor league correspondent due to entering into a partnership with Baseball America, a famous minor league Web site, Sickels needed an outlet for his work. He read about SBNation.com, a sports blog network, starting up and decided to become the minor league correspondent for them. Unhappy with ESPN’s creative restrictions, he loves blogging now because it offers him complete creative control. “Blogging ties in with my book and my newsletter, sort of a free outlet to get people interested in the other stuff that I do,” says Sickels. He goes on to say that it is extremely difficult to pull off making blogging a full-time endeavor and you must love the subject matter to be able to do it.

A negative to blogging is that if one is successful enough, a blogger could feel indebted to readers to continually post columns. Aaron Gleeman, who has been blogging since 2002 and subsequently landed jobs at NBC Sports, Fox Sports, USA Today and Rotoworld.com, feels indebted to readers. “I’ve long passed the point of doing it every day for fun,” he says. He pegs the number of blog entries he writes as an obligation at 90 percent, especially because he feels something should be written “instead of leaving the readers with an old entry at the top of the page when they show up the next morning.” Without that obligation, he says, he would have long ceased blogging.

Those interviewed for this article were polled on the hours they spend on the blog per week, the amount of articles a week and words per article. The average answer came out to roughly 20 hours a week, five entries a week, of about 500 words. The most common answer to each question was spending 10 to 18 hours a week, writing five to 10 articles a week, of words ranging from 300 to 900 words. The most hours contributed was by David Pinto, a former Baseball Tonight Online host, who moved to blogging after Baseball Tonight Online was not renewed for the 2002 season. He spends an estimated 50 hours a week on the blog, writing about 20 entries, but the word count ranges from one sentence to multiple paragraphs. Among those who blog regularly, the least blogged is Chad Finn, the Boston Globe editor, who spends about three hours a post on his blog, penning three entries of about 900 words each. The most words cited is by Gleeman, who currently writes 1,250 words per article, down from 2,500 plus in his heyday, writing five times a week and spending 10 hours a week on the articles.

Pinto believes that the key to starting up a baseball blog is to write as consistently as possible. “After a while, I tend to stop reading (blogs that don’t write consistently),” says Pinto. “If you develop a fan base, give them a reason to keep coming back.” Another step towards building a well-known baseball blog is to link to as many other blogs as possible, as they will notice and link back.

Baseball blogs were the first to corner the market on the sports blogging craze and still have the market cornered. The long season filled with many games and active off-season means there are no shortage of topics to write about. There are many baseball blogs out there, and a baseball blog is a great way for an aspiring baseball journalist to begin honing his craft. A baseball blogger could also be a 40-something passionate baseball fan looking for that outlet that has been missing all along.

Whether one writes or reads baseball blogs, it is undeniable that baseball blogging has revolutionized the way that baseball is approached and viewed. The massive amounts of information have helped to propel baseball into a new era of discussion and analysis, both at the fan end of the spectrum and at the baseball operations end of the spectrum. ESPN blogger Jayson Stark helps explain why baseball blogging is so interesting and popular, saying “I find it liberating to have an outlet like this, where I can take a quick detour and express myself on something that rises up out of the daily baseball soap opera.”

Ethical Dilemma on Advertising

I was approached recently by an unnamed company to do some advertising on Most Valuable Network. After several days of haggling, we decided to do one month at a slightly reduced price to allow the company to gauge whether or not they wanted to lock into a long-term plan, which is what we had been hagging about in the first place – the price for the long-term plan.

The plan is about to end, and they really want to continue advertising on MVN but are not happy with the results. While they are getting plenty of “clicks” they are not getting any sign-ups to their website. They wanted me to either (a) run a contest where they can get free money on their account if they sign up for it, or (b) post articles written by them on one of our more well-known sites.

They had been sending me these articles for some time now and kept asking me to put it up, but I kept saying no. When this information came to light that they needed some extra incentive to re-up our advertising package, they asked again about posting articles, and I decided it was time to explain to them why I was refusing to post articles written by them. Here is what I said:

We will not be putting up any of your columns, nor will we ever, even if it was negotiated in the advertising to do so. We are not a company who puts up advertising opinions of companies. Our entire principle is to have sports fans write their opinions on their favorite teams, untarnished by those career journalists who just mail it in or stir the pot up simply to have something to talk about. Putting your content on the fantasy football page would not only spark immediate uproar and cause the writers of that page to quit, but it violates everything we stand for. Advertisers will never be allowed to put content on a page other than a text link, description, or image/animated ad. ESPN does not put advertising company articles on their website, and neither do I. I cannot think of a good reason why any company would. An individual blog? Yes, to generate cash. But a journalistic enterprise? That violates everything that a journalist holds dear.

Much to my surprise, my contact at that company wholeheartedly agreed, apologized for asking, and said it was the company’s policy to always try to ask for more than they should get. We agreed to run a contest, so I’ll be giving it some advertising publicity soon.

Nonetheless, I found it a bit frustrating and comical that an advertising company would presume to think a journalistic enterprise would allow an advertiser’s article to be published on the website in exchange for cash. Do you think the Boston Globe would let Verizon submit an article to the front page of the Globe simply because Verizon would pay the Globe?

The Podcast Revolution

The below is a sample of some of Evan’s journalism work.

To listen to a radio program, people had to plan their schedule around the show time. With an online phenomenon called podcasts, not only can users now choose when to listen to shows, they can also choose where and how. As new and innovative ways to present content of any kind to users emerge, the choices of the users expand into where, when and how. Podcasts, which utilize audio as its medium, are a fast-rising trend that can be thought of as the start of the online audio revolution.

Podcasts are audio shows placed online for a person’s listening pleasure at any time. Users can listen straight from the home page of the podcast or use a syndication feed to listen to it. Yet another option is to download the show to a multimedia player such as an iPod and listen to it on the go. A syndication feed allows users to subscribe to any type of data such as news, audio, or video and have it delivered to a home page of their choosing.

Tim Bourquin of the Portable Media Expo hosts a podcast called “The Podcast Brothers” (http://www.portablemediaexpo.com/audio.htm) along with his brother Emile, speaking about the business side of podcasts. He attributes the popularity of podcasts not only to the ability of users to choose when and where they want their content, but to the ability to choose the content they want to listen to. “Podcasting offers a tremendous amount of niche content,” says Bourquin. “Listeners can find audio and video content on specific subjects they like, rather than having to listen to mainstream content for millions on traditional radio.”

Brandon Rosage, the director of 360 The Pitch (http://360thepitch.com/), the podcast division of Most Valuable Network LLC, cites the fact that more than 10 percent of adults have currently listened to or downloaded a podcast, with that number expected to quadruple by 2010. “Podcasts allow listeners to pause, rewind, fast-forward and save shows for listening at their own convenience, which in today’s on-demand, Tivo and digital recording world is perfectly suited for consumers looking for the same experience with audio,” he says.

Another form of audio media found online, is the webcast. Webcasts are not very popular, but are out there. Rick Morris, a webcaster who turns his webcasts into podcasts for SportsTalkCleveland.com, has experience with both forms of online audio media. “Webcasts and podcasts differ in immediacy,” Morris explains. “Webcasts tend to be made available live to the listeners, while podcasts have a relatively short delay until listeners can hear the show.” The one reason why webcasts are not as popular as podcast despite webcasts being able to broadcast live is that podcasting can be done with a laptop and a few plug-in instruments from a local outlet such as Radio Shack. Webcasts, on the other hand, need more sophisticated technology. Rick Morris broadcasts from a radio station that looks “exactly like any terrestrial radio station, because of the various pieces of equipment needed for live streaming of programming,” Morris says. In addition, webcasts are not always converted into podcasts, so they cannot be made available after the show to listeners who were not able to listen live.

Podcasting is far from a perfect entity, as podcaster Mike Boyko can attest to. Boyko, who hosts “The Blitz” on 360 The Pitch, believes that the biggest problem with podcasters is the advertisers not trusting the medium just yet. “Many have wrong information or think you need to have a certain type of equipment to listen to the shows,” says Boyko. “All you need is a computer with Internet access and you can listen to anything you want.” Morris and Rosage also cite other struggles with podcasting. Morris says that the technology for converting files to MP3s (the audio file used for podcasts) needs to improve. “Presently, I have to take an audio file stored on a server and play it through Adobe Audition and record it, which is a time-consuming process. There are easier ways to process the recorded file, but the software is in many cases more obscure and/or expensive.”

All the audio content available is making its way into journalism as well. Now newspapers and television networks can add audio to their main means of communication, which are respectively print and video. The Boston Globe delivers six podcasts, one daily, one weekly and one with intermittent recordings. Rick Reilly, the popular columnist for Sports Illustrated pens “Life of Reilly” for the back page of the magazine, and then also records a podcast titled “Riffs of Reilly” that can be found at the Sports Illustrated Web site.

Morris says that podcasts are a part of a new style of media that is changing journalism in a profound way. “[It is] a citizen-oriented atmosphere that has no gatekeepers,” Morris says. In this era, citizens are able to choose for themselves what to read or listen to instead of having no choice but to listen to a certain radio station or pick up the daily local newspaper. Journalists are suddenly accountable to not only their competitors, but citizens as well, for citizens are becoming their competitors. Citizens are producing podcasts on their own, which causes traditional journalists to “up their game,” as Bourquin puts it, and journalists now have to put out a better production of a podcast than citizens, increasing the free flow of information.

Rosage believes podcasts have changed journalism, but no more than blogs and other independent media have helped shape journalism. The most significant change Rosage sees are “established outlets taking their cues from independent bloggers and podcasters, copying their amateur and personal writing and delivery style.” The mainstream media then create podcasts and put them on the company’s Web site, but Rosage doubts that the mainstream media is doing this for journalistic purposes. “Ultimately, the efforts are transparently motivated by marketing and are not taken genuinely.”

Many traditional outlets have yet to embrace podcasts. The reasoning may lie in the production of podcasts costing money and the relative newness of podcasting, but out of the top 100 newspaper sites (ranked by print circulation), only 31 newspapers offer podcasts, as found by the Bivings Group, a Washington press relations agency.

Rosage believes that podcasts may always struggle to be accepted as a professional medium for the ability to produce a podcast is accessible to anyone, while the broadcast medium is only accessible to big-budget corporations. “Podcasts, by nature, will always come off as amateur and will always feature a wide range of professionalism,” Rosage says. The way to solve this, he says, is to improve the technology. In the current environment, podcasts are accessed by navigating to a Web site and clicking multiple links until they can get to the podcast file to listen to. “Podcasting will evolve only as quickly as it is made more accessible to low-tech users through automobile interfaces and next-generation software,” Rosage says.

Bourquin emphatically believes that podcasts are here to stay, believing that advertisers will begin to spend money on niche podcasts, because “it will allow them to hyper-target their marketing dollars to the exact audience they want to reach without wasting millions of impressions on people who are not potential customers.” The number of impressions, also known as clicks on the advertising link, generally are tied to the amount of revenue that the advertiser must pay the promoter.

Bourquin also believes that the signal-to-noise ratio is only going to increase as podcasts become even more popular. To help sift through the numerous podcasts, listeners will need better search engines to find content and “podcasters will need to be willing to spend a few dollars to promote their shows and brand in creative ways,” he says. An important step toward that search engine can be found at Podscope.com, the first search engine that finds podcasts according to the words spoken in them.

In addition to being able to download podcasts anywhere, anytime for any possible niche that can be sustained through increased advertising revenue, Morris believes that podcasts will become easier to download to mobile phones, car radios and televisions, which may help offset Rosage’s belief that the Internet will need to be hyper-accessible.

Rosage believes that the future of podcasting will rely on the ability for the Internet to be as accessible as a cellular phone signal. Currently, a listener is not able to listen to a podcast just taped if he does not have the Internet available to him at that moment. Listeners will have to plan ahead to download a podcast into something they can take with them. “So much of audio consumption is an impulse buy,” says Rosage. “Podcasts and the Web need to be available on everyday devices in everyday places so users can feed their impulses” for it to become a dominant form of media.

To supplant terrestrial radio, Rosage believes that podcasts have to be “more universally accessible in automobiles, as most audio consumers are trained to dial up content on their built-in AM/FM radios.” The one word vital to the future of podcasts, Rosage believes, is the word “accessibility.”

Morris cautions against getting used to the podcasts at this time. Podcasts are part of the new entertainment/information-on-demand world that people are moving into rapidly, he says. As cell phones start providing mobile television service, podcasting may morph into live podcasting or even live videocasting, which can be thought of as podcasts with video. “We’re about 10 years into the Internet broadcasting age, and about 10 years from seeing how the Internet, cell phones, television, iPods, satellite radio, terrestrial radio and possibly some yet-to-be-invented forms of media tie together to allow us to access our entertainment and information needs on any platform,” Morris says.

The present period is a period of constant change and adjustment as mainstream media all the way down to citizens struggle to find out what the best communicative medium in the technological era is, and how to best reach every single person in every possible medium and niche. Morris is tremendously excited to be a part of this period, as everybody is currently “living history with each podcast.”

If I Ruled on United States v. Progressive

The below is a sample of some of Evan’s work conducted while an undergraduate in college.

The lower court’s decision of United States v. Progressive is a challenging one because it involves the absolute suppression of speech, something the framers of the Constitution were determined to establish, never to be abridged. The lower court ruled that the United States’ argument for prior restraint was effective and correct in its concern for national security. If this ruling is upheld, it would be the first such ever prior restraint initiated in the United States, a heavy burden for any court who finds it within their rights to limit the sovereignty of the press.

In this specific case, Howard Morland, a freelance journalist, has crafted an article titled “The H-Bomb Secret: How We Got It, Why We’re Telling It.” This article explained how to build and detonate a hydrogen bomb. It was set for publication in a magazine titled Progressive. Morland sent the article to the Department of Energy to confirm some facts in the case before publishing it.

Upon reviewing the document, the Department of Energy ruled that it violated the Atomic Energy Act – specifically Section 2274 and 2014. These statutes read that no one can communicate, transmit, or disclose “any restricted data to any person ‘with reason to believe such data will be utilized to injure the Untied States or to secure an advantage to any foreign nation.’” Restricted data is classified as data “concerning design, manufacture, or utilization of atomic weapons…”

There are four specific cases that have occurred in the United States’ history that can help shed light on what the appropriate ruling is. The earliest is Schenk v. United States, which may offer the best in-depth look as to whether or not the United States’ attempted prior restraint on Progressive is indeed constitutional. There is a famed passage from the decision, which was delivered by Justice Holmes. Holmes said: “the question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent.”

Since then, this test has been used to determine whether or not the First Amendment has been violated in countless free speech or free press issues. In Schenk v. United States, Charles Schenk was found to have violated the Espionage Act of 1917 by exhorting to men not to abide by the draft. He was constitutionally convicted of encouraging insubordination, which is not protected under the veil of free speech. This case also outlined the difference between peacetime and wartime. Justice Holmes draws this distinction by saying that “”[w]hen a nation is at war many things that might be said in time of peace are such a hindrance to its effort that their utterance will not be endured so long as men fight, and that no Court could regard them as protected by any constitutional right.”

This defines the fact that when a nation is at war, citizens must abide by rules that are unnecessary in peacetime. What we hold dear in peacetime may not be acceptable in wartime. Near v. Minnesota, argued in 1931, takes this thought and attempts to expound on it. Justice Hughes cited the wartime argument of Schenk v. United States and then followed that up with a clearer definition. As delivered in the opinion of the Court:
“No one would question but that a government might prevent actual obstruction to its recruiting service or the publication of the sailing dates of transports or the number and location of troops.”

This now has defined a clear and present danger to an example of publishing the number and location of troops, which could severely hinder the war effort, in addition to imperiling the lives of United States citizens.

The clear and present danger definition again reared its head in 1941, in Bridges v. California. A telegram sent by a union official, Harry Bridges, to the United States Secretary of Labor was published in California newspapers. The telegram contained a threat by Bridges that the union would strike if the judge’s decision on a labor dispute was upheld in the appeal of said case.

Justice Black delivered the opinion, saying that prior restraint of journalists was unconstitutional, unless there was a “clear and present danger to the administration of justice.” While the quote was specifically towards pretrial coverage of journalists, this can be used in many other instances as well. Black continued to state that the clear and present danger standard was “a working principle that the substantive evil must be extremely serious and the degree of imminence extremely high before utterances can be punished.”

The final precedent we must speak about before tying all the cases into United States v. Progressive is the famed ‘Pentagon Papers’ case, otherwise known as New York Times Co. v. United States, argued in 1971. In this case, the government brought suit against both the New York Times and Washington Post in separate district courts to exercise prior restraint over the publication of a 7,000 page paper on how the United States got involved in the Vietnam War. The United States Supreme Court offered a per curiam opinion, stating only that the Court ruled in favor of the New York Times. Each of the nine justices had differing opinions on how the Court should rule and why. Justice Brennan espoused on how this case did not meet the qualifiers set forth in Near v. Minnesota.

Our cases …have indicated that there is a single, extremely narrow class of cases in which the First Amendment’s ban on prior judicial restraint may be overridden. … Even if the present world situation were assumed to be tantamount to a time of war, or if the power of presently available armaments would justify even in peacetime the suppression of information that would set in motion a nuclear holocaust, in neither of these actions has the Government presented or even alleged that publication of items from or based upon the material at issue would cause the happening of an event of that nature … Thus, only governmental allegation and proof that publication must inevitably, directly, and immediately cause the occurrence of an event kindred to imperiling the safety of a transport already at sea can support even the issuance of an interim restraining order. In no event may mere conclusions be sufficient … every restraint issued in this case, whatever its form, has violated the First Amendment … the First Amendment commands that no injunction may issue.

The most important quote here to tie in with United States v. Progressive is that the suppression of information would be justified if it were to “set in motion a nuclear holocaust” but that mere conclusions simply cannot suffice for prior restraint – let alone an “interim restraining order.”

These cases together speak of a ‘clear and present danger’ standard, established with Schenk v. United States. In Near v. Minnesota, examples of troop movements in wartime being published were deemed acceptable for prior restraint, for it would cause the sure death of United States citizens. In Bridges v. California, it was found that the “degree of imminence” of a “substantive evil” had to be beyond a reasonable doubt of happening immediately. The substantive evil certainly qualifies as a hydrogen bomb, which is a clear danger. But where is the present danger? In New York Times v. United States, it was determined that presupposition is not enough to justify prior restraint. Again, a clear and present danger must exist.

It is clear that the content of the material to be published in Progressive is volatile. Any time one presumes to publish material directly related to a weapon of mass destruction, proper caution must be taken. At this current time, only five other nations other than the United States have the capability of detonating a hydrogen bomb. Clearly, the United States is painfully aware of the ramifications of detonating said bombs because the United States were the pioneers of the hydrogen bomb. The fear of reprisal certainly has to be high, but the bomb was detonated in a time of war. We are currently in a time of peace, the current hostility between the United States and Russia notwithstanding.

Russia has hydrogen bomb capability, so it is not a matter of protecting the United States from Russia. Thus, this is a time of peace for the United States and every other nation, even those who could stand to profit from this article to build a hydrogen bomb. However, one must consider the fact that if a freelance reporter is able to cull facts and technical information from public and unclassified sources, then top scientists of a nation should be able to do the same.

The lower court judge encouraged both sides to come to an amicable agreement on the deletion of technical facts in the article. However as the Progressive lawyer articulated in the argument of which I heard, rights of citizens or the press should not be taken away simply from a fear. Even the mere compromise of taking out technical facts could contribute to a chilling effect, which is a form of prior restraint in and of itself. As Section 2274 of the Atomic Energy Act states, no one can communicate, transmit, or disclose “any restricted data to any person ‘with reason to believe such data will be utilized to injure the Untied States or to secure an advantage to any foreign nation.’”
This magazine is not intending to injure the United States or secure an advantage for a foreign nation, so they are not violating the Act. They are not providing it to a specific person intent on destroying the United States, but providing it to the public to engage in an informed debate about the ethics, horrors, and other implications of a hydrogen bomb.

Publishing this article will not immediately send an hydrogen bomb hurtling to the United States from some unknown nation, for this is a time of peace – and as uttered in Schenk v. United States, things said in time of peace are more forgivable than when said in a time of war. A clear and present danger does not exist. The knowledge of how to create a hydrogen bomb is already present in at least five nations, and has been available to a freelance reporter in the United States. It does not violate the Atomic Energy Act, for if data needs to be restricted, it ought to be classified as well. Progressive is not attempting to injure the United States, nor give it to a nation intent on injuring the United States.

A simple way to exhibit clear and present danger with a substantive evil with immediate harm can easily be solved by asking a simple question: Will this publication immediately harm the lives of innocent citizens? Whether or not we are talking a hydrogen bomb killing hundreds of thousands or a new gun that is used on a singular person, the question must be asked. Any and all documents can only have prior restraint attached to it if the harm after the publication is swift and devastating. If in wartime there is such a document, the immediacy of the harm does not have to be as swift as in peacetime, but the devastation that would result still would have to hold true.

The issue of the Atomic Energy Act being unconstitutional also comes at stake here. You cannot restrict any other kind of free flow of information or data if it is not classified. Hindering people from utilizing information not classified violates freedom of speech. While the constitutionality of the Atomic Energy Act is not on trial, information that is not classified should not be restricted from being debated in an open forum. If an article being published utilizes classified data, then an argument is certainly in place for prohibiting said article to be published. However, if no classified data is used, then the article is certainly within constitutional rights to be published, unless of course, the standard of clear and present danger is established. Abridging any other information to be spoken about is unconstitutional.

In conclusion, the government does not illustrate how there is a clear and present danger towards the publishment of the hydrogen bomb article in Progressive. Thus, judgment is
Reversed.