Last week, I learned of the latest and perhaps most crushing blow to journalism as we know it. The illustrious magazine Sports Illustrated, under its new ownership group that features TheMaven Inc. as its publisher, laid off a quarter of its staff in an attempt to “revitalize and strengthen the iconic magazine,” according to the official press release.
Well, if you ask me (and anybody else with a brain actually), this plan will do the exact opposite of what was once the crown jewel of sports journalism.
The “new and improved” plan for Sports Illustrated will depend on insanely cheap/unpaid content from “contract workers,” which are essentially bloggers. From my understanding, the new owners are basically trying to turn SI into something like SB Nation, Rivals and Scout.
No disrespect to those sites, as they are a form of journalism. Those sites feature articles written by high school and college students or adults writing as a side gig. To even mention those in the same sentence as Sports Illustrated… is not right.
No. It is worse than that. It is nauseating.
As an aspiring journalist with love for the written word and an even deeper love for sports, I was both saddened and angered by this news. I used to get Sports Illustrated delivered to my house as a child, both the original and the monthly Kids Edition. Even before I was disciplined enough to read through a 3,000-word feature story, I loved flipping through the magazine, checking out the photos and stories about some of my favorite teams and players.
This new model is not going to resemble anything close to the content that drew me in as a young sports fan and the content that kept sports fans hooked for over 60 years. Instead, it will be a new-school “quantity over quality” network, filled with hurried clickbait articles that look like they could have been written by my 13-year-old sister.
I “worked” (unpaid) for sports blogs, and while they may be good as an alternate, free source of news and opinions, they are not a source of quality content most sports fans look for. The requirement to work for most of these sites is little more than a pulse, hence why they are filled with articles that ooze inexperience.
I know because I was one of those inexperienced writers. A month after I decided to pursue my dream of being a sports journalist, I landed a gig at a Red Sox blog based off nothing other than a few posts on my own personal blog. I learned on the fly, and I feel like my articles got better as time went on, but they were nothing that anyone would go out of their way to read.
By turning SI into a glorified blog, the owners are getting rid of everything the publication represented: The best of the best in sports writing. All the employees that got fired last week were the high-class, top-of-the-line sportswriters that I hope to become someday.
Nobody landed a gig at SI right out of school. The SI team was always made up of the best sportswriters from across the nation who had years of experience covering beats and writing features and columns. Some of those writers are still there, but given the direction the publication is moving in, it would not surprise me if the rest of those writers jump ship before too long.
The subscription to SI was never cheap, but people have always subscribed because they knew the type of quality content they would be getting in their mailbox every week. As a result, the writers at SI were probably some of the most well-paid sportswriters in the business, and for good reason. They are the best at their craft.
The thought of some 21-year-old kid who is barely making $20 per article writing for the SI brand is insulting. It is also further proof that it is getting harder and harder to make a living in this business, which is really scary.
As much as I would love to blame this all on TheMaven, unfortunately, this is a struggle throughout journalism. We have all seen the statistics. According to a report earlier this year by The Washington Post, almost 65% of all newspaper jobs have been eliminated since 1990. There are obviously multiple reasons for this, but the biggest one is the transition to digital media and the struggle for print sources to keep their readership.
Magazines like Sports Illustrated have especially felt this struggle because it is hard to retain well-paying subscribers when there is so much news out there for free. The general public does not seem to care about the quality of their news, as long as it’s fast and it’s free. This goes for all journalism and sports is no exception.
If what is happening to SI is any indication of how sports media is trending, I am very nervous about my current career path. It seems that people like me, who take pride in telling a story right and telling a story well, will be forced to be dumbed down into thoughtless content producers looking only at the number of clicks our pieces get while getting paid barely a livable wage.
I know there is still an audience out there that craves quality sports writing over quantity and would be willing to pay for that, but clearly that audience is diminishing each year. If the créme de la créme couldn’t be saved from this terrible fate, then I’m not sure any publication is safe.
I hope I’m wrong and this is just an example of a bad ownership group, but I have a feeling that sports media as we know it may be in its waning hours.
Danny Barletta is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com. He tweets @dbars_12.