Wick Communications

View from the bleachers

In Online media on 5 Oct 2012 at 7:31 am

If you are a sports fan, you have probably stumbled onto The Bleacher Report. What you think of it is a matter of taste and the time you have to waste. It’s content is largely inane, mostly slideshows with eye-catching titles like “The NFL’s Most Marketable Players” and “25 Wardrobe Malfunctions in Sports.”

But there is no denying that The Bleacher Report attracts eyeballs. It is considered the third-most widely read sports site on the Internet. It achieves lofty numbers (including a reported 1.4 million views for a “story” called, “The 20 Most Boobtastic Athletes of All Time.”) There are an estimated 2,000 contributors churning out 800 posts a day and the site earns upward of $40 million a year from advertising.

All that comes from a very interesting story by Joe Eskenazi in SFWeekly. Eskenazi provides a primer in how the brains behind the Bleacher turn crap into cash. Make no mistake: it’s a sophisticated operation – and there may be some lessons in there for real journalists.

At the heart of things is a lot of thought given to search-engine optimization, or SEO. Producers know what will land stories high on Google and exploit those terms in headlines. While B/R uses SEO for rather crass purposes, there is no reason the rest of us can’t employ it for good. SEO is an art unto itself and I don’t pretend to understand it well. Google makes the rules and they change. But in the years to come, finding your way to the top of search engines – and creating a viral swirl on social networks – will be increasingly important for honest-to-goodness news outlets. …

When they have determined what will be trending in the near future, the top dogs at B/R reverse engineer their product. In other words, they decide what readers want to see, write a headline and then get a contributor to write that content under that headline. It’s backward and it works, in its own way. From Eskenazi’s story:

But while critics’ lamentations may be increasingly irrelevant, they’re hardly unfounded. Perhaps uniquely among journalistic entities, Bleacher Report has a “blanket policy” forbidding its writers from seeking out and breaking news. A dictum on the site states: “While we don’t doubt that some B/R writers have contacts they know and trust, a problem arises when we’re asked to take a leap of faith that those sources are both legitimate and accurate.” Bleacher Report is designed to engage in the far more lucrative practice of pouncing on news broken by others, deploying its legions of writers to craft articles — or better yet, multi-page slideshows — linking to its own voluminous archives, and supplanting original stories on the Google rankings. Breaking a story is no longer valuable: owning it is.

That last line is important. I’m not suggesting for a moment that we don’t need to break news. But we also have to own it. We can employ some of the tactics of crass sites like B/R and use them to our advantage. If you have a high-profile murder in your town, would there be anything wrong with accompanying that story with a slideshow on the “5 biggest unsolved crimes” in your community? Think about adding value to your Web productions with things that will also drive traffic.

Again, don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting we go the way of The Bleacher Report. I’m merely suggesting that its producers have a keen understanding for giving the people what they want and we should aspire to do some of that as well.



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