Gelf Magazine - Looking over the overlooked

Media | Sports

November 6, 2008

Buzz Me

An open letter to sports bloggers: Go break some stories! I'll pay for them.

Todd Gallagher

When I was a young lad not so long ago, I spent my days sitting in a sweaty hellhole of a studio apartment in Los Angeles living with a girl I barely knew, trying desperately to get someone, anyone, to read an article I had written about Joe Dumars and his Hall of Fame chances. If that sounds pathetic to you, it gets worse. Every day I would hunt down names, numbers, and email addresses of sportswriters who wrote for publications as big as the Sporting News (yes, it used to be big) and as small as Fanball, and begged them to show the Dumars article to their editors. This isn't exactly the best way to go about getting writing work, but I literally knew no one connected to the business.

Sports blogs' greatest hits.
"Instead of being gossip queens and going after people harmlessly having fun, why not set the bar a little higher?"

Sports blogs' greatest hits.

Still, I thought this was a fairly reasonable request. I was really proud of the piece and had a little bit of a résumé and some solid credentials to write on the subject. I'd coached basketball professionally and been a staff writer for an Australian NBA magazine. Unfortunately, most of the people I contacted didn't see it this way, and my queries received fairly dismissive responses. The general gist:

You have not been referred properly and therefore you suck. Go work the high-school beat at a small-town paper and get back to me in 10 years. P.S. Did I mention you suck?

When I finally did get in touch with editors, it only got worse. Because I didn't have a referral, only two editors would even look at my material. As soon as they did, I wished they hadn't. An editor at the Sporting News said the magazine would run an excerpt in the letters to the effing editor section and Fanball passed on running it—for free.

Throughout this process, the part that was particularly grating to me was the clubbiness of it all. Why should knowing some terrible writer or being the friend of a guy in ad sales determine editors' willingness to read my article? Didn’t they want to discover new talent? I was simply asking for a fair read, and because I didn't know anyone, I couldn't even get that. Further infuriating me, I believed that if readers actually had a chance to see my stuff, they would like it better than what they were getting from many of these outlets. I thought all I needed was exposure. Unfortunately for me, there was really no way to get it. In retrospect, my early writing may not have demanded this kind of respect, but I still believe I should have had the chance to be as bad as everyone else.

Eventually, my frustration led me to take the direct approach and do something that I considered wildly inappropriate and unprofessional but was probably perfectly acceptable. I picked up an ESPN the Magazine, looked at the masthead to get a name, and cold-called an editor at ESPN.com. Thankfully he was a really nice guy. He didn’t hang up on me and was open-minded enough to give me a look. He read the Dumars piece and, although he didn't think it was an immediate fit, he liked it enough to give me a chance to do interviews for the website, which, although not my dream job, was an opportunity for which I’m forever grateful.

During my time writing for ESPN, I started hearing about sports blogs. To say I felt I missed out is an understatement. Had I been born just a year or two later, instead of begging the Fanballs of the world I could have just taken my material straight to an online audience, and, even better, had total creative freedom.

Once I had the ESPN clips, my need to write a blog subsided because I could get more money and more exposure taking my writing elsewhere.* However, I believed in the medium's potential for a starting writer or someone who had the luxury of working outside of the system. I was incredibly excited that all of this undiscovered talent would emerge and that no one would have to go through what I did to be read. I believed the world was teeming with people who felt they had something to say but had nowhere to say it, and I was convinced many of them would have the kind of sensibility absent in the mainstream media—that they could make sportswriting informative and humorous in a style that reflected the way my friends and I talked about sports in our best moments. I believed the major outlets would take a big hit—if not financially, at least from a creative point of you. I thought we truly were entering a golden age of sportswriting.

Years later I think it's fair to say it didn't really turn out that way. Maybe Buzz was right.

It hasn't all been for naught. Henry Abbott at Truehoop nailed it by mixing the topical with the investigative and by being really smart and working his ass off. Rob Neyer's knowledge makes his comments on pre-existing stories worth a read. There are many team-specific blogs that are useful in this way. Dan Steinberg’s Bog, which also gets interesting quotes from athletes and generates its own stories, is a good blend of many of the elements I envisioned characterizing blogs. But to do this requires a real level of expertise and experience in a specific topic that your average blogger doesn't possess.

Instead, too many blogs are following the model of taking an excerpt of a news story, posting a link, and then commenting on it with some bad jokes. Ugh, just so, so, many bad jokes.**

As bad as the jokes are, I'm willing to suffer through them if I'm being informed or at the very least am reading really well-crafted stories. That’s not happening in most cases, either. The problem is that creating multiple posts a day inherently limits what you can do. You're taking topics about which you don't have much to say to begin with and tapping out your humor—not taking the time to do real research or properly refine your writing. It's the most disposable form of writing possible, and a form that doesn't lend itself to any real creativity or usefulness.

Think about it this way: Why would anyone who follows sports closely need to hear your opinion on a pre-existing news story unless it's a unique point of view coming from a place of expertise or backed up by research? Reading most blogs is the equivalent of getting stuck next to a guy on the subway who wants to give you his take on everything he's reading in the sports page that day, only if the guy was a gigantic dork.

What makes this even worse is that all of the major news outlets have so many corporate ties that they can't even cover sports honestly and openly. Yet no one is jumping in and filling the void. Yes, these blogs correctly bitch about some elements of what goes on with the big guys but that's all they do: bitch (as, I know, I'm doing here). I read so much complaining about the mainstream media, and while the criticisms generally are valid, the disconnect is that the same people doing the complaining are just as culpable when it comes to poor reporting, idle speculation, and the spewing of garbage. So instead of vaguely complaining, why not go do it better? Certainly that's a better way to get noticed and advance a career.

It has been done now and then. Essentially, this is what Sports Jones did. They had their beef with the mainstream and they put up by pumping out interesting and original content at a breakneck pace. Gelf, which is also awesome, is a similar model and takes the same approach. [Editor's note: We paid Todd a modest fee for this assessment. Also, as he says, "I am not a genius."]

Instead of being gossip queens and creeps and going after people harmlessly having fun—cheerleaders who get drunk, quarterbacks who get drunk, and fans who get drunk—why not set the bar for your sites a little higher? Every day blogs question the validity of a story, or wonder about what really goes on in the world of sports. But they rarely take the extra step of taking action. Access to athletes is not hard to get if you're creative. Investigation is somewhat hard, and certainly takes time, but it's doable. None of it really takes money. What it does take is effort. The idea that you can generate the same quality of material by just playing grabass with other bloggers is inane.

I’ve got a pretty full plate at this point, so starting a blog or online magazine of my own, or even doing much writing about sports, isn’t in my near-term future. So instead I'm offering those who are blogging a starter list of topics. If any young, aspiring writer is willing to commit to pursuing one or more of these ideas, I will assist in any way possible, including financially, and will personally make sure your work gets seen by any and every editor you wish, and put it in front of agents as well. (Email me here.) Nail one of these, or come up with something even better, and I promise I’ll do what I can to help. The drawback, of course, is you may have to deal with me being a blowhard. That's probably better than having to waste so many of your years like I did chasing down work.
• Interview a washed-out player and his cronies to find out the NBA is fixed! Dive further into the Donaghy case!
• Uncover some skeletons in the closet of a sportswriter taking the moral high ground on the actions of a pro athlete!
• Detail pro sports owners' ties to organized crime!
• Itemize the literally hundreds of ways that Todd Gallagher could do things better himself!
• Go bust a PGA steroid ring!
• Find evidence that a mainstream media outlet is covering up a news story!
• Follow the money at your local college to see if its cheating ways extend into the state government!
• Test if Wade Boggs can actually drink 68 beers in a day!

The opportunities are plentiful and there for the taking. One original, well-researched, investigative story carries more weight that 300 links to other people's news stories with bad one-liners underneath. Bring something new and interesting to the table by generating your own stories and when you have something to offer, something worth reading, pepper your findings with all of the dick jokes and distasteful comments you want and everyone will be forced to read them.

*The Dumars piece was quickly picked up after I started working for ESPN, which, if you think about it, is pretty depressing. If it weren't buried on my old computer's hard drive, I'd share it with you. I can’t tell you how many times I've crossed paths with the people who told me to screw off when I was shopping the Dumars piece and myself in those early stages. Invariably, the second time around they have no remembrance of me and tell me how much they love my work, even thought I’m pretty sure none of them has read anything I’ve ever done.

This is particularly prevalent in TV. When I was first trying to sell Andy Roddick Beat Me with a Frying Pan as a TV show, before there was a book it was based on, there was absolutely zero interest. I had to sit and listen to a lot of horrible opinions of low-level development executives on how to come up with more viable show ideas. The moment it became a book by a major publisher and I went to meetings with a respected production company, all of a sudden the high-level executives thought it was a fantastic idea and said I was a genius. Just to be perfectly clear, I am not a genius.

The worst case of this dynamic was a manager who had been awful to me when I started working in TV—he yelled at me when I had called to offer a client of his a job on a show I was producing, blew off a script I sent to him, and had literally told me to “fuck off” when I was asking for a quote for the book from one of his clients—bringing me in for a meeting about the book which he heard about through a friend. Here is a direct quote from the meeting: “I don’t know who you are, or where you came from, but I like what you do. You’ve got a hell of a lot of talent. A hell of a lot. That book is a masterpiece.” After five minutes of conversation, it was pretty clear he had never opened the book, and, Monty Burns-esque, he certainly didn’t remember any of our fun times together, but he offered to take the show to Comedy Central and to represent me—which, because of the nature of the business, I would have accepted had I not had better options. This kind of thing happens all the time. The point is this: no one knows what the hell they’re talking about. Only listen to the opinions of people who you really trust or, better yet, no one at all, because most of the time people are just talking to hear themselves talk…although for the sake of this article, do not include me in this group for the time being.

**Here is where I’m a gigantic puss. My Gelf editor correctly wanted me to name names throughout the article and post some examples of the bad jokes I’m referring to, which would have been a real hoot. The sad truth is I’m reluctant to call anyone out by name because I don’t want to get into a pissing war that could get me a bad reputation or hurt my ability to do business. After Joe Rogan got dropped by his agent despite being completely in the right in awesomely exposing Carlos Mencia’s hackery and thievery, I have to think twice about getting into it with anyone. The fear of conflict is part of the reason talentless people get away with things. In many ways I’m a giant hypocrite, when you consider how openly agitated I was at Louis CK for not going to the mat against Dane Cook in his own joke-stealing controversy. La di da!

Todd Gallagher was interviewed by Gelf last this year and has appeared twice at its Varsity Letters sports reading series.

Todd Gallagher

Todd is God's lonely man.







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Comments

- Sports
- posted on Nov 07, 08
Buzzkill

Todd, I really enjoyed all of the original reporting that went into this article, oh wait...nevermind.

- Sports
- posted on Nov 16, 08
mcbias

Todd, how dare you ask our top bloggers to do more than surf the front page of digg.com for sports stories and beg for people to send them pictures of badly-behaving athletes? Why, what you are suggesting is work, good man, work itself, and it'll be the ruin of the blogosphere yet! :-p

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Article by Todd Gallagher

Todd is God's lonely man.

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