It is interesting that when I tell my cab driver, who is an older man in his 60s, the address of Bleacher Report, he says, “Isn’t that where Newsweek used to be?” Newsweek is still there, but that exchange speaks volumes about the audience B/R pulls in — young men.
Yet as soon as I walk in I feel right at home. Maybe because I love sports or maybe because this place feels a lot like my college newspaper with the close quarters and congenial attitude of employees. Sports-related posters on the walls are random (I went nuts over a Spud Webb poster because, as a “short” person, I’ve always been a little obsessed with him.). Nothing feels extremely put together, and I mean that in a good way. This is the closest I’ve felt to an old-school newsroom in a while.
My favorite finds were 1) the arcade-like basketball game in the back of the office (B/R’s new digs will have an actual court) and 2) the pet fish. I feel confident the fish is in good hands because of the newsrooms I’ve been so far, the B/R staff is most welcoming, open and unlikely to kill an animal.
Six TVs set to various games are on and it’s March Madness time when I visit. (Every newsroom I’ve been to this week concedes that it’s a lost week due to March Madness sucking employee time and energy.) As I expected, sports paraphernalia (helmets, jerseys, etc.) sprinkle the office.
One of the things I always tell my students is that whatever they love in life can be turned into a career in journalism. Do you like gaming? Write for a gaming website. (Or be like PewDiePie, the most subscribed YouTuber in the world since 2013, currently at over 54 million. He basically makes a living because people watch him play video games.) Do you like animals? Shoot photography for a magazine or website that specializes in animals. Are you a daredevil? Be an international reporter that goes to far-flung, dangerous corners of the world to report on what others will not.
Bleacher Report is a great example of that kind of niche journalism which, in this case, happens to be sports. More and more, companies are hiring journalists who are not trained as journalists, but specialize in, for example, science, then become science reporters. (A great example of this is Carl Zimmer, who visited my classroom at UA recently.)
At B/R I speak with Maurice Peebles, deputy editor of trending whose Twitter handle is @tallmaurice. I love that he embraces that (see photo of us below for comparison). The “trending” part of his title means that he looks at what topics people are talking about then turns those into further conversation with more content.
Peebles is a Jersey boy who went to Rutgers and dove into the grind for years, blogging about sports with two friends. The two friends eventually dropped off and it was just him. Over time, things started taking off, but not before he took other jobs that had nothing to do with sports as he continued to blog. This speaks to another thing educators tell students, but until they do it it’s a hard concept to grasp. Telling students, “Finding a job is a full-time job. It is hard. It takes time,” is one thing, but living it is another. As Peebles said of his former blog:
“We were doing that for two years before we got any traction at all. The weird part for us was trying to stay positive while getting maybe 15–20 hits a day.”
Peebles refers to Bleacher Report as a “social first” company and is proud of it:
“I find a lot of people get into writing because they have something they want to say, and that’s important. But if you want to make a career out of this and you want to continue to be accessible to a lot of people you have to look at the audience and sort of see, what do they like? What are they gravitating towards? It’s nice to combine the two. I feel like in my role now I’ve really got a great chance to do passion projects as well as sort of look to grow our audience.”
I ask him what challenges Bleacher Report faces and he answers with candor:
After my visit to Sports Illustrated just a day earlier and comments made there by Kelsey Hendrix, it was interesting to see Peebles echo her sentiments about diversity in newsrooms, specifically with sports products. Peebles said B/R, which has a target audience of millennial males, wants to be careful not to focus too much on “frat boy dude culture.”
Talk about two different worlds. Not only are they not geographically close together, Bleacher Report and Columbia University couldn’t be further apart in their atmospheres, but I am here on a mission.
I am stalking a man named Nick Lemann who I think I might find here. Alas (words like alas are things you say when you’re at Columbia), he took a train to Boston just before my arrival and I missed him.
This isn’t a newsroom in the truest sense of the form, but I feel it worth mentioning that along the way I will stop at places to shoot video and photos for my classes. Lehmann is THE person I want to talk to about Joseph Pulitzer and his life. Many people know Pulitzer from the prizes that bear his name, but there is so much more to this man. So Mr. Lemann, if you’re reading this, let’s catch up!
I can’t even begin to think about talking about journalism history in any of my classes without a visit to Columbia to the school that Joseph Pulitzer bequeathed the funds to begin. So I traipse around campus and visit the Tow Center for Digital Journalism, of which I am a big fan.
I pay my respects to the Pulitzer statue both outside and inside, front and back (because you can never get enough Joey P.) at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.
Stay tuned for the second leg of my trip soon. For now, it’s back to UA to teach class.
Reblogged with permission from a post of the same title published at medium.com on March 17, 2017.