On Activism, Failed Journalism And Running A Semi-Successful Digital Publication In 2015

In the beginning, I used sports to get away from the chaos, acrimony and consternation that exists in the real world.

I've always been a believer that sports is the ultimate reality show. There is no other platform that can provide equal parts comedy and romance, horror and drama, fiction and nonfiction. As such, I believe I've used sports as a defense mechanism to not have to deal with the maladies of the real-life shenanigans and tomfoolery that happen outside of the stadiums and arenas, off of the channels like ESPN and Fox Sports 1, and on websites not named Deadspin, SB Nation and, formerly, Grantland.

In the present, I understand that now more than ever sports is just a microcosm and a conduit to the issues that afflict human beings on this planet every single day.



The issues that have been spotlighted at the University of Missouri came to a boiling point in the last week, as black students highlighted the fact that they continually had been subjected to racial verbal abuse on campus and their concerns were not being taken seriously by the administration at large. As a result, those students began to take action in the form of peaceful protest and social activism. A Mizzou graduate student went on a hunger strike for eight days in protest. Students blocked the parade route of the university president to make him aware of their issues. Demands were made. The university's administrators dug in and figured they would ride it out, maybe the smoke would clear and people would act like none of this ever happened.

Then the football team stepped in. A million dollars were on the line. A head coach with a salary six times higher than the president stood with the students. In less than 24 hours' time, the university's top leadership stood down and relieved itself of its duties.

Muhammad Ali didn't become the most beloved athlete of all time until Parkinson's disease robbed him of his voice. When Ali decided not to go to war, he was villainized. When John Carlos and Tommie Smith raised their fist in support of human rights while on the medal stand in the 1968 Olympics, they were villainized by the sporting establishment that sent them to compete and were subjected to abuse and death threats to their families. Now, the Missouri Tigers football team and the black students on campus in Columbia are being villainized by many, with white students chanting "white power" while having their motives questioned.

All because they took a stand for what they believe in, peacefully. Now we read of Ali, Carlos and Smith, and they are lionized. It's the reason why another social activist and basketball legend, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, felt emboldened to say the following about Michael Jordan:

You can't be afraid of losing shoe sales if you're worried about your civil and human rights. He took commerce over conscience. It's unfortunate for him, but he's gotta live with it.”



Grantland is very much an inspiration for what we do here at The Sports Fan Journal. Like many bloggers and journalists, I viewed Bill Simmons as not only a huge success story, but a writer whom I could easily relate to. He was an inspiration to me, and in many ways, he still serves as a blueprint for certain things I wish to achieve. Witnessing the deconstruction of the sports and pop culture publication named after Grantland Rice and seeing its talented contributors flee the premises like a fire drill was a sad sight.

The Undefeated was supposed to be the digital publication that would serve as the black voice on similar matters. In a previous era, a black perspective was almost deemed necessary on subject matter that was heavily focused in black culture. Not only sports, but hip-hop, politics and even the experience of being black have now been commentated on by people that aren't black. This isn't necessarily a negative thing, as having diverse perspectives on the topics that matter is journalistic utopia. The climate of coverage has broadened, but in many respects, the folks who do the coverage have not. The Undefeated's ethos was uniquely meant to solve this issue while leveraging one of the largest media platforms in the world.

One site was brought down because its leader couldn't make the balance sheet even out while playing politricks with the partnerships (Roger Goodell) that make the network engine run. The other site could never get off the ground because its leader couldn't get out of his own way and allowed himself to become Meek Mill while having his organizational flaws exposed on that Summer Jam screen.



Digital journalism in 2015 is a cacophony of clickbait, slideshows, listicles and short bits of imagery meant to hustle you out of a minute or two of your time. That doesn't mean that even a site like ours is guilty-free of occasionally dipping in to these waters, because sometimes an intriguing list or a cool video needs to be shared with the people. But the top scorers on the pageview leaderboard largely repurpose other people's content and blend in formulaic headlines and search engine wizardry optimization that encourage millions of clicks and shares.

This is a blessing in many respects, as people much smarter than me use big data, algorithms and A/B testing to get to the top of the mountain. Much like in sports, the use of advanced analytics — more information — is a great thing. More information breeds more power, and many have realized that it's not about creating the content, but leveraging how it best engages the people. This is where many startup blogs and publications fail and where a select few find ways to quickly rise above the rest.

"Let's worry about everything else but creating great original content. We'll worry about that after we have the money and power." -- Them (or Bleacher Report)

The best content curators are the new-age influencers, not the actual content creators. This isn't a new phenomenon, but it's workflow that far too many fail to ever understand.



Running an independent digital publication is hard. As the editor-in-chief and founder of The Sports Fan Journal, I wear many hats. Here are the hats.

  • The journalist hat, which when worn the wearer must be focused on motivating, molding and generating the best content possible for the Internet's consumption.
  • The human resources hat, which when worn the wearer must manage four editors, 10-15 part-time contributors and occasionally an intern or two.
  • The accountant hat, which when worn the wearer must bear a sad and easy responsibility because while we don't have many bills, there are people who sacrifice a lot of time and energy who don't make a fair wage for their services.
  • The business development hat, which when worn the wearer must take on the challenge of finding ways to generate revenue and resources for a digital property that's still trying to figure out how to continue growing.
  • The tech hat, which when worn the wearer must integrate analytics, process efficiency and coding into a product that must be accessible across a quickly evolving range of platforms.

There are more hats one must wear, including: marketing, event planning and recruiting. This doesn't mention the fact that one also has a full-time job, is a full-time graduate student, has a girlfriend, and tries to stay involved in a variety of professional and community organizations. I don't say this to humble brag, stunt or put on heirs. In fact, I'd say that anyone who does operate his or her own site has a similar CV as me. It's not a conversation about just bloggers, but there are people like John Gotty, Morgan DeBaum, Brandon Caldwell and Channing Beumer who are my peers and friends. There are few people who understand what this grind is truly like ...

... and I love it.



The Sports Fan Journal turned four years old today.

In the course of 1,461 days, we've brought in almost 100 writers from all over the world to contribute on a platform that was created to give independent voices a chance to speak out on a bigger stage. Our content generates over 1 million pageviews a month via TSFJ.com and our syndication partnerships. TSFJ has been revenue-positive for the last 18 months, which previous to that was funded only by me. TSFJ writers have gone on from this platform to work for some of the biggest media publications in the world, including: ESPN, CBS Sports, Gannett Media, SB Nation, Comcast Sports and FanSided.

We've still got plenty of work to do, but we're plenty proud of what we've done. We bear a responsibility to tell the truth with our words, to entertain with our opinions and be transparent with our feelings. We must learn from the failings and successes of sites like Sports on Earth and VICE Sports, while figuring out new ways to innovate and push forward daily conversations. Winning in digital media means always thinking about how to work smarter, not harder, all while having as much fun as possible in the process. This means always giving credit where its due, because this has never been a one-man operation.

A big thank-you to the following people who have been influential in helping this platform grow to where it is today, and to those I might have forgotten, I apologize.

Alex Curtis, Alex Wong, Brandon Caldwell, Bryan Crawford, Carden Hedelt, Charles Davis, Dalton Johnson, David Dennis, Dillon Friday, Emily Van Buskirk, Esau Howard, Garfield Hylton, Jamar Hudson, James McKinnie, Jason Clinkscales, Jeffrey A. Glenn, Joe Boland, Joe Simmons, Johnathan Tillman, Josh Naso, Juan Martinez, Justin Tinsley, Kenny Masenda, Kim Francesca, KJ Kearney, Kyle Madson, Lauren Allen, Lawrence Ware, Logan Murdock, Mark Trible, Matt Whitener, Michael Stewart, Mike Craven, Nava Brahe, Paola Mendoza, Paul Navarro, Phillip Barnett, Ronnie Hampston, Rosalyn Ross, Slackbot, Syreeta Hubbard, Tanisha Robinson, Trey Jones.

Four down, 4 million to go. I love you all, and let's continue to #ShockTheWorld.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *