The Bad and the Ugly on Bleacher Report

*Warning: This post has nothing to do with baseball or the Phillies. You may have ascertained that by the title, but it’s worth mentioning before a 1,400-word essay.*

If you’re one of my followers on Twitter, you’ve probably seen me make and re-tweet snarky comments about Bleacher Report. For the uninitiated, Bleacher Report “provides news and fans’ opinions of sporting events”, per Wikipedia. Essentially, if you have a pulse, know what sports are, and have a computer with an Internet connection, you are qualified to write for Bleacher Report — just as you are with typical blogs.

Regular bloggers and mainstream media types, often in opposition to each other on many other subjects, seem to agree that BR is a travesty and an eyesore. One need only peruse the home page to get a feel for the quality of content provided at BR. Some examples as of this writing:

  • Full Scream Ahead: 10 Teams With the Most Momentum Heading Into 2011
  • Dwight Howard Trade Rumors: 10 Moves Orlando Magic Can Make To Keep Him Happy
  • Penguins Show the NHL Who has the Biggest Johnson

For more examples, check out Dustin Parkes’ list of the “Top Eight Worst Bleacher Report Baseball Posts Of All Time Ever In The World”.

Just a cursory glance at BR provides a window into the authors’ thought processes:

  1. Think of a player, team, or issue that is interesting or in the news (Dwight Howard)
  2. Think of a way to talk about it in list-form (Trade rumors)
  3. Think of things to put in a list (Trade proposals, realistic or not… mostly not)

(And the irony of the above list hits… now.)

BR’s style encourages thoughtless list-making. Anybody can make a list. Anybody can Google “Dwight Howard trade rumors” and find a picture of him on Google Images. One need possess no writing skills and no analytical skills to publish a post at BR. Most people do not have elite writing and analytical skills, so BR is a perfect venue for them to see their name in a byline, unchallenged. That makes BR a content factory.

This is why most bloggers and mainstream writers dislike BR. For the mainstream guys and gals, they (and I speak entirely in generalities here) had to go into debt to earn a college degree in journalism and worked long hours covering high school field hockey for a small-town newspaper before landing their professional baseball/football/hockey/etc. gig. They constantly have to answer to editors and superiors when their work is subpar, and must adhere to strict journalistic standards.

The blogosphere is a meritocracy, as Will Leitch famously said on Costas Now on HBO. For the most part, bloggers with poor writing and/or analytical skills do not succeed because people will end up going to the blogs with better writing and/or analytical skills. There are exceptions, of course, but for the most part this holds true. Most bloggers pay money out of their own pockets to purchase a domain name and to acquire server hosting (or otherwise join on with an already-existing blog), spend many hours per week writing and editing multiple posts, and following up with commenters because their writing is a passion.

Bloggers have to earn their keep. Phillies Nation didn’t become the best Phillies blog on the planet (R.I.P. The Fightins) by making top-ten lists of arbitrary names and details. They certainly didn’t start out with over 125,000 Facebook followers. At the start, they were a passionate group of Phillies fans who had to prove themselves to the community, just like everybody else.

What BR provides is a platform of equal significance to the best and worst of the community. Better writing and analysis is not rewarded in the slightest, which means the bad writing and analysis is subsequently rewarded.

Thumb through the biographies for BR authors. On most of them, you will find self-admitted “aspiring writers” looking to break into the sports writing business. They are on BR for fame and notoriety; they are not there out of genuine love of sports and writing about them. In other words, they are leeches feeding on BR’s ability to put them in the spotlight, deserved or not. Are these the people you want to shine a light on and say, “Yeah, this is what we’re all about”?

Furthermore, a requisite of list-making is having a pre-developed idea. This list is titled “10 Current Players Freddie Freeman Could Develop Into” and authored by Will Brown, who is “going to school in hopes of being a sports journalist in the future”.

Why ten players? Why not nine or eleven? Obvious questions, but being beholden to round numbers is the bane of solid analysis. What if there are only seven legitimate players to compare to Freeman? The additional three are thrown on arbitrarily to suit the list format.

What is the criteria for comparison? Flipping through the slideshow yields no answers. The one thing in common is that they mostly play corner infield spots and are well-known players. Most likely, the author went to a leaderboard for MLB players, sorted it by 1B and then 3B, and picked out a few recognizable players haphazardly.

A good analyst would have a defined system for comparison. So if the results yielded James Loney and Daric Barton rather than Michael Young and Ryan Zimmerman, the author’s conclusion isn’t affected since it wasn’t made beforehand, despite that those players aren’t as interesting or noteworthy. Even better, perhaps he learns that his hypothesis is wrong and goes back to the drawing board, rather than publishing a flawed theory.

BR recently hired King Kaufman, a former writer and editor for Salon.com. In his first post from his new home, he talked about BR’s reputation, admitting some of BR’s faults, and change. “My main job here is to try to help improve the overall quality of the writing,” he wrote. Many have poked fun at him for trying to put lipstick on a pig.

I’ve had no contact with Kaufman other than participating in a Scoresheet league with him last year (and I stopped paying attention to my team in May), and he certainly didn’t ask for my thoughts on his project. From what I’ve read of his work, he seems like a smart guy and a great writer — a perfect candidate to tackle an enormous project like this. But if I had to offer some unsolicited suggestions to him, they would be:

  • Lose the slideshow/list format. Entirely. Prove that your community is not comprised of page-view scavengers. Some of them — more than I gave credit to, probably — are in it for “the love of the game”.
  • Do not judge the writing based on page views and comments. They are not great indicators of quality. Remove the page view counters on each article.
  • Hold writers to a standard. Maybe you lose page views from the lack of “WAG” posts featuring pictures of scantily-clad women, but you bring your website up several notches in credibility. And, you know, you lose that whole misogynistic, objectifying women thing. I’m not a businessman, so maybe this idea is foolhardy.
  • Feature writing, not pictures. This kind of goes hand-in-hand with losing the slideshows, but compare BR’s main page to that of Baseball Prospectus. On BR, I am being enticed to read articles for the subject; on BP, I am being enticed to read articles for the content. A subtle distinction, yes, but it does make a difference — especially for a website that wants to foster a community.
  • Reward better writing with better real estate. Have real BR moderators (community-based or hired) read posts and reward the better ones with “featured” status and being listed on the front page. It’s basically the system they have in place now, but with some legitimacy behind it.

Bleacher Report can continue being nothing but a content factory. They can continue to call upon average Joes to be, as Dustin Parkes called them, “boner providers” — luring men to click on more pages and more ads with the allure of scantily-clad women and top-ten lists. If, however, King Kaufman wants Bleacher Report to have any future credibility as a first stop on the Internet highway for quality sports content, then he needs to clean slate and take away the incentives for his content providers to be lazy and incompetent. Or, more accurately, the disincentives for them to be hard-working and competent.

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31 comments

  1. FanSince09

    February 09, 2011 03:06 PM

    They wouldn’t let me right at bleacher report. I wanted to do “Pro athletes who are bigger girls than Coal Hammels” but I guess u need more to a slidshow then 1 pick of Jenny Finch

  2. Cole Handsome

    February 09, 2011 03:07 PM

    I think the list format has a simple logic–to view the entire story, you need to click ten times (or 50 times), which drives up hits, which drives up the ad rates for the site. Look at the Huffington Post’s sale to AOL for $325 million–a site that mixes some content with obvious search engine bait news story derivative garbage–I can’t argue it’s bad business. I don’t worry about the quality of blogs, because talented writers have shown they’ll give it away for free; I worry about mass media that sadly has to compete with such poor content.

  3. VeryFakeBR

    February 09, 2011 03:16 PM

    SLIDSHOW: why nobody like us?

  4. SHEPDAWG

    February 09, 2011 03:22 PM

    sup CARSH

    TEH WORD 4 3DAY is REPSPECK as in u gota RESPECK the guddas codd of the JURNLISMIST liek u n me n GIL n DAN LEVVY n BOB FORD n JIM FURYK cuz if u dont how u SPECK 2 b runin this BLOGIN GAEM n be eastin all the BESS FUDD ALSO n smash thees LADDYS 4RELL proparly? NOT LIEKLY SPROT IF uu aint even RESPECK this GAEM. BLOGIN AINT NO JOEK

  5. Dan the Phan

    February 09, 2011 03:41 PM

    Mother of Roy, that was horrible! I’ve never been to Bleacher Report before, and out of morbid curiosity I clicked on a story ranking NL East teams by position, which included this gem, on the 2nd baseman slide:

    “Uggla is now surrounded by talent and he should have a great year. Utley should bounce back, but I seriously doubt that he will be better than Uggla.”

    What kind of analysis is this? What does “being surrounded by talent” have to do with individual rankings, which are the point of the “article?” Why would I care about the author’s feelings on the subject?

    I should have heeded your warning.

  6. Danny

    February 09, 2011 03:42 PM

    pretty funny that a majority of your comments so far about this story are fansince09, veryfakeBR and the701level

  7. Astros County

    February 09, 2011 03:44 PM

    Excellent article. But seeing a Shepdawg PSOT at the end took it from “excellent” to “legendary, SPROT”

  8. Andrew

    February 09, 2011 04:02 PM

    There’s no need to offer suggestions to Bleacher Report. They’re doing fine. They may make everything we bloggers work towards tougher, but Bleacher Report is scoring major advertising dollars.

    They’re not going to sacrifice those big bucks for the sake of their reputation. Quite frankly, I can’t blame them.

    They may be drowning out quality blogs on Google News, they may be clamoring for page views with baiting headlines and pictures, but it’s working for them. They’re making loads of money.

    I used to write for Bleacher Report. They gave my (what I believe were well written, high-quality) articles an audience when I didn’t previously have one. I have since left the site, mostly because they switched their top two priorities: Making money and giving good writers an audience.

    Bleacher Report may be the bane of our existence as sports bloggers, but they’re making the big money. We’re not. And that’s not about to change.

  9. Bill Baer

    February 09, 2011 04:04 PM

    From what I gathered from King Kaufman’s introductory article at BR, he seems open to new ideas and constructive criticism. I would be surprised if BR hired him only to have more of the same old, same old.

  10. DMtShooter

    February 09, 2011 04:23 PM

    I’ve got my own sports blog (no, not saying what it is — so there — but I’m on this fine site’s blogroll), and I’m prone to list work. It’s a quick way to make with the funny, or at least the funny attempt, and on a traffic basis, it crushes actual analysis. Sorry, but true: people really don’t like to read. So it goes.

    BR contacted me, promised traffic. I figured, what the hell. So I put up their bug and mostly forgot about it, and never got revenue or traffic. So I shut it down. I occasionally get emails saying my stuff has made certain page view marks, and in the immortal words of Derrick Coleman, whoop de damn do.

    CA is right in all ways about BR, but it’s irrelevant. They are basically an SEO / content farm that should avoid Google’s wrath since, well, the content is mostly spider-proof. Kaufman is merely ornamentation for investors when some AOL-esque entity decides to make a play for them. And if the public didn’t click on those links, they’d go away. They do, so CA can repost this in a year; nothing will change.

    And if you think they make things harder for legitimate sports bloggers… well, legitimate sports bloggers need legitimate audiences. Which are a tiny, tiny majority of the overall Blogfrican traffic stream. Most of those people? They like the titty. A lot.

  11. Ian

    February 09, 2011 05:27 PM

    Just like Andrew, I used to write for B/R (well, just added my blog RSS feed. Not that I’m trying to defend them or anything, but they do have editors and each post goes through at lease one or more editors before being published, so they do have some form of quality control. But it’s all about pageviews and comments, and the best way to do that is create Top 10 Lists or create outlandish headlines and wait for everyone to chime in.

  12. Dropped Strike Three

    February 09, 2011 05:30 PM

    My history with Bleacher Report has been a bit of a bell curve. Upon finding the site, I was pleasantly surprised at the massive amount of content and frequent updates, especially for sports that don’t as much coverage on other networks (MMA, etc). But then you quickly realize that most of the “information” is just reorganized from other sources and spit back out at you in a Top 10 list or a 3 paragraph “article.”

    I find them to be a decent source for tidbit of information, but I always prefer more into the story. As an aspiring blogger, though, it sure would be nice to have one their revenue checks!

  13. Amol

    February 09, 2011 05:44 PM

    Bill, you clearly don’t understand the immense value Bleacher Reports brings to sports fans. Let’s say, for example, that I decided to google articles about some random prospect and come up with 10 results. Of those results, at least half are probably crap. Before BR, I would have to click through to those five articles before I found out that they were crap. Now, however, I can see that one or two of those articles are on BR and I don’t have to waste the time and effort it takes to check them out.

  14. David

    February 09, 2011 06:03 PM

    Yeah, but who are the top-50 baseball WAGs, Bill? That’s what I want to know.

  15. ekpaul87

    February 09, 2011 06:10 PM

    A lot of what you said about B/R is indisputably true, and I can’t speak for anyone else on the site, but I do write for the genuine love of sports and writing about them. I feel like my writing is good, and I’ve been rewarded with a Featured Columnist position (yes, they do reward better writing and analysis).

    While B/R has many problems, it offers me a platform with guaranteed traffic for my writing, without the time commitment of having to maintain a blogging site, which is attractive to me as a full time student.

  16. TheKayell

    February 09, 2011 08:50 PM

    Your argument rests on the theory that sites like BR should provide quality opinion/analysis. BR is a site that seeks to make money, and they’ve found a business model (as others have noted) that generates tons of pageviews and lots of comment-traffic, plus a significant number of inbound links.

    Simply put, BR has no reason to be high quality; if you want high-quality Sabermetric analysis, you can hit up FanGraphs or BP. If you want compelling human-interest stories, hit up hometown papers or ESPN/SI once a week. If you want pictures of COAL HAMMEL or hot girls, check BR. The average fan (and, probably, the average person) just wants to waste time on the internet. BR provides a great outlet for that, and enables the kinds of idle speculation that happen around water coolers all over the country.

  17. bill

    February 10, 2011 11:27 AM

    It always depresses me when my friends say they read bleacher report…

  18. FanSince09

    February 10, 2011 12:55 PM

    I guess other bloggers should of bought puma hats.

  19. Jim

    February 10, 2011 09:08 PM

    I have to admit that Bleacher Report is a guilty pleasure of mine. Its a train wreck of stupidity that I just can’t look away from, and I keep going back for more. Think of The Onion, except that these B/R people are actually trying to be serious, and it makes it all the more entertaining.

    There are plenty of serious and credible sports sites out there and I see no problem with one like B/R existing among them.

  20. Jay B

    February 10, 2011 10:49 PM

    I enjoyed the article here, Bill. The critique is good and fair. There are definitely loads of people who dislike BR’s format and content.

    I avoid most stuff, on their site and other blogs, that are in that list format simply to raise page views.

    While their general set up is not ideal and encourages crappy content, the site itself does not define all of its contributors.

    There’s a local guy named Joe Del Grippo who writes for them that works hard and posts quality content about the minors. I know Joe from seeing him around the parks and appearing on the same radio station for a while. Several months back, he got on Twitter and I encouraged some folks to follow him and people scoffed because he wrote for BR, so he MUST have sucked. Their reputation hurts some of their people.

    It’s a shame, but my site’s best day is probably some of those weak writers’ weakest days, traffic wise. That certainly bothers me, but all I can do is work harder and focus on standing out on my own.

    CrashburnAlley is a great site and I wish you continued success.

  21. Andrew Cleveland Alexander

    February 10, 2011 11:10 PM

    I think you’re a little too hard on the writers for Bleacher Report. There’s nothing wrong with aspiring to be a sportswriter. There is something wrong with creating a site designed to crank out mindless crap for the search engine robots to scarf up whenever someone googles the name “Chase Utley.” It was hard enough to break into journalism a decade ago, when I was starting out–I can only imagine the humiliations inflicted on your people today by these latter day Fagins with their gangs of unpaid scribes. Hate the game, not the player, as they say.

  22. TIffany

    February 10, 2011 11:43 PM

    You should have referenced Jorge in this post.

  23. peter

    February 11, 2011 08:37 AM

    There is no doubt a lot of truth in what you write about BR, I guess the question is “What was the intention of this story?”
    to highlight bad writing, or to have an unprovoked dig at an alternative source of sports news (I use the term loosely). Yes I have a blog, I don’t get paid, I know it has it’s flaws, but it’s just a hobby not a job.
    If your intent was to criticize BR for using rank amateurs to fill positions that people are trained to perform, then this is the fact in many areas of the digital age, from website construction, management, IT departments or rather lack of them, to photography and graphic design.
    My question is still the same “What was the intention of this story?”
    News? or just the authors personal attack?

    -peter

    Phillies Outside

  24. Tom Jackson

    February 11, 2011 03:02 PM

    “Thumb through the biographies for BR authors. On most of them, you will find self-admitted “aspiring writers” looking to break into the sports writing business. They are on BR for fame and notoriety; they are not there out of genuine love of sports and writing about them. In other words, they are leeches feeding on BR’s ability to put them in the spotlight, deserved or not.”

    Hmmm…Sounds to me like Bleacher Report is the “American Idol” of the sports writing biz. I guess that’s why it’s, for the most part, such a train wreck.

  25. Chip @ BBIMH

    February 13, 2011 12:34 PM

    Great article. As a baseball blogger, I’d rather give writing than write or be linked to a post from BR.

    I give credit for Kaufman trying to turn around a site with such a bad reputation but he has a ton of work to do.

  26. Ryan

    May 12, 2011 12:24 AM

    To quote the rap kids these day, “you guys are a bunch of haters.” Quit making it more than it is. Those that can’t do criticize I guess.

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