This is almost a two-part episode and the first time, inexplicably, that Tom Ziller has appeared on the show. Ziller is a lead basketball writer for SB Nation, recently leaving FanHouse a few weeks before the walls collapsed. Insider trading? I ask him (answer: no.)
Ziller was in rare Twitter form last week in response to this article by Dave Kindred that quoted FanHouse scribe Lisa Olson thusly:
“In December,” Lisa Olson said, “we were told how great we were doing.” Once a columnist at the New York Daily News, Olson remembered The National strutting on stage in 1990, a national sports newspaper hiring good people from everywhere. She thought of FanHouse that way, a gathering of veterans on a journalistic adventure. “We were all experienced and qualified, not some 25-year-old bloggers,” she said. “The motto was, ‘Go, go, go. Grow, grow, grow.’ And we did. Then, this. It’s devastating.”
Ziller was, at one point, a 25-year old blogger at FanHouse, back when it was good and way before it was being sold off for spare parts because the high-priced people they brought in — including Olson, by the way — weren’t getting the traffic to make that model sustainable. Look, this isn’t a rip on Olson who is a very accomplished writer, but her quote certainly opened the door. More than likely, it was hiring people like Jay Mariotti and Steve Phillips that were more reason for the failure.
So, is the model bad, or did FanHouse just pick bad people? Can it be both?
Pardon the “what does this all mean” tone of my questions, but I think, in this case, it’s a fair question to pose. What does it mean that FanHouse didn’t work? What does it mean for all the freelance writers who now need work? What does it mean for the rest of us who had this happen when Sporting News did the same thing last year (ironic that SN is the company buying out FanHouse from AOL, isn’t it) or when newspapers fold their sports sections or when fill in the blank site decided it wasn’t financially viable and closes up shop. Are there enough jobs out there for the number of people who, just months ago, were getting paid to write, comment and report? Are we all going to end up working for Bankoff at SB Nation? And with a smart business model and a solid group of A-List bloggers, is that such a bad thing? That said, is their business model even sustainable? Is anyone’s, really?
We talk quite a bit about the role of a general columnist and if that can still exist in a far more specialized world of sports media. The readers are more internet savvy and sophisticated now, so does that mean the general columnist has to change how he or she does things? Is it fair to rip the Jay Mariottis or Stephen A. Smiths of the world in one breath, then ask people to help spread my take on something within the next? It’s a weird, weird world, especially if you’re trying to carve out a niche. And we talk a lot about the idea of working for free, and why you shouldn’t listen to writers (or journalism professors) who are getting paid to write (or teach) when they tell you not to give away your words for free. The model is different now.
There’s a lot more to it, and it’s one of those shows that if it wasn’t my show I’d use words like “must-listen” or “important” to describe the conversation about the current and future state of sports blogs. Maybe one of the SB Nation editors or Blogs with Balls fellas can tweet a link with one of those words because it’d totally be obnoxious for me or Ziller to do that. Right?
In what should be looked at as “part two” of the conversation, we talk about the NBA. First, I ask Ziller his thoughts on the best Number 33 of all time (you’ll have to listen to the show to find out why I ask that). Is it Larry Bird, who I’ve always thought of as the best 33. Or is it Kareem, as SI voted as the best back in 2007?
I think we need an internet consensus on this question: who is the best number 33 in NBA history? Have at it.
That talk leads to today’s game, and we discuss the Carmelo Anthony rumors, wondering why playoff teams would ever trade away their best player if they thought they had a chance to win the title that year (note: not that Denver has much of a chance, but the Cavs did in years past when people were suggesting they should have traded LeBron James so they didn’t end up like they are now).
We talk about the near certainty of a lockout and whether David Stern is just like the club owner in my town who seems committed to burning down his place every 10-15 years and rebuilding with the insurance money. How did the last lockout not fix enough issues that there will be another within the length of some veteran players’ careers? Who’s to blame for this? Stern? The owners? The fans for not showing up to games in markets like Atlanta, where the team is actually pretty good? FanHouse? (Kidding.)
We end on a happier note, talking about the All-Star game and wondering if the NBA will adopt the wonderful (if a bit clunky in delivery) way the NHL picked their teams this year. A pick-up game is just screaming basketball, isn’t it? Let’s hope it happens soon.
Thanks for listening.