Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Why Does The Athletic Want to Ruin Sports Journalism

Let's start here: I still subscribe to my local newspaper, The Denver Post, and I will for as long as it exists, knowing as I do the integral role that newspapers and print journalism play in maintaining our communities, society, and republic. My mother was a print journalist (reporter, editor, and features writer) for thirty years, and I grew up with a respect for the industry and a warmth in my heart for the sound of the newspaper landing on the driveway each morning. Thus, it was with profound disappointment and a genuine bit of queasiness that I read this morning (in the print version of the New York Times) about radical entrepreneur named Alex Mather and his plan to destroy local sports journalism and monopolize sports reporting.

“We will wait every local paper out and let them continuously bleed until we are the last ones standing,” Alex Mather, a co-founder of The Athletic, said in an interview in San Francisco. “We will suck them dry of their best talent at every moment. We will make business extremely difficult for them.”

My first - and lingering - response was "Geez, what a tool."

Mather, who is 37, and his partner Adam Hansmann, a green 29, plan to gut local newspapers of their premier sportswriters by hiring them away to work at a subscription sports site, The Athletic, which they intend to ultimately be the Amazon or Neftlix or Spotify of sports journalism. The "vulture"-like strategy of luring away the talent from print sources that face a shrinking market amidst free online content and amateur-reporting on blogs and open sites like Bleacher Report is certainly a workable business model. Mather and Hansmann know they can poach the reporters and use venture capital to absorb losses until the original bundle-service news source, the newspaper, folds. At that point, they hope to have the monopoly on quality sports writing, and they are banking on millions of current sports writing fans being willing to pay yearly fees for sports news.

It could work. But it will more than likely ruin local news organizations' ability to continue providing content, and then fade on a naive and unsustainable model. Then it will leave consumers mostly willing to accept mediocre reporting from whatever source their social media friends post.

Sadly, both Alex and Adam are still too young and under-educated to understand that just because you can do something doesn't mean you should.