The Day After Is A Time Of Reflection

Here is to hoping it lessens the mental burden.

I went back and forth with whether or not to write this column. Part of me didn’t want to be yet another lower-level writer who hurled his opinions and thoughts onto what is a situation about other people losing their job. Not that I think all have done it for this reason, but it feels very look-at-me.

It is a weird thing people do during a time of crisis. People run to social media during a time of tragedy, post something without much thought concerning thoughts and prayers, only to parachute back into that conversation when it best suits them.

This is not that, though. As it felt for me with many other columns of this ilk, if it comes off that way I get it.

The other part of me — the one that wanted to write this — was itching to say something. About what? To be honest, as I am writing this, it is all very stream of conscious and don’t know where it will end up.

A need to do this in a space better than the 140 characters Twitter allows is here — on my rarely used, not overly edited blog. This much I knew.

Funny enough, I restarted this old blog (which used to go under the name SportyMcSports) in case of emergency. That, as it happened with ESPN on Wednesday, if my employers decided to let me go for whatever the reason, I had somewhere to write.

Not somewhere to make money. At least just a place to write. I do, you know, love to write (some will, correctly, tell you that I love to write too much).

The massive ESPN layoffs is a time of reflection for someone in this business. People who are objectively better in my field were released from their positions, leaving a measurable dent in the industry. Only time — and a potential pivot by the industry itself — will tell how lasting of an impact it will all have.

In total, the most recognizable name in sports coverage released 100 people. 100 people who covered varying sports, topics, events and brought different experience, styles and talents to the table.

For the sake of keeping it simple, as well as selfishly keeping it where it hit home the most, the focus is going to be on the gutting of ESPN’s (mostly digital) college basketball coverage.

Early on Wednesday morning, Dana O’Neil’s name came across my timeline as one of the causalities. It was at that exact moment that I knew that the rest of the day was going to be awful.

O’Neil is everything a member of the college basketball media wishes it could be. Hardworking, talented, insightful, entertaining, as well as every other positive adjective you can possibly think of (hell, even some not yet invented), O’Neil has been an influence on almost every college basketball writer on the planet — whether they know it or not.

For my money, she is the very best in our industry.

Despite all of that, as well as O’Neil being one of the rare universally beloved media members, she was deemed as an asset the company was fine with dropping.

If I am to be honest, my initial reaction wasn’t just about the empathy I had for her, as well as her colleagues who would also lose their jobs on Wednesday. As a person who prides himself on thinking of others first, I am ashamed to admit I did the exact opposite.

Wednesday made me reflect on my nearly decade long journey in this business. And it is here it is worth noting that most of that decade was spent being — at least financially — a failure in it.

How I reached a point in my career where I get to cover college basketball is unimportant to this discussion. It should at least be noted, for context, that it took a village to raise me. To be here, at a place like FRS that allows me to do what I love for a living, is more about luck, the people around me, and the others who went out of their way to help.

Frankly, it has very little to do with my actual talent.

I bring that up because of the gauntlet of emotions that ran through my body after seeing O’Neil and others let go.

One of my first thoughts happened to be”I am inevitably {bleeped}.” After all, each talent released on Wednesday is vastly superior to me, and if any of them — for whatever reason — decided they wanted my spot, they could easily have it. Not to mention the obvious, which is that if a major network doesn’t view a Dana O’Neil as untouchable, it would be silly for me to think any network would think of me like that — though, the layoffs are far more complicated than the company viewing its employees strictly through the lens of ability before deciding who to let go.

With ESPN removing so many of its prominent college basketball writers, it puts the major network coverage of the sport through the digital medium at an all-time low. Go ahead, name the college basketball-only writers for Fox Sports, NBC, ESPN and CBS. There are still some, and they are all excellent, but there’s a clear lack of commitment to the overall coverage of the sport from a written standpoint.

As I was advised early in my career, this is where the realization that us one-trick ponies are going the way of the dinosaur. You can’t just be a writer. You have to also do radio, podcasts, and TV if possible. For me, I’ve done all but TV, though the radio has only been as a guest.

It also made me think of nearly every single boss I have had over the last 10-ish years. The ones who have told me, accurately so, that I cover one of the least popular of the national sports. That, in no uncertain terms, college basketball only works – from a digital point of view — one month out of the year.

I know this as a cruel reality, as I once spent an ungodly amount of time working on a feature. A story, in retrospect, I shouldn’t have attempted — and one that I ended up losing almost 500 dollars making. The lesson learned from that event was expensive, and it doesn’t necessarily serve me well now, but I try to pass it on to my friends. Don’t write something you aren’t yet qualified to write. As you can tell from the overuse of transition words to the poor structure, I was not remotely closed to qualified.

Why did I lose money? For a variety of reasons and it wasn’t only due to my inability to tell the story. It also had to deal with my reach as a personality — or, really, the lack thereof.

Yes. This is about the value of talent through the lens of clicks and followers and whatnot.

For me, when you couple a limited ability (especially in comparison to those who lost their positions with ESPN) and a reality began to sink in when I reflected. I, without question, will not be a member of the media forever.

In fact, the moment FRS decides I am no longer valuable, or someone decides FRS isn’t valuable, or the infinity number of things that can lead to me not being employed by my current employer, I am probably done in this business — not because I want to be, but because I am older, have to take care of others, and there is unlikely to be a handful of companies knocking at my door looking to hire me when that time comes.

It will be horrible.

This has, obviously, made me nervous. Upset, even.

Subconsciously, I always knew this was going to be the case. The Internet is a wonderful thing, and while I might be business inept, giving away content for free always seemed like a horrible business model… and it becomes worse later, as now the consumers expect the content to be free. There might be no real turning back from it.

All of that is in my head. It is trotting about the insides of my cranium like a rabbit chasing a carrot dangled over him as he’s on a wheel. I doubt I am alone in this thinking.

Again, I have no idea what this means for the industry. None. I think I know what it means for me, as well as writers in my generation who hover around my tier, but there’s a tiny part of me that holds out hope that someone much smarter than I configures a way to better monetize digital content. It is with that hope, even if fleeting, that keeps me going. Well, that and my love to write.

As you likely read and heard too many times to remember, I love what I get to do each day. Today (Thursday) is my day off, and I spent it not being actually off. Instead, a colleague asked me to look at his column, and I was thrilled to look it over and provide feedback; I read as much as I could, because the more you read the better you can be; and I battled with whether or not I should scribble these thoughts.

Everything I’ve done up to this point today is about writing. Not because it has to be, but because I want it to.

Eh, I digress… this shouldn’t be about me. Or, more accurately, just about me. It is about everyone. From my friends in the business to those who inspire me to the ones who have yet begin their journeys, it is about a forever changing landscape that I can no longer describe.

The media I wanted to enter was a different world when I began.

The endgame was still landing a job with a newspaper. For younger people who came after me, their professional goals started with landing with Grantland or somewhere similar. And for the generation of writers after them, theirs will be even more different. That is, in a simplified way, how much the industry has changed since I started and how much more it will.

Without knowing how to actually close this, I will leave you with what is a rather obvious thought:

Consumers dictate the market. Whoever or however they want to read, listen or see the media’s work, it is up to them to shape the industry moving forward as much as it is up to the media. The latter, however, has a responsibility in these trying times. It is to not give up or break or sell one’s soul for the sake of the idea of a vague promise of a better tomorrow.

Monumental or courageous this is not, but it is with that thought in mind that I will continue to press on. Maybe it is naivety, or sheer idiocy, but I trust both the general public and talent working inside the industry enough that this will all eventually get figured out.

Until then, here is to wishing you all — no matter your style, experience, goals, or ideals — well.

One thought on “The Day After Is A Time Of Reflection

  1. Pingback: Because My DMs Are An Absolute Debacle | InterwebTimes

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