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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Interview with The Big Picture


So one of my favorite blogs out there is The Big Picture, and for several reasons. First, it gives me a laugh every time I visit the site. Second, they run a kickass “Would You Do…” feature which is hilarious. And third, they run interesting interviews with some of the more prominent sports bloggers in the blogosphere. As they say, “these guys spend countless, thankless hours writing, so a little recognition from time to time is well warranted.” Well, it is for that reason that I think the main man behind The Big Picture deserves some recognition for his contributions to the sports blogosphere. I present you this interview I had with him recently (many of you will note the familiarity)…Treat him nicely folks

1. A few questions about yourself:

Name: The Big Picture

Age: The hot chick I was hollering at Friday night thinks I’m 25, but my driver’s license would say 23.

Location: Seattle/Bay Area

Occupation: Sportswriter, Winner

Favorite team: SF Giants, University of Washington basketball

Time per day spent perusing the blogosphere: Well, I’ve been dreaming about blogs lately, so we can leave it at that.

2. OK, so you’re probably one of the few bloggers out there who actually writes professionally at a newspaper. How did you get started with that and what exactly do you cover for the paper. And where can readers see some of your work?

My junior year at U-Dub I sorta felt it was time to start looking for a productive job/internship. And by “productive” I mean working towards a career; money wasn’t as a huge of an issue as experience was.

So I emailed The Seattle Times lead sports columnist Steve Kelley and asked what sort of opportunities there were for students. I told him I was a journalism major, worked at the UW paper for two years at that point, and sent him some clips.

He referred me to the assistant sports editor (now my boss) who was in charge of prep sports. He hired people fairly often to take high school sports results over the phones, do some administrative work, etc. It was pretty well paid and a foot in the door.

So I did that my junior and senior years at UW, then, after looking around last summer, fell back on the same job this year, despite being done with school. But within a month or so — probably around October — they put me in charge of covering one of the primary high school leagues, so now I’m covering games, writing features, etc. All high school sports.

3. Has working at the paper helped you on the blogs? Ever get any good scoops the paper can’t run with but you chose to? How does it differ from what you do at The Big Picture?

Believe it or not, not too many people at The Times even know I have a blog. I’ll sort of mention it here or there.

Not too many good scoops, unfortunately. But I think my work at the paper has helped make my writing at the blog a bit more crisp. And while the content on the blog certainly doesn’t display professional writing, the structure of my posts are relatively similar to a newspaper article: lede, then nut graf, five Ws, etc.

How’s it differ? No hooker jokes in the newspaper.

4. Take us through a typical day of blogging for you. You do it before work, after work? How are you able to fit in a real job, along with your work at The Big Picture, The FanHouse, and UDub Dish?

I work nights at The Times, so I’m up late and sleep in late. I’ll usually work on posts for The Big Pic at night sometime, then usually change the timestamp and post it right before I go to bed around 2 am Pacific. When I get up in the morning, I’m usually checking my sites, other blogs, other blog tools Technorati, Ballhype rankings, etc. for a few hours. I’ll usually do my FanHouse work during the day, head to the gym, get ready for work, and start searching for material for the next day’s posts. UDub Dish has unfortunately slowed a bit since football and basketball are over.

It’s certainly a busy day with work, hitting the gym and multiple blogs. Oh, and I’m supposed to see my girl sometimes. She likes that. It takes discipline and good time management skills, but those were some of my biggest strengths I developed in school.

5. Where did you get the idea to start The Big Picture? You wake up one day in December ’05 and decide, “hey, I’d like to start a sports blog!”?

Combination of things. When I started getting the, “Oh fuck! What am I gonna do after college?” thoughts in my head, a buddy of mine suggested starting a blog. Shortly after, I was reading SI and saw something on Deadspin.

I didn’t even know what the hell a blog was, but one night I was bored and signed up for a Blogger account.

My first posts — probably the first few months at least — were just awful, awful stuff. I cringe when I re-read some of it. But I eventually found my voice, got a bit of an audience, and now I find it really exciting.

6. You certainly have an affinity for swearing on The Big Picture. Explain.

Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me…

Swearing just wasn’t a big deal when I was a kid — I was swearing when I was like six — as long as I didn’t swear at someone, my parents were OK with it. Same deal still. And “fuck” is a fantastic word.

7. The Would You Do… feature seems to be one of the most unique features of The Big Picture, and in the sports blogosphere in general. What gave you the idea to do it? Ever cross your mind that some of the reporters you’ve profiled have actually read your site?

Hate to admit it, but Would you do… wasn’t even created by me. My brother, who posts rarely, came up with it, not really thinking much of it. But I loved the idea and we just sort of ran with it.

As we were approaching 16 women, I got the idea to make it a tourney — not a terribly original idea, but something to bring closure to a cool feature. The tourney coincidentally and conveniently started right around March Madness, so people were already thinking in brackets; it was good timing. I was lucky enough for Deadspin to do a post on it, and it sent like 35,000 people to the site that day. Some of those new readers stuck and the traffic/community in March was really good.

I have a feeling that a few of those ladies have come across their posts. I’d imagine that people Google themselves every so often, right?. And when you Google Erin Andrews,” her Would you do… post is like No. 2 or 4. I bet she’s seen it! She should be flattered.

8. You’re also known for conducting interviews with some of the biggest names in the sports blogosphere. What was the inspiration for starting that segment? Was it to learn more about each blogger personally? Was it to help people get to know them more? Or was it as you describe, because they deserves some recognition from time to time?

Pretty much all of those things you mentioned led to the creation of Blogger Interviews. Sportswriters often kid that the people who cover sports are far more interesting than the people who actually play them.

Certainly a part of it was my curiosity in some of these guys. And if I was really curious about these other bloggers, I’d imagine other bloggers were too. These interviews are probably pretty boring for non-bloggers, but the big fraternity of sports bloggers out there are likely interested in knowing more about each other.

And I think I have some readers who don’t really read other blogs, so this is my way of suggesting that there’s a lot of other good stuff out there.

9. You just started a Would You Do… of female athletes. What can we expect after that tournament? You plan all this ahead of time or does it just come to you randomly?

I hate to admit, but this next round of athletes is much more planned than the last one. I feel like spontaneity — like the last tourney, for example — is really a good thing, and this round probably won’t be quite as impulsive. I haven’t fully decided the 16 athletes who will make the cut, but you can expect a tourney in a few months!

After that? Ugh, female coaches?

10. If you had your pick to do one of the sideline reporters and one of the athletes, who would it be and why?

Erin Andrews was really popular for good reason! But I also think Michelle Bonner is waaay cute. Kit Hoover too. Athletes, hmm, I’m a sucker for blondes, so Jennie Finch I find pretty hot.

11. There are a ton of blogs and sports writers out there, what are some of your favorites, and influences, both as a blogger and real writer?

So many. I really think MJD from Deadspin, The Mighty MJD, and the FanHouse is probably the best writer out there. Blogs or mainstream media. In addition to being creative as hell, he can make a non-funny story funny, which is a a talent that should be getting him better paid.

Deadspin and The Big Lead obviously have good things going. With Leather too, with more hot chicks and crass humor. Those sites sort of influence my writing a bit, but also just tons of writers — Simmons, Rick Reilly, Scott Ostler of the San Francisco Chronicle. I read so many sports blogs/articles, I get tons of different ideas and ways to play around with my voice.

Another one that doesn’t always get a ton of pub but deserves it is The Hater Nation. Adam Rank, who writes for the FanHouse, is also a professional writer and he’s great at taking a different angle to a well-discussed story. It’s funny, sophisticated (kind of), and stands out in this cluttered blogosphere.

12. Dream Job? Go.

I really think one of those guys who gets to hire strippers would be pretty cool. You know that guy gets to bang them all. I think I’d really do well in a setting like that.

Kornheiser and Wilbon have a great gig. So does Will Leitch. Both in very different ways, obviously.

There are tons of wonderful things to do in the world. I love talking sports, so a TV or radio show would be unbelievable. Won’t happen, but it’d be awesome if it did.

Full-time blogging, like Deadspin, would also be cool. You wouldn’t have the same interactions you would in an office, but you have a different kind of community.

13. The Big Picture gets a good readership. Any advice to some of the smaller blogs out there how they can build their site up?

It took a long, long time. And compared to some other sites, I still don’t get great traffic. I know most people will say it’s not about how many readers you get, but that you’re doing work you’re proud of. I don’t fully agree with that. I totally think that doing work you’re proud of is the most important thing, but if people aren’t reading it, that’s sort of a kick in the balls.

Obviously, good work will eventually get noticed. Also longevity and consistent posting; I’ve been going for about 16 months and haven’t missed a weekday in probably 15 months or so. That probably helps.

Keep it short too. There are some real popular blogs out there — for good reason — but the posts are just too long for me.

Kind of a minor thing, but something like aesthetics is important. A new site can have kick-ass content, but the blog might look bad or be tough to read. If I have to fight just to read the words, I’m not gonna put in the time. I suspect most blog readers feel the same way.

A big thing now, with so many blogs popping up, is creating a niche. I come across so many new blogs, and there’s nothing that really sets them apart. If there’s a big, blogged about story, I’m probably going to go to Deadspin, The Big Lead or With Leather to read about it because I know that I like their respective voices. An undeveloped blog should try to give me something unique to set it apart. Or do what The Hater Nation does and take a different angle to that hyped up story.

The Big Picture was probably the same way at first. Maybe it still is. But having reoccurring features really helps too. It’s a way to distinguish your site from others. The Would you do… series is largely responsible for The Big Pic’s traffic. I think that feature is really the only thing that gives The Big Pic recognition in the “general sports” blogosphere. Maybe Blogger Interviews too. I want people to know the voice and tone of the site and have that be the distinguishing factor, but I might be dreaming if that’s the case.

Also, and this goes back to good content and writing something you’re proud of, is having a good voice. Your voice.

It doesn’t have to be funny, if that’s not your thing. Dan Shanoff, for example, probably isn’t the best humor writer out there, but he’s a phenomenal writer and has a definite voice. A familiar voice is something that will drive me, and likely man others, back to a site.

14. What do you hope to get out of the whole sports blogging thing?

At first it was a job. In retrospect, that was naive. Is someone from the mainstream media gonna really stop by site, like what they see, and offer me a high-paying job, with a good chance of advancement and look the other way when I try to score with Tiffany from sales? Of course not.

Now, a good day — or bad — at The Big Pic can actually affect my mood. I’ve invested so much time, energy and thought into this blog that a link from a Deadspin, a nice email from a reader or a bunch of comments on a post can actually be a highlight in my day. Getting asked to do this interview was incredibly flattering. It’s kind of dorky, kind of pathetic, I know. But I’ve never built something from the ground up like this, so everything good or bad about the site sort of reflects on me.

So at this point, I think I’d like to build a community. Having a bunch of readers, who start interacting with me and each other would be pretty cool. Like 10,000 readers a day would also be pretty neat.

Getting a chance to meet a lot of these bloggers and readers in person would be awesome. I’ve emailed with a bunch, talked on the phone, but never met anyone. I think getting loaded, talking blogs, and making it rain at a strip joint would be a blast.

And of course getting money for this would be a goal. For all the work that’s put out on blogs, very few have received a penny.

I was at a dinner with my brother, dad and family friend last month and we discussed where blogs are going and how to start making money from it. And I don’t think getting paid for what we all do is that far off.

I lay in bed thinking what’s next with blogs, my site, etc. I want to make a splash, I just haven’t quite figured it out yet. I have some ideas that I think could work, but a lot of things would need to break right for it to actually happen.

But it’s an exciting time and I’m really looking forward to taking The Big Picture to the next step. Whatever that might be.

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