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Sunday, November 23, 2014

Bleacher Report Merely Window Dressing with New Hires

Bleacher Report announced the hiring of five new “lead writers” on Monday, sparking some pats on the back and commentary that the organization is becoming more credible. While the reputation of the new writers can bring more respect to the organization, it does not change that this is classic window dressing by Bleacher Report intended to strengthen the company by quieting the critics.

In case you’re unfamiliar with Bleacher Report, they’re a widely mocked sports website known for extremely low-quality content that is gamed to dominate Google’s search engines. They have a reputation for spelling errors, typos, and slideshows created in poor taste. Really, all you need to know about Bleacher Report is that they used the tsunami in Japan as an excuse to publish a slideshow on the “worst natural disasters in sports history.”

Noted bloggers Dan Levy, Bethlehem Shoals, Josh Zerkle, Dan Rubenstein, and Matt Miller were given new positions within the company. While Miller is a “homegrown” talent for Bleacher Report, the other four men gained their reputation through years of outstanding contributions to the blogosphere. I am friendly with a few of the new writers and happy they found jobs about which they’re excited. And while I’ll continue to support a few of those individuals and their exemplary work, the hirings do little to change my overall opinion of the company.

It doesn’t matter how many notable names Bleacher Report buys out because until they change several aspects of their business model, they will not have the respect of the sports community.

One of my biggest issues with Bleacher Report is that they don’t pay most of their writers. There isn’t a contributor to LBS who was not compensated or at least offered monetary compensation for their contributions to the site. It’s morally wrong to capitalize on other people’s labor to enrich yourself without giving them some share of the revenue. Bleacher Report tells you that the system they have produced is a meritocracy where only the best writers get paid. I say if they’re not good enough to get paid, they’re not good enough to be published on the site.

Another problem is that hiring four new high-quality writers doesn’t outweigh 5,000 (or however many other) poor quality ones who are published. They can throw the well written columns of their new writers on the front page, bury the low quality writers on back pages, and still rake in the pageviews. That’s what I mean by window dressing. Just because the stuff doesn’t show up on the front page of the site doesn’t mean it does not exist.

Want to make a high-impact change that will gain the respect of the sports community? Stop gaming Google.

Stop writing 10 posts per day that start with the words “Hope Solo Boyfriend.” Stop the daily “swagger buzz” feature that is just a euphemism for “how can we jam as many frequently searched keywords into a story’s title?” Stop the daily lists such as “Justin Verlander and the five American League pitchers with the hairiest forearms in baseball.” Again, this is nothing more than capitalizing on highly-searched terms by publishing content of very low importance or significance. It’s that sort of bullcrap that is just taking up space on the internet, ruining the effectiveness of search engines, and pissing people off.

To truly understand how I feel about their hires, I’ll relate an analogy. Today I read about Nike creating a pink shoe that helps create cancer awareness. They’re donating a percentage of profits from the sales of the shoe to a cancer charity. Bottom line: just because Nike announces they’re donating a dollar per shoe to a given charity does not change that they employed slave labor to produce the shoes.

Until Bleacher Report changes the core of its business model, it will not be fully respected. Get rid of the bad writers, stop gaming Google, stop pumping out useless lists and slideshows, and then you’ll have more respect. But wait, do all that and what would generate the pageviews and revenue?



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