“It’s a journalist transfer window.”

After The Athletic announced its hiring of Andy Staples, I tweeted this:

Staples’ hire is the latest example of the steady hoovering of journalistic talent the publication has embarked on over the last year.  The format, absent ads and annoying popups, is certainly nice, but I wouldn’t fork over a subscription fee if I didn’t want to read the product.  The Athletic is the only online sports site I pay to access.

I’m not posting this as a shameless plug, but because I’m interested in the future of its business model.  What got me thinking about that is this article that Ed Kilgore forwarded to me, about how the website has taken a serious plunge into the English soccer market by doing the same thing it’s done here, across the pond.

A US sports website that wants to dominate the British football market has made a series of high-profile new signings, including an award-winning Guardian football writer and a BBC reporter with a massive following among London football fans.

The incredible hiring spree has been described as “setting off a bomb” in the industry.

BuzzFeed News has learned that the Athletic’s latest hires are the Guardian’s chief football writer Daniel Taylor and the BBC’s top football correspondent David Ornstein.

Taylor, who scooped the country’s top journalism accolades for breaking the UK’s football child abuse scandal, recently told the Guardian he’d be leaving after nearly 20 years at the newspaper.

Meanwhile, Ornstein, who has grown a cult following on Twitter for his tweets about transfer news and Arsenal, told BBC colleagues yesterday of the news.

What’s noteworthy is the ripple effect.

“The whole thing, it has set off a bomb,” one senior sports editor told BuzzFeed News. “Fuck, it’s tremendous.”

“Not just that there’s now 50 new jobs, but newsroom managers are trying to protect their teams. Reporters and editors are going to management to ask for more resources … and they’re giving them…

But the Athletic’s startling moves have also led to other newsrooms getting in on the hiring action, creating a merry-go-round of reporters at other outlets. It’s understood the Times has had multiple “crisis meetings” in recent weeks about the future of its football coverage.

There is a portion of the sports consuming public that is willing to pay for access.  Hell, look at what we pay for tickets and for broadcasting of live sports.  You’d think there’s a commercially viable way for that to translate over to sports journalism, especially if the alternative is the clickbait model employed by places like Dawgnation.

Speaking of which, I know I’m dating myself here, but I can remember a time when the Atlanta Journal-Constitution had a world-class sports desk, with an array of talented writers worth shelling out a subscription for.  I’d like to think there’s a place for that today, even if it means paying a little more for the privilege.  So, here’s hoping The Athletic can inspire more of the same.

29 Comments

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29 responses to ““It’s a journalist transfer window.”

  1. I don’t consume everything that comes to my The Athletic news feed, but the stuff I do read is worth the annual subscription. It’s some of the best sportswriting I’ve read since The Sporting News was in newsprint and Elle MacPherson was an SI swimsuit model.

    I never purchased internet news content before this. If other types of news could come up with a similar business model with the quality of journalism, I would consider it a good investment.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Russ

      I agree, ee. Really good sportswriting. Heck, I read a long article about Lex Luger (the ‘rassler), who I couldn’t care less about normally. Great article that drew me right in and entertained me.

      I’ll gladly pay for this type of service. The only potential problem I see is I’m not sure I’ll pay for multiple services of this type. And if The Athletic becomes the sports new monopoly, that can become a bad thing, just like any news monopoly. Still, I’m enjoying the ride right now.

      Like

      • Reverend Whitewall

        I definitely read a lot of stuff from sports I wouldn’t otherwise, because of the quality of the writing at The Athletic. I watch very little NBA but oddly enough I enjoy reading the NBA articles in The Athletic, enough that I know enough about what’s going on that I can have an informed conversation with any die hard NBA fan. And yeah the random stuff that pops up like the Luger article and those types of things, it’s really good writing all around. Anyone who hasn’t subscribed yet, I highly recommend it as well.

        Like

  2. Yea I like it. Only site a pay a subscription to. Good stuff. Don’t get any ideas Senator.

    Like

  3. Glenn in Newnan

    Where is Chip Towers these days?

    Like

  4. Heyberto

    I have it as well. Love what they do, and Seth Emerson has always been money. As for Dawgnation I don’t think they have to be concerned that their current beat writer might be poached. If they decide to dip into recruiting, though, Jeff Sentell would be a good get for them.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. ApalachDawg

    As a south Georgia/Fl panhandle redneck and a fanatical Arsenal Gunner, I am thrilled to hear Ornstein has joined the Athletic. I signed up for the Athletic as soon as I heard S Emerson had joined way back in one of your first posts about it.
    I no longer have to go to multiple spots for Dawgs and Gunner news.
    My go to sports app going forward will only have to be the Dawgbone/GTP and The Athletic. It is like staring at a Sam Pittman Bulldog OLine

    Like

    • psyopdawg

      Now that you’ve written it here, I realize that is my habit now as well. Dawgbone/GTP and the Athletic. I generally ignore ESPN and the others because I get better content and constructive commentary here.

      Like

  6. Texas Dawg

    Remember the article the other day about how the best players tend to want to play together so they concentrate at a few schools? Well apparently the same holds true for sports journalism. Nothing makes you better than constantly being challenged by quality around you.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I’m a huge fan of The Athletic, I hope it becomes the new model, but I’m extremely skeptical it will last. They’re blowing through VC cash right now, and I’m not sure there’s any way it becomes profitable anytime soon. I’m going to enjoy it while it lasts, though, because it’s a great product.

    Like

    • Russ

      “blowing through VC cash”

      That’s a depressing thought but probably true. Yeah, I’m enjoying the ride as well.

      Like

    • Union Jack

      Maybe its the THE in the front but the momentum around The Athletic stirs up memories of The National from the 1990’s. Collect great writers and reporters who cover sports and naturally the public will purchase because America ( or in the case of the The Athletic, the world) loves sports and will pay for top notch coverage.

      While a lot of the National problems were due to getting physical product in the hands of people on a daily basis even though they used the WSJ printing & distribution network, the biggest problem was not attracting advertisers. Readers were paying subscriptions but they needed the sponsor money to support the content.

      I don’t have a subscription to The Athletic so I am curious to know if there are the usual paid sponsor ads/banners on the site or is it clean? I am curious to see if they can make it work banking on people paying money to read sports only content. It’s an idea that has been tried a few times and hasn’t worked.

      Nevertheless, the oral history about The National from Grantland (isn’t that sort of an Athletic pre-cursor) confirms the Senator’s comments about the quality of the AJC sports desk in the mid 1980’s/early 1990’s. The had Dave Kindred, Gordon Edes, Ed Hinton, Chris Mortensen, Roy Johnson, Tim Tucker et. al – all at the same time

      http://grantland.com/features/the-greatest-paper-ever-died/

      “Deford: If I did anything right, it was signing Van McKenzie, who died in 2007, to be the managing editor. If Van McKenzie is willing to give up the Atlanta Journal Constitution and come work for this crazy venture, move his family, if he was willing to do that, that was important. It was good getting Mike Lupica. It was good getting Dave Kindred, Scott Ostler, John Feinstein. All those guys. But getting the guy to run it who had such a wonderful internal reputation in sports journalism, that really mattered. Van was a pretty easy get, too.

      Price: We did the hiring and planning during the summer with people due to come to work, I think, in September 1989. Maybe it was October 1.

      Doria: As it turned out, a bunch of people from Atlanta joined the project. There was an Atlanta mafia there.

      Hinton: The Atlanta Journal Constitution staff in the mid-’80s was the best sports staff in the country. We were better than the Washington Post. We took Dave Kindred away from the Washington Post. We took Gordon Edes away from the L.A. Times. Roy Johnson from the New York Times. Van McKenzie was getting anybody he wanted.”

      Like

      • It is totally clean of advertisements and the articles aren’t click bait trash.

        I only read on my app, but I expect the browser version is the same.

        Like

        • Russ

          Yep, totally clean. They do have a separate area for videos and podcasts, but I’ve only read the articles. Even the comment sections (generally) are okay, though you get a few knuckleheads.

          Like

        • Union Jack

          So in light of that – do you think they can make it on subscriptions alone?

          Good writing and subscriptions as the The National showed can only take you so far.

          Like

          • I don’t know … not a media industry person. I don’t mind a banner ad or two just like I didn’t mind ads in the newspaper. I just don’t want the ads to overwhelm the content as happens so often on the free sites today.

            Like

            • Union Jack

              Even 25+ years into the internet, I am not certain that anyone has figured the free vs pay vs advertiser model.

              As a general rule have eliminated most subscriptions across all media because there is still enough free information out there that keeps me satiated. I have cable tv but no premium channels, sirius xm, amazon prime, shared netflix, but no newspapers anymore and only a couple of magazines. With Sirius they bring on a lot of these writers from the The Athletic either as hosts, guests hosts or guests who then talk about what they wrote. Maybe I don’t get the full story but you can most of meat.

              The only way I can see paying from something is if I can’t get the information in any other format.

              Like

              • I love XM, but while I listen to some of the talk channels including the college sports channel, I primarily use it for music. Since I don’t go back and listen to their archives, you have to know when Seth is on to talk about Georgia. Even then, he doesn’t get into the detail he likely has in the article itself.

                Like

      • Macallanlover

        From the comments I have read from subscribers, I am one, the attraction is the lack of ads/pop ups as much as better journalists. There are none, and it sounds like their initial success is due to that. Not putting down the writers at all, just saying the frustration level with that is something other sites should be paying attention to. I don’t mind a minimal amount of ads so long as they don’t block the screen and cause me to manuever around them, or blare with loud verbal ads. Get The Picture is one that has an ad, but doesn’t bother the reading experience. It can be controlled. Well worth the little bit of costs, imo.

        Like

  8. Bob

    Love the Athletic from the lack of ads to the ability to pick and choose what you want to focus on. I can get my fill of Georgia stuff from Seth and the gang and at the same time, my hockey love of the Pittsburgh Penguins and my hometown Braves. Great writers throughout the country can cover about anything you would like. Like others, it is the only on line sports source I am willing to pay for.

    Like

  9. PTC DAWG

    Why would I pay when I get all the good content right here from The Senator re the Athletic.

    Like

    • Russ

      Well, you did miss out on the Lex Luger story….

      It’s the only site I pay for. If you follow any other sports, it’s worth it.

      Like

  10. practicaldawg

    I started subscribing to the Athletic over a year ago. It’s amazing. The quality of writing keeps getting better. It truly allows the great sports writers to hone their craft and avoid the clickbait garbage model that newspapers have succumbed to.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. diving duck

    I will probably renew my subscription even though I only read the occasional article outside of the Emerson and DOB beat coverage. I skip past the Shultz hot take headlines.

    Like

    • Russ

      I’m not a Shultz fan, but even he seems to have toned down the click-bait crap he used at the AJC. I’ve read a few of his more recent Braves articles and he seemed less sarcastic and more informative.

      Like

  12. 964Dawg

    Could not agree more about The Athletic and about what used to be the AJC sports staff. I’m just glad there is still quality sports journalism being offered. And big shout out to this website. It is must reading for any UGA fan. Thanks Senator!

    Like