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Feb
19
2013

Exposed

Should a young writer choose exposure or structure? Tom Schreier weighs in.

 

Since, my friend, you have revealed your

Deepest fear

I sentence you to be exposed before

Your peers

Pink Floyd – The Trial

 

When we look back at professional writing 30 years from now, we will find that the most paramount issue facing young writers in the Internet Age will be whether it was better for them to seek a large online audience in the font of their career or to join a small paper and attempt to hone their craft in a more structured environment.

The decision to be exposed before the masses is unique to an Internet Age writer. Never before has a person had to think, Am I willing to have thousands of people read an article that is either unedited or lightly edited before publishing?

Simply stated: Young writers just didn’t have that option before the Internet really took off. In order to get read by more than just your friends and family, you had to join a small town paper. For me, it would have likely been the Faribault Daily News in a city of less than 25,000 located 50 miles south of the Twin Cities. The paper has produced current Star Tribune staff writer Joe Christensen and Tyler Mason of FOX Sports—two people that I have had the pleasure of meeting while covering various sporting events in the Twin Cities.

Downtown Faribault.

It was just a given: If you wanted to get read, you started in Faribault…unless you thought that you could distribute thousands of copies of your own newspaper. Don’t get me wrong: bloggers face the same problems today, but a crafty young person can get read as long as they find the right platform.

The problem is, however, at what point is the luxury of getting regular weekly assignments, having access to certain sporting events via credential and the connection you make with your readers in a comment section outweigh the benefits of having access to every sporting event in a certain area, the training and camaraderie that comes along with being in an office full of professional journalists/editors and the fact that you are less exposed at a smaller paper because of the professional editing process?

It used to be a given that a writer would go through leaps and bounds in order to make sure that everything printed was clean and pristine, even at the cost of the creative or humorous elements of writing that make a Steve Rushin or Bill Simmons piece come to life. In one sense, it was forced on a young writer: An editor did not allow jokes or personal anecdotes to go to print. In another sense, it was a logical philosophy: The writer that has the least amount of errors while working in the small town gets a job with the big-time paper that has a much larger circulation and may even be published out-of-market. Therefore, when they are less likely to make mistakes once they are more exposed.

In the Internet Age, however, that notion has been challenged.

 

Good morning, Worm your honor

The crown will plainly show

The prisoner that stands before you

Was caught showing feelings

Feelings of an almost human nature

This will not do.

 

Let me make this clear: I put forth my best effort in every blog post here at FanMan to provide content—something that will be both informative and interesting to the reader—rather than just share my own story. It would be asinine and narcissistic of me to think that my life is riveting enough that people from around the nation would come here to read about me just because I am so damn interesting. Trust me, I know I’m not. My life pretty much consists of reading, writing, watching sports and playing video games. I also enjoy spending time with family and friends and the occasional night of mayhem.

Nothing too different from the life of the average 23-year-old sports nut.

I hope that by posting on this site I can offer a window into the life of a nascent sportswriter and entertain my readers with a couple of jokes. In the future, I hope that another aspiring writer can find these columns and by reading them in tandem with my work at Bleacher Report, Hockey’s Future and other sties I’ve written for they will develop a picture of how I got to wherever I end up. My hope is that I am writing on a big platform like ESPN, Sports Illustrated or the Minneapolis Star Tribune and people are reading my older work in order to understand how I got my dream job. In essence, I seek to become to them what Rushin, Simmons, Joe Posnanski and the late Jim Murray are to me.

From time to time I do go back and read Rushin’s old Air and Space columns or Simmons’ Page 2 work. With Posnanski it’s harder because his early stuff for the Charlotte Observer, Cincinnati Post or Kansas City Star is either archived somewhere deep in the chasms of cyberspace or I’m just an idiot and cannot find them.

For Murray, I have collected some of his old work and I am currently reading Last King of the Sports Page, a biography written by

Ted Geltner. I have also spent time reading Rick Reilly’s old work from his SI days. With Reilly, it is as much a lesson of what not to do—namely become complacent with a dream job—as it is on how to write well.

I am also a realist. I understand that seven years from know I will be 30 years old and may be out of the industry. While covering the Sharks for B/R in college, I met two bloggers that were nearing 30. Both had access and plenty of experience under their belt, but both are currently working “real jobs” after years of unpaid writing. My hope is that all my work remains available online and that a young writer can read my stuff and understand where I went wrong so they can avoid the mistakes that I made, should that be the case.

Aaron Gleeman during the recording of his "Gleeman and the Geek" podcast.

It should be mentioned that, in addition to Murray, Rushin, Posnanski and Simmons, I have another writer that I look up to, Aaron Gleeman, that haven’t really mentioned before. He is lesser known around the nation because he writes almost exclusively about the Minnesota Twins. However, he does hold a role at NBC Sports as a member of Hardball Talk, which is essentially their version of Bleacher Report’s Trends and Traffic team. Gleeman writes about the Twins on his eponymous website and hosts a podcast with John Bonnes, a writer at TwinsDaily.com, an independent blog on the team. The weekly “Gleeman and the Geek” episodes have over 10,000 subscribers on iTunes.

Gleeman recently wrote a post on his blog called “Thirty.” In the post, Gleeman talks about how he began blogging at age 19 and was considered a bit of a wunderkind because he was a member of the Society of American Baseball Research (SABR as in Bill James’ Sabermetrics):

 

I never quite advanced past that “you’re just a kid” mindset and now more than a decade later I’m still doing basically the same thing, writing about baseball and myself on the internet, but there’s no 30-year-old “kid” unless you start hanging out with your grandparents. Sticking with something for that long can certainly be a source of pride and I’m also proud of the work I’ve done here and elsewhere, but having spent your twenties doing one thing is jarring to think about.

 

I identify with Gleeman because he had the dream of writing for the Minneapolis Star Tribune or St. Paul Pioneer Press, but was rejected at the Minnesota Daily, the University of Minnesota student paper, multiple times and had to change plans. While he believes that the rejection has placed him on a better path, he wrote his first blog post in 2002, joined Rotoworld three years later which was eventually bought by NBC Sports and now has his work prominently placed on the Star Tribune website. Like me, he wanted to take the “old school” path to stardom, as he wrote a year ago in a piece titled “10 Years” in reference to his 10 years of blogging:

 

For decades the path to sportswriting was straightforward. Graduate from college, hopefully with experience at the school newspaper or a journalism degree, take a low-level job at a newspaper, work your way up from covering high school sports to covering a college or pro beat, and then somewhere way down the line perhaps move from reporter to columnist. I wanted nothing more than to follow that path, but I couldn’t even complete the first step.

 

Obviously, I got a position with my school paper, but unlike the Minnesota Daily writers that have the ability to cover U of M basketball, football and hockey alongside members of the Star Tribune and Pioneer Press, the largest beat I covered for the paper Santa Clara basketball—a program that went 0-fer in West Coast Conference play my senior year.

There wasn’t even a regular Santa Clara beat writer at the San Jose Mercury News. The closest thing the Merc had was Jon Wilner, a man I respect and look up to, but he was the Stanford football beat writer that only covered a couple Santa Clara basketball games when big-name teams like Gonzaga, BYU and Saint Mary’s came to town. A man I met while covering the Sharks, Mark Emmons, once showed up to a game, but that was just to write about how the best player on the Santa Clara basketball team got a DUI, a couple others got caught drinking under the age of 21 and how the team didn’t win a game in conference play.

I also faced my fair share of rejection, most notably from both my journalism professors who suggested that I drop both Intro to Journalism and Advanced Journalism, respectfully.

I don’t mean complain: Fortunately, Ted Robinson, a local broadcaster, recognized me after I wrote my first piece for The Santa Clara (a paper that had rejected me once as well), who hooked me up with Dave Finocchio at Bleacher Report. I also had Dr. Phil Kesten, a physics professor, help me with my writing and countless others step up to the plate for me once I got rolling.

Sharks defenseman Jason Demers (not Charlie from It's Always Sunny in Phildaelphia).

Still, it was hard not to feel like the guy that gets picked in the last round of the draft out of high school or college and has to compete with the first-rounders to get a spot on the team. In fact, I find it fitting that my breakthrough story, which I wrote for Bleacher Report on Sharks defenseman Jason Demers, was a profile on a player that was drafted in the last round of the NHL Draft, as an over-ager (at age 20 as opposed to 18) and became an impact player on his team.

It is also fitting that my teacher told me he had to fail—be cut or quit—in order to get people to read the story and that it was only because I had an internship with Bleacher Report the summer before and was writing for the site that I was able to publish my work on such a large platform. I still remember when I got the email saying that 1000 people had read it. In no way are 1000 readers profitable, but for a 20-year-old writer that was told to drop journalism and was advised not to publish the piece, I was pretty satisfied with my work. If anything, it was cathartic to meet another person that had been overlooked as I had and know that they had made it to the show.

After I released that Demers piece I got access to the Sharks press box, previously I had done my interviews during the team’s practices, and it was there that I met the two SB Nation bloggers that informed me that I had to have a stable job by the time I was 30 or else I, like them, would have to seek employment elsewhere. To be fair, they both had majored in business and planned to get “real jobs” after blogging for a few years, but previously I had just thought if you get access at age 20, there was no way that you could fail.

The two SB Nation guys never posted about turning 30, but Gleeman touched on this in his “Thirty” post:

 

Throughout my decade of baseball writing I’ve been fond of using the phrase “on the wrong side of 30″ to describe a player who’s no longer within the typical prime age of an MLB career, with the implication being that his value is more likely to decline than improve or even remain the same. That phrase “on the wrong side of 30″ has been stuck in my head for the past few weeks and it’s never before seemed so blunt and forceful. Or maybe just truthful.

 

To be fair, Gleeman says in the article that he is fully employed, lives independently and has his own car. Not only that, but like me, he is a Sports Illustrated subscriber and was featured in an Albert Chen article in 2006. For the most part, he is living out his dream despite being rejected from the Minnesota Daily and never officially writing for a newspaper. I also appreciate that he often includes himself in his work—something I know is difficult, especially when I did it for the first time in my Notre Dame column a while back—but he also suffers from social anxiety and has not responded to my requests to speak with him. It is with that knowledge that I appreciate that he makes posts like these, knowing from my own experience that it is often difficult to hit the “Publish” button when divulging personal information:

 

I went back and forth about writing this post and then about actually publishing it, because I know people come here for the Twins talk and links. And also because I’m not even sure what my point is, although the more I think about it the more I’m convinced not being sure what my point is may be the point. Plus, after a decade of revealing way too much about yourself to strangers on the internet why stop now, right? That’s me, at 30 every bit as much as it was at 19.

 

Like Gleeman, I make a concerted effort to write about topics other than myself. Most of my work at Bleacher Report, Hockey’s Future and Stadium Journey is either analytical or about other people. However, I have found this space to be great for long form writing and to express myself knowing that a) it is not as large a platform as B/R, b) I enjoy reading about the other writers on this site and c) you have to do some searching to find it, in which case you should be granted a little more information about me.

 

Over the rainbow, I am crazy,
Bars in the window.
There must have been a door there in the wall
When I came in.
Crazy, over the rainbow, he is crazy.

 

Earlier this year, Grantland’s Chuck Klosterman wrote an article called The White Album. No, it is not the Beatles album that Chevy Chase demanded to listen to in Fletch, rather it is an interview with Royce White, a professional basketball player with the Houston Rockets that is diagnosed with mental illness. Of course I like this piece because White is a Minnesotan and I want him to play for the Wolves, but it goes beyond that. White not only acknowledges his own mental illness, but believes that it is more widespread than we realize:

 

Rockets forward Royce White.

I think one person tweeting ‘Fuck you, go kill yourself’ is disturbing. But when you get into the hundreds of those tweets? The thousands of those tweets? I see a lot of people out there with really volatile mental disorders that are not getting help. Because I go to their own Twitter pages, and I can see they’re not just sending those messages to me. They’re sending them to a bunch of people. I mean, if you tweet at me five times in seven minutes because I’m not playing for a team you have no real connection to? That is not good. That suggests mental illness. And even if you say, ‘But I love this team to death,’ it means you’ve put too much investment into entertainment. It’s probably not good for you.

 

Trust me, as a person that has been harassed on Twitter, gotten vitriol-infused comments on my articles, expletive-laden emails in my inbox and anonymous phone calls from readers that dislike my work, I realize there are a couple nut jobs out there. In the end, however, I believe it comes with the territory—especially if you want to have enough readership to be profitable.

On the flip side, I’m admittedly insane. Obviously, I’m not diagnosed with a mental illness, nor should I be, but I absolutely love my hometown teams and sports in general. The day I touched down in the Twin Cities after graduating, I emailed Dustin Morse, manager of baseball communications with the Twins, and asked if he could start credentialing me for games. He asked if Bleacher Report was paying me and I said no. He let me into the games anyway and I literally was at all but one of the games the team played in the second half of the season.

That is certifiably insane. It is. But, honestly, I never feel at peace until I am under those lights. I live for it. Just like I live to see NHL hockey and NBA basketball and NFL football. Royce is right…that is bat shit crazy.

Here’s what I love about those lights: Everyone is exposed. You may say you are a die-hard supporter of a team, but if you only show up when the team is winning we all know you a fair-weather fan. A player may claim to be superhuman (or it may be accepted that they are), but it’s hard to cheat when you have reporters roaming in and out of the clubhouse on a daily basis. And, best yet, those that perform the best under the lights, when the attention is concentrated on them, can make a living by chasing their passion and sharing the gifts they have been given.

In the end, my greatest fear is that I am going to be 30-years-old and out of the industry. It’s that Moneyball dynamic where many are called, but few are chosen. And, as many that have tried to make a living in this industry will tell you, at some point if things are not working out you are told that you can’t do it anymore—whether it is by a concerned family member, a significant other that wants a commitment or an honest friend.

My thought right now is it is better to be exposed than to hide. People are going to see my writing and find imperfections. But at the same time, I would rather fear being overexposed than trying to hide my insecurities and imperfections.

In the end, they can’t tear down a wall if you never build it.

Tom Schreier writes for TheFanManifesto. He can followed on Twitter at @tschreier3. Email him at tschreier3@gmail.com.

The entire FanMan team can be followed on Twitter at @TheFanManifesto, or liked on Facebook by clicking here.

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