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The “Pivot” to Video: While We’re Waiting

Journalism Word Bubble

When Grantland shut down two years ago, many (including this site) paid very close attention to where their core writers and editors would land. Many were pried away by Bill Simmons to work under Sean Fennessey at The Ringer, a site that would have a little Grantland in its genes, but strived to do more in the way of multimedia be it video or podcasts. Bill was teaming up with HBO to work on some long-form video content1 while Fennessey and Chris Ryan and Mallory Rubin (all masthead members at Grantland) would work on the writing, eventually rolling out their own network of podcasts. The rest of the core Grantland folks would be announced as being new acquisitions of MTV News, a writing-based platform that would work in tandem with the longstanding music video company, covering all things politics and culture.

Roughly a week ago, that MTV News segment announced the layoffs of that entire unit. Much like FOX Sports before it, the moves are being collectively billed as “pivots” to short-form video. What press releases will tout is a change in the way we as consumers are absorbing our content. Younger generations, especially the 18-35 demographic, are becoming more inclined to watch a quick video on a topic than they are to read a story on it. The generation below that is even more inclined, so this is seen as a way to get ahead of the curve, so to speak. When we discuss these changes on Twitter, we’ll see a ton of “I don’t watch video” talk, which is probably true, but it’s also the first sign that whomever is saying that is no longer the target audience for whichever outlet they’re referencing. Websites were established to provide a compliment to the television-based networks, but they were loss leaders. As television demographics get older and older, networks are climbing mountains to make sure their core viewers don’t die off, ultimately leaving them without anyone watching. As it turns out, those mountains aren’t made of rock as much as they are the flesh of those who were brought on to provide written content at some point in the last few years.

The layoffs at FOX Sports were especially troubling as several individuals who were close to WFNY were impacted, but also as they served as a way to further prop up their debate-based television personalities. When Ken Rosenthal tweeted that his heavily reported words were no longer going to welcomed on those pages, and he would report MLB stories on his Facebook page (for free, mind you) instead, it served as a huge wake-up call. This wasn’t just the New Yor Times getting out of blogging, or AOL’s FanHouse getting shut down because of absurd bureaucracy. This was much, much worse. As Brian Curtis said best, “it’s one thing to think of a video replacing a writer; it’s another when the writer is Brian Phillips.”

Many of you may have noticed additional videos at the top of posts over the last few months. Some of you have voiced some displeasure in this, some of which was rooted in the evil notion of change while others have fallen victim to clicking too close to the video themselves, triggering the sound. It could be worse. Nevertheless, we’ve always strived to be ahead of trends throughout the years, be it in layout, the makeup of our team, the way we cover our topics, or the addition of various production elements. If you recall, one of the reasons we were so excited about last summer’s move was because of the help on the video side. We knew this was the way thing were heading, but didn’t have the infrastructure to jump aboard. What I never saw coming, however, was the extremes in which this direction was going to go. For two major outlets in the world of sports and culture to ditch quality writing for video-only pieces… I mean, I can’t fathom a world in which the written word is no longer valued.

I can’t remember if was 60 minutes or 20/20 or one of the other news shows2 but there was a short segment on how mobile phones were tipping dominoes, changing the way we communicate in what appeared to be irrevocable ways. It wasn’t just emailing or the sending of text messages as it was the way sentences were rife with acronyms and letters replacing words (i.e. how r u?). This was well beyond no longer teaching or needing cursive handwriting; this was a shift in how those words would even be written. And now I can’t help but think of these shifts, or pivots, as another domino in that line.

The difference will be, as it always is, in monetization. The landscapes stubborn inability to earn dollars in a non-click-based environment was frustrating at first, but is now changing the lives of countless individuals. The Grantland model of having sponsorships was the closest we had to an outlet that didn’t have to rely on “traffic” to pay their writers.3 Smaller, more niche outlets who are fortunate enough to have a core readership can leverage things like The Athletic uses subscriptions or we use Patreon4 to help provide things that otherwise could not have been afforded. Unfortunately for the larger platforms who were unable to create a sustainable business model, it appears to be too late. As younger generations are becoming more and more in tune with short-form video vignettes, advertisers are now putting their dollars in a place where they can be assured viewers will see their products before getting to see the content they yearn to view.

There’s incorporating video as a visual aid or additional element to the content therein, and there’s completely abandoning said content. When newspapers fell victim to their own horrible decisions, the web was to serve as the future of housing the written word in a way that would serve as a library of sorts, where we could go back and draw up any piece we wanted to read when we wanted it. On Demand David Foster Wallace or Hunter S. Thompson is an incredible thing. Factor in the writers of today, and what could go wrong? Fast forward to 2017 and any time we hear about new players in the media space (a la Facebook, Netflix, Twitter, or Amazon) it is entirely rooted in video and the broadcasting of sports and their various highlights. It wasn’t that long ago when MTV News was looked at as a beacon of hope, a white knight in the world of journalism. Now, they’re simply the latest to cave in to very, very troubling times.

This Week in #ActualSportswriting:

This Week in #ActualNonsportswriting:

This Week in Announcements:

  • Good news: We’re still writing things! You can continue to support WFNY in any way you feel comfortable. Head to our Patreon page to check it out. We have some additional opportunities coming up for Patrons, so please consider jumping in. These dollars are immensely helpful as we’re going to be experiencing even more change in the coming months. We won’t bore you now, but know that we appreciate everything you guys have done.
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  1. An Andre the Giant documentary is set to release. []
  2. See? Video isn’t that memorable. []
  3. They simply had too many of them making industry-leading salaries, but that’s another discussion. []
  4. THANK YOU!! []
  5. So well done with various forms of media. Anyone with children who play sports will appreciate this one. []
  6. Reading stories like this one do nothing but make me angry about the outlets that are moving to “all video”. This is so, so well done and a story that needed to be told. []
  7. Incredibly researched, extremely well-written. Due to all the discussion it has created, Wallace-Wells has already published an annotated version of the story. []
  8. Using the same methodology in used to track disease in order to find out how garbage “news” gets disseminated. []

  • mgbode

    My kids love Legos. How did you learn to build Lego sets? You read through the instructions and put them together, right?

    Well, they pull up the YouTube instruction video that walks them through and gives cheesy jokes along the way with music playing in the background. They’ll then watch sets they don’t have to learn about how they want to “build their city” — this world.

  • RGB
  • RGB

    https://i.imgflip.com/1smjye.jpg

    I TOTALLY forgot about this guy.

  • Harv

    oh my. The city gave him more undeserved love than anyone but Jerry Dybzinski.

  • Yep. I do the same with home-related things. Did it a few weeks ago with fridge settings. Before that it was linking my car to the garage door opener. Countless other examples to be had.

  • RGB

    https://i.imgflip.com/1smk1j.jpg

    So much win going on here. Paul Brown, Otto Graham…look at that field! Looks like something from WWI.
    Picture is from the 1954 Championship Game…Brown 56 – Detroit 10.

  • RGB
  • I edited it out as there wasn’t room for it from a flow standpoint, but there’s a reason ESPN is making it a point to hire journalists who also have the chops to be on TV. Schefter and Mort are staples on Sundays. Windy is awesome on The Jump. Dave McMenamin rightfully earned his gig after proving he could do on-air work. There’s a future for journalists. It just may not be in written journalism.

  • MartyDaVille

    Since the Browns changed their numbering system in the early ‘50s (e.g., no QBs with #60), #25 and #26 are among a handful of numbers that have been worn by players in three different position groups (not counting special teams)

    25: RB White, WR Frank Pitts, DB Lewis Sanders

    26: WR Ray Renfro, RB Reese Morrison, DB Sean Jones

    27: RB Karim Abdul-Jabbar, WR Walter “The Flea” Roberts; DB Thom Darden

    33: RB Leroy Hoard, WR Reggie Rucker; DB Daylor McCutcheon

    34: RBs Pruitt and Mack, LB Walter Michaels, DB Mike Howell

    35: RB Jerome Harrison, LB Galen Fiss, DB Will Hill

    41: RB Travis Prentiss, TE Ralph Smith, DB Ray Ventrone

    42: RB Tim Manoa, WR Paul Warfield, DB Junior Wren

    43: RB Mike Pruitt, WR Fair Hooker, DB T.J. Ward

    82: TE Oz, DE Carlton Massey, LB Jim Houston

    86: WRs Lavelli, Collins, and Brennan; DE Paul Wiggin, LB Gerald Irons

    (Yeah, I didn’t have a lot going on yesterday.)

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/621c60f83db4b2997c4e1fb1c20fc3e6a4b3c2dfc8fc7ca64dda288a324fe859.jpg

  • Harv

    Speaking of the written word, fine writing, Scott.

    “… there was a short segment on how mobile phones were tipping dominoes,
    changing the way we communicate in what appeared to be irrevocable ways.” People talk about this all the time, and yet not enough. It’s not just that handhelds have morphed info access from trickle to instant deluge. Within a matter of a few years it has also twisted interpersonal communications. I Thinking about this recently in a packed NYC subway car. Virtually every person, regardless of age or status, stared intently at their screens except for the moments they had to look away to swipe through the turnstile and stake their tiny space. Was thinking about the way commuters used to stare vacantly, but then occasionally focused on something, maybe smile at a child or actually say something to the person squeezed next to them about the unknown contents of the disgusting brown puddle. Mobile has altered what is acceptable socially. Eyes on your screen, stay in your own head. No reason what’s two feet away need be your business.

  • mgbode

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0986263/

    Really, we are not that far removed from this movie being how we are interpretting the world.

  • I had a buddy’s brother say the only time he saw “news” was if he scrolled too far on his iPhone and the home screen gave way to the news it’s a page. I laughed at the visual but I’m also concerned that he isn’t alone.

    (And thank you for the kind words.)

  • RGB

    I always thought we were moving more toward this…

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0910970/

  • Harv

    really swell that it seems, for all the big hits that little body took in college and the NFL, Dino has body and mind together. He was not a Metcalf with moves to avoid direct contact, and he was 40 pounds lighter than Cribbs. Just straight line speed, and lordy, did he ever get clobbered.

  • mgbode

    I still side with manuals unless there is a technique or something that I don’t understand in it. But, I do like having the video option for things like learning how to properly counterbore a screw head when I was making our dining room table.

  • mgbode

    Two different representations of the same thing, really.

  • nj0

    I’ve done art/crafts projects, cooked recipes, and completed home improvements I wouldn’t have been able to thanks to YouTube videos. Go to the manual? Sure, great. If there is one and you have it. But watching it get done by someone who knows what they’re doing is an awesome resource to have. (Though I agree that Legos are a bridge too far.)

  • mgbode

    I wasn’t even saying it was wrong, too far. Just how they do it.

  • nj0

    “A new life awaits you in the Off-World colonies. The chance to begin again in a golden land of opportunity and adventure.”

    We’re living in a Philip K. Dick novel, just without the cool drugs.

  • jpftribe

    I’m finishing The Expanse this week. Love that show.

  • jpftribe

    I do the same thing on guitar. Song plus guitar cover on YT and wallah! Beats the hell out of spinning LP’s over and over.

  • mgbode

    Another good one. My sons are learning guitar & drums respectively from this approach.

  • Natedawg86

    Ever watch a video on playing a complex board game? Look up Tabletop on youtube. Interesting show that has a small group play a board game and they go through the rules as they play.

  • jpftribe

    I actually took lessons for a month on drums. It was one of those “learn what you are not going to do” kind of things.

  • jpftribe

    I think there’s opportunity here.

    Was talking to my 20 yo this morning. In a completely unscientific poll, he estimates he reads about 60% of the time and video 40%, and prefers reading. I asked him who he reads and ESPN was the first site out of his mouth. If you draw that demo in, they are going to stick around and read. Let corporate networks relinquish the space. Crapification is profitable, until it’s not.

  • mgbode

    The rhythm isn’t going to get you?

  • mgbode

    I would tune out in 30 seconds…

    that’s just me though

  • mgbode

    someone is going to figure out how to make video work w/ quality over quantity. right?

  • tigersbrowns2

    while some like Facebook & Twitter & whatever , my favorite social media pages are definitely on You Tube & WFNY … as a guitar player & avid classic rock music lover , nothing comes close to You Tube … you can pretty much have someone show you how to do almost anything on You Tube.

  • nj0

    Sorry. I assume the tone for every comment on the internet is slightly combative.

  • nj0

    What if I tell you Wil Wheaton and Felicia Day are playing the board game?

  • mgbode

    I find the first annoying & honestly don’t actually know who the latter is other than seeing her referenced here occasionally.

  • nj0

    This is blasphemous to some, but I prefer the video game version of complex board games. I don’t care how awesome the miniatures are; playing the tabletop version of Blood Bowl seems excruciatingly tedious after playing on a computer.

  • Steve

    Crapification has been profitable for a long time.

  • mgbode

    AS YOU SHOULD!

  • nj0

    Vi on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Charlie on Supernatural, the new Dr. Forrester on MST3K, the hot red-headed nerdy girl in real life.

  • Steve

    I guess I’m not sure how you do that while still keeping it brief, which seems to be an important part of it. I’m sure it’s possible, but I think we also need to keep in mind that quality isn’t as popular as many here may seem to think. While this site has a well-cultivated group that enjoys Bode’s deep dives into spin rates and launch angles, many, and likely many many more, people tune in to sports for little more than to see dingers. Short crappy videos sell over writing because people prefer that.

  • jpftribe

    Mc’D’s is everywhere and it’s cheap, but there’s no shortage of places to get a good steak. Oops, meant to reply on the crapification comment.

  • mgbode

    I think there is a better mix than people are given credit for having though. I agree, the mainstream is going to want the quick highlights (B/R does a fantastic job incorporating graphics into fun ideas for one). However, there is a strong under current of people who yearn for quality. I’m not sure how that ends up paying out. Maybe it is pay sites run by the authors, maybe it is an umbrella firm like Amazon. But, I do believe there’s a market for it and it will continue (in video & writing formats).

  • nj0

    Plus short crappy videos sell over long good videos, short good videos, and long crappy videos. Basically, what’s the easiest way to get the biggest return. Also, media companies don’t seem to care about quality of online content like they historically have for things in print or over the airwaves. The Plain Dealer was never the greatest paper, but it probably wouldn’t run half the junk that cleveland.com does. But since it’s online, hey cool whatever.

  • mgbode

    Ah, I see. Well, y’all can have her. I married my own hot red-headed girl.

  • jpftribe

    Copyright is going to be the issue. My kid doesn’t go to ESPN for Mort, he goes for the top 10 whatever…..

  • nj0

    I watched like ten minutes of the first episode then never went back. I hear good things, but I was bored. Guess I should give it another chance.

  • Steve

    I’m not sure how well the steak analogy works, as how we’ve let the internet progress works against how the restaurant industry does. Steak places work because a smaller group of people are willing to pay premium prices.

    Now, yes, there are people willing to pay good money for quality writing, the internet has pretty much carried from day one a thought of a free sharing of information. That’s one of the general beliefs of the Silicon Valley nerds – that knowledge should be shared freely. Of course, when it’s some kind of knowledge they can sell to a VC firm for enough money to retire at 30 off of, self-interest takes over, but the idea of the internet being a free knowledge-sharing device has been around for a long time. It’s very unlikely to change.

    And economics shows us that people respond far more negatively to a price increase than they do positively to a price decrease. It’s a very tough sell for companies to say that their product is actually worth far more than it has been priced at, and they’re going to need more money.

  • Steve

    Yes, agree, there is a better mix than I portray. But, like I mention below, we’ve set the price at internet writing/video at pretty much free, and it’s going to be tough to convince consumers to pay more for that.

  • nj0

    Living the dream!

  • Steve

    My thing is, I feel I see people, especially those that write for a living, take the attitude that if they put out quality content, people will find it and appreciate it. While that is noble, and as much as I desire it to be true, and recognize that people who write for a living need it to be true, I’m not sure it is true – it seems to be damn difficult to make money writing online. You need to hit on more things, and a lot of luck, than to just put out quality content and let the readership stream in.

  • mgbode

    Depends on the writer/people, of course. The Athletic is a pay model, and there are other places that have thrived using it. Almost always (OK, always), it has been writers who built up a following at a MSM place first, then parlayed it into the smaller setting w/ individuals backing them.

    NYT, WaPo, WSJ all do the per per view model too. But, as noted above, it could end up falling below umbrella corporations. The consumer could still see it as “free” if they have Amazon Prime or Netflix or whatever…

  • nj0

    Yes, the Silicon Valley nerds believe the fruits of old media’s labor (books, music, movies) should be free for all. Computer code, on the other hand, is proprietary.

  • mgbode

    and don’t you forget it!