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A Q&A with The Big Lead's Jason McIntyre

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Thursday, May 21, 2009

When I approached PopMatters about what has turned into somewhat of a revitalization of “Sources Say”, I already had in mind a few people I wanted to talk to about the issues this particular blog was slated to tackle. One of those people was Jason McIntyre, the man behind The Big Lead, a sports blog that also does a pretty good job at keeping an eye on both print and broadcast media.


McIntyre, a former assistant news editor at Us Weekly, started the blog along with his college friend David Lessa in 2006, and has since achieved somewhat of a superstar status within the sports blogosphere. The Big Lead has been cited numerous times on various ESPN platforms, has been profiled by—among other publications—Sports Illustrated and The Chicago Sun-Times, and, on average, welcomes in over two million visitors a month and around 25,000 visitors a day.


So for the man behind it all to take some time out of what must be a busy, busy schedule, and answer a few questions about the current state of blogs, newspapers and the like, is awfully kind. Should you have an extra five minutes to spare sometime within the next day or two, and you happen to love sports, you may want to venture over to www.thebiglead.com. For now, though, the following is the culmination of a Q&A e-mail exchange I was lucky enough to partake in with him about where he thinks this mess we call print media may end up. The following is both introspective and suggestive, and it all comes from someone who really is quite accomplished in the media world.


I will try and do this more as we go along with different individuals from all walks of media. But for now, please enjoy a quick interview with The Big Lead’s Jason McIntyre.
  
The blogosphere has taken off over the course of the last five years. Political blogs, pop culture blogs, music blogs, etc. have all been at a steady up rise for sometime now. With that said, it has always seemed that sports blogs tend to hold a top spot in popularity amongst readers as a whole. Blogs such as The Big Lead, Deadspin, Cousins of Ron Mexico, etc., have become household names when discussing sports at all anymore. Why do you think it seems as though sports blogging is one of the most popular genres of blogging—if not the most popular—throughout new media? Do you think it has anything to do with sports television evolving into a 24-hour must-see extravaganza? And if you don’t agree that sports blogging may be the most popular genre of blogging, which genre would you argue is the most popular, and why?

I’d say that entertainment blogs and political blogs have had a significant impact on their respective genres—perhaps moreso than sports. Entertainment: A couple of hours after the paprazzi photos are out, all the blogs have them. The entertainment magazines don’t have them until the magazine comes out. Politics: See Dan Rather and the election. But sports blogs are enjoying a nice run. As many have said in the last couple of years, the ability of the fans to have a voice—outside of calling into radio shows—has altered the landscape. My guess is that niche blogs will continue to rise because increasingly, fans seem to be upset with the way newspapers cover their teams. The hardest of the hardcore fans only want positive news—most of the credit for this trend goes to Fox News—and newspapers seem to skew negative because a) there many, many losers and only one winner, b) it’s much easier to make negative observations than positive ones, c) players/coaches are growing increasingly distant from the media, which could easily lead to—even if they don’t want to admit it—an uphappy press corps. 

It’s no secret that newspapers and sinking fast and most owners and publishers aren’t quite sure what to do about it. Do you think that trying to incorporate elements of blogs—such as adding things like more quick-hitting, short commentary, or interactive/comment features that are more than a mere Letter to the Editor—into their print product would help? Would it fail or not make a difference? Would it be wise to put more effort in trying to bring the Internet to the print product rather than spending every bit of effort on trying to bring the print product online? Is that even possible?


If I were a sports editor and you asked me that question I’d answer, unequivocally, YES to all of them. I’d try anything I had at my disposal. It’s that dire. What about taking the money it costs to print the paper and hire the best advertising minds that are helping the biggest internet companies profit from the web?


What are your three favorite non-sports-related blogs and why?


Minyanville: Good non-mainstream financial recap.


Drudge: Nice collection of links.


Poynter Online: Definitive media blog.


What was your take on the New York Times Co. and Boston Globe’s recent problems, along with the possibility that, for a little bit, there was talk that The Globe may be forced to shut its doors had the New York Times Co. stuck by its $20 million in concessions? Did you think it was smart for that war to be waged in the public eye, or do you think we are going to start seeing these things happen even more than we already have to major dailies that are owned by gigantic corporations?


We’ll almost definitely start to see more of these as media companies crumble. It ain’t going to be pretty. When I left newspapers a little over five years ago I figured newspapers would be in trouble, but I had no clue the descent would be so swift. It’s a bit scary to even think how many more papers will be gone in the next five years. 

You guys do a great job at keeping an eye on the world of newspapers and media while maintaining a gigantic sports fan base. What is it that makes you want to continuously cover various happenings within the inner workings of all media, including broadcast, newspapers, blogs, etc.?


It goes back to the first blog I used to read—Gawker. From its earliest days, being critical of the media (mostly the New York Times) figured prominently in Gawker’s plans, and it clearly helped the blog in its infancy. That’s part of the three-pronged attack at TBL: media, athletes off the field, sports. The media part hasn’t been difficult—from about seventh grade, we knew we wanted to write for newspapers and cover sports, and we’ve been devoring the media ever since.


I have an embarrasingly large collection of Wilbon-Kornheiser sports columns from the ‘90s. That was way before PTI or the growth of ESPN. These columns are the equivalent of dinosaur bones now.


Do you have any suggestions for keeping print journalism alive, or do you believe that its death, as a whole, is inevitable? Will the online product thrive and if so, how long do you think it is going to take for someone to figure out a good business model for it?


While it’s clear money can be made on the internet, can enough be made to offset the costs of an entire sports staff? That’s the ultimate question, and by all accounts, the answer is no.


We’ve read tons of stories about what’s wrong with newspapers, but very little about how to stop the bleeding. Is charging for content the answer? Unless you’re talking about a scenario where every paper in the country begins charging, as well as the AP, you’re probably talking about a losing battle.


Beg Bill Gates for billions? Merge with companies that value the media? It certainly looks bleak.

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