In an era of shrinking newsrooms on the one hand, and billionaire retailers picking up journalistic institutions with pocket change on the other, along comes a baseball beat reporter with a new business model.
He's Tony Jackson, longtime Dodgers reporter for the Los Angeles Daily News and ESPNLA.com, returning from hiatus with DodgersScribe.com, which launches today. As explained in his initial post, Jackson will travel with the team and, acting as his own editor and publisher, provide Los Angeles fans with updates and insights as they occur in real time. The site will go into subscription mode in 2014.
If you know his work, and even if you don't, what you can expect from Tony Jackson is keen reporting and consistently fine writing on everything Dodgers. Below is our Q & A.
L.A. Weekly: What is the gist of the project/business model? What do you hope to accomplish?
Jackson: It's a pretty basic Dodgers blog, but I plan to approach it like I did during all those years I was a beat writer. I'm a beat writer, but my coverage comes in the form of a blog, with a less formal, more conversational style of writing, and more in real time.
The content includes X blogs per day or week, original and/or linked photography, video, audio?
Several posts a day. Any video/audio will be original, and my plan is for most of the photography to be original as well. I'm not a professional photographer, and I don't have any fancy cameras. It'll mostly by iPhone photos, which are actually pretty good nowadays.
What's bringing you back now?
Excellent question. This is an idea I have been tossing around in my brain for about five years now. But when I left ESPNLosAngeles.com a little more than a year ago, I decided to try to find work in a completely different business — not because I didn't love covering baseball, but just because this industry has become so unstable, with very little job security anywhere.
But what I found was that 20 years of sportswriting doesn't really qualify you for anything else. I was out of work for 14 months and had one interview. ONE. And that was for a baseball beat-writing job. So I finally just decided to take matters into my own hands. I've always been a big believer in being self-sufficient. Starting your own business is the ultimate in being self-sufficient, I guess. So knowing that, and knowing this is something I have always dreamed of doing, I decided to give it a shot.
Why should readers subscribe?
Well, they don't have to subscribe for now. I'm allowing unlimited free access for six months. My hope is that after that, it's a question they can answer for themselves. My plan is to give them a unique mix of content they can't get anywhere else — the everyday physical presence on the beat is a big selling point, in my opinion — and when the time comes to decide whether to pay for a subscription, they will have a pretty good idea of what they're going to get for their money. I really believe they're going to like this product enough that they won't think twice about paying what is really a pretty low annual subscription rate.
How long before the paywall goes into effect?
Probably going to put it up right around the start of spring training. Interest is always high at that time, and it gives me several months to build an audience.
Are you looking for advertisers?
I would love to have advertisers, but it's not a priority or something I'm going to devote a lot of energy to finding. For now, I'm content to use AdSense and focus my energy on giving my readers a quality product instead of spending a lot of time chasing ad revenue.
Is there a story you're working on or one that you plan to delve into that you can give us a preview of now?
Nope. This is going to be a real-time blog. There will be very few “projects” or long-form stories or detailed planning. I want it to be very free-flowing and spontaneous. I think that will be a big part of the appeal.
What do you think of the Dodgers' new ownership group? Anything you want to say about the last one?
Well, the new ownership group was coming in basically as I was going out, with only about a three-month overlap, so I'm not sure I'm the most qualified to comment at this point. However, it doesn't take a genius to figure out that these guys are far more equipped financially to own a big-market Major League Baseball team than Frank McCourt was. Frank was criticized, fairly or unfairly, because he was in it to make money. Well, make no mistake, these guys are in it to make money too. But they seem to have a far greater understanding that a baseball team isn't like other business holdings. This is a civic treasure, and there is a certain obligation to the fan base. This group seems to have a respect for that obligation that I'm not sure Frank ever really did.
Did you think Don Mattingly was in jeopardy of losing his job in May, and do you think he should have been fired at the time?
Well, from what I have read over the past couple of days, it looks like he was. He may still be. It's curious to me that they haven't given him an extension after the way the team has played the past few weeks. The Dodgers have won 32 out of 40, and it's becoming increasingly difficult to imagine them not winning the National League West. Maybe when they do, that will be when he gets the extension. Right now, it's even harder to imagine Don Mattingly not being the manager in 2014 and beyond.
What do you think of the team now and going forward?
I think the future is bright. This is an ownership group that is willing to spend what it takes to win, has the financial wherewithal it takes to win and should continue to have that wherewithal for the foreseeable future with this new TV deal about to kick in. And, they also understand the importance of drafting well and developing players from within. This team might not make the playoffs a gazillion years in a row like the Yankees and Braves used to do. But there really is no reason why they shouldn't at least contend every year for many years to come.
“Wins still matter. Well, of course wins matter, you know that. That's why we play the game. I mean wins for pitchers still matter in things such as Cy Young or MVP votings.” From David Schoenfield of ESPN.com, God bless him, who actually thinks Clayton Kershaw could be in the running for both the National League Cy Young Award and the Most Valuable Player.
Of course wins still matter. Wins mattered in 1890, the mattered in 1990 and they matter now. And if you can think of a single more beautiful usage of the letter “W,” I'd love to hear it.
With those who think the win to be “stupid” or “bogus” in mind, here is the best definition of a “seamhead” known to man, from Tim Brown of Yahoo Sports. “Amid that, we picked sides, we labeled each other, we were enlightened or traditional or seam-headed or Neanderthal. (“Seamhead,” incidentally, used to be a complimentary description of a writer who couldn't wait to get to the ballpark and cover ball. Now it's a pinhead with a calculator and his back to the game.)” Poetry.