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It couldn't get there, however, without addressing the pitfalls of crowdsourcing and lowest-common-denominator crap Kaufman mentioned to Google. So, in the last two years, the site has worked to rehabilitate its image: Would-be writers must gain admittance via a process that rejects 17 out of every 20 applicants. Lead writers and knowledgeable featured columnists have been added to the roster, and many of the site's early contributors have been bounced. "A few years ago I couldn't look at their site without my eyes bleeding and my head pounding," says veteran sports journalist Kevin Blackistone. These days, "That doesn't happen with the same frequency." It's hard to argue Bleacher Report hasn't improved — but it's impossible to say it hasn't improved its curb appeal. This is what enabled its acquisition by Turner — and what may enable the amalgamated entity to strip the "Worldwide Sports Leader" mantle from ESPN.
Turner, unlike ESPN, Fox Sports or Comcast, lacked a major sports web destination. Now it owns the No. 3 sports website in the realm. And with a hulking new digital platform on which to sell ads, Turner has a new method of making money. This would provide a leg up in bidding for whatever comes next. "By expanding their set of assets, it allows Turner to go after things, and, perhaps, successfully obtain things they couldn't otherwise," says Ed Desser, president of Desser Sports Media.
Before this deal, Desser continues, Bleacher Report was "just another aggregator of customer-created content." But now? The wave of the future. No media outlet can ignore the allures of crowdsourcing — or dismiss out of hand the rewards of reverse-engineering content.
"There was a time when the traditional media viewed new media as not up to their standards. But that time has passed," Desser notes. "Tastes change. Look at TV. Think about how much stuff would never have been on 30 years ago: vulgar language, sexual situations, eating bugs. It's all out there now. We're a long way from Ozzie and Harriet."
Or, as Bleacher Report puts it, "If you really want to maximize your fan base, your best bet is to give the people what they want."
In an era when those that have more get more, when so many have been forced to recalibrate their expectations, it's hard not to see Bleacher Report as epitomizing more than just sportswriting on the Internet. Those on the top have profited handsomely. For the folks whose work powers the site, however, Bleacher Report is often the best opportunity they can find, and a springboard to diminished dreams.
Drew Laskey is an occasional writer and onetime copy-editing intern for Bleacher Report — and a full-time North Carolina basketball fanatic. He is now a copy editor for Journatic, an outfit recently popped on This American Life for using fake bylines to obscure that many of its articles were penned in foreign countries by non-native English speakers paid a pittance. Laskey says the articles he copy edits at Journatic, incidentally, are "much cleaner through and through" than those at Bleacher Report.
He still remains an unabashed fan of the site. "If you take Bleacher Report seriously and you have the talent and the ability to learn and take constructive criticism, Bleacher Report can pay off for you," he says. "I've seen it pay off. People have gone on to other websites." He hopes it'll propel him to an internship writing for InsideCarolina.com. This unpaid position would "be my dream job. To have a payment attached to it would be surreal. It's something I can't even fathom."
Bleacher Report alum Lukas Hardonk is one of those writers who've gone on to paying gigs elsewhere. He's now the managing editor of the Maple Leafs Central blog and a contributing editor of TheHockeyWriters.com. "As bad a rap as Bleacher Report gets, it's really tremendous what they did for me," he says. Hardonk wrote three years for the site, but found there were only so many slideshows in his system. By 2011, he realized he'd outgrown Bleacher Report. Still, "they kick-started my career."
It'll be interesting to see where that career goes after the 17-year-old finishes his senior year of high school.