FanPost

Escape From Vox Media: A Love Letter to BlogaBull

Escape from Vox Media

I did not know if I would ever come back to BlogaBull. However, there is too much I want to address as it relates to this place and its community before I feel I can move on.

Not just as a Bulls fan, or a former Chicagoan, or a person that always wanted to write about sports; but as someone that gave a piece of their soul to this space we call The Place of Hate.

And consequently, SB Nation—and therefore Vox Media—as well.

Part of the fun of being a 21st century Bulls fan is the immense hopelessness that comes with supporting a franchise operating in the unfathomable wake of having had the greatest player of all time. Nothing will ever measure up to the Dynasty Years, and the current team will continue find creative ways to disappoint you. When I started writing this, a Boise State guy was openly laughing at his former team because he and Daniel Gafford were bound for the Playoffs while Chicago was not.

Upon hanging it up in here in June 2018, I had spend the previous two years regularly publishing previews, recaps, and whatever else YFBB would permit me to write on a weekly basis. Before that, I had desperately cranked out FanPosts in an effort to gain any sort of attention or recognition as someone that could write about sports. In the very beginning, I was a brief lurker in the Fall of 2014 as a lost young Thibodeau disciple stumbling through darkness following the trauma of Derrick Rose's ACL tear three years earlier.

My previous last writing here was about how the Bulls should have drafted Michael Porter Jr. over anyone else available. I hear they traded Wendell Carter Jr. to Orlando a few months ago.

Not to get all Kevin Ferrigan with my own farts, but I like to think I was someone that at least knew how to make a case for what they were talking about from the very beginning. I also said Dwayne Wade could be a sneaky good 3-PT shooter and told Fran Fraschilla I believed Thon Maker had Kevin Garnett potential. Writers are nothing without their takes.

That is mostly the audience I want to address here: aspiring writers—or anyone that has ever wanted to put their sports opinion out into the world. I will make sure to address the BlogaBull community as well.

As many are aware, BlogaBull is merely one of several satellite team sites under the SB Nation umbrella, which itself is a part of Vox Media. While bloggers previously for many years published beneath the ridicule of their print media counterparts, the landscape shifted gradually but significantly in the last decade to a far more level playing field. As of last year, the majority of all media spending in the American economy now goes to digital advertisements—so go figure which side got the last laugh.

Anybody with something to say and an ability to communicate it now has the chance to be seen and acknowledged.

You no longer have to rely on working for a newspaper to deliver thoughts about sports. If you write it, they will read. They may comment too, but you probably shouldn't read those. I do anyway because I am forever lost in the shitposting sauce. I seriously hope you guys don't do this.

The Internet is the new Wild West. Clout chasing is the new Gold Rush. You can make your life online, but there are no guarantees that the world will help you along the way. The work required to get there often bears invisible fruit—if it bears any fruit at all—and hardly ever comes at a fair price.

I published over 120 articles on BlogABull for free in a roughly three and a half year stretch. When I pivoted to writing about Ohio State football—my lifelong love and the premiere sport of my alma mater—I published another 30+ articles for Land-Grant Holy Land on a $50/month stipend. I made a bit extra through podcasting, but never enough to justify the hours I put in.

Truth is, there is not a single independent contractor regardless of skill level that has ever received justifiable compensation from Vox Media. But even with the infamously unfair setup that this content factory of a corporation has perfected over time, it almost always comes down to the people involved that make the experience what it is. This is absolutely the case for both sites that I wrote for in the last five years.

I would not have the life I enjoy today were it not for Matt Bernhardt—better known around here as Your Friendly Bulls Blogger. I do have to say there is a grand irony in a man that relentlessly rips on Jerry Reinsdorf for his frugality, yet will never hesitate to welcome unpaid labor on his own site.

But YFBB has been running the show here for nearly two decades, granted countless introductory opportunities to people craving a chance to be heard, and has never compromised his or anyone else’s voice for any reason. He is a treasure of a managing editor, and that is an enormous reason why this site has the community that it does.

Like others before me, I was able to get my first exposure to publishing content by writing game previews. I signed up for as many big games as I could and tried to pick dates I knew would be difficult for others to accommodate. The very first piece I ever published for BaB was the Christmas game preview for Bulls vs. Lakers in 2014.

I knew the shelf-life of these pieces was a few hours, but I went out of my way to make them fun, informative, and interesting. I did it because I knew I needed practice and that it would make me a better writer, a more-informed basketball fan, and someone the BaB community would hopefully come to respect. Exactly a year after I published my first preview, I published another that became the most recommended article in the history of the site.

The first time I tried publishing something on BlogaBull that I really wanted people to notice, I seized upon a glitch in the FanPost system to send my article out from the Twitter account tied to the site. I was desperate for people to read what I wrote—a scathing armchair doctor criticism of the way the Bulls front office handled Derrick Rose’s 2015 preseason orbital fracture injury. I put together an incredibly click-baitey Tweet akin to something Arye Abraham would write, and published it hoping someone important would acknowledge what I had just written.

Nate Duncan publicly scoffed at my reasoning, and then YFBB caught wind of what I had done and deleted the tweet. At that point, I was expecting to get banned. My exploitation of a loophole caused an actual NBA journalist to lay criticism upon the BlogABull brand, one that countless other writers before me had worked so hard to construct and improve upon. In that moment, YFBB could have stripped me of any ability to publish content on BlogABull—FanPost or otherwise. I expected the worst.

Instead, he issued a quasi-apology clarification tweet, and then sent my article out again with more refined social copy.

In that moment, the wave of relief and vindication I felt from the managing editor agreeing with my opinion was all that I needed to proceed.

I was ready to see how far I could go.

So I kept publishing controversial FanPosts and oversized game previews until I finally worked up the courage to ask YFBB for more official work. In late March of 2016, I got an opportunity to publish my first recap when YFBB needed a last-minute fill-in for the second night of a Bulls/Knicks back-to-back.

I brought my laptop to the court of my senior year intramural hoops game and used the Ohio State campus wi-fi to finish watching the contest at MSG while my friends played actual basketball. Yes, I published my first recap from the bench at the cost of playing actual sports with my college buddies. They probably thought I was crazy, but I hoped they would understand.

From there, I knew I had enough trust built in with the site that I could start submitting stuff I actually wanted to write about. So I labeled the Bulls as the most unhealthy franchise in the NBA, immortalized the time in Chicago that Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler each had, and got that interview with Fran Fraschilla about Thon Maker prior to the 2016 NBA Draft. Although that draft prospect profile may not have worked out how I hoped, I saved face with a few others.

All the above content and more ultimately received linking on places far beyond SB Nation, such as Bleacher Report's Team Stream. I hope Ricky O'Donnell still remembers the smile he put on my face when he informed me my hit piece on the Bulls' injury history got linked on FiveThirtyEight. I no doubt made a complete ass of myself many times over along the way, but I was just grateful to have people taking in what I thought about the Chicago Bulls.

Eventually, there was an opportunity to cover the Summer League in 2017 for any NBA contributors that wanted to attend. Vox previously had no issue accommodating site folks seeking a free few nights in Las Vegas, but given the wealth of attention and interest the association was starting to receive, this summer required a couple rounds of evaluation for candidates.

I made it to the final round and remember waiting anxiously at my job as a restaurant host for the decision email to come in. I also remember my heart sinking when I learned two Fear the Sword writers were given press passes and that there would be no representatives from BlogABull attending. This was despite the fact that the Bulls were the defending Summer League Champions and Lauri Markkanen would be making his debut for Chicago fresh off the Jimmy Butler trade. For Vox, I guess double coverage of a LeBron-less junior varsity Cavaliers team was a bigger priority at Summer League.

To the credit of Seth Pollack, he offered to comp tickets to Summer League games for myself and other writers that did not make the final cut. But given many of us were already footing the bill for travel and would now also have to pay for lodging, it made little sense for any of us to venture out to the desert without any media credentials. The only benefit would be an empty promise of networking with league executives and other media names in attendance. I politely declined, though sometimes I wonder why I turned down the opportunity to dump popcorn on Gar Forman's Muppet-shaped head.

Truth be told, once Jimmy Butler got shipped out of town, I recognized this team was without a star and without direction. I gradually signed up for less and less BaB assignments as I focused on my career at BMO Harris and trying to earn a promotion into marketing from sales. After getting turned away for a major media opportunity on the heels of so much work, writing felt like more of a chore than something enjoyable. But I had sunk so much time into trying to make it at that point, I felt I could not stop or it would be an acknowledgement of failure.

I had a handful of friends that knew I was writing about the Bulls and were happy for my hobby, but have little reason to believe the majority of them took me as seriously as I desired. With no social media presence of my own, any organic traffic my content received came almost exclusively from whatever accounts happened across BaB's Facebook or Twitter at the right moment. My own parents thought I was wasting my time.

My father—a man that once upon a time did local sports journalism alongside Tony Kornheiser when covering high school games—flatly told me I should stop.

This is a sort of crossroads I believe every person faces that pursues the elusive goal of having their sports opinion heard and validated. You will inevitably dedicate so many hours to generating content, you come to wonder if anything you have done to that point actually matters. You will wonder why it feels as though no one that matters actually believes in you. You may grow bitter as you wonder why other writers you perceive to be not as hard-working or less-talented than you are given opportunities you feel you deserve. You will wonder if you have wasted your time.

And in that moment, you can either give up, or push further forward without promise into the abyss.

There have been several writers that once called BlogaBull home that have gone on to do incredible work for even more elevated platforms in sports. YFBB can proudly say he has helped several writers along the way to places such as The Athletic, Forbes, Clutch Points, Nylon Calculus, Blue Wire Pods, and many other notable sports media outlets. Cameos from SB Nation's college hoops editor have to be a nice feather in that cap as well.

Those writers all deserved the opportunities they received. Some of them deserved better than what they ultimately got from the companies listed above. In consideration of everything I had given to writing at that point, I decided I owed it to myself to take one more shot at making it to a major platform in a professional capacity. Perhaps I merely needed to change the subject.

About a year and a couple months after my final article on BlogaBull, I officially pivoted into writing about Ohio State football for Land-Grant Holy Land. Less than a week after I agreed to write content for the upcoming season, the person that passed me along to the managing editor left to go work full-time for another Ohio State publication. Then the managing editor that welcomed me only a couple days prior took a full-time job of his own outside of sports.

That was when I was introduced to Broadway Matty—by far the worst editor that currently works under SB Nation. The anti-YFBB.

The current co-managing editor and operator of the only verified SB Nation Twitter account that speaks in first person, Broadway Matty began my relationship with LGHL by immediately asking me to take on more work. My $50/month stipend would double to $100 for writing four more articles per month! Given I had just started at this new site, I felt compelled to accept so that I could leave a good impression.

Then he asked me if I wanted to do a podcast as well. I begrudgingly took that on too, because—again—I wanted to leave a good impression. Looking back, had I just sent him an episode of Bulls Session, I probably could have had that taken off my plate.

I just wanted a platform where people could read my Ohio State film study and long-form articles. The managing editor that actually hired me agreed to let me take on a light workload because he recognized I was contributing quality over quantity.

Broadway Matty's site-plan as editor was to blast out as much soulless crap as possible in the form of short content and at least one 20-30 minute podcast every day. He was so proud of how packed the podcast schedule for the site was—and boastful of the audience analytics—that I am almost certain he had some sort of performance-based incentive to structure the workflow the way he did. Of course, when an Ohio State sports platform is pumping out six to seven podcasts per week, it's unlikely another Big Ten SB Nation team site is going to be able to generate similar cumulative traffic from their own shows.

The funniest part was, while I was somehow scraping roughly a thousand listeners per episode for my Burn Down the Big Ten Podcast that I co-hosted with one of my good friends, Broadway Matty was publishing a podcast about potato chip flavors.

In the heart of the football season. On an Ohio State sports website.

Because that's the kind of content that college football fans crave, right?

My breaking point with Broadway Matty came when he asked me cover live-Tweeting and video work for the Ohio State/Rutgers game in 2019. I wrote the best performing tweet that account has had in the last two seasons (now deleted, of course) and spent the evening dunking on Brett McMurphy—more commonly identified as the number two journalist at the top gas station TV network known as Stadium.

Then I made a joke about the Harvard/Yale on-field student protest in relation to Ohio State fans storming the field after a win over a lower-ranked Penn State. He locked me out of the account immediately and deflected letting me back in every time I asked him about it.

Because he felt this was his brand, he wanted his messaging to be consistent with his views. Does the first-person tweeting make more sense now?

I don't want to bore Bulls fans with my venting about someone bad at their job that isn't in the front office at the United Center. My point here is that I felt like I had fallen into a content trap with what I felt was my last shot, and now I was working against a managing editor more interested in stroking his own ego than publishing good football content for a visible Ohio State sports site.

I'm not sure what's lower than the Belly of the Whale, but that's where I was.

Even after turning in a major correct NFL Draft prediction and sometimes way-out-there #OffseasonContent, COVID completely upending the Big Ten football season forced the staff to get even more creative in the quest for elusive clicks. I created a Virtual 2020 Ohio State Football Season that I promptly had to reschedule and put on an expedited timeline after the Big Ten reinstated football two weeks later.

Ohio State played a total of five conference games in 2020, eight games total including the postseason. That doesn't lend many opportunities to quality content, but I did what I could with what was available and agreed to host the site's flagship podcast with the new managing editor—Gene Ross. Gene is a gem and much closer to YFBB in terms of ability than the other Matt, but unfortunately for everyone involved, Florida's most obnoxious Broadway critic was very much still around as a co-editor.

After the National Championship in January, I had to ask myself again what I really wanted to do with my life. I was tired of reflexively pumping out podcasts and cribbing together analysis in the hopes that it would lead to something greater. I was also half a year into a new job I coveted that took four years of professional labor and heartache to reach, and was preparing to move out of Chicago to Miami in August. Imagine telling this Bulls fan a decade ago that one day he would voluntarily move to South Beach!

I had one last idea for something special. I decided if I was going to go out, it would be on a piece that I could point to without a doubt and say it was the best thing I have ever written. The most important thing I have ever written. My favorite thing I have ever written about sports.

If you have enjoyed any of my work over the years—and can make it through another 3000+ words of my bullshit—please read: Tuf Love.

You may have trouble finding it on Google because Broadway Matty edited my name out of the meta data that displays in the search results.

I published that at the beginning of April and sent it out to several major Ohio State writers and journalists I respected in hope of any acknowledgement. Three weeks later, after having accepted that I may never write about football or basketball again, I was hired as an associate producer for the largest single-team sports website in the United States.

Eleven Warriors. The pinnacle of the Ohio State online sports world. Tens of millions of unique page views per year—even in the off-season—and still growing.

I finally did it. I could have cried. I hugged my mother and called my father. They are both Ohio State alumni just like me.

And I would not have made it without the support of all you faceless beautiful deviants at BlogaBull that encouraged me when I had nothing else.

And now I am actually crying...

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And now I am actually sobbing...

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Because when nobody else believed in me...

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When I had nothing else to hang my hat on as a writer...

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When my own friends and family doubted me...

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In the moments I wondered if any of the effort was worth it...

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When I doubted anyone with an opinion I respected would offer their praise...

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In the Belly of the Whale...

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I still had all of you.

Thank you Matt Bernhardt. Thank you Gene Ross.

Matt Tamanini, go fuck your own face. You too, Vox Media.

Long live the Place of Hate. Long live BlogaBull. Long live you all.

FanPosts are user-created posts from the BlogABull community, and are to be treated as the opinions and views of that particular user, not that of the blogger or blog community as a whole.