Explaining The Content Farm’s Bumper Crop : SF Weekly’s Backhanded Praise For The Bleacher Report

Posted in Sports Journalism, The Marketplace at 1:24 pm by

It must’ve taken massive amounts of self-control for the SF Weekly and writer Joe Eskenazi not to produce an accompanying slideshow for this week’s cover story (“Top 5 Ways Bleacher Report Rules!”, subtitled, “UNPAID WRITER CHURN OUT TERRIBLE ARTICLES AND THE OWNERS GET A $200 MILLION PAYDAY”), but at least they made an attempt to give credit where due. Following B/R’s sale to Turner, one of Eskenazi’s sources admits, “Every media entity questioning the wisdom of throwing down $200 million for Bleacher Report is already co-opting the tricks mastered by Bleacher Report.”

The site’s deft use of search engine optimization (SEO) — the tweaking of content and coding to increase online visibility — propelled its unpaid, amateur writers’ fare to the top of Google’s search engine results, placing it on equal footing with original work created by established journalistic outlets. It’s a rare sports-related Google search that doesn’t feature a Bleacher Report article among the top results. And once readers click onto Bleacher Report, they stick there — visitors are besieged with applications to subscribe to team-specific newsletters or mobile applications, or drawn into click-happy slideshows, polls, or other user-engaging devices that rack up massive pageviews per visit (to date, a slideshow titled “The 20 Most Boobtastic Athletes of All Time” has amassed 1.4 million views).

Every publication has produced its share of jarringly bad writing. Yet Bleacher Report, powered by thousands of hobbyists and publishing more stories in an hour than many sites produce in a year, has lapped the field. While critics’ lamentations may be increasingly irrelevant, they’re hardly unfounded. Perhaps uniquely among journalistic entities, Bleacher Report has a “blanket policy” forbidding its writers from seeking out and breaking news. A dictum on the site states: “While we don’t doubt that some B/R writers have contacts they know and trust, a problem arises when we’re asked to take a leap of faith that those sources are both legitimate and accurate.” Bleacher Report is designed to engage in the far more lucrative practice of pouncing on news broken by others, deploying its legions of writers to craft articles — or better yet, multi-page slideshows — linking to its own voluminous archives, and supplanting original stories on the Google rankings. Breaking a story is no longer valuable: owning it is.

Bleacher Report declined to answer questions about this — or anything else.

3 responses to “Explaining The Content Farm’s Bumper Crop : SF Weekly’s Backhanded Praise For The Bleacher Report”

  1. Dave says:

    I explained all this to my father once when he suggested I write for B/R. I just had a site that I’d been writing for, unpaid, for about a year hire me on, and it’s way smaller, than B/R, but there’s still SEO stuff to attend to now. And it’s weird I suppose, but to our credit we don’t have slideshows nor do we have headlines just waiting to have a story puked up underneath it, which to me was the strangest and saddest piece of news to pop up after the article came out.

    The thing is, list posts don’t HAVE to be ugly and cynical if you still have writers that are educated and passionate about the subjects, like the AV Club’s many Inventory articles. Or The Awl’s Listicle Without Commentary feature, which I guess is kind of a joke but can be a good read. But I guess once you realize you can throw a pair of tits on every other list and typos don’t matter and you can just say anything and not mean it and you suddenly end up with 200 million bucks, people are gonna see that as a business model.

  2. GC says:

    LA Weekly’s already demonstrated their “Top Ten Ways To Shoot Fish In A Barrel” approach to pop criticism generates traffic. Competitors see that and the few remaining editors with a soul/brain are encouraged to follow suit.

  3. Dave says:

    Well then it’s a good thing I never had a brain to begin with.

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