The Development of a Blogger: ESPN’s TrueHoop Network Provides Interesting Opportunity

ESPN’s Henry Abbot who runs the TrueHoop blog (one of the first really solid blogs to get picked up by a mainstream outlet) recently announced the TrueHoop blog network, a network of 30+ blogs for each NBA team that would function as a collective of sorts to promote each other and cover every issue in the NBA.

In the announcement on his blog he had this to say about the ambitious project:

Thanks to the web, any writer with a measure of dedication, talent, and insight can be found and read (whether or not they have some crony to help them get hired in this tough business).

I have probably read as many basketball articles and blog posts as anyone over the last three-plus years, and I can tell you that there is fantastic work out there, and some of the smartest, most creative, fastest, and fascinating work is outside the mainstream media.

In my mind, if you were doing an honest compendium of the best sportswriting of these last couple of years, you would simply have to include some blog posts.

Put those talented new voices together with the stuff every sports fan wants to know about their team day in and day out, and I believe you have something that will prove to be must-read.

Henry Abbot is describing himself as much as any of the bloggers joining him under the TrueHoop banner, but he does open up an interesting point (first brought up by Dan Shanoff, I’ll admit) that as bloggers begin to hold themselves to a higher standard through mainstream media association, they will begin to resemble something akin to beat writers.

Since the beginning of sports and sports media, there’s always been people on the outside who don’t work professionally but follow the team closely, have great insights into the team, and articulate these well to their friends.

Before the web, those conversations maybe took place at a sports bar, or on your couch. Now, they take place on the internet where thousands upon thousands of people can read those discussions and comment, becoming a part of the conversation in turn.

I don’t quite agree that much of the best sports writing of the last few years has appeared on blogs (although there has been a little) but certainly some of the best sports writers are the guys who put in a lot of dirty work covering their teams. Any web-savvy fan worth their salt knows that and they can probably list off a half dozen great team-centric sites easily.

However the main obstacle (or, if you’re in the Bill Simmons-type mold, the benefit) to these blogs has been a lack of access. Some bloggers have been allowed on press row, but not many, and not many of them need to be. However, by opening up this sort of relationship with a media giant like ESPN, that suddenly becomes an option.

Blogs have never really had access, as they’re such a journalistic groundswell, and have had to fight for legitimacy for years. I have to wonder if being able to get that access might change the perspective some bloggers take, or if they’ll use the priveledge sparingly and keep their distance.

Blogs have networked together before, of course. SB Nation has a lot of great blogs under their masthead and Yard Barker has gotten athletes to blog as well as bringing in others (In the interests of disclosure, I write for a Yard Barker blog), but these networks are more about combining ad revenue with some boost to exposure than the aggressive cross-promotion between bloggers that Abbot wants True Hoop to be.

It’s an ambitious project that could very well see many local NBA beat writers eclipsed in terms of importance to the fans who most closely follow the team, especially as newspapers are less and less able to market to fans.

Since the advent of blogs, though, the two camps who most closely follow a team — the beat writers and the bloggers — have moved closer together. Beat writers blog in much the same way the bloggers do, although it’s been treated more as an ongoing, extended notes column than anything else. Bloggers tend to focus on what other bloggers (or the beat writers themselves) are saying rather than giving their own coverage.

The biggest change will ultimately be the editorial oversight these blogs are now going to be under as Clipper Blog founder Kevin Arnovitz will be responsible for editing the network’s content. It’s a tall task and it’s unlikely they’ll be filing stories to him in a traditional journalistic format (not with 30 blogs and only one editor, that’s an impossible task) but the oversight is certainly a change blogs could use and, with it, some semblence of journalistic standards should emerge. Although the blogs brought in all already hold themselves to a pretty high standard, so the change may be more cosmetic than anything else for those writers.

I’m excited to see what True Hoop can put together here. Abbot has always done a great job of combining original analysis, actual reportage, and still brought to light the work of journalists and bloggers alike to enhance his own coverage of the NBA. It’s been must-read for some time and a closer, more active partnership with other high quality blogs is sure to lead to some great coverage of The Association in the near future.

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