Our goal here is simple: To empower premium journalism and journalists.
Our plan to empower all of you—to create a robust, future-proof Sports Illustrated that will produce the best storytelling in sports for years to come—began on Thursday. It was a painful day for everyone involved. Colleagues and close friends, as well as their families, were affected. Even in an industry and a company where layoffs, newsroom cuts and shrinking budgets have been far too common over the last two decades, the events of that day and the way they unfolded were particularly sad for all of us.
As we all continue to work through the emotions of that day, and with some highly inaccurate reporting about our strategy swirling around us, it is important to clarify exactly what our vision for Sports Illustrated is.
To be clear: While the business of SI and some of its structures, processes and technologies will undergo much-needed changes, its commitment to premium storytelling and the most talented storytellers is not going anywhere.
Sports Illustrated—on any platform—is not being taken over by or replaced with an army of bloggers and inexperienced local reporters. Sports Illustrated will continue to be the home of the best and most talented and experienced writers, editors, videographers, photographers, producers, designers, podcasters, developers and engineers—and in the weeks, months and years ahead we are committed to growing that talent base beyond what you see today. The goal is to make Sports Illustrated synonymous with the most powerful, most influential, most respected and most diverse national voices in sports journalism. It starts with our stellar current core of senior writers—Ballard, Bishop, Breer, Klemko, Mannix, Prewitt, Price, Reiter, Rosenberg, Verducci, Vrentas, Wahl, Wilder—and we’re hiring more..
In addition, Maven will help extend Sports Illustrated’s reach into local journalism by building a coalition of journalists to cover pro teams and major college programs with skill, tenacity and timeliness to match the best beat reporters anywhere in the industry. This is in addition to—not instead of—the journalism SI has always produced from a national perspective. It cannot be said enough: These are professional, credentialed, on-the-ground-journalists, not stay-at-home bloggers, and we’ve highlighted several in the FAQ below.
Building this team won’t be easy—no large scale effort like this is. But along with its commitment to bolster our national voice, Maven is investing millions in some 200 additional journalists and the technology and tools that will make this a success. When this is running at full speed, SI’s combination of top-of-class national perspective and in-depth coverage of the news and personalities that drive sports fans’ passions at the local level will be second to none.
We will have much more to say about this strategy when we gather the staff later this week, but for now: Maven is committed to significant investments in the following five areas:
- In-depth, enterprising, culturally relevant journalism. Our goal is to produce vivid, deeply researched, award-worthy pieces. Starting now, we will be aggressively recruiting outstanding storytellers to join and work directly with the SI editorial team. We will proudly uphold the tradition that has made SI so respected over the last 65 years - and bring that spirit to a new generation of readers across all platforms.
- Local/team coverage. SI.com long ago abandoned team-specific coverage, and that decision neglects the heart and soul of a sports audience. Sports are tribal as well as national. SI will be a leader at both levels. Maven is investing millions in a digital platform to support over 200 local journalists - enough to cover every professional and major NCAA team in North America.
- Great technology. Maven’s world-class tech team has already begun to transition the SI digital presence to modern technology - focused on mobile. We’re replacing the ad stack, CMS, video and distribution tech. Site performance has already improved, and native apps for iOS and Android with built-in community, social and video features are being designed today to keep fans coming back daily.
- Video. In a world of nearly unlimited thirst for video inventory from major advertising brands, SI must create real-time, distinctive content - and lots of it. We are investing millions in new hires, studio infrastructure, video hosts and talent. Central studios in Los Angeles and NYC will power all-day and evening news coverage, incorporating boots-on-the-ground local reports and authoritative national voices. Our editorial leadership, along with management and Maven’s engineers and designers, are building an entirely different way to empower SI’s newsroom.
- Real-time news and long-form journalism, side by side. Sports changes by the minute. Our tools, investments and platforms will drive the ability of the SI newsroom to tell stories instantaneously and with longer perspective. We will invest in journalists and content creators who can create the best long form print journalism and storytelling in sports. This one-two punch makes SI unique, dynamic and powerful.
Evolution is always difficult, particularly when it alters career arcs and newsroom staffs. But the status quo must change, in media in general and at SI specifically. Newspaper and magazine consolidation, including Meredith’s acquisition of Time Inc, has driven centralization, strategic staleness and job eliminations nationwide. In the past decade, more than $100 million in costs have been ripped out of the SI business, over 200 staffers were cut, and the company saw significant declines in every major business indicator over the last five years. A focus on quarterly numbers, along with corporate instability, suffocated SI’s ability to grow and invest.
It’s a testament to all of you that, in the face of these business challenges, Sports Illustrated continues to hold the respect and loyalty of the audience it has been building for 65 years. Maven has a strategy to strengthen that bond and extend it new, different and bigger audiences. Maven fought for nearly two years to be the steward of this great brand and to be the company that helps it grow for the next 65 years and beyond.
We look forward to discussing further details and answering questions in the days ahead.
Ross Levinsohn, CEO, Sports Illustrated
Ryan Hunt, co-Editor-in-Chief
Steve Cannella, co-Editor-in-Chief
We’d like to respond to some specific factual inaccuracies we’ve seen in recent reporting.
IT WAS REPORTED HALF THE SI NEWSROOM WAS LAID OFF
Thursday was a tough day that we understand and appreciate was exceedingly difficult for people and their families, but to be clear, over 74% of the people who worked at SI a week ago are still working at SI.
ARE THE LAID-OFF POSITIONS BEING REPLACED WITH FREELANCERS?
WON’T THE LOCAL REPORTERS BE BLOGGERS AND FREELANCERS?
No. The partners operating the team-specific destinations are experienced, credentialed journalists. Local journalism hasn’t existed at SI in years, so these are brand new roles.
As mentioned, SI has already launched more than 80 of these local team channels, including 32 NFL team destinations. By Q2 of 2020, Maven expects to be providing the digital platform for more than 200 team channels under the SI banner, partnering with top local journalists throughout the country. In the early days of this effort, 29 of the 32 NFL partners and 29 of the college partners are or have been credentialed by their NFL or NCAA teams. Most previously worked as credentialed newspaper, radio or television employees, who either left their jobs or were forced out. We are creating roles for great journalists around the globe, and firmly believe this model gives them an unparalleled opportunity.
We’d like to highlight some examples:
- Mike Fisher - Dallas Cowboys. Emmy winner. Covered the NFL since 1983. Author of two best-selling books on the Cowboys. Radio personality on the Cowboys' flagship station 105.3 The Fan.
- Christopher Walsh - Alabama Crimson Tide. Seven-time honoree of Football Writers Association of America. Twice won Alabama Sports Writers Association’ highest honor for story of the year.
- John Bohnenkamp - Iowa Hawkeyes. 2012 Iowa Sportswriter of the Year. 17-time AP Sports Editors National Top 10. Football Writers Association of America #1 game story.
- Patricia Traina - New York Giants. Covered Giants since 1994 and built a loyal following through her work with The Sports Xchange, Forbes, Inside Football, Bleacher Report, and others. Co-host of daily LockedOn Giants podcast.
- Brant Wilkerson-New - North Carolina Tarheels. At the Greensboro News & Record, his work earned AP Sports Editors Top 10 national recognition four times for his coverage of Duke, North Carolina, N.C. State and the ACC.
- Zach Lentz - Clemson Tigers. 2017 South Carolina Sports Writer of the Year. Author of “The Journey to the Top” - reached No.1 on Amazon best seller list for sports. Member of the Football Writers of America Association, US Basketball Writers Association, National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, as well as a voter for the Biletnikoff Award, Nagurski Award, Outland Trophy, Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year, and Oscar Robinson Award among others.
Beyond SI, Maven provides the technology platform for great storytelling and journalism in a variety of categories, including:
HOW DO YOU COMPENSATE THEM, ISN’T THIS JUST A MONEY SAVING MOVE?
These entrepreneurs are independent, third-party businesses that are provided access to Maven’s digital platform to post their content and who receive a share of advertising and membership revenue. We firmly believe this model provides the most opportunity for talented local journalists to flourish in a changing landscape.
These third-party businesses have discretion to operate their businesses how they want. Since the businesses receive a share of the revenue their channel generates, the amount of total compensation is based on how well they run their businesses, and on their success in creating great stories and communities to attract a highly engaged audience. There is no compensation cap. Depending on the market size and existing traffic, some receive minimum guarantees against revenue share. This is a proven model that creates great content for fans looking for authentic reporting from directly inside the locker room and on the actual field; something that isn’t physically possible from a desk in NYC. This is NOT a replacement strategy for SI. Rather, the deep rich local team and player content across all digital platforms will build upon and complement the national perspective SI has produced for 65 years.
ARE YOU SOLICITING COLLEGE STUDENTS TO WRITE FOR THESE LOCAL CHANNELS, AND ARE THEY EXPECTED TO WRITE FOR FREE?
While the entrepreneurs and their businesses that operate team channels are experienced journalists, we are also just beginning to create a program to assist aspiring student journalists in launching their careers. We have reached out to numerous sports information directors and journalism schools around the country to assist. We look forward to developing this program further and discovering the next great sports journalism talent. To our knowledge no entrepreneurs or their businesses have ever solicited anyone to create content for free, and we expect these businesses to comply with all applicable laws.
WE HEAR SIMILAR MODELS SUCH AS RIVALS.COM AND SCOUT.COM WERE UNSUCCESSFUL
On the contrary, both Rivals and Scout operate profitably today as part of Yahoo! and CBS respectively. They have enabled a small army of independent journalists to make a living for many years, in some cases a significant one; in fact, we understand that a few top publishers at Scout and Rivals make close to $1 million annually.
WHO WILL EDIT THE TEAM SITES? WILL THE WORK THERE BE HELD TO SI’S STANDARD?