Friday, October 12, 2007

Modest Milestone: Three Years and Counting for SMA

Sports Media America is three years old today. Guess we’re still just out of infancy. In 36 months, we have produced nearly 150 stories (146 to be exact, including this one)—on major sports issues and events, on the various national and local radio and TV outlets that provide sports coverage, on the book publishing industry, and, in several cases, on non-sports-related media events about which we simply couldn’t hold our tongue.

Ironically, it’s been non-sports features that have been our most popular draw. August 7, 2007’s “Amateur Night,” a review of Andrew Keen’s book on internet culture, drew about 800 hits in a two-day period. The all-time champ so far is the September 25, 2007 piece on Ken Burns’ PBS documentary The War, which garnered a one-day total of 1,137 page views and surely has by now reached more readers than that. People are visiting in spurts, I guess, but they are visiting—and that’s what counts. We recently exceeded 24,000 page views, and considering that we didn't have a hit counter loaded into the site for the first full year, then we're averaging about 1,000 hits a month. It's progress, anyway.

Building an audience on the internet isn’t easy. Sometimes I do wonder why I do this, with no financial compensation. (AdSense is more like “no sense.” I’m still waiting for the first check.) But the dark clouds always pass, and I always find something interesting to write about.

I’ve been in love with American sports—baseball and football foremost—since I was a kid growing up in suburban Maryland. I played middle school baseball and football, and wasn’t half-bad. I was fast and quick and I could catch and throw a ball. When I entered high school, I wasn’t even five feet tall, alas, and after the first day of tryouts for freshman football, I knew I wasn’t going to endure that grind. Besides a little intramural basketball and football, that was the end of my formal participation as an athlete. So I became an all-star observer and fan. Which is what all of us—even the jocks—end up anyhow.

I probably could’ve become a sports reporter. But I had strong artistic inclinations too. I majored in theater in college at Catholic University in Washington, D.C. I took two years off in the middle of that to work at a public library and to pursue a strong music interest. When I returned to school, I kept on in the theater major but then used as many electives as I could to continue learning about piano and composition.

I first started writing professionally in the Nation’s Capital when I was hired to produce a historical script for the Department of the Interior. Shortly thereafter, I wrote a promotional children’s musical for the McDonald Corporation. (Yes, the Big Mac folks.) Later, after moving to Chicago, I got involved in the so called off-Loop theater movement as a theater administrator, during which time I also did musical direction for community musical revues. (My piano had improved quite a bit, mostly through self-study.) Then, after honing my chops as a proofreader and copy-editor, I eventually became a senior editor for the American Library Association’s Booklist, a twice-monthly book review journal with a fair amount of national prestige. There I became a very good writer and editor, and began to receive some freelance writing opportunities, including crafting 1,000-word book reviews fairly regularly for the Chicago Sun-Times.

Office editorial life started to drive me insane. Shocking a lot of people, I up and quit a secure job and decided to pursue music more vigorously. Within two months, I had hooked up as a touring pianist with Second City, the world-famous Chicago comedy theater. I spent three years with them, eventually serving briefly as a resident musical director. I wrote one original show, plus understudied six main-stage shows, in the course of which I provided piano accompaniment for a modern-day who’s who of comic actors, including, at one point or the other, Stephen Colbert, Steve Carell, Amy Sedaris, Jackie Hoffman, David Koechner, Rachel Dratch, Horatio Sanz, Kevin Dorff and dozens of others who’ve gone on to show-biz success. I hit a rough period, both professionally and personally, after that, and for four years I drove a taxi in Park Ridge, Illinois (famous as the childhood home of Hillary Clinton). In 1999, I moved to Nashville, where I hoped to publish songs, having written quite a few by that time.

In Music City, I drove a cab for a few months and also worked at a restaurant. I had a song published in 2000. It appeared on a very—VERY—small label, and the female artist who did it is nowhere to be found, and I never received any royalties beyond the initial meager advance. Then, armed with a very strong writing resume, along with an undergraduate college background in theater in addition to some serious professional theatrical credits, I eventually got an opportunity to write on entertainment for Nashville Scene, establishing myself as the paper’s regular beat theater critic.

I still review theater. I still contribute free-lance stories to other magazines. I still play piano occasionally, mostly for Improv Nashville, an up-and-coming troupe of creative folks.

Yet through it all, there has been sports. From childhood affection for the defunct Washington Senators and the still-thriving Washington Redskins, to rabid support of adopted teams like Chicago’s Cubs, White Sox, Bulls and Bears, on through to my current enthusiastic devotion to the Tennessee Titans and the return of baseball to Washington (Go Nats!)—sports has, to paraphrase Field of Dreams, “marked the time.” Sports Media America is a testament to all of that.

Yes, I’ve gotten some nasty letters. (Some media types don’t like having their work evaluated.) Other people just think my opinions are for the birds. That’s okay. I’ve also received enthusiastic replies and commendations for thinking outside the box on some issues. Being a bit of a provocateur is what this is all about, after all. And feeling free to shoot honestly from the hip (something that doesn’t always happen in mainstream, or even alternative, media).

So here we are, three years old and counting.

SMA has benefited greatly these past three years from the enouragement, support and contributions of some truly fabulous human beings. I want to thank our Los Angeles-based horse-racing writer Steve Brady, who has provided some amazing handicapping columns which I would never have been able to write in a million years. Also, up-and-coming Nashville photographer Danny Murphy has provided some photos but also has supported me with ideas on promotion of the site. Deanna Larson, of the Nashville Public Library, has also been an amazing supporter—it was she who first told me about blogging and who has always endorsed the idea of the internet’s power and validity as an individualist pursuit. Liz Garrigan, editor of the Nashville Scene, graciously added SMA to that publication’s blogroll. John Bransford and also started syndicating this site at some point along the line, and that was a wonderful thing. “Nashville Is Talking,” the blogger clearinghouse run by Nashville’s WKRN-Channel 2, has also included us in their ongoing coverage, and that’s been a terrific outlet for keeping our name out and about. Thanks also to Doug Scopel, media director for the AAA minor league Nashville Sounds, who gave me my first-ever official pro-sports press pass this past season. I’m also grateful to the many web outlets from which I’ve appropriated photos to help spruce up the look of the site. No one has sued us yet for copyright infringement. It’s always been my feeling that, in our little way, we’re providing some media exposure and promotion for all concerned, and that ought to count for something. If the day comes when SMA begins to be a moneymaking venture, nothing would please me more than to get all our ducks in a row and pay royalties just like the big boys. For now, I’m thinking we fall into the category of educational fair use.

Clearly, the one thing I’m not very good at is marketing my own site. Well, what do you expect from a three-year-old? I am grateful, though, that through search engines and the miracle of keyword access and the world of linkage, people keep stopping by. So I owe at least 24,000 more thanks to you, the readers.

Y'all come back now.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You're pretty smart for a 3-year-old. Happy birthday and congrats for hanging in there. And thanks for the shout-out. And now I'm off to Oxford and a football game at Ole Miss with none other than Mr. Murphy!