Sports Illustrated layoffs highlight the sensationalism of sports journalism

Last week, in a gut-wrenching but unfortunately unsurprising move, TheMaven’s takeover of Sports Illustrated resulted in layoffs for nearly half of the iconic magazine’s staff members.

The process to let go of so many staff members was callous and ill-managed, as the staff originally asked staffers to report to one of two meetings – presumably separating the people staying and leaving – before deciding to cancel them 10 minutes beforehand.

Regardless of how it went down, it’s clear this move is another step away from the investigative, high-quality journalism that so long dominated the sports industry, and is another step toward what is not-so-affectionately being called “content farms”.

What’s a content farm?

Basically, content farms are sites like FanSided, Bleacher Report, and SB Nation, sites that hire underpaid staffers to man team-specific sites that produce rapid amounts of content about each individual team (Addicted to Quack is the Oregon Ducks SB Nation site, for example).

These sites aren’t inherently bad themselves necessarily, although the amount of work required by site managers (or experts at Fansided) generally does not equal the amount of pay provided.

The issue is that so many organizations, including USA TODAY and now Sports Illustrated, are going this route as opposed to investing in actual storytellers and investigative reporters, leaving the industry thin on that kind of content.

Having a few sites that just produce short news stories and quick analysis to reach a more general fan base is fine, as long as there are sites that do long-form journalism, finding stories that these – often college-aged – site managers who make at best $400 per month don’t have the time or expertise to find themselves.

When companies like Sports Illustrated resort to the same tactic, what readers will get is 6-7 sites all producing 8-10 articles per day, none over 200 words, with tons of videos and links and ads and very little actual substance to them.

Gone will be the days of 1,500 word articles about players past, their relationship with their coach, or their parents, or their siblings, replaced by fluff anyone can find on any number of different sites.

Deadspin reported on what TheMaven COO said in his presentation on the company’s plan:

“So our vision, and this is where you come in, is that entrepreneurs run these team-specific sites. People who are all Hawkeyes all the time or all Jets all the time. And are covering their team on an intense basis, and equally important are fostering an intense community of fans who come back to the site everyday.”

Quality journalists, journalists who spent hours, maybe days, crafting the perfect story – talking to multiple sources, sending follow-ups, digging deeper – they lost their jobs for Sports Illustrated to do this.

And, unfortunately, this may just be the beginning of the end for quality, long-form sports journalism as we know it.