Yesterday it was announced that feisty little Italian, Mike Florio, and his Pro Football Talk site were partnering with NBC Sports. The timeliness of the move after the Blogs With Balls weekend was telling.
First, about Blogs With Balls. This was an astoundingly well-attended and well-run event that showed the rapid growth and respectability this industry has gained. Forget the blogs and bloggers that attended — the mainstream media was there in full-force as well, including ESPN filming footage for an upcoming Outside The Lines segment that will hopefully not treat the whole thing like a Comic-Con event. Enjoy the many thorough recaps of the event from attendees.
Now onto Florio. Granted, this was expected, since Pro Football Talk has slowly but steadily gained a rabid audience and the respect of both the NFL and the many, many outlets that cover the sport year-round. Florio built up a solid core of reliable sources from both insiders and reliable outsiders who took notice of not only his (sometimes) scurrilous league gossip, but also his ability to push some stories to the forefront that may have been overlooked by the national media, most notably, his tenacious coverage of Michael Vick's dog-fighting past that laid the groundwork for much of the ensuing media pile-on. And come free agency time, he's consistently blown everyone out of the water with his non-stop updates.
And the big question that's seemingly on everyone's mind is will Florio's coverage suffer now that he's part of a media giant? In an email interview he reiterated what he's already said about maintaining editorial control but said he plans to " test that car out properly. And then likely drive it into a utility pole." So, for now, the 87 talking heads on Football Night In America will not be spared criticism. One would hope. But like Florio hinted, eventually there has to come a point where "Mike Florio NBC employee" and "Mike Florio independent shit-stirrer" thunk skulls. The other danger of this alignment is what it could possibly do to Florio's source pool. Most of the time, "sources" (unnamed or otherwise) do feel a little more comfortable discussing the ins-and-outs and backdoor dealings with the perceived respectable outsiders (present company included) than the big guns because the spin factor is greatly reduced. There's a freedom on this side of the playground, where the myth of objectivity — that many, many mainstream publications still hold onto much too tightly — is eradicated and unnecessary for accuracy and greater truth. But with the (presumably) larger audience that will come to PFT as a result of this partnership, an alteration on how things are communicated will be necessary at some point. Or not? Perhaps Dick Ebersol (who's championing this move very publicly) is convinced that NBC's online sports audience is savvy enough to comprehend Florio's approach, which shouldn't be a testament to the medium as a whole, but more Florio's ability to make/break/illuminate news in a much timelier, digestible way. Simply put, he's better than a large percentage of the people doing this, professionally or not. (I'm sure Florio's constant Seinfeld references didn't hurt him on the brand loyalty front, either.)
So what now, angry typers? What's the goal from here on out? This is a debate that varies among the thousands of people who are sports-blogging for personal satisfaction, or as a springboard to a mainstream career, or financial gain, or simply because they're bored at their current jobs. But do know this — the game has changed. For better or worse depends upon your vantage point I guess, but the keys to success (and what is successful) are becoming more and more clearly defined. Adjust your blogspots accordingly.