Meet a blogger: Run up the Score

Run up the Score, in my humble opinion, is the best of the many Penn State football-themed blogs out there. Though my particular newspaper, in my humble opinion, offers the best Penn State football coverage out there, RUTS has become required reading.

I swept the pigeons away from my typewriter long enough to e-mail the author some questions. He was kind enough to answer those questions, mid-air, while doing some kind of trick on his skateboard. (Try Fire Joe Morgan or Deadspin for an explanation of that ridiculous image.)

It was an effort to show that bloggers aren’t the inherently evil, newspaper-reader-stealing, ethics-depraved leeches that some newsroom dwellers paint them to be. A lot of thought and passion goes into their craft, and the sooner journalists understand that, the better.

(Any italics are my own, to emphasize what I believe are key points. I cut out parts of his answers just so it wasn’t too long; if anyone is interested in reading the full Q&A, I’d be happy to forward it to you.)

BDV: At what point, and why, did you decide you wanted to blog?

RUTS: Personally, Run Up The Score started as a general sports blog with a moderate concentration on college football. It didn’t take long for it to become a college football blog with a heavy Penn State concentration. Now it’s a Penn State blog that occasionally dabbles in other areas. Nobody succeeds with a blog, certainly not on a personal satisfaction level, if they only passively care about the subject. That’s why so many blogs pop up and disappear after a month. The writer finally says to himself, “wait, why the hell am I doing this?” and quits.

I think anyone who takes the time to start a blog and maintain it on a consistent basis feels that the entire story isn’t being told. It doesn’t matter if the chosen topic is college football, politics, or baking. Blogging gives a potentially loud voice to people who don’t have access, and there’s certainly a place for writers who don’t get too intimate with the people and subjects they cover. The best blogs fill in the gaps that newspapers, television, and radio can’t always cover for whatever reason. They can’t be everywhere. The Associated Press is never going to pick up a Joe Paterno road rage story unless he kills somebody. Why would they? But if you type “Joe Paterno road rage” into Google, I guarantee that 95% of the stories on the topic are written on blogs, and they did it with an informality and sense of humor you can’t get from traditional media sources.

That’s also part of why blogs published by established news outlets are often so awkward — there’s often an editing process and the writer doesn’t get to write stories predicting Anthony Morelli’s performance on the Wonderlic Test at the NFL Combine. They’ll state that he’s in Indianapolis with three other players for the NFL Combine, which is something that 80% of Penn State fans already knew. Newspaper blogs usually end up being exactly what they shouldn’t be — another source of the same news found elsewhere, not to mention there’s hardly ever any evident joy in the writing.

Credibility issues iron themselves out in the blogosphere, especially because the best bloggers are sensitive to the constant, uninformed criticism that all blogs are written by people with no regard for fact (especially because newspapers so often bungle or conceal significant parts of a story). Sure, some sites are like that, but who reads them on a consistent basis? If I posted tomorrow morning that I had an inside source in Old Main stating that Joe Paterno will resign on Thursday morning and Jay Paterno will take over as head coach, it won’t take many more of those mistakes before I squander whatever readership I’ve built up over the past two years. In a weird sense, this is my baby. If I blatantly plagiarized or fabricated something, I’d eventually be called on it in a very real, public fashion. Consumers of traditional media don’t often get the opportunity to lash out at reporters, at least not for the whole world to see.

BDV: You give a great definition of what newspaper blogs shouldn’t be. So what should they be? What do you think reporters could learn from the best bloggers?

RUTS: There are any number of ways a newspaper can go if it wants to get into the blogging game. Blogs can be heavy on opinions, or play a straighter role. They can be text, audio, or video. They can be live-blogs of the game as seen from the press box or a couch somewhere in Scranton. Really, they’re all just different forms of supplementing the newspaper’s usual processes.

Sometimes, the blogs can be completely independent of what’s happening elsewhere on the site while still being a complement to the traditional coverage — Dan Steinberg’s “D.C. Sports Blog” is a great example of this. Sports fans have a thirst for intimate details of their favorite teams, even if those details aren’t something that would normally work their way into a Michael Wilbon column.

PennLive actually does a very good job with their bloggish coverage, especially with regard to the press box videos and weekly preview videos from the office. That’s something that no other media outlet has provided with respect to Penn State football coverage.

Using a Penn State example, we know there are a number of stories that will come out of any game. There’s the standard game recap, and a handful of stories that are dictated by the smaller events within the game — individual performances, coaching decisions, all that stuff. A live-blog of a Penn State game could include descriptions of the parking lot atmosphere, the excitement within the stadium, emotional swings within the game, an ability to immediately post analysis, pictures, and video. Reporters who venture into blogging have to realize it’s a different medium that opens up innumerable opportunities to infuse technology into the reporting process. Happy Valley Hoops is a tremendous example of that.

This is all just an unnecessarily wordy answer to a simple question, though. The very nature of blogs and the internet allows news organizations to augment their traditional coverage however they see fit. Some are more entertaining and informative than others.

BDV: How did you go about growing readership? Have any stats to share?

RUTS: Growing readership is a tricky business for a blog. The art of “blogwhoring” — posting links to your site in comments of other sites and message boards — is universally frowned upon. Some people attract readership by sending in tips to bigger sites like Deadspin or Every Day Should Be Saturday. That’s a good way to solicit extra attention, because it allows the owner of the bigger site to decide whether to link to your tiny blog, instead of you clogging up someone else’s comment section with what is essentially an unpaid, unwanted advertisement.

As for my stats, they’re modest. RUTS usually attracts around 2,000 readers a day during the work week, give or take a thousand depending on incoming links from other sites and Google searches. It tapers off during the weekend, and of course, during the off-season. More importantly, the quality of the comments has increased, which naturally leads to higher interest and return visits. And hey, 2,000 people stop by to read my thoughts on Penn State football. That’s more than I’d get shouting at passing traffic on Front Street in Harrisburg! Again, to compliment the folks, they added links to what I suppose could be considered the “big three” PSU blogs — Black Shoe Diaries, The Nittany Line, and RUTS — and eventually added a few others to their main PSU Football page. That’s been a great help, especially because none of us really asked to be linked. PennLive totally did that on its own, which I believe is extremely rare (and quite frankly, gracious) for a newspaper site.

I could pepper Deadspin, The Big Lead, EDSBS, and other sites and plead for links on a daily basis. With the exception of sending a tip to EDSBS once a month, I try not to beg. I don’t like to get too caught up in site stats, though. Anybody can tailor a site to attract readers without necessarily providing quality content. Lots of people do it, and can generally carve out a nice secondary income in the process.

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  • “The best blogs fill in the gaps that newspapers, television, and radio can’t always cover for whatever reason.”

    Bingo. That sums up the whole blogger-MSM discussion in one sentence.

    The really good sports blogs are the ones that simply provide more in-depth analysis than the average newspaper reader is interested in–plus a community of fellow fans to converse and commiserate with.

  • Wait a second… You emailed this guy from your TYPEWRITER??!?!!??!

    That is pretty slick!

  • OPS

    Great stuff, MC Run.