Jay Mariotti made the right decision to leave the Sun-Times

The real question is why he stuck around so long.

If fact, I don’t understand why any star print columnist or beat reporter doesn’t just start his or her own Web site. The Dallas Cowboys Blog for The Dallas Morning news can get hundreds of thousands of page views in one day. And that’s without a really good beat blog that really harnesses the power of the Web and social networking.

Imagine the possibilities. More on that in a minute.

Mariotti threw a few bombs on his way out, including about how he believes that newspapers are dying and how the future is on the Web. He is absolutely correct, however.

First, let’s look at Mariotti’s claim that newspapers are dying. Vin Crosbie believes more than half of today’s 1,439 daily newspapers in the U.S. won’t exist by the end of the next decade. In fact, the Sun-Times is a prime candidate to not be around much longer.

The Sun-Times Media Group was delisted from the New York Stock Exchange. That doesn’t happen for being too good. It happens when a stock falls below the minimum trading value.

Despite what many curmudgeons would like to believe and like to have you believe, newspapers are not in a cyclical down period. Many are about to be down for the count.

For a sports columnist like Mariotti, there is little incentive to stay in print. He can make more money in other mediums that have less turmoil.

Many of the best sports writers like Rick Reilly are being bought up by ESPN (for $3 million a year), Yahoo!, CBS Sportsline and other Web sites. Before the Web, print — especially newspapers– was just about the only place for a star columnist to work.

Because of the monopolies that newspapers had, columnists were at the mercy of newspapers. That has flipped with the Web. Now anyone can be their own publisher and become successful like Michael Arrington of TechCrunch.

I’m sure Mariotti was well paid by newspaper standards, but those standards aren’t very high (and just a fraction of Reilly’s new salary). Frankly, the standards of most newspaper Web sites aren’t very high either, which is one major reason why Mariotti left the Sun-Times:

To showcase your work … you need a stellar Web site and if a newspaper doesn’t have that, you can’t be stuck in the 20th century with your old newspaper.

If I were Mariotti, I’d start my own Web site and post my work there. Yes, he could go work for ESPN full time like many of his former print colleagues have, but then you are at the mercy of ESPN, which is notorious for being overbearing and controlling. Or he could join an online-only sports site.

But why bother? If I were Mariotti, I’d focus on building my own brand with my own Web site and social networking presence. With the right technical help, he could have a kick-ass WordPress installation, where he can publish his latest thoughts about whatever, whenever. He could also embed video clips, build interactive features, have a weekly podcast, interact with users and do all sorts of things that he couldn’t do at the Sun-Times.

Plus, his Web presence would be very 21st century, unlike the Sun-Times. If you’re a columnist, imagine a site that has all of your posts tagged, so that users can quickly and easily discover content. One of the most frustrating aspects of newspaper Web sites is the disarray that is their archives.

And most newspaper Web sites are unsearchable. So many page views are lost because of these technical deficiencies that a basic, free WordPress install doesn’t have.

I’d also start a Twitter account and begin building a fan base with strong user interaction. I would, of course, interact with users on my beat blog as well. Then I’d look into other social networking opportunities.

This is what Mariotti and any sports writer needs to get started: a laptop with a Web cam for video columns, a smart phone, a beat blog (WordPress is a great option), Google Apps for mail and word processing, a Twitter account and Viddler/YouTube and Seesmic accounts to put that Web cam to use.

He probably already has a laptop and smart phone. The Web technology I listed is all free. The only things that will cost money are the domain name (about $10 a year), hosting (might only be hundreds a year) and probably some technical and consulting help to set this all up.

Mariotti, if you’re reading this, start a beat blog. Don’t wait.

We have already seen a lot of top sports writing talent leave for ESPN.com, Yahoo! Sports, CBS Sportsline and others in the past year. I think the exodus of sports writing talent from traditional print publications is just beginning, because not only can big-name sports writers leave for online publications, but they can also now easily and cheaply start their own Web sites.

  • There’s one reason why many writers and journalists fear to try and start their own websites.

    They need a regular paycheck.

    There’s not that many proven models to show you can earn significant revenue from blogging etc which have reached mainstream journalists. How many of them have read or heard of the likes of Darren Rowse for example? And even with a proven business model, it can take a long time before a blog becomes popular enough to sustain a family.

    I’m not saying writers and columnists shouldn’t move online. I predicted a few years ago that the freelance market and the blogging world would eventually become one, which would benefit everyone in the long run – but it’s easy to forget that even a popular blog won’t necessarily make a lot of money just by plugging in Adsense – and many writers aren’t going to spend their time playing around with affiliate ad deals or direct sales.

    The other option would be to plug into a blogging network, but I don’t know what level of payouts they tend to give…

  • Dan is mostly right — until blogging as a “name brand blogger” in non-tech niches can provide a steady and expected source of revenue, it will be tough for solo acts to make a full-time go of it.

    But the tide is turning, slowly…just a few years ago, there was NOBODY making a full-time living solely as a blogger.

  • Working Reporter

    How many are doing it now? Serious question, not a challenge. I’m especially interested in anybody making a full-time living solely or at least primarily from blogging original reported content, as opposed to pure commentary on or aggregation of others’ work. Basically, anybody doing what newspapers do, on whatever scale.

    TalkingPointsMemo sustains a small staff, for example, but is dependent upon a national-sized audience with a correspondingly huge CPM count and occasional capital influxes from its huge reader base to make it happen. Anybody else making it work? I ask hopefully?

  • jay marrioti,

    on around the horn i watched you punish notre dame for firing a third year black manager with a losing record. i watched you criticize mind you, at a road game in the stands at a remote location that there were no black faces in the kentucky wildcats fans, while on the road in the ncaa basketball tournament.

    and watching the cubs play the dodgers on 10-1-2008, i could not find a black face in the stands. where is you outrage?