Sunday night, Blurb friend and excellent LA Times scribe Sam Farmer broke the story that Mike Florio’s website ProFootballTalk.com will be purchased by NBC with plans to feature it prominently on the NBC Sports site.
For those who don’t know (and if you’re reading this on ThunderingBlurb.com or BleacherReport.com you probably do know) PFT was begun by Florio about eight years ago as a way for the then-lawyer to riff on the news of the day in the NFL.
Florio has broken quite a few stories over the years — as pointed out by Farmer, most famously the erroneous death of Terry Bradshaw (which should be a book, rock band or film if it isn’t already).
Take a second and read Sam’s piece at latimes.com and then come back – it’s worth the read and will give you the grasp of what is going on.
What I want to focus on is the impact of something like this as well as the continuing impact of new media acquisitions.
Like him or hate him, Florio shoots straight about what he thinks. While that drew the ire of many NFL insiders and a ton of NFL fans (who still flock to a site they purport to hate), it also has attracted some pretty high-profile followers.
As mentioned in Farmer’s article, among them is Al Michaels. You have to figure when Al Michaels is a fan, you’re doing something right.
Heck, he’s not alone. Everyone from casual fans, to guys like myself to folks like Farmer and Rich Eisen— we all have Florio’s blog bookmarked. Heck, he’s one of only four twitter people who have tweets sent to my low-tech crappy cell phone.
At various times, he’s been wrong, loud, hypocritical, dead on right, loud and first breaking his own news just as often as he is reacting to someone else’s news.
More than anything else, Florio has been Florio. A firm and unique personality is what builds a good website and that’s what has attracted legions of fans and foes alike to his.
It’s also rankled the NFL more than once. You know the NFL — the league is attached to NBC by a huge television deal. The NBC buying PFT.
See what might be an issue here?
Farmer put it best when asked by a twitter-follower how soon it would be before PFT publishes something the league dislikes which then causes them to lean on NBC. He simply replied ‘that’s the test’.
And it’s a big one. Trust me; I really don’t expect Florio to tone it down. But I also worked in Hollywood long enough to have seen first-hand network pressure.
It gets contentious. It gets loud. People start pulling rank and checkbook rank. ‘We’re footing your bill’ is a phrase I heard more than once.
In Florio’s corner are his super-lawyer powers. My assumption is he’s prepared for such an eventuality. But who knows? What if he loses that battle? What happens to a site that — again like it or hate it — is a source of unvarnished opinion and more than a few scoops?
The real question here may be not how much a thing like this is to be celebrated — but if it should be at all.
On the one hand, anytime a site which started from nothing online and was built into a powerhouse is bought by a major like NBC, ESPN or CBSSports.com, it is a step towards legitimizing online work in a way that is harder to blow off than the odd scoop by a smaller site.
You can try to ignore it and continue dismissing us as people in our parent’s basement but that’s just head-in-the-sand thinking when this happens or NFLDraftscout hooks up with CBSSports and NFL.com.
It’s not sweeping proof, but it helps. It shows that we can be just as hungry, accurate, successful and hardworking as anyone in ‘traditional media’.
But one of the strengths of sites like Florio’s or DraftDaddy or any of the small sites like mine is the agility that comes with being a small, independent entity.
What scares traditional media — that we don’t have giant editors looking over us — can really be a source of strength. We can often react faster and speak our minds with less red tape than many in traditional media.
Why do you see so many good mainstream writers on Twitter? Well, among many reasons, the ability to reach their audience immediately. To throw out a reaction as something happens.
Of course, that’s new media’s kryptonite as well. I’ve seen firsthand how a bad story, un-supported and improperly followed up on or researched can sink a writer (and no, it wasn’t me). So we have to be more on point and take it even more seriously because we are our own safety net and it’s our rep on the line.
But back on point — if what attracts a company like NBC to a site like PFT is also what scares it….
Well, you have to wonder if that’s a marriage destined to end well or happily. It sure wouldn’t be the first time I saw an edgy project go to a conservative home and then get static for being what it was.
Let’s be honest though. While you may love a site like PFT for the content, a large portion of the reason NBC likes it is because of the audience it can reach. They may love the writing, content, instant reaction and Florio’s nice suits, but audience numbers often factor in there above all else.
Trust me, sometimes a corporation —especially an entertainment entity— jumps into bed with a project because of the pure, raw numbers of the audience.
If PFT breaks a few stories the NFL isn’t crazy about and they mention that to NBC in a not-so-casual-way, someone, somewhere is going to want something to change.
And then we’ll see how adaptable either side is.
If for some reason Florio backs off, even a little — well what does that mean for the rest of us? What makes online content? Is it the same if it gets watered down to be more mainstream? Does that defeat the point?
All things to consider as we watch this unfold.
One last thought though.
Perhaps when Sam said ‘that’s the test’, he was speaking about more than the purchase of PFT by NBC. Maybe the test is about how new media as a whole and traditional media as a whole might struggle to coexist.
If that’s the case, I can think of no better ‘first-adopter’ than Florio and PFT. They’ve made no bones about how they work in the past. I trust that they will continue to be ‘who we thought they were’ in the future as well.
If anyone can make it work, I have a feeling the lawyer from West Virginia might just be the guy.