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June 09 2010


SB Nation CEO on how we’re fans of teams, not sports, T.V. shows, not T.V., and what that means for news

SB Nation — short for Sports Blog Nation — just announced it’s launching 20 new regional sports sites, with Houston and Dallas launching tomorrow aimed at competing with local newspapers’ sports sections and the new wave of local sports competitors like the ESPN local sites. SB Nation is a network of over 250 sites, most of them written by fans now paid on a contract basis. The vast majority of those writers have day jobs outside blogging. (Most common: lawyer.) Individual member blogs focus on one team or one sport, while the flagship site covers news of national interest.

SB Nation CEO Jim Bankoff is a former AOL executive with big plans for the site; at AOL, he was involved in the growth of prominent sites like TMZ and Engadget. I spoke with Bankoff this week about SB Nation’s expansion in the context of what news organizations can learn from the success of his project. “I actually think there is a bigger media story here,” Bankoff told me; he sees an opportunity for media companies to borrow some of SB Nation’s ideas. Here are a few.

Voice and perspective

SB Nation tosses aside the idea of objectivity. The premise of the site is to get sports fans hooked on their blogs written by sports fans. “We actually embrace fan bias and fan perspective,” Bankoff told me, adding that doesn’t mean they’re always cheerleaders: “Fans can be the most vocal critics of a team.” Writing with a point of view is still contentious in traditional newsrooms. It also helps that SB Nation sites focus on aggregation of and commentary on other people’s reporting than its own original work.

Focused content

Think of a typical newspaper sports section. It covers everything sports. Football, baseball, soccer, gymnastics — whatever season it is, that’s what you get. There’s a regional emphasis, but still, golf and ice skating live on the same pages. Bankoff’s approach is to think about people’s habits, rather than a broad topic. “We’re not fans of sports — we’re fans of teams,” Bankoff says. “We’re not fans of television. We’re fans of shows.” Are we interested in health? Perhaps, but we’re definitely interested in a disease, when we have one. Creating a community around a topic online needs to be sharply focused and relevant to readers.

Leverage repeat visitors

The potential to update a story in realtime is one of the great promises of the web. SB Nation has developed a good way to present updates, not unlike a tag page but with a sharper design. “One of our key innovations is the ’story stream,’” Bankoff told me, urging me to browse to the front page of his flagship. There I noticed several ongoing stories noting the number of updates posted, plus some links with time stamps. Clicking the update bar takes the reader to a stream of posts, organized by time stamp. An individual update provides the reader a link to the stream. Bankoff said it’s particularly handy for users following a story on a mobile device. (And repeat readers who keep hitting “Reload” for the latest updates are obviously appealing from an advertising perspective.)

“It was a little bit of an experiment,” Bankoff said. He wanted to improve on the various ways bloggers have updated stories in the past: the long single post with many updates pasted on top of each other, the tag (that is not immediately obvious to users), the disconnected posts that might appear in a “related posts” section. Those models have their merits but can be “clunky” and difficult for the user to navigate, he said. Bankoff said user feedback to the format has been positive.


SB Nation has another advantage: It’s designed to expand. It’s the same instinct behind AOL’s hyperlocal project Patch (which hopes to launch “hundreds” of sites by the end of the year) and, on a smaller scale, the Gothamist or Gawker sites: Leverage the cost of the overhead of one site by running many. This is particularly important when you’ve invested in technology. SB Nation has a team of half a dozen developers who’ve built a shared platform that allows hundreds of users to contribute to the network sites at once, plus tools like the story stream and mobile products. With the technology in place, expansion becomes much less expensive. “We can expand in many directions,” Bankoff said.

March 18 2010



Emu-cam (def) An Australian native; similar to the pinhole camera

With the exception of the pinhole camera, every camera I’ve seen has had glass of some sort to direct light to the recording media.

Glass in cameras serves a number of purposes. Keeping dust out of the camera. Focus – focusing the light onto the recording media (be it film or CCDs). And also allowing the photographer or VJ to get closer or further away from the subject without having to move.

As mentioned in the post below (My Bag Over-runneth), I have two converter lenses. A wide angle adapter and a tele adapter. The former allows me to get an extremely wide view…maybe shoot in a small area and capture it all. The latter allows me to get a bit closer to the action without having to physically move closer.

Shot with Sony 2x tele adapter

Shot w/o adapters - regular HV20 lens

Shot with Phoenix .24 fisheye lens

That’s the simple explanation, which you can see in the photos above. Shot at about 15 feet away/from left to right:

Photo #1 – Canon HV20 with 2x Sony tele adapter/zoomed all of the way out
Photo #2 – Canon HV20 camera lens/no adapter/zoomed all of the way out
Photo #3 – Canon HV20 with Century .25 fisheye/zoomed all of the way out

Did I mention zoom above? Well, yes. Zoomed all of the way out is using the camera zoom to back off as far away from the subject as possible. Zoomed all of the way in is using the zoom to bring the subject as close as possible. Got it?

Then DON’T ZOOM! Check out this post to understand why (not).

Moving on…the other use of the lens to get the exact framing and focus and perspective you want.

Framing…why move the tripod if you can nudge the zoom a mite in or out? Saves time.

Focus (will have to follow up with photos and another post to explain this better) – if you understand depth of field, you can select your lens and distance and have certain elements of your shot in focus while others are out of focus. YOU choose – this isn’t luck.

Perspective – the look of the elements in the shot as related to each other. Look below. Two shots using the tele and wide angle adapters.

Shot with .25 fisheye adapter

Shot with Sony 2x telephoto adapter

Notice in the first shot (using fisheye or wide angle) the elements seem far apart…there appears to be more space between the front element Lego anchorman at desk) and the rear element (TV truck). Then look at the third shot…the TV truck and anchorman appear closer together…there appears to be less space between the elements.

This is all relative. The first shot was taken inches away from the anchorman…the third shot was taken probably five feet away. So if you compare the distance from the camera to the closer element and the farther away one, it is LESS in the first shot and MORE in the second shot. To get a clearer idea, see the illustration below.

The top illustration shows the photographer close to the tree and the tree about an equal distance to the mountain.
The lower illustration shows the mountain the tree the same distance apart, but the photographer has moved back.
So the distance between the photographer relative to the distance between the tree and mountain has been altered.
From the photographer’s point of view, the objects in the upper illustration are far apart…in the lower illustration they are closer together.

Questions anyone?

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