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Now it’s officially official. I’ve joined AOL’s FanHouse.com as its Page 1 editor. I couldn’t be any more excited. There are a lot things appealing about the job — the fact I have a job is appealing in itself — but the opportunity to shape a major sports site and make it one of the premier destinations for sports journalism really gets my juices flowing.

FanHouse has added a stable of talented and respected journalists and bloggers — while other publications cut back. How could you not be thrilled, ecstatic, exhilarated, electrified, etc., etc., about a company that’s willing to invest and expand in this environment? FH wants to be at the forefront of the new media landscape, and I feel lucky to have a stake and voice in it.

Here’s the press release, which made me blush a little. And a story from MediaPost.

I’m going to get my hands dirty soon, diving into the site and getting to work. I hope you give FanHouse a chance and some of your page views (if you’re a true friend, you’ll make the site your home page). FanHouse — it’s going to be Fan-tastic!

As newspapers shutter across the country, we’ve heard arguments for their survival and existence. Defenders of the newsprint say newspapers add to and aid our democracy. Do they? An interesting take from Jack Shafer of Slate.

Far from being yahoos, the Americans who thumbed their noses at newspapers in the Pew poll have a point. Even an excellent newspaper carries only a few articles each day that could honestly be said to nurture the democratic way. Car bomb in Pakistan? Drug war in Mexico? Flood in North Dakota? Murder in the suburbs? Great places to get Thai food after midnight? A review of the Britney Spears concert? New ideas on how to serve leftover turkey? The sports scores? The stock report? Few of these stories are likely to supercharge the democratic impulse.

One thing is clear: Americans are voting with their wallets and news habits. They have no use for newspapers, whether or not it makes the U.S. a better democracy.

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This is one of my favorite pictures to go on the front page of ESPN.com (I love Kobe’s reaction, of course, but I also like the photographers and the random dude with the mustache in the background). This is from the 2006 playoffs, when Kobe and the Lakers were on the verge of knocking out the Suns (Phoenix would come back to win the series.) Sometimes, if you get the perfect image, the packaging writes itself. I could have written gibberish and no one would notice — they’d be transfixed on Kobe.

For those missing my work writing witty and not-so-witty headlines (and I know there are a lot of you out there), there is good, significant news. I’ll be producing the front page of another major sports site soon. Be prepared for more movie and music references, silly wordplay and basic tomfoolery. I’ll let you know which site deserves your clicks once I’m officially rolling. Until then, I need to brush up on my sports lingo and audacious alliterations.

more about “Calhoun Addresses Alleged Violations …“, posted with vodpod

 

Here’s UConn coach Jim Calhoun responding to the Yahoo! Sports report alleging recruiting violations made by his program.

It’s a weak response, especially since this is the same coach who told a freelance reporter/activist who was questioning his $1.6 million salary (in a state that is facing a budget crisis — which state isn’t?) to “shut up.”

The comment that rankled me was his dismissive remark about where the report came from. It was from a “blog story, I guess, that appeared on something that I probably can’t get ahold of.”

Well, it wasn’t a blog — although it’s time for people still living in the stone age to stop believing blog is a dirty word — it was on Yahoo! Sports, the most trafficked sports site on the Web. The story was uncovered by Adrian Wojnarowski and Dan Wetzel, two reporters with extensive journalism backgrounds. Yahoo! Sports is a major online journalism operation, led by the former sports editor of the Los Angeles Times. I have to believe that they’ve sourced the story, verified their research and ran it through legal (not that a blog can’t do that, just pointing out what every publication should do on a story of this magnitude).

While we can debate the way Yahoo! Sports framed and packaged the story (as one former colleague was all too happy to knock this afternoon), we have to acknowledge the “break.” Breaking news online — whether it be TMZ, The Smoking Gun, etc — is here to stay.

While it may be just a blog report written by two pot-smoking dudes in a basement to Coach Calhoun, it’s also a report that could send the Hall of Fame coach into early retirement. Now that would be something to blog about.

To appease my many (two) loyal blog readers, here’s another old ESPN.com top. And in honor of Nate Robinson’s second slam dunk championship, here’s what ESPN.com looked like the night he won his first three years ago.

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I’m still getting used to ESPN.com’s redesign. It’s definitely taking some time to get used to the new layout and navigation. I’m on record for saying that I like the new look. Some of my friends, however, are not as enthusiastic. Here’s what my friend, right in ESPN’s wheelhouse demographically, had to say in an e-mail last week.

Subject:     you know what I don’t like about new ESPN.com?

When there is BIG, Breaking News…it’s relegated to the top of the “Headlines” section!

What the fuck!!

A-Rod confesses…and i got some dumbass picture of I can’t remember.

Miguel Tejada charged with lying to Congress and I get some big as picture of Kobe Bryant!

What happened to the timely, breaking news puns! Aigh. I hate it.

I know it is kind of old now, but I think you should know, I visit ESPN.com about 1/20 the time I used to. It requires too much time. It’s like it is only geared for people who stare at it for hours on-end.

It’s like having sex with a girl that you think is ugly.

My friend, passionate and eloquent, as always.

By popular demand — and I define popular demand as two reader requests — here’s another flashback to one of my old tops.

After reading “:07 Second Of Less,” it was a pleasant surprise to find this top I wrote the night the Suns came back from a 3-1 hole to eliminate the Lakers in the 2006 playoffs. Looks like it was the same day as the Kentucky Derby, the derby that Barbaro blasted onto the scene. And if I’m right, it was probably a Saturday, which meant I pulled a double shift as the only Page 1 editor that day. On those days, I didn’t care though. I was drinking Red Bull, eating terrible Chinese food and having way too much fun to care I was on hour 15.

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New York Magazine has an illuminating feature on the journo-tech wizards at the NY Times. I suggest that anyone who is interested in journalism, the role of the press and the future of information to  read it.

As the industry fumbles its way toward reinvention and relevance, the article points out the challenges — and they are big challenges — ahead. But it also offers hope.

Here’s one quote I found myself nodding my head to:

“Print is just a device. The New York Times is not just a newspaper, it’s a news organization.” For those who believe these changes are gimmicks, he has no patience: “This isn’t a storm! This isn’t something that’s going to pass! It’s the ice age. People aren’t going to suddenly open their eyes and we’re back in print.”

But the real question is: Can a news organization, even one as innovative as NYTimes.com, make money and sustain itself in the 21st century?

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Users — er, fans — have had a week (a month if you’re an Insider) to play with and navigate the redesigned ESPN.com. The .com is an industry leader, so it’s no surprise each redesign makes big news. It’s covered by the mainstream media and by the blogosphere.

Most of the reviews lean toward the positive. Although you do get the occasional curmudgeon, who vows to never click on the site ever again. It happens with every redesign on every major site. I’ve been through my share of redesigns — — at FOXSports, the .com and msnbc.com — in my relatively young professional career. There’s always an initial avalanche of resistance. “This is the worst redesign ever!” “This sucks!” “I want it back the way it was!” But one of my former bosses once told me something that rings true with every redesign:

Most people will forget what the old site looked like after six months.

How many people remember what ESPN.com looked like a decade ago? Thankfully, there’s this retrospective gallery to remind us how far the WWL — and the wild, wild Web — have come. Shoot, ESPN.com was still hyperlinking within blurbs in 2006 (I still remember the edict to stop that practice — not everyone liked it).

It does take time for users — and editors — to get familiar and comfortable with the new design. The route to your fantasy league and team is no longer programmed into your memory — it’s as if your favorite sub sandwich joint (Tubs Subs in Lake City for me) moved to a different neighborhood. It’s going to throw a wrench into things, but you eventually figure out the fastest way to get there.

Although most people have chimed in on the redesign — those interested should check out Mike Davidson’s erudite insights — I figure I’ll add my two cents as a user and a former Page 1 editor.

As a user, I dig it. Less clutter, a larger canvass for photos (the photo editors must be pumped), a site that’s easier on the eyes. I still get the top headlines above the fold; I still get the scoreboard up top; I still get the Sports Guy. Most importantly, I can now log onto the site while I’m listening to Pandora on my headphones without fear of rupturing my ear drums when the video auto-plays. I thought ESPN.com’s previous design was tops among  the other sports sites — sure, I’m a little bias — with SI.com coming in second. Nothing has changed with this redesign.

As an editor looking at the redesign, I might be more critical. Instead of one “top” story, there are now 12, four on each page. There is also an area for the day’s top 12 videos. That’s 24 “packages” to program, although videos are much easier since there’s no main headline nor blurb to write. At the bottom of the page there is an area for 18 features. There are probably other areas — editor’s choice, the columnists, perhaps the poll — that the page 1 editor has to keep track of and update.

The workload, which is probably more now, doesn’t really bother me much since I don’t work there any more (I’ve heard they’ve hired a couple more Page 1 editors to handle the page). One gripe from an editorial view is that stories and features have a lower profile unless they are in the top story spots. I wonder how many people will scroll down to the bottom of the page. Some of you might disagree with me, but I liked the revolving slide-show of features in the old design. It was functional, versatile — prime real estate that everyone could get a piece of. Now, many of the secondary stories/sports will be relegated to the bottom of the page. It would be interesting to see what kind of click-throughs those stories will get, considering most people don’t scroll or click on tabs.

One other concern — this one is a little personal and selfish — is the real estate and control given to the Page 1 editor, who sets the editorial tone of the home page. In the previous designs, there was always room for the editor to inject a little color and personality. In fact, that’s what the Page 1 editor is supposed to do. I always spent a lot of effort, if not time, crafting my “tops”, making sure they were well-written, creative and better than the competition. At first glance, the space for the main headline is longer but the area for the blurbs seems to be shorter, especially if you include other links.

That means less room for words and wordplay. Here are a couple old tops of mine from the previous design:

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Oh, I’ve got more screen grabs if you want ‘em.

The current top leading the site (I wonder what the nomenclature is: first top? top dog?) has just 18 words, about 95 characters. Although the design is sleeker and simpler, space — especially for words — is at a premium. I guess we could all appreciate a little brevity. It will be interesting to see the editors getting to know the site, right along with the users. One thing I appreciated about my former boss at ESPN.com was that he wanted us to push the envelope, try new ideas, break rules. He loved it when one of the other editors wrote a haiku for the lead story. He gave me a lot of leeway in how I approached writing headlines and blurbs. It was important that I was given the freedom — and space — to be creative. There were a few misses, to be sure, but I’m pretty proud of my work as a Page 1 editor.

I’m hoping this redesign will allow the Page 1 editors to showcase their wit and unique locution —  and not just pigeonhole them as glorified content aggregators.

Overall, I’m impressed by the redesign. ESPN.com showed once again why they’re considered the King Kong of sports sites. I’ve excited to see the evolution of the site, because I’m sure they left room to fiddle with it. And I’m pretty sure some of the Page 1 editors are already devising ways to break some rules. I know I would.

From the New York Times:

Chinese authorities have begun blocking access from mainland China to the Web site of The New York Times even while lifting some of the restrictions they had recently imposed on the Web sites of other media outlets.

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