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Snippet of COVID-004 - Pivoting in a Pandemic

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Welcome to this special series of the GBH Collective podcast, where we’ll be checking in with members of our global team to keep you updated on unfolding events surrounding COVID-19. I’m Michael Kiser. Today's guests are special to me—both of them are media peers who I’ve often measured myself against. They’re also just delightful humans who are always accessible and open to inquiry. Over the years, they’ve helped me think about Good Beer Hunting’s business model, our audiences, and the ways in which we all develop our voices. As the world started turning upside down this past month, I wanted to check in with them to see how they were handling things—both personally and as part of a larger organization. How did they process the world-changing news? How did they work with their teams to adapt? And how do they expect to evolve going forward? These conversations go far beyond beer and media. First up in Eno Sarris of The Athletic. The Athletic is a phenomenon in the sports-writing world. It has a subscription-based readership, much like our own Fervent Few member community. And it serves as a platform for people who want both exceptional narratives and deep dives into data. In that way, it covers a spread much like GBH does.
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paid subscription with your biggest fans. Tell us about the strategy behind that and sort of the emotional kind of hook of it all. I mean, sports is, you know, it's not unlike beer, where there's a lot of people who care a ton about it. Um, but tell us about the how that business model works for you and how that plays into what you're able to write about. You know, I steal a phrase that your listeners Well, no, I steal a phrase all the time. I say it's about the fervent few. Uh, I I use that to explain the athletic, always So, uh, you know, when you're when you're making free content, which is is a fine way toe live. And there's a lot of people who who have made it work. But it's getting harder and harder, and the reason why is you have to you have to make something appeals to a wide variety of people. It has to appeal the masses. It has to get a lot of people in in order to make the ad money work. And then I read this great piece in the New York magazine about how many views that are out there are not really people and how often people are just buying views and how their farms and their these click farms and how there's unsteady foundation to the ad model. Um, and I think that what you find on the Internet is you do still have this sort of broadcast model. But mostly people go on the Internet with a narrow casting few. They want to get on the Internet and find everything out about something. They love ping pong. They love fly fishing. You know, they love beer. They love baseball. Whatever it is they wanna be, they wanna be very knowledgeable about it. And the Internet could do that for them. And so we're can't. We're sort of writing that that wave of energy and just being like, we're gonna be everything to you. We're gonna be very responsive to you. We're gonna give you the content you want. We wanna have a very active relationship with you. We wanna have a strong relationship with you. We're gonna take ads out of that picture. We're gonna give you a very nice, clean reading experience. But we're also gonna be reactive. We're gonna see what you like. We're gonna ask you what you like. We're gonna We're gonna make sure we retain you. We're gonna make sure that we attract you, and then we're gonna make this a very sort of, uh, tight relationships Like I was getting away from writing about fantasy because I thought writing my fancy would be bad for my career or whatever. Like it was the thing that you know I shouldn't do because I had lofty ambitions or whatever. But when I got Thio the athletic, they basically said, Your numbers are crazy When you do a fantasy piece, you gotta you gotta at least do a column for us per week. And I guess you got more subscriptions and had a tighter relationship with a part of my readership that, you know, I have been kind of going away from So it's sort of really just thinks about things as a relationship between the content provider and the content consumer and making that a strong bond. I mean, that was always the goal right is to make the reader the customer rather than advertising the customer, which it changes the dynamic. I mean, I became a subscriber I mean, I'm not somebody that I haven't been interested in sports, uh, in a compelling way. I would say in Jesus, not since you know, right after college, Maybe. I mean, I I sort of loosely, you know, enjoy going to baseball games in Chicago. But I'm I'm kind of that casual fan that shows up to the beer garden of Wrigley that everybody kind of loves to hate on guy. You know, I enjoy baseball. Even when I go, though, I would keep score would pay attention even though I didn't know half the players on the team. Um, but what started hooking me in was, you know, people like pitching ninja on Twitter, and I started kind of reconnecting with this thing that I knew I loved, which was pitching and the dynamics of it and like, the intricacies of it. And Theoklitos kind of hooked me on the back end of that when you you start Well, there was two pieces that got me One was. You guys did that huge investigative piece where you broke the news on minor league payments. Oh, our salaries, which was just astonishing piece of journalism. And I think you know most most outlets might have been pretty hesitant to put some information like that out there because it it's sort of violates that unspoken agreement between the industry you serve and the industry you write about, um, where you don't necessarily want to make it look bad, right? Um, it violates the tenets of access journalism in a lot of ways. But that powerful. We broke a second big piece this year when it came to the Houston Astros, and their sign stealing, which is, you know, kind of gets into the dirty. It's not just them and it's and it and it gets into, like, the dirty side of of the tricks and the and the and the kind of underside of baseball, and you're right that it can be seen a sort of tainting baseball. But one of the nice things is we're not beholden. We're not
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