Six-month check-in: Here's where the newsletter is at the start of the New Year
A look at what has worked, where the newsletter is now and what the plan is moving forward in 2021
Today marks six months since I launched this newsletter. For some reason, six months ago, I decided that the Fourth of July was a good time to launch an independent publication, the timing of which probably didn’t make much sense then and it makes even less sense now.
But luckily, people found it, read it and subscribed to it.
With the start of the New Year and six months of publishing under my belt, I wanted to take a step back to look at what has worked, where the newsletter is now, and what the plan is moving forward in 2021. Friend of the newsletter, Matt Brown of Extra Points, has provided updates for his readers during the evolution of his newsletter, so I thought it’d be worthwhile to do something similar.
This is my 54th newsletter. I’ve published a newsletter every Friday since the Fourth of July, plus 28 other newsletters, which is roughly two per week. Kind of like launching a newsletter on the Fourth of July, choosing a publishing schedule that involved editing the final drafts of newsletters on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve may not have been my smartest decision, but here we are.
What topics interest you?
In the first six months, the two newsletters that got the most attention were my original reporting on the University of Nebraska’s communication with the Big Ten and other stakeholders in the hours leading up to the Big Ten’s decision to postpone fall sports in August and a newsletter on what happened in the aftermath of the Clemson-Florida State football game getting postponed on the morning of the game.
Looking back, it’s not a surprise that those newsletters were read by more people than any other editions that I’ve published. They tapped into the raw, and often tribal, emotion of some of the largest and most passionate fan bases in college football.
And hopefully, sooner rather than later, there won’t be the need for anyone to debate contrasting safety protocols, incubation periods, false positives or travel restrictions, once COVID-19 vaccines become widely available to the U.S. population at large.
However, in the cases of the Nebraska vs. the Big Ten and the Clemson-Florida State sagas, respectively, I do think it was important to report on the behind-the-scenes decision-making that went into a conference initially pulling the plug on fall sports and the fallout from the school that most publicly fought that decision, just as it was important to report on the conversations that took place behind the scenes before, during and after the first game-day postponement in college football this season, which happened in Tallahassee.
Because even when the COVID-19 storylines go away, or at least when they start to take a back seat, the bubbling discord between Nebraska and the Big Ten, or between Clemson and Florida State, won’t suddenly go away.
Dabo Swinney will still want to hang 80 on the Noles the next time he sees them, and maybe even the time after that, too. And Nebraska might just accept a status as more of a business partner than a brother in the Big Ten – if it hasn’t already – which could help educate and explain future decisions within the conference. There will still be rivalries between conferences, within conferences and sometimes between a school and its conference going forward, except that hopefully COVID-19 will no longer play a supporting role in those dramas.
So, what other topics in college athletics do you care about, beyond the ever-present COVID-19 storylines? What interests you?
It could be name, image and likeness rights, the current and future financial situations for athletic departments, or the future of college football scheduling after schools proved they don’t have to schedule games for 2082 anymore, after many were able to put together scheduling agreements within a matter of days, if not hours, this season.
I want to hear from you.
Or, even if you just want to talk shop – whether it be about college sports, the future of the media industry, or the never-ending and cruel heartbreak of fantasy football, where you might lose by seven-tenths of a point in the semifinals and then have Alvin Kamara score 56 points the following week – I’m all ears.
That last one was completely hypothetical, by the way. I’m definitely not mad online about my fantasy team. Please don’t put it in the paper that I’m mad online about fantasy football.
You can shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or send me a message on Twitter.
Will I ever try to monetize the newsletter?
I’ve been asked this question a handful of times. Making money off this newsletter was the last thing on my mind when I launched it, and that hasn’t changed.
My mom has a coworker who used to work in sports journalism at a major metropolitan newspaper and one day when she was Being A Good Mom at work and mentioned my newsletter in passing, her coworker was like, “He needs to find a way to monetize that.”
In the dog days of summer, when we weren’t sure what the college football season would look like, or if there would even be a college football season, or if the jobs covering the sport could survive a fall without football, I wanted an outlet where I could (hopefully) write about smart, important topics about college athletics in my free time, in addition to my day job.
It wasn’t about making money.
Hell, I majored in journalism, I had six internships before landing my first full-time, salaried job in this industry and I’m living in my 13th city since 2014, so no part of this career path has ever really been about the money. I spent Christmas night in 2017 sitting on the tarmac in the last row of a recently de-iced plane, where my ticket was for a window seat that didn’t actually have a window, just so that I could get back to work the next day.
I say all of that to say that for as much as sports media can definitely fit that “find a job you love and you’ll never have to work a day in your life” mantra, there are also sacrifices that undoubtedly come along with working in the industry. This career path has never been about chasing a quick buck.
With all that being said, I also realize that if this newsletter continues to grow, there might come a time in 2021 or beyond where it might be unwise for me not to try to monetize it somehow.
Substack, by design, lends itself to paid subscriptions. The minimum subscription cost that Substack allows publishers to charge is $5 per month or $30 per year. Substack takes a 10-percent cut of all subscription fees, plus Stripe charges 2.9 percent, plus 30 cents, in processing fees per credit card transaction. As Substack has said on Twitter, a newsletter publisher gets to keep $86 out of every $100 in paid subscriptions.
I think it’s important for readers to understand Substack’s business model – not even specifically in the case of this newsletter, but just as media consumers in general – as the media landscape is changing and outlets, such as The Athletic, ESPN+ and probably your local newspaper, have embraced subscription models with paywalls that require monthly or annual fees, as many outlets have pivoted from (or at least de-emphasized) ads and those dreaded autoplay videos.
Another monetization option for this newsletter could be paid advertisements, which theoretically wouldn’t be distracting for the reader, while also marketing a product or service that’s tied to topics that I write about, like athletics or media. Or, if there’s a media company out there that would ever want to talk about syndication, I’d be open to that, too.
But right now, my only focus is on consistently producing original reporting and writing that readers will hopefully find interesting and that you won’t find anywhere else, and then hopefully I’ll continue to build my audience along the way.
Trying to balance content and voice
At some point during journalism school or during one of my internships, I was told how it’s rare to find a 20-something columnist because, well, who really wants to hear the thoughts of a 23-year-old?
It’s probably a fair assessment, even if it sounds a bit harsh.
Based on the metrics I track, I know that columns typically perform worse than newsletters that contain hard news. This isn’t about chasing pageviews but, obviously, it’s better when more people read and share your work.
Therein lies something I’ve been working on as a writer: blending exclusive, original reporting with a voice that’s hopefully original and authentic, and funny and empathetic when appropriate. Like most writers, it’s something I’ve been trying to work on.
One of the most rewarding parts of 2020 was joining the staff of Crimson Quarry, which is the SB Nation site that covers Indiana University. It has allowed me to write about Taco Bell, parking tickets, Aflac trivia questions and the 16 actual or proposed mascots in the history of Indiana. When we shared my Taco Bell story – “The Taco Bell on Walnut Hall of Fame” – on Twitter, almost a Memorial Stadium crowd’s worth of people read it, shared it or saw it. I’d like to think that was because the voice and the tone of the story tapped into some sort of communal, relatable experience about the late-night escapades that have happened at my alma mater’s most famous Taco Bell. Almost everyone who has spent any considerable amount of time in Bloomington seems to have a story from that Taco Bell that you almost can’t believe, except that you do believe it, because, well, you probably have your own story that’s just as ridiculous.
Those readers weren’t reading that story about Taco Bell because I had spent 30 minutes filing public records requests late on a Sunday night that then gave me a piece of exclusive content, which has certainly been an integral part of my reporting process for this newsletter. I’d like to think they were reading that story because of the tone, the voice, a couple of decent jokes and because wait a minute, why are members of Taco Bell’s kitchen staff getting involved in a 2 a.m. dust-up in the drive-thru line?
If anything, I hope that I’ll take more Taco Bell-like chances with my writing in 2021. Come for the exclusive reporting, hopefully stay for the column on how Purdue implemented a sports wagering policy that didn’t result in a single reported infraction in the first year.
Even if it’s a little risky or unorthodox, there are probably times where it’s worth taking a swing at a Taco 12-Pack and a 32-ounce Baja Blast at 1 a.m., rather than playing it safe with a beef burrito and a cup of water.
Recap of the last newsletter
(Click the image below to read)
“However, while the Western Officiating Consortium’s protocols state that the host institution is responsible for the COVID-19 testing for officials prior to a game, on the opposite coast, some Big East administrators explicitly said that not only would some schools not be responsible for testing officials, but their legal counsels said they weren’t allowed to test officials.”
Thank you for reading this edition of Out of Bounds with Andy Wittry. If you enjoyed it, please consider sharing it on social media or sending it to a friend or colleague. Questions, comments and feedback are welcome at email@example.com or on Twitter.