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Thursday, March 21, 2019

Cleveland.com Unveils 'Project Text,' Another Bad Idea

Posted By on Thu, Mar 21, 2019 at 3:30 PM

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Stating the obvious, "Project Text," the new cleveland.com initiative whereby dedicated local sports fans can receive breaking news alerts, insight and analysis from cleveland.com beat reporters for $3.99 / month, is a bad, redundant idea that no one asked for.

Here's how it's being promoted

"With Project Text, you'll find out what's on the minds of beat writers as they cover the team each day, as well as get their perspective on what to expect next. The reporters will send out a handful of messages each week, and you can reply directly to them through text."



In other words, this service provides subscribers with a watered-down, less functional Twitter feed while subjecting reporters to the very worst elements of the comments section. Subscribers are being sold exclusivity and intimacy. It's unlikely that they'll get much of either.

In the first place, the service is a terrible value. The $3.99 monthly price tag gets you access to only one of the four reporters participating: Chris Fedor for the Cavs, Paul Hoynes for the Indians, Mary Kay Cabot for the Browns, or Doug Lesmerises for Ohio State football. A "handful of text messages per week" might mean 6-8 messages. It might also mean three or four.

For the monthly price of a single reporter's texts, sports fans could subscribe to the Athletic. For the monthly price of text messages from Fedor, Hoynes, Cabot and Lesmerises, subscribers could purchase a digital subscription to the New York Times and still have $6 / month to spare. Most importantly, subscribers can already read all of these reporters' stories, and follow a good deal of their movement and thoughts on Twitter, for free. 

Devil's advocate: Project Text is obviously for hardcore fans, folks who want every last detail about their favorite team and the drama behind the scenes. So they're willing to pay for exclusive content.

Fair enough. But diehard fans surely already follow these reporters on Twitter, where all four post constantly and where big sports news is disseminated in real-time. Hardcore fans also listen to sports radio, where they can hear endless bickering and hot-taking about transactions and individual player performances. Many of them may already subscribe to the Athletic or Sports Illustrated and/or watch ESPN programming as well, in addition to watching, you know, actual sports. There's no shortage of #content. Nor are there limited opportunities for #engagement. Fans can interact by spouting off in the cleveland.com comments section, sparring with reporters and others in their social media mentions and even calling in to 92.3 or WKNR.

The point is, Project Text offers a less satisfying version of existing free options. It claims that in addition to receiving text messages, subscribers will be able to "reply directly" to the reporters via text. But it doesn't say that the reporters will text back. So it's not like you'll be buying conversations. If anything, you'll be buying the illusion of communicating with a local reporter "in the same way you communicate with your friends." This is just a bad deal for all parties. Subscribers will want more personal interaction with the reporters, while the reporters, undoubtedly, will want less. 

On the off-chance that reporters are required to text back their subscribers individually, it's an outrageous waste of time and energy. Even if only 250 people subscribed to Mary Kay Cabot's texts, for example, she'd be spending her entire day fending off their non-stop questions and insults. (A Twitter feed is convenient, in that respect, because a reporter can engage directly with good-faith questions and banter while ignoring, or even blocking, abusive commentary, which Cabot gets a ton of.)

Moreover, the thing that most diehard fans want is consistently good, deep reporting: Both scoops about injuries, trades, and front-office chatter and probing analysis about trends and notes across the league, player personalities and beefs, deep-cut local stats, and even fluffy extraneous details — where will OBJ get his hair colored in Cleveland? Who is the best Fortnite player on the Indians? etc. This is what beat reporters can provide that bloggers and talk show hosts just can't. They are with the teams a ton, and gathering and processing all that info requires time and work, which nonstop engagement tends to detract from.

From a business perspective, then, this "revenue ploy" from Advance undermines an individual reporter's output by inverting the hierarchy of valuable content. To reiterate, all of the stories by the above beat reporters will remain free to read on cleveland.com. It's this engagement, this simulated intimacy, that sports fans — who are accustomed to "insider" packages — will have to pony up for.

And though I'm not a sports reporter, I have to imagine this is extremely annoying. Aside from the occasional big Twitter scoop — about a pending trade or injury, notably —  hard-working beat writers are generally most proud of the stories they write, often under intense deadline and competitive pressure. Social media and other forms of engagement are optimized for drumming up interest in, and conversation about, their published work, ideally driving customers to a quality print or online publication. 

Advance has it backwards. What should be marquee content remains free online while audience engagement — marketing, essentially, the stuff of newsletters: a reporter's "thought process"; "what's coming next," — is packaged as a premiere product. 

Anyway, here are the four reporters' Twitter handles.

Chris Fedor, Cavs: @ChrisFedor
Paul Hoynes, Indians: @hoynsie
Mary Kay Cabot, Browns: @MaryKayCabot
Doug Lesmerises, Ohio State Buckeyes: @DougLesmerises

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