The question has always been the same: why would anybody pay for online content, such as analyses, exclusive and long features when there are millions of them available for free? Moreover, who on Earth wants to read an article, watch a video or listen to a podcast for half an hour when instead they can catch shortened versions of them on Twitter in less than 240 characters?
One might say that traditional journalism is dying because the journalists haven’t been able to adapt to the requirements of the 21st century. In the era of post-truth, where it’s way more important to know who said it rather than what is being said, habits might have changed irreversibly: consumers don’t seem to bother with quality content anymore and choose comfort. And comfort means speed; on the other hand, comfort means superficiality, too.
In an ideal world, journalists would like to take the industry to its next phase where they would be moving people out of their comfort zones and have them entertained at the same time. It doesn’t matter if the subject is politics, sports, or culture.
How would you do that? A legitimate question and the answer is somewhere out there, invisible. Until then an exciting, extraordinary project may just have laid the foundations down for the next competitors.
A couple of days ago, The Athletic just opened its British version, employing some of the best English-speaking sports journalists around the United Kingdom. The best football league on Earth, the Premier League, is a well-respected, global brand, and providing never-heard, never-seen stories right from its backstage might change the whole industry once and for all.
At The Athletic headquarters they aimed high, they aimed for the world, though only time will tell if it is a fairy tale, the aforementioned next phase, or a fail. The risk is real, but no risk it, no biscuit, right? As Bruce Arians likes to say.
While there are some concerns, the UK version started smoothly: on the first day they had some pretty good, in-depth stories published and they haven’t stopped since. Its quality is mind-blowing. It’s fair to say that, at least right now, the project is taking shape, and the consumers have put their trust into the product.
There have never been any guarantees that The Athletic would ever work the same as it had been overseas for a couple of years before the launch of the UK version. At The Athletic, they knew it all along but they didn’t care about it. It’s fascinating that how much the US and the UK market are different – the latter is more traditional, its size is way smaller and most of its consumers are life-long tabloid subscribers – yet the nature of the consumers is pretty much the same.
At The Athletic entrusted brands have been hired, basically, the journalists with their Twitter followers, to build a worldwide audience for the page. The young readers are more likely turning their heads away from their beloved tabloids because most of the time they are attached to an author and not the newspaper itself.
In the UK, a 21st journalist needs to be visible anywhere on social media. Make no mistake, being able to have a devoted follower basis does help to make the next step. An author without a core, even if they are the most talented and hard-working journalists in the Western world, might find themselves in no-man’s land.
You don’t want to find yourself in no-man’s land. On the contrary: the bigger your audience is, the more opportunities you’ll have to make that crucial leap. At The Athletic, for a couple of pounds, you can experience a little bit of the future.
It’s ok to be sceptical. It’s more than ok to be part of it. Sooner or later future will come regardless.
Cover photo by TheAthletic