Though I couldn’t care less about full disclosure — this is my blog and I’ll write what I want — I should say that I worked with Thomas Dunne at Travel & Leisure Golf for several years. Tom is a thinker — the type who likes a good meaty pitch and wants to make his writers think about their ideas. He always made my writing better, which was why I was sad to see him cut from the magazine just before Christmas. Of course we now know the rest of the story — that T&L Golf is no more and the golf world is a poorer place because of it. If you want proof, look no further than Tom’s terrific feature on “The Lost Mackenzie.”
Anyway, on the bright side, Tom has now launched a new smart blog, which is no surprise considering he’s a clever guy. It has been a while since I’ve encountered golf blogs I want to check every day and now there are two — Tom’s Out and Back and Punch Bowl Golf (which I’ll have an interview with on Friday).
I’ve checked in with Mr. Dunne as he explains the changing face of golf media and, Lord help me, the role of Twitter in golf blogs.
G4G: How the hell are you?
Not bad, thanks. It’s been a long, tough winter for a lot of people, and obviously it was hard to see T+L Golf go under, so the arrival of spring is really welcome. I just got out for my first round of the year the other day. I played at my home club as a single and had the course to myself for almost the entire round. It’s amazing what golf can do for your mindset when it’s kept simple, when you don’t take it for granted.
G4G: Multiple choice: Golf writing in North America is a) dying b) dead c) not quite as sickly as some would suggest.
I’ll choose C, but that’s not to say that a major trauma hasn’t occurred. It’s apparent that we’re in the middle of a period of revolutionary change in so many aspects of how we live our lives. One of those aspects, obviously, being how we consume media. The Internet has eroded the foundations of print journalism without (yet) offering a sustainable business model as a replacement–I’d recommend Clay Shirky’s “Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable” as a pretty decent road map of what’s going on. But that only means there are fewer good, paying outlets at the moment, not that journalism itself is dying or dead. I’ve noticed prominent golf writers like Thomas Bonk and Lewine Mair catch on with online organizations within weeks after being laid off from their old print jobs. So good reporting is still a valuable commodity–it’s just become harder for as many people to make a living at it.
But it also goes back to that sign Bill Clinton used to keep on his desk: It’s the Economy, Stupid. For all the talk of the systemic change that the Internet has brought to bear on the industry, all of these newspapers and magazines didn’t fold because advertisers moved all of their media buys online, they folded because companies stopped advertising, period. I think when the economy rebounds you’ll see the outlets that survived the fallout expand and new ones come in to fill the void. That might even include print, to an extent–it remains a really effective way for marketers to reach their audience–and some lost jobs will return. The days of a traveling press corps covering the Tour for various daily newspapers might be over, but it’s not impossible that a decade from now you’ll have a similar level of coverage from as many or more entities, both print and online, each seeking to gain an edge over the others, however slight, by offering a more informative or more entertaining perspective in its reporting. The whole thing just needs time to shake out.
G4G: Why a blog now?
Well, I still enjoy producing stories–both my own and editing the work of others–and I thought this would be a good way to maintain the network I built up over the seven years I spent working as a magazine editor. I see it as a chance to fill at least some of the void that T+L Golf left behind in terms of the way that magazine covered golf travel and architecture, and maybe incorporate some of my own sensibility as well. Working online is liberating in the sense that you can go out on a limb and write about subjects that perhaps only have a tangential connection to golf–business and the media, technology, politics, the arts, etc. I always wrote in the hope that my magazine features would have almost as much appeal to non-golfers as “core” golfers, and I continue to see that as something worth pursuing. Sure, sometimes there will be a subject that demands some prior knowledge of the game and its history, but I’d like to try to reach others, too.
G4G: Does other social media, twitter, etc., serve a purpose within golf?
Sure, in the sense that they’re a way to stay connected, stay “wired.” A lot of blogs, mine included, have Twitter accounts set up so that they tweet whenever something new is posted, which is a nice way to keep readers informed, especially if they’re not visiting the site every day. I occasionally come up with content from reading people’s feeds, too. But all of these social networking sites are gadgets, basically, and I suspect there will be an entirely new crop of them five years from now. They can be useful, but they’re ultimately ancillary to the real goal of producing good material. That said, going forward you can expect to see marketers ramping up their presence on Facebook, Twitter et al. even more than the media itself. Why pay for media, the thinking goes, when you can “earn” it?
G4G: Where do you see Out and Back heading?
That’s a very good question, and I wish I knew the answer. I’m on unfamiliar terrain here. There are so many facets of the Web in 2009–“tags”, search engine optimization, click-through rate, etc.–that just sound like jargon to me, and my understanding of these things is rudimentary at best.
This might sound disingenuous, but really I’m a magazine editor, not a businessman. I’m not overly keen on self-promotion–which is why I’m glad for this interview, Rob, because it’s something that at least has some value, however small, as a nugget of content for G4G’s readership. I’m aware that all of this is far from the ideal entrepreneurial profile, but my goal for the site isn’t to promote myself–it’s to create a new outlet for good writers and their work. One of the great things about having experience in print is that you get an intense bug for quality control, for clean copy, because once it’s printed there’s no going back. Even though I can now edit a post with the click of a mouse, that working method is pretty deeply ingrained. I’m not holding myself up as in any way unique–almost everyone with a background in print journalism understands the value of the process compared to the “quick and dirty” approach you sometimes see online.
Anyway, to return to the original question–the future direction of the site–much of it depends on whether readers will be willing to spend a few bucks here and there on the type of content that I hope to offer. Out and Back will focus primarily on original material rather than time-sensitive blog posts. There are other sites, like Geoff Shackelford’s, that cover that territory far more effiectively than I could ever hope. I believe that writers should be fairly compensated for their work, so the question then becomes one of resources. I’ve set up a Donation button on the site, and I intend to pour 100% of reader contributions back into the site in the form of new material. In the early going this might just go to small pieces from established writers, but I will provide as much transparency as possible as to how donations are disbursed. I would absolutely encourage feedback from readers on how to make the site worth their while, so that every dime spent is going toward the goal of providing valuable information and plain old-fashioned Good Reads for the community.
If this approach doesn’t work, that’s fine. I’ll still maintain the site and do as much as I can with it on my own.
We’ll see how it goes!