CJR’s Launch Pad feature invites new media publishers to blog about their experiences on the news frontier. Past Launch Pad columns can be found here.
Back in August, Eric Freeman—one of the writers involved in The Classical, the Kickstarter-funded sports writing startup of which I’m a founding editor—told The Village Voice “we need money so we can run The Classical like a real venture and not some quickly designed Wordpress blog or Tumblr.”
Well, here we are, incorporated and sitting on over $55,000 … with a Tumblr. At least for the next month or so.
The internet, despite being text-based, often works like a self-serving game of telephone, and soon, Eric was being criticized for his haughty rejection of a “shitty Tumblr or Wordpress blog”. In fact, Eric meant no disrespect to WordPress, Tumblr, or anyone using them as platforms for (generally unpaid) writing. That’s the world that spawned Freeman, myself, and most of the folks involved in The Classical, and we couldn’t lose sight of that ethos if we wanted to. My former site, FreeDarko.com, was a deliberately under-designed, overwritten blog that lasted six years. We also managed to get two book deals.
The Classical was always imagined as a similar experiment: taking the energy, and oddity, of ventures like FreeDarko and applying it to a more robust, and professional, publishing venture. Plus, it would have been incredibly foolish of us to identify as “post-punk sportswriting” if our real goal was to build the next ESPN.
The fact remains that, after months of insisting that we were putting together something grand and ambitious, and raising money on that promise, The Classical started life as a preview Tumblr, publishing two pieces a day. It’s a very pretty, souped-up Tumblr, inspired by what the Los Angeles Review of Books is doing in its preview phase. Our logo is pretty darn awesome, too. And yet, we have a Tumblr, and we’re still figuring out how exactly to make The Classical run smoothly when almost everyone involved has other responsibilities during the day. It sounds awfully familiar, doesn’t it?
Actually, that this first month has a lot in common with good ol’ fashioned blogging is an encouraging sign, and certainly no accident. Our Kickstarter drive closed in late September. Naively, we announced that we aimed to launch in time for the World Series. Internally, we pretended this was smart business; our group is especially strong on baseball, and we think a lot of our potential readers ride hard for MLB. The World Series would allow us to make a splash, and capitalize on this strength before the sport went away until April.
In retrospect, it was a pretty terrible plan. Putting together a state-of-the-art Drupal site and robust backend, as well as setting up a company and starting to communicate with potential sponsors, takes more than the month or so we had left ourselves. Really, we set that date because we wanted the chance to write about the World Series (luckily, our friends at Deadspin set us up with a daily column for the duration of the Fall Classic).
The Classical began back in February, with a document called “Awl of sports”, shared with four other people. It was a list of all the writers we liked. A lot has changed since then, but The Classical is still mostly a bunch of writers trying to find an audience for the sports writing they want to write—and themselves read.
The material that’s gone up on our preview Tumblr is among the best stuff any of us have written. It helps to have a strong editorial safety net, but it’s also a testament to just what a gas it is to work as a part of this group. It certainly doesn’t feel like a job—and again, while we raised a lot of money, The Classical isn’t allowing any of us to quit our day jobs. Maybe that’s a good thing, at least for now.
Except even if we’re starting out with a Tumblr, and reminding ourselves that, really, this site is all about the writing, there have been some moves in the opposite direction. The Classical has already evolved past the anarchists’ collective we had originally planned for; our non-hierarchical structure—and endless e-mail discussions—have given way to titles and clear-cut responsibilities. I can’t remember the last time I watched the trailer for La Chinoise to get myself in the proper mindset. Guest writers providing almost half of our content has been a welcome development, but one that requires a lot more systemization and protocol.
We may be enjoying our month as a Tumblr, but behind the scenes, we’re bracing ourselves to leave home once and for all.