Friday, August 25, 2017

Timbers rollercoaster goes beyond the pitch, but is that new? Hardly.

Sometimes you have to look away from the screen.
I had a made a promise after the New York victory post that I would talk about other Timbers related news, but due to the compressed schedule, the Rapids match got in the way of that plan. It's part of the curse and blessing that comes with running your own website and only having to answer to whatever pressing obligations are within the wheelhouse that I can do this. Granted, the ineptness of the MLS schedule doesn't help the situation one bit, either, but I've already talked about that and I'm not nearly the guy in charge of the league. Because they insist on having a lengthy postseason, the MLS season now stretches through 11 months of play from pre-season to MLS Cup and to cover international breaks and other obligations, that requires some midweek matches. Every worldwide soccer league has some form of this fixture issue, but very few have a true postseason to crown a champion. Many have a postseason to sort out teams to promote (and I'm not touching this lightning rod issue at all in this post), but otherwise, MLS is its own shepard with a championship tourney. For me, it would make much more sense to crown the Supporters' Shield winner as MLS Cup champions, but when is it ever stated that leagues - or fandom in general - have to make any sense. Sometimes, a part of that discord carries over outside the pitch as it has recently for the Timbers and their fans.

On August 14, a piece on Deadspin struck the Interwebs talking about the world of Sports Blog Nation, more commonly known as SB Nation, and how the site profits off mostly an unpaid army of writers. In the interest of full disclosure, I know several writers of the SB Nation Timbers outlet, Stumptown Footy, very well and have done several joint ventures with them, including a usually well received podcast when it gets posted (Rose City Soccer Show) and a TV venture on Comcast Sports Northwest that is currently on hiatus (Soccer City PDX) which I hope returns very soon. I happen to respect the writers and photographers that I have met, and find their site to be extremely thorough due to the vastness of their writing staff between the differing soccer ventures in Portland. When I first started my second career in blogging in 2007, the outlets covering soccer in Portland could be held on 1 hand and they were begging for anybody to read the posts - and Timbers fans responded in support. Years later, the Timbers, Thorns and Timbers 2 enjoy several outlets, podcasts and photo galleries designed to highlight their various works. For many of those folks, myself included, we do what we do for the love of the game without receiving any remuneration. While I have had a press pass every Timbers season since 2007, my only paid writing jobs were in 2011 when I wrote several pieces for the Timbers as a guest writer.
Still trying to get these accepted as currency, but so far, no dice.

Reading the DeadSpin piece was very eye opening as they talked in great deal how most of the writers are creating content for the express purpose of getting exposure for paying work in some aspect. In talking with some of the Stumptown Footy writers, I know that the group there is not only very supportive of each other and they work hard for the product, there is more equity within their world that the examples portrayed in the post. Nobody felt exploited, and the approach allowed them to write for other outlets or as their schedule permitted depending on other responsibilities. Most were doing what they were out of a desire to share their voice in love of the club, spending much of their own money and time trying to carve out a niche. It's in this that I can relate to their struggles as I talked about in my exposure bucks post back when while working in my previous outlet. I joined them in 2007 during a resurrection of the Timbers blog and one of the first discussions I had with the editors was about payment - it could happen but only if we can get the traffic numbers up through more content and hits. Otherwise, we were fairly much on our own in terms of assignments and posts between myself, Rick and my wife. I focused on match recaps and stories, Rick would do video and photo galleries, and my wife would add her own photos while providing editorial help and content advice to me.

Over the years, we spent many weekends and evenings feverishly working upon posts and galleries at home or on the road while traveling, sacrificing social time with friends on match day. Having joined the Army late in 2004, match days are as much about the social experience as it was the actual match, which meant arriving at the park several hours before kick to get settled to figure out the nightly plan. We met a few times early on for strategy sessions and a team building lunch, but otherwise, all suggestions and discussions would come by email or direct messages. This pattern continued and the questions of pay came up from time to time until I just stopped bringing it up as the answer was the same as it ever was. Writers came and went, and we were there each year until suddenly we weren't. Much of my internal struggle this year has been dealing with being the one responsible for determining site direction and figuring out how to get more traffic, but another part of it has been dealing with the end of a chapter in my life only to find it reopened in a new way.

My former world. I miss it sometimes, but I am happy with where I'm at now.

If it sounds like I'm bitter about the situation, I think the only things I am apologetic about is the impact on my relationships during my heaviest writing periods. In my mind, I was working really hard in a full time IT job while doing a side project that I hoped would add more income and notoriety. I've managed to meet some incredible and talented people and experienced things that I'm truly grateful for - I can't begin to thank the Timbers and the organization for their unwavering support of me during the various phases. I had a desire to do something more in my love of club, and I eventually learned what that sacrifice would mean. My match days would never just be hanging at the pub, singing for 90 minutes at the top of my lungs, then finish the night off with more food and drink and sleep off the result. We all make choices in our lives, and while I'm happy that my writing has sustained this for so long, I do worry about long term consequences and impacts on relationships. As much as we all sacrifice part of ourselves for success at some level, I am not interested if it costs me part of myself and the substantial people in my life. The journey to get here has given me perspective, and while I may not always realize it, I am better for having gone through the process.

To be fair, my situation is far better than many other media in the sense that I have a stable, full time job that allows me the flexibility to do this on my down time; there hasn't been many weeks where we haven't seen a post or tweet about another media outlet cutting staff to reorganize their approach or save the organization. While I admire sportcasters for what they do, the insecurity of being in the media eye is something I don't think I could live with. But the SB Nation post did trigger more than a few thoughts about what might have been. As much as being paid for writing would be huge for me, however, the hindsight here is based upon choice. I'm truly blessed and honored to have written what I have over the years, and it's important to keep that in perspective. Everyone deserves to be paid or compensated for their efforts, but sometimes fortune comes in truly unexpected ways. Granted, some of that may not actually pay the bills, but it does aid in the collective experience that is the Timbers game day. As I've always said, as long as I still love doing this and want to continue writing, I will still be here as long as the Timbers allow me to return each season. And as much as I might have topics that I want to write about, it's also important to get out and enjoy life away from the keyboard as much as possible.

Part of my Timbers memorabilia collection. I look forward to adding more.

While I hate seeing anyone losing a job for whatever reason, sometimes it is a necessary evil. Perhaps nothing emphasizes that more than recent events at the Timbers' flagship station where their recent hire for the afternoon drive time was fired after being hired just months ago. I'm not going to mention his name, but I can say that I did listen to his show on 3 separate occasions and immediately knew it wasn't for me. I grew up listening to terrestrial radio in Boise, Idaho and always prided myself on listening to local radio wherever I ended up. Portland radio has always provided several great stations and options over the years, but as we talked about above, the world of media is constantly changing with priorities in an attempt to maximize content and ad revenue. No industry has felt that more as radio, who has seen a multitude of format changes in any attempt to meet ratings. That has led to the phenomenon of overly outrageous radio personalities, who often incite their audience with bombastic talk about random topics. Talk radio has usually been restricted to the news, but it's bled over into the world of sports as several markets have endured or welcomed controversial personalities to grab listeners. Sometimes that talk goes completely off the rails, and the person in question made several disparaging remarks during his last shows that finally caused his dismissal.

Timbers fans had been working on the station and various advertisers to fire him, but it was only after a Eugene sports station picked up the feed that his comments reached a wider group and caused more outrage. We live in a weird time in the world, and I'm proud that as much as possible, we live with the tenet of free speech as being very important. However, that responsibility doesn't absolve the person from the impacts of their words and actions. Responsible media understand this difference, and while getting attention is important, it's also vital to be considerate of all factors and audiences before publishing or saying anything. One of the biggest problems in media right now is the desire to be the first to post anything to be exclusive, and that comes with potential costs of having to clarify or retract content or incite an issue without first realizing it in the quest to break news. Our current administration may not appreciate the media, but it's important to have organizations that research and provide an unbiased appraisal of information to allow people to make their own call about important issues in a timely and effective manner. As conglomerates gobble up media companies, those lines blur between informers and influencers, which is why media needs to be independent.

Very good cookies in great colors, but probably not a big part of my new diet.

But as much as that, I'm personally tired of radio and talk that is designed to instigate hate or distrust of other groups or individuals. I may not agree with how others view the world, but causing divisions among groups is the last thing we need to do in order to solve problems. Now more that ever, we must find consensus and common themes to find solutions so that our world can remain one relatively happy body for years to come. I'm smart enough to realize the importance of tension, argument and discussion because not everybody will see issues the exact same way, but you need to add reason and communication to take the discussion and turn it into something useful. Yelling or being angry for the purpose of being angry serves no purpose, especially since anger is often the base emotion of something much bigger. We have a world of incredibly smart, passionate, energetic and wonderful humans, and it's time to pull ourselves together to stamp out hate and promote harmony in all its forms. I've been at this since 2004 and being on the Timbers roller coaster isn't easy nor is it for the faint of heart, but when it comes together, it can be a wonderful ride.

The other side is that the problems need to happen in order to make the good seem that much better in comparison, which is really how life is supposed to work. You'd think after being alive for 50 years, I would have figured that out, but sometimes the lessons take a bit longer and we all need to continue to learn and grow as people. I had to come to a realization of my own after viewing some photos that I need to make some serious lifestyle changes. I've dealt with the impacts of type 2 diabetes brought on by poor diet and exercise choices, and I was able to stop taking drugs for it and return to normal with making better choices in food. However, I have always had a bad relationship with sugar and I'm not always aware of my consumption levels, so I need to address that blind spot. We're all human and we have our faults and talents, but we also have the remarkable ability to make ourselves better to become the fully blossomed versions of our true self.

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