Cubs blogger shows seriousness in work

BY RYAN PROBASCO | MAY 07, 2013 5:00 AM

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Even the most dedicated seam-head would have a difficult time delving into the significance of a miniscule, waiver-wire pickup made by their favorite baseball team.

But Brett Taylor spent most of one April morning following up on everything relevant to the news of the Chicago Cubs’ acquisition of outfielder Julio Bourbon.

For Taylor, founder and full-time operator of Chicago Cubs blog Bleacher Nation, it was just another day at the office.

“It’s just the nature of the beast,” Taylor said about his busy daily schedule.

Taylor started Bleacher Nation in 2008 but didn’t ultimately decide to make it his full-time job until 2011.

“I was still a lawyer at the time in late 2008, and I got really into various online Cubs communities and message boards,” Taylor said. “I was already talking about the Cubs constantly online.”

Taylor, admittedly, had his doubts about how successful the site could be. It was difficult for him to make money off his site for quite some time — especially with a myriad of blogs that were online.

“I can’t say that when I first started that it was designed to be what it’s become,” the Columbus, Ohio, native said. “… I certainly hoped all along that it could become something like this, but I feel pretty lucky that it did.”

Since deciding to make Bleacher Nation his full-time job, Taylor’s following and the site’s popularity have exploded. To date, he has 25,563 followers on Twitter. And 6,325 people have “liked” the site’s Facebook page.

Taylor said he expects to see anywhere from 1.3 million to 1.5 million page hits per month.

Writers working outside the mainstream, such as Taylor, have become more successful in the realm of online content in recent years thanks to the growth in popularity of social-media sites. University of Iowa adjunct journalism instructor Nick Bergus concurred with that observation, noting that the mainstream media have utilized blogging formats.

“A lot of major news outlets have their own blogging networks,” Bergus said. “The New York Times uses blogging for all sorts of stuff and does so really effectively. Many major news outlets have adapted blogging to their needs.”

For years, only traditional media outlets have been allowed in major- league clubhouses and in the press box. But developments in social media have driven the ability for outsiders to build their own brand online. Recently, Taylor has started receiving press releases from the Cubs.

“It’s been a funny, step-by-step process, especially because I don’t have a journalism background,” he said. “… It’s a necessarily slow process, and getting on the news release list was kind of the first step.”

Gaining access to the clubhouse may not come for some time. Taylor has his fingers crossed in hopes that his continued efforts will earn him more substantial access to the team in the near future.

Most of Bleacher Nation’s content falls under the “aggregator label,” and Taylor would be the first to admit that. But he’ll also argue that not everything he does is aggregation. A large percentage of the site’s content is original.

“Say  [outfielder] Scott Hairston is talking about his approach against left handers — I can’t get that quote because I’m not in the clubhouse,” Taylor said. “But I can see that quote and discuss that quote to launch it into something I want to discuss. And I link back to the source, obviously.”

Taylor recently started doing a podcast with Sahadev Sharma, a freelancer who does work for ESPNChicago and Vine Line, a magazine ran by the Cubs.

Sharma said the experience so far has been pleasant, and the two have taken what was once just an online relationship and developed a friendship off the show.

“He thought we could work well together,” Sharma said. “I think we’re both smart fans when it comes to baseball. We know how to look at the game in a quality way.

“It’s been great. I couldn’t ask for a better guy to work with.”

The podcast has been just the most recent form of expansion to the site. In 2012 Taylor added a minor-league editor, Luke Blaize, to cover everything about the Cubs’ minor-league system.

Taylor is unsure how much more expansion he’ll be able to handle on his own. He has thoughts about what other features he may work to implement into the site.

Until then, Taylor is fine with his “outsider” label. For now he’s more focused on the Cubs’ community and how he can reach out to more fans of the team.

“I don’t know if I’d call them plans, but there is a lot that I’d like to be able to do,” Taylor said. “I would like to cover more stuff at the original level.”

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