An Interview with Lucas Wiseman

An Interview with Lucas Wiseman

An Interview with Lucas Wiseman

“SJ.com is kind of like all the people in our industry having a get-together at the local pub and talking about whatever is going on in the world, with people they can relate to from a sports perspective, who have an interest in news and journalism.”

“People feel like they can post anything and act any way they want to act. There are a lot of immature people who post. Being anonymous empowers them to be more immature.”

“We take outing seriously. People are anonymous for a reason. If somebody gets on and says ‘Webby is Lucas Wiseman’ that’s a problem. We want to protect the right to post anonymously. I don’t think the site would be nearly as popular if people had to use their real name to post. It might not exist.”

Lucas Wiseman: Interviewed on August 27, 2007

Position: founder and owner, Sportsjournalists.com.

Born: 1978, Boynton Beach, Fla.

Education: Lake-Sumter Community College, University of South Florida

Career: Daily Commercial (Leesburg, Fla.) 1996; Fort Worth Star-Telegram 2000-2002; Vero Beach Press Journal 2002-03; senior public relations coordinator for US Bowling Congress, Green Bay

Personal: single

Favorite restaurant (home): Red Robin, Greendale, Wis. “typical chain – good spot for lunch during workday”

Favorite restaurant (road): Jensen’s, Aalborg, Denmark “fantastic filet mignon”

Favorite hotel: Pusan Lotte, Pusan, South Korea, “fantastic – if they gave more than five stars this hotel would get it”

Wikipedia entry for Sportsjournalists.com:

Sportsjournalists.com is an Internet forum
frequented by journalists who cover sports
(including Kansas City Star
columnist Jason Whitlock
). In 2006, it was named one of the best non-corporate sports web sites by Sports Illustrated. The forum has been directly involved in several sports journalism controversies:

Michael Gee
, a former columnist for the Boston Herald
, was fired from a teaching job at Boston University
after describing one of his students on Sportsjournalists.com as “incredibly hot”.

Wallace Matthews
, a columnist for the New York Post
, announced his resignation from that newspaper on Sportsjournalists.com and criticized the newspaper for a gossip item many interpreted to claim that Mike Piazza
was gay.

▪ Sportsjournalists.com was first to report on October 10, 2006, that Woody Paige
would leave the TV show Cold Pizza
and return to the Denver Post
as a columnist. At that time, Woody Paige denied that he would be leaving Cold Pizza
. On November 2, it was announced that Woody Paige would return to the Denver Post
.

Sportsjournalists.com was briefly shut down in 2002
. Breaking sports news and general news items are often posted on Sportsjournalists.com before they are reported in the media.

Q. How did SJ.com get started?

A. I actually started the site in October 2001. At the time I worked at the Forth Worth Star-Telegram on the sports desk. I was a copy editor and page designer and occasionally wrote. I saw an opportunity when sportspages.com decided to take down its forum. I said ‘there’s a need for this, it’s a good thing and should continue’.

Thus Sportsjournalists.com was born. Did I have any idea it would become as big as it has – absolutely not. At the time it was a hobby – something I though was needed in the industry. It really just took off, with a few peaks and valleys since the early days. Now it just keeps on chugging. It ‘s a machine – it’s not going to stop. It sort of runs itself.

Q. How big is it?

A. There are nearly 8000 members on the site. Not all are active and some are repeats. The core number of users – it’s hard to say on a regular basis. We get 25,000 to 30,000 unique users every month. That translates into about four million page views per month. That’s pretty high for a website.

As far as maintenance, I have a dedicated server. When I started the site it cost about $4 per month for server space. Today it’s about $200 per month. There was so much traffic and so many posts we crashed server after server. At times the site would go down and I simply didn’t have time to fix it or to move to a new server. Now we’re on a stable server. A guy who works for me maintains the server – it’s a bigger deal than a website running off a computer at home. It used to be a shared environment on the cheapest website possible. Now we’ve got a sophisticated server by itself sitting somewhere in Atlanta.

Q. Is the site self-supporting?

A. It definitely has become self-supporting. I ran it at a loss for a short period of time. I realized as it grew and became more expensive I couldn’t afford personally to put in money to keep it going. I solicited donations for a while. Now I have a really good partnership with Google for advertising. It’s very much self-supporting now.

Q. Why have you started asking for subscriptions?

A. People asked how they could help to keep it going. I developed that to give people an opportunity to give back if they saw value in the site – that money goes toward future improvements and making sure bills get paid.

Q. Do you have employees?

A. I’m the only employee. Our moderators are volunteers – some are friends of mine, some are past co-workers, some are people I’ve never even met. The guy who is my lead moderator – I’ve never met him – has been a moderator for five years. I’ve exchanged more e-mails with him than anybody and talked on the phone but we’re so busy we haven’t been able to meet up. We both consider each other friends.

Q. His name?

A. He prefers to be anonymous. He works at a high-level position at a large newspaper.

One of our moderators is Elliotte Friedman, a TV personality in Canada. He posts by his real name.

Q. Have you compared your traffic to other forum sites?

A. I’ve never looked at it. I’m reaching an audience I want to reach – I’ve never looked at the numbers too carefully. People ask me if I want more traffic – I’m not sure if I do. I’m not sure I could handle it. It’s a big site and it continues to grow slowly. It’s such a niche site – it’s hard to compare to anything else. Obviously it doesn’t compare to ESPN or Yahoo Sports getting 40 million users. But it’s double the size of what sportspages.com was when they had their forums.

Q. What makes a good thread?

A. Good question. I’m not much of a message board person – I don’t really participate. I don’t post a lot on SJ.com or any other board. I’m more of a lurker – I just want to read what’s going on. For me a good thread is one that is informative, stays on topic, and teaches me something I didn’t know before.

Q. SJ.com’s greatest threads?

A. I’m sure there are some. I’d have to ask some old-timers – people who have been there the entire length of the site. They follow it a whole lot closer than I do. We have an On The Road thread where people who travel can talk about Marriott points and restaurants – it’s more of a tool. There’s also a thread called Live Strong – it’s about healthy living and eating right – we’re not all journalism related. SJ.com is kind of like all the people in our industry having a get-together at the local pub and talking about whatever is going on in the world, with people they can relate to from a sports perspective, who have an interest in news and journalism.

Our biggest controversy was in 2002, I think, when Wally Matthews posted a column his editors at the New York Post wouldn’t run. It was about Mike Piazza and his sexual preference. Wally got fired – that got the site big-time exposure in the New York papers and Associated Press. It brought a lot of Joe Fans to the site. That incident led me to shutting it down for a couple of months while I figured things out. I went to a system where you have to register to post. Before that you didn’t have to register. That was probably the biggest incident in our history – it was a major deal at the time.

Q. What is SJ.com’s demographic?

A. It’s a hodgepodge of people from all over the place. It’s really hard to pinpoint the demographics. We’ve got everybody from fans who stumbled across the site to columnists and writers at large papers to people who work for ESPN. It’s just a group of people who have found the site. I would say the majority are young people who work at smaller newspapers or on the desks at larger newspapers. In my dealings over the years they seem to be the folks who are coming to the site. It’s hard to tell because it’s an anonymous message board.

Q. How many posters use their real name?

A. There aren’t many. A handful post under their real names – Jason Whitlock (KC Star) being the most prominent. Most people choose not to – it gives them freedom to say what they want and not fear repercussions from other media outlets quoting them. It gives them freedom.

Q. Do you mean freedom from employers and co-workers?

A. Yes. There are cases where people have gotten into hot water for posting while at work, or posting about their employers. I encourage people to just be smart about what they post. There are a lot of people reading. We don’t want people getting into trouble. But some have gotten into trouble, unfortunately.

Q. Pros and cons of anonymity?

A. The pros are what I’ve stated. The cons are that it makes it harder to control. People feel like they can post anything and act any way they want to act. There are a lot of immature people who post. Being anonymous empowers them to be more immature. It’s a problem we battle constantly.

Q. Is libel or slander a concern?

A. We try to stay on top of that. That’s why we have moderators. Obviously we don’t catch everything. We rely on people to alert us. It’s not our intention to have anybody libeled or slandered, but it happens. We try to nip it in the bud.

Q. What is your role?

A. The big secret is I don’t follow what’s going on the website. Personally and professionally I don’t have time to read the posts. That’s why we have a team of moderators. My role is to solve technical problems and deal with potential disruptions by users – whether to suspend them, ban them, or discipline them. We do have a system. I come in with the hammer and say enough is enough.

Q. What triggers a disciplinary action?

A. We just put in new rules and guidelines that outline that. If someone steps out of line and attacks another user – that may get a suspension of a week, and if they do it again – maybe two weeks. If you are too much of a disruption – we flat out ban you and you’re no longer able to visit and post. That’s a rare occurrence. I take that seriously and don’t like to do it. I see this as an open and free forum for discussion where all different opinions are welcome. But some people become such a disruption you have no choice.

Q. Define disruption.

A. It deals with personal attacks of other users. We take outing seriously. People are anonymous for a reason. If somebody gets on and says ‘Webby is Lucas Wiseman’ that’s a problem. We want to protect the right to post anonymously. I don’t think the site would be nearly as popular if people had to use their real name to post. It might not exist.

Q. Does SJ.com have a practical impact on the industry?

A. We have a section called Writers Workshop. Young writers get feedback from other writers – I like to think that’s a positive impact. Also, we have a design discussion board where people can share page designs and discuss page design. There’s also a freelance board numerous people use to get hooked up to cover events. An SE comes on and says I need someone to cover the Brewers game in LA – is anybody available. It’s a social networking tool as well. I also hear from employers who say they posted a job on SJ and got hundreds of resumes. In that respect it definitely has an impact.

Q. Does news break on SJ.com?

A. Often news is broken on the site by other users – if you read the Journalism board you’ll find out things you wouldn’t know from another website. If a columnist is going from paper A to paper B usually you can find it on SJ before anywhere else. Even in the world of sports and news – we have a lot of connected people on this site – we will come in and post breaking news before it hits the wire or CNN.

Q. You recently made your home page into a news front – why?

A. The front page was a vacant lot that had never been developed. It was something I never really had time to deal with – I still don’t – but I decided to put on some blog software and link occasionally to stories of interest throughout the industry. It’s by no means an all-encompassing detail of what’s going on in the sports journalism industry – you can find more compelling reading in the forums. It’s just for show – it draws in people who may be visiting for the first time.

Q. Have you been sued?

A. No. Hopefully I never will be. Personal attention has protected me over the years. We deal with somebody personally.

Q. Do SJ posters get together in the real world?

A. There are individuals who will take it upon themselves to put together gatherings, or outings, usually having drinks at a bar. I haven’t participated. There are no official SJ.com functions.

Q. You sell t-shirts?

A. I sold about three. When I did the re-design the link fell off the page.

Q. Tell us about your job with the US Bowling Congress.

A. I have the best job in the world. I get to travel to all these places – I’m booking a trip to Russia for the World Cup in November. Bowling is more popular in other countries than in the U.S. In Columbia bowlers are on billboards, in Malaysia on the sides of busses. Of course football, baseball and basketball aren’t as big in those countries.

(SMG thanks Lucas Wiseman for his cooperation)

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