Thomas Drance is the NHL news editor at TheScore.com, lives in Toronto and graduated with a BA (hons) from the University of Toronto. Drance’s writing has appeared in the Vancouver Sun, the Sporting News, Canucks.com, Vice Canada, and Yahoo Sports’ Puck Daddy website among others.
Drance shared his thoughts on the current state of sports in the media and answered some questions on the future of sports journalism in the online world.
TM: Are there topics that should be off-limits in sports? Are there some topics that are currently taboo that you believe should get more attention?
TD: I don’t think so, because no matter what happens, you have to be prepared to tell the story.
Because sports is such a purely competitive field, it has often served as an incubator of social change historically. Gender identity issues, issues of race, societal tolerance— those are all themes evident in the best sports writing of the past 50 years. Sports is a field where global commerce, labour issues, and municipal politics intersect. There’s also the intersection of technological advancement with human performance—from HGH (human growth hormones), to laser eye surgery, to Tommy John surgery—and the ethical questions involved.
There’s a whole host of controversial issues that can and should be told using sports as an entry point. My opinion: it’s critical that a sports writer be prepared to cover weighty topics, beyond the game story.
TM: How has your writing changed—if at all—from when you first started providing content online?
TD: Online content, particularly online news content of the mobile-first variety that we produce at theScore, requires brevity and volume. When I first started blogging (at CanucksArmy.com), 1000–1500-word and even 2 000-word posts were the norm. “Oh, the Canucks signed Derek Joslin? Better unpack that deal in eight paragraphs!” At theScore it’s a strict 500 word limit, and I’m writing 15–20 rather than 3–4 items daily. That type of volume improves the quality of your copy pretty quickly, and the word count has forced me to adjust by simplifying my prose enormously.
TM: How would you appraise the current state of sports journalism both in print and on the internet? In your opinion, are the business models that you are familiar with sustainable?
TD: Well, I’m working for an app, rather than a newspaper. I get on the streetcar to commute to work everyday and everyone is looking at their phones. I haven’t seen a newspaper outside of a coffee shop or airplane in years. That’s troubling. It’s a cultural upheaval, and one that has cost a lot of journalists their jobs, but at least the public still wants content!
Monetizing that content is the tough part, and we’re a long way away, but it’s good to see “old media” companies start to become more forward-thinking and innovative. I’m convinced that while newspapers might become extinct, the media companies that produce them will survive in some form. Only so long as they realize that you can’t be producing content for an inactive medium that people interact with and consume now, you have to be producing active content that people will be interacting with and consuming two years from now.
TM: Are there unique challenges to covering a team in the Vancouver market? What would you say is the most marked characteristic of your British Columbia-based readership?
TD: The audiences aren’t very different, but they are interested in moderately different topics. It’s good to keep in mind that having empathy for what your reader (or in my case, user) wants is crucial. Adjust your subject matter accordingly!