Sports on Earth’s restructuring this week cost a lot of people their jobs, and did so in very public fashion. We don’t know what the new site will look like yet, but it is disappointing to see the end of the old one, a site that launched two years ago this month with high potential, a great roster of contributors, a focus on providing intelligent commentary and what looked like solid corporate backing thanks to its USA Today/MLB Advanced Media ownership. Combine that with The Score’s recent decision to part ways with six of its features staff, and the future of high-quality sportswriting may look ominous.

The Sports on Earth restructuring in particular is being seen as a “state of the media” event by many and it’s led to some rather different takes. Ramzy Nasrallah of Eleven Warriors sees the end of SOE as a sign that marketing and distribution for high-quality content isn’t where it needs to be, while Robert Littal of Black Sports Online sees the amount of competition (from blogs and old media sources) as an issue and argues that a mix of highbrow and lowbrow content is necessary to succeed.

The most polarizing take came from SportsGrid managing editor Eric Goldschein, who rather coarsely argued that SOE failed thanks to a lack of posts objectifying women:

“But here’s what I know about sports media, via our little window at SportsGrid: Where were the tits? Where were the asses? Where was the scandal? Because our biggest hits are invariably posts that involve at least one, and hopefully all three, of those themes. …

Here’s another example: We have a policy here at the site when traffic is slow. It’s called “See what Paulina Gretzky is up to.” This is a practice that the site has had for years, since well before I arrived as the Weekend Editor in 2012. Go to Paulina’s Instagram page, grab some photos, make a slideshow. And you know what? It works every time. A massive success. Because when given the choice to read an honest assessment of whether ESPN and The New York Times are propping up irresponsible betting practices or looking at a famous hockey player’s daughter’s boobs, the latter wins.

Of course, in the slow sports-news months of July and August, articles like this are some of the only things that pass for news. There isn’t much of a chance for anything else to make noise. But these types of stories are ALWAYS our biggest hits, even in heavy-news times. And we’re hardly the only outlet to recognize this — that’s why Sports Illustrated’s most popular issue of the year is the Swimsuit Edition. It’s why Golf Digest put, yes, Paulina Gretzky on their cover a few months back. Visit Busted Coverage, The Big Lead and nearly every other major sports news blog to see similar examples of this. Sex sells. It’s a tried-and-true method of bringing people to your site. That means you.”

Goldschein was roundly blasted on Twitter for his scorching hot sports (or non-sports, in this case) take, and deservingly so.

Saying SOE failed because of a lack of “tits, asses and scandal” is ludicrous; plenty of media entities and websites (including this one) have managed to do quite well without regularly checking in on Paulina Gretzky.

However, what his post does get right is that it’s much easier to attract a huge audience to posts about attractive women than to well-crafted longform. Many sites have taken that approach (or mixed the two, as Littal discusses), and while it’s most prevalent in the blogosphere, traditional media outlets do things along those lines too; consider SI’s Swimsuit Issue (and their attempts to make it year-round) or ESPN’s “The Body Issue”, or the cameramen who always focus on attractive female fans in the crowd (most numerous when Brent Musberger’s calling the game). Sex sells. Where Goldschein goes too far is in citing sexy posts as the only way to succeed on the web and the impression given that he’s dancing on the grave of Sports on Earth from the comforts of WAGville.

The state of the online sports media overall isn’t as dire as Goldschein’s post would suggest. There are plenty of blogs out there that are doing quite well without focusing on sex, and his point can be disproved even within the USA Today corporate umbrella. For The Win has widely been cited as the rising part of their online empire and the contrast to Sports On Earth, but while it doesn’t necessarily have as many of the unique pieces that used to be found on SOE, it’s hardly sexy and sleazy. A look at their front page Thursday morning had only one story that would get vaguely close to Goldschein’s “tits, asses and scandal,” a piece on supermodel Chrissy Teigen throwing out a first pitch, and that was A. sports-related (certainly more so than “What’s Paulina Gretzky up to?”) and B. not one of the more highly-promoted or highly-read pieces on their site. That’s generally common across a lot of online sports sites; the focus at most places really isn’t on “tits, asses and scandal,” but rather on sports. The whole online sports media industry isn’t quite going to hell in a sexy handbasket just yet.

But what about longform? Or high-quality original and insightful pieces in general?

CLICK HERE TO CONTINUE READING: Is Sports on Earth’s demise another nail in the coffin of quality sportswriting?

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.

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