By C. Ellis, Special to the News Media Alliance
It’s impossible to have a conversation about digital media in 2016 without using the word ‘change’. At this point, mentioning the changing landscape that journalists are trying to navigate seems, to an extent, trite. Nonetheless, people in media continue broadening their skill set to adapt to the shifting and expanding requirements that come with the gig.
No one knows that better than Chris Dufresne. Dufresne cut his teeth in a different time – in an era before page views, link clicks and retweets. A print writer for 35 years – including a lengthy stint at the Los Angeles Times – Dufresne got a front row seat to the start of digital media and the shockwaves it created throughout the journalism industry.
“While I was in print for 35 years, the last 10 to 15 have been a cross over into the new media, such as more 24-7 work on the LA Times website and multi-platforms than included video and podcasts,” he said. “By the time I left the LA Times I had done just about everything, in every format, and that made the transition easier.”
Dufresne left the LA Times in 2015 and, with the help of Boston Globe and Chicago Sun-Times alum Mark Blaudschun, began piecing his next idea together: a website devoted solely to college sports, titled TMGcollegesports.com (TMG is short for The Media Guides). In a time when everyone has a website, Dufresne concentrates on the advantage TMGcollegesports has – experience. “What makes it easier for us is we have credibility within the industry,” he said. “We can get credentialed for games because we have established ourselves in the college football community. We know the people, coaches, commissioners, administrators and have been to most of the stadiums. That means we know what going to Alabama for a big game feels like.”
While Dufresne and crew certainly faced their fair share of challenges going from established papers like the LA Times to an online-only publication, there was one distinct advantage: the ability to experiment. “Yes, being in sports media has allowed us to experiment with new techniques and ideas,” Dufresne said. “An example: We wanted a “Southern” element for our site but one writer who was on board with us couldn’t get out of a contract and was not allowed to work with TMG. So we had to adjust. I decided to do a weekly column on the Southeastern Conference (SEC) called SEC Outsider. I could write about the league because I have followed it for years and been to many games and know people in the league.”
“We also came up with fun stuff like “TMG Newsmaker of the Week,” [which is] sort of a play on those old movie theater newsreel shorts.”
For Dufresne and TMGcollegesports (as many other web startups know), it’s an all-hands-on-deck effort. His wife, a Stanford grad, designed and operates the backend of the website. His son does voice-overs for the website’s highlight reels.
As is a growing trend in the market, TMGcollegesports has implemented a paywall, asking subscribers to pay $19.95 a year, about a nickel a day. At the beginning of October, the site had 400 subscribers. The decision to do so was an easy one, Dufresne said. But it’s a paywall with a twist.
“Why would I give away my 35 years of experience for free? That made no sense even in a culture that expects everything for free,” he said. “I would point out to people that nothing is “free” anyway. People tell me they can get college football content for free on other platforms: Yahoo, CBSsports, ESPN, etc. But is it free? You are inundated with pop-up ads, spam and are having your information stripped and used for target advertising in the case of Facebook.”
“The deal with TMG is that there are no ads, no spam. We are not using your information. You can sign up with just a username. We don’t want your address, your gender, your next of kin. With TMG you are paying ONLY for content.”
It’s not a cheap endeavor, and it’s equally risky – Dufresne and the rest of the people at TMGcollegesports are funding the site out of their own pockets. Carving out a niche in a convoluted market is unquestionably a daunting and frustrating task, but Dufresne, like many others who write during their lunch hour or when they get home from their day job, still finds it rewarding.
“The good news is that TMG will be a “success” for as long as we enjoy doing it,” he said. “We covered our start-up costs in the first two weeks. The rest is gravy!”