CBB Stock Watch: Everything is Not Exactly Awesome

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Confused? Me too.

College Basketball Stock Watch has been around for a few years, at several different outlets, sometimes in relatively short stages of hibernation. Here we now are, at Stock Watch’s fourth new home since August.

We’re going to get to all of that in a second.

Important note laced with caveats: Remember that this isn’t about something being “good” or “bad.” It is about value. Value of a team — or person, for that matter — set off expectations currently placed on that entity.

The State of the Industry: Selling But Buying And Refusing To Die

Oh, hello. I’ve been laid off… again. This time from Cox Media Group. It happened only two months after the company hired me for my college basketball takes and forced Marty Jannetty references. It was a great two months, as the people I directly worked with were fantastic.

I wasn’t released due to a lack of ability. Instead, it’s because a spreadsheet said times were tough, and rather than working through it, the company decided three weeks of evidence was enough to cut several people from their full-time jobs.

Before that, I was with FanRag Sports for a few years for the same kind of content. I was let go from that outlet for similar reasons.

Truthfully, I’ve been in a bad mental state since my August layoff, and am now in an even worse one after CMG politely showed me the door.

During both stops, I found a more journalistic voice that allowed me to do some of the best work of my near-decade in the industry. Not all of it was great, some of it was bad, and most of my work honestly rested somewhere in the middle.

Believe it or not, writing is often hard.

If nothing else, I largely did whatever the network that paid me asked me to do. Stuff ranging from NBA Draft evaluations, to silly columns concerning whatever just to force some jokes, all the way to heavily researched and reported features. I tried to do it all.

It has been fun. The writing part. I LOVE writing. The business side, not so much.

This week, I found out about my second layoff in less than six months. It is apparently being done because of Facebook’s change in algorithm or whatever. I don’t know the ins and/or outs of the business side of the media industry, but it is supposedly hurting the company badly enough that it warrants leaving writers without jobs.

Is this my immediate boss’ fault? Of course not. He’s been nothing short of phenomenal since he called me to let me know that I was being sent the way of the dinosaurs.

Is it your fault as a reader? Nah. Those of you who know me and/or followed my work have been godsends.

Is this my fault? Nope. At least I hope not.

Without going full woe-is-me, let’s note that my individual layoff is not a specific issue to me. It is industry wide. Vox recently let go of some talented folk for the same reason, and there will surely be others — from CMG and elsewhere — who will have their lives altered by a company’s heavy reliance on a giant tech company.

This attempt to game whatever system in the name of easy clicks has failed — yet again.

Shocking, I tell you. Shocking.

I don’t blame Facebook or Google. Those companies’ purpose isn’t to keep the media industry afloat. While all giant social outlets have a responsibility to be fair and reasonable, each has to go out of its way to weed out those companies looking to exploit the under-the-hood stuff which has allowed some aggregation-only websites to profit off the back of other people’s labor.

There’s the entire #FakeNews thing, too. It’s tricky and complex and a bunch of other things that writers shouldn’t need to worry about. I mean, we do, because that’s the way it has been, but we shouldn’t.

I do, however, blame the model of the industry. From the aggregation, throw as much shit against the wall to see what sticks tactic so many outlets now use; to the justification and rationalizing of those who helm “media outlets” that the bottom line is more important than the content and topics covered.

There’s so much more to it. So much, much more.

It’s all the opposite of awesome.

A tech bro, for example, is not in charge of Media Company X to see wonderful art be created or masterful pieces of journalism be labored into life. They are here for the money. That is quite literally the extent of it. From their point of view, as business people, it makes all the sense in the world to not try to work through Facebook’s change.

It makes far more sense — because it’s easier and simple math — to cut those living that 1099 life.

Numbers dropping? No need to try to fight through it for the sake of the workers. Merely let almost all go, as the company is not responsible for the people laid off since most have been operating on 1099s, anyway. Whatever the cost was to keep them on that figurative team they always like to talk about, all slashed in an instant without any need to contribute to unemployment.

It is a net-positive for them.

They — the tech bro — will instead try to figure it out without all the red lines across their spreadsheets that are writers also attempting to overcome the algorithm change. To them it makes sense. To me, it’s cold and heartless, as these are things that should be overcame together.

Then again, the hell if an industry that largely exploits its labor will listen to one average writer.

We, the people in this industry who are not here from Silicon Valley or for the love of money, continue to see this happen to us time after time. Unfortunately, there isn’t much we can do to combat it.

Thousands upon thousands want in on this industry for a variety of reasons. Strictly speaking from the writing standpoint, it is usually for their love of sports or passion for writing, but most likely a combination of both. Save for the few outliers who are here simply to say, “I write about sports for a living” the majority of writers I’ve connected with over the years are here for the right reasons.

We can argue about what happen to be the right reasons, but for the sake of simplification, it is to do this job in its various forms for nearly every reason outside of prestige, fame, and money. Though, fairly, the latter is a part we very much need to have flowing in a reasonable way to do this job sincerely.

Clearly, the same can’t be said for those who have the money to pay those people a fair wage. After all, nothing like boasting about awards won with labor largely laid off or explaining how your network will revolutionary whatever after doing the same thing.

Companies love to trumpet the prestige gained from the people who aided in acquiring that credibility even if they are long gone. They just hope readers are dumb enough to not take notice at this slight of hand.

It’s like an unspoken game of cat and mouse. The mice are being eaten whole for the sake of the cat’s brand and the owner of the cat’s bank account. Us mice, oddly enough, can’t help but chase that teasing slice of cheese the cat’s owner tosses out here and there — even when we know the outcome is our death.

I guess that results in readers being the cheese. Sorry, reader. I’m bad at analogies.

Most know about some of the work conditions for writers across the country. Some don’t get paid, others are offered exposure (without being mentored in the process, resulting in a regression in writing talent), and a bunch more are given OK-ish rates… but only within the confines of keeping the relationship in the 1099 bubble.

This is all done so the outlet has an easy out when its business plan of exploiting algorithms inevitably fails.

And. It. Always. Fails.

Aside: Let’s not forget to ask people to pack up to leave to live in the country’s most expensive areas, for jobs that could easily be done remotely, only to let go of those people at the drop of a hat. A whim, sometimes, that upends a person’s life after said person already upended it to move across the country to take the unstable job.

Alas, this brings us to dopes like me. The “writer” who very much loves the idea of this industry, but hates how it operates in application.

Bluntly put: I just want to write and do some podcasts. That’s it. I don’t want to be rich or famous or have a brand. Preferably, I’d really like to have stability whenever I am fortunate enough to get hired by a company to write words.

Apparently, at least from my experiences, I’m asking for too much.

When I received that phone call from my boss, explaining what was happening, a mix of emotions ran through my body. Anger, confusion, disappointment, the unsettling feeling that this is the last of me being paid to work in an industry I tirelessly worked to break into.

“I should quit.”

That was my immediate, gut reaction. Give up on this dream of being able to dissect basketball in smart, fun, and insightful ways.

And yet, here I am, clinging to what is now just a fictional ideal. That, somewhere, there are people who don’t value clicks to the point they are fine doing massive layoffs without a fight. That, magically, a person can peel the curtain back a bit, notice a writer’s talents, then provide him or her with the job they deserve, even if that person doesn’t have 100k followers on the mean streets of Twitter.

Do I deserve that opportunity? Not over others. There are far better writers and reporters who are also without a steady job at the moment. If this were to be the meritocracy many claim it to be, they should get a job before me.

Eh, I digress. Somewhat. 

Now that I reached the point of rambling, I will finish with one last ramble that probably won’t make sense to most of you. I will preface it with a little context, though.

I write for a variety of reasons. It is an escape from my lengthy struggles with depression and social anxiety. I also, you know, just love to write; to tell other people’s stories, and be creative in a way with words that no other walk of life would afford me.

The system of this industry isn’t great for those who give it life from the ground floor, and it creates an atmosphere  that results in a breeding ground for discontent, anger, jealously, and a plethora of other negatives best left unsaid.

Bluh.

All of that being said. All of it. And it is a lot…

I prefer to be mad. To be a very small agent in a group of larger ones looking to create change. Often operating half an idealist, with the other half squarely preferring all the anarchy, I refuse to let a grouping of random numbers from tech giants dictate who I will be for the rest of my life.

If I fail, if no other job in this industry comes to me, so be it. I will fail only because the industry failed me or due to others being more talented than me in a land of far more writers than there being writing jobs.

I’m a writer. Sometimes a bad one. Other times more than solid. When everything is clicking, with luck playing a large role, I can even be brilliant. The fuck if I’ll allow non-writers — the tech bros, algorithms, and suit wearing dipshits — tell me who I am from a distance.

I won’t readily give up who I am. I hope you won’t, either.