A People With Passion series
January 30, 2012: Jonathan Eig
In this excerpt from the 25th installment of Jack M Silverstein’s Chicago journalism interview series, Jonathan Eig tells the story of the creation of his new Chicago sports site ChicagoSide, which debuts in full April 2, 2012.
I was sitting in a bar with my friend Sol [Lieberman], Duke of Perth right down here on Clark, and we were just moaning about how bad it’s become. Here we are, two guys who love sports, who love journalism, and are just not satisfied with what’s being offered. This was about a year ago. Sol’s a more web-savvy guy than I am, and he’s run some websites for magazines and develops some websites, and we just started talking. I said, “How hard would it be where you build a website where you just had one great piece of sportswriting every day? It could be a column, it could be an investigative piece. Just one great story every day. And then you could link to all the other things you need – the scores, last night’s game, the standings. If the Trib or the Sun-Times has a really good story, just link to it. Give it a shoutout. But really build a site that people look forward to reading every morning because it’s not the same old stale stuff, because it’s really well-written and shares the passion that you have for sports. You could do it virtually at no cost, there would be a ton of writers who wanted to get in on it because it would be fun, and I just think it’s a shame we don’t have something like that in the city.” And Sol said, “Well, I think we should just do it.” And I was like, “Yeah right.”
So then we kept drinking, and a couple weeks later he tells me he thinks he wants to quit his job to do this thing. And I said, “Well, don’t quit your job!” (Laughs.) “Because I’m not giving up the books to do this, but I’d be willing to explore it.” And we just kept exploring it, and the more we explored it the better it looked.
We did a survey. We did an unscientific poll of maybe 100 Chicago sports fans on Survey Monkey. And we asked where they were getting their sports news, and how they liked it. What we found was that even people who were really loyal to ESPN or to the Tribune, they never said they felt passionate about that place where they were going to get their sports news, especially with the local papers. ESPN, there were some people who were passionate about Bill Simmons and there were some people who were passionate about Rick Reilly, but we saw no passion for the local stuff. We talked it up among friends, and started talking to writers who really got fired up about the idea and wanted to write for us.
At a certain point, it just began to feel like, “We really have to do this. It’s too great an opportunity not to try it, and the worst we can do is fail.” And lots of websites fail, and this thing might. It’s hard to really stand out when there are forty zillion websites competing for your attention and people aren’t reading much anymore. But the more we thought about it and the more we planned it, and we met with a business consultant who gave us some pointers on how to do it smartly from a business standpoint, the more it seemed there really is this gaping hole. We never talked to anybody who said, “Why would I want that? I’ve already got this.” Most people we talked to said, “That would be awesome if you could really do it.”
And the other thing we think that is important – the internet has had a way of really dividing people. You read on your phone on the El, you read at your desk at work, and you don’t talk it over the way you used to. Just in general, people spend less time talking to each other and more time texting each other. We’d like this thing to be something that gives people something to talk about, so people will say “Did you see ChicagoSide today?” And then every couple times a month, we’d like them to come out and meet us at a bar and hear one of our writers talk or hear one of our writers interview a jock, or come play a 3-on-3 basketball tournament with us that we sponsor, so there becomes an interactive thing. People feel really removed from the newspaper, and from ESPN, because they’re these big behemoths. We want to be something that the fans can share a beer with too if they like what we’re doing.
You mentioned the business side of it, and I know you guys are structuring this as a co-op —
It was actually our business manager who said, “What about offering them some incentive to write?” Even if it’s just a very small pot of gold at the end of the rainbow so that you can say, “If we make money at the end of the year, we’re going to share it with our writers.” And I thought that was a great idea, because it shows the writers that we’re in this together, and it gives them an incentive to promote us and make this thing a success.
What we came up with was we would take a slice, right now we’re talking 20% of the company, and we’ll divide it among any writer who does five stories a year. Or if you do one unbelievably great investigative piece that took you a month, we’ll count that as five stories. So everybody who performs at a certain level will get a piece of that 20% that we’re setting aside to writers. And you know, if we sell out to ESPN someday, they might get a nice little check. But if we make 20,000 dollars at the end of the year, they’ll get a very small check, but I think it’s a nice feeling to open an envelope at the end of the year and say, “Hey look, ChicagoSide made money the first year and they cut me in on it.”
Enjoy this interview? Click here for the full version, as Jonathan discusses his love of Red Smith ledes, the influence of Watergate on young journalists, and what he sees when he looks at Chicago sports journalism.
We’re taking a break in this series, but stay tuned at Eye on Chi for more of Jack M Silverstein’s People with Passion interviews with Chicago journalists. Coming up next, though date unsettled: a look at Chicago’s digital content editors.
PREVIOUSLY IN THE SERIES:
(NOTE: The dates below refer to the date of the interview. The order is the date they were run.)
January 18, 2012: David Drake, music writer
December 29, 2011: Tran Ha, RedEye
December 24, 2011: Sam Smith, Bulls.com
December 9, 2011: Chuck Swirsky, Chicago Bulls play-by-play announcer
December 14, 2011: Sarah Spain, ESPN personality
December 6, 2011: Jon Greenberg, ESPN Chicago, columnist
October 21, 2011: William Lee, Chicago Tribune breaking news crime reporter
November 4, 2011: Elaine Coorens, Our Urban Times founder
November 4, 2011: Andrew Barber, Fake Shore Drive founder
October 21, 2011: Jane Hirt, Chicago Tribune, managing editor
September 19, 2011: Andrew Huff, Gapers Block founder
September 21, 2011: Chris Cascarano, Chicago News Cooperative, video producer
September 30, 2011: Christie Hefner, Playboy, former CEO
September 15, 2011: Alden Loury, Chicago Reporter, publisher
August 17, 2011: Steve Chapman, Chicago Tribune, editorial board and columnist
September 13, 2011: Kimbriell Kelly, Chicago Reporter, editor
August 26, 2011: Chuck Sudo, Chicagoist, editor
August 17, 2011: Clayton Hauck, photographer
December 12, 2008: Alex Kotlowitz (re-edited August 15, 2011)
August 10, 2011: Mary Schmich, Chicago Tribune, columnist