View profile

The Price of Dreams | Gimme Schalter No. 7

Gimme Schalter
The Price of Dreams | Gimme Schalter No. 7
By Ty Schalter • Issue #7 • View online
“We thought we were part of a revolution,” rock icon Grace Slick once said when asked about a potential reunion tour with the original members of Jefferson Airplane. “Going up on stage now with gray hair and singing all those songs for a bunch of bankers who paid a hundred dollars a ticket would just be sad.”
…at least, that’s what I remember her saying. I can’t find the documentary she said that in, but there are plenty of similar quotes from her throughout the three decades since the final reunion of the original lineup. Sober, stable, and decades separated from the radical countercultures her band made anthems for, Slick realized she’d done all she could from behind a mic—and maybe, given the uncut cringe that was Starship, should have done a little bit less.
Immediately after that 1989 reunion tour, she retired from singing and picked up a paintbrush.
Though she’s not above painting a bunch of weed leaves and white rabbits to pay the bills, Slick realized that play-acting as an old version of herself—one who didn’t just care about the music, but believed in it—was extracting a higher cost from her than any payday another Boomer-bait tour could make whole.
She was one of the first people I thought of when Brian Cook of MGoBlog announced he was taking a step back from nearly two decades of chronicling University of Michigan football.

Starship - We Built This City (Official Music Video)
Starship - We Built This City (Official Music Video)
The proprietor of MGoBlog since 2004, Cook’s been a primary inspiration of, and template for, countless indie sports bloggers from the mid-aughts onward. A gifted writer, meticulous thinker, and enormous sports homer, Cook was also blessed with the kind of day job that gave him lots of unsupervised time and unmonitored Internet. He turned a Blogspot account into a Web site into a career.
He could flat-out write, with literary influences like David Foster Wallace clear in his style. His “Upon Further Review” film-review feature did the kind of close-to-the-metal play charting Pro Football Focus now charges hundreds of dollars a year for—and unlike PFF, Cook showed his work.
He had the tech skills to make his Blogspot site look good, and then migrate the site to his own Drupal server. He was on the cutting edge of sports bloggers creating communities, thriving off community-created content, monetizing with ad networks, monetizing with hand-sold ad deals, getting employees into the credentialed press corps, having employees.
With his keyboard under his hands and his dark blue heart on his sleeve, Brian and his associates created must-read content, whether or not you cared about Michigan sports. He was part of a vanguard of brilliant, bold, unfiltered voices who were stealing the hearts and eyeballs of sports fans away from the stodgy old mainstream media. He was at the center of the conversation about what sports blogs could and should be (as you can see here from this legendary panel at the third Blogs With Balls conference).
Cook was the future of sports journalism, a notable tech startup, and the buddy you chatted with after the game all in one.
He was the primary inspiration, and MGoBlog the ultimate goal, for The Lions in Winter, my indie Lions blog. Like hundreds of imitators of the OG sports-blog pantheon, I tried to push my blogging craft to the limit in every possible way: writing quality, analytical originality and depth, site appearance and loading speed, SEO and promotion, community building, recording podcasts, making videos, doing livestreams…everything.
And it was working. We were beating the newspapers, beating the magazines, appealing to a new generation of sports fans who always hungered for more news, more analysis, more content about their favorite team by someone who knew what it was like to be a fan. One “gamer” reaction piece and one Tuesday column a week from a 56-year-old guy with a 34-year-old journalism degree just didn’t cut it anymore.
But as the audience for blogging grew, so did the demands.
Like many others, I was finding it impossible to publish every day, innovate in every way, be present on every platform and beat newspapers on quality. I was working 20-30 hour weeks on top of my less-and-less-understanding day job, trying to carve out time for my wife and three small kids, basically just waking up every morning and failing all day long at everything. At its peak, TLiW was drawing around 50,000 unique visitors a month and putting a crisp Ulysses S. Grant in my pocket each time. That means my payment for all that work topped out at around $2/hour.
Blog networks and digital-media startups started aggregating content and talent, and newspapers’ digital operations began to adapt and compete. You have to publish every day started turning into you have to publish multiple times a day. I couldn’t possibly produce that kind of quantity without compromising on everything else, and compromising on my passion project felt like hustling backward.
Just two years after signing up for a Blogspot account and telling all my friends about it, I could already see the beginning of the end. When I finally got my golden ticket to the digital-media money factory, it was pretty darn close to my mental deadline for either Making It or taking a serious step back.
That was 2012, almost a full decade ago.
Cook didn’t sell out, stop, or even slow down until now.
New weekly column at Pickwatch!
As I pack for our annual just-before-football-season Labor Day camping trip, I’m excited to announce a new regular writing spot: Pickwatch.com.
As I said on TikTok, I’ll be using Pickwatch’s unique set of football data and expert pick data to gin up all kinds of interesting insights, trends, and patterns in predicting NFL football games:
Ty Schalter
Are you ready for weekly columns from me at @Pickwatch?

if not then GET READY https://t.co/sgM7Qy1WQO
Everything Awesome
Yesterday, I took #ADayOffTwitch in solidarity with marginalized (but especially Black and queer) streamers who’ve been bombarded with hate speech and harassment while streaming. Twitch has failed to give creators the tools they need to protect themselves from these coordinated attacks, despite being backed by Amazon and taking a hefty cut of all the revenue streamers generate.
Though there’s been some discourse around whether the planned Sept. 1 boycott was the right collective action, or whether it would be effective, the #ADayOffTwitch leaders like RekitRavenShineyPen, and Lucia Everblack absolutely inspired people to do something real about injustice.
As Philips wrote, about a million fewer people tuned in to Twitch yesterday, dropping the typical 4.5 million peak concurrent views to about 3.5. That’s not going to bankrupt the company, but it does demonstrate that creators have real leverage in the digital-media economy.
I had no idea the Little League World Series was even happening until my son’s ill-fated attempt to watch qualifying for the French Grand Prix turned into ESPN just Being On and the representative team from Michigan appearing in the semifinals.
Our family watched, riveted, as the Taylor North squad earned a ticket to the title game–one Michigan (a cold-weather state where baseball can’t be played all year) hadn’t gotten to since 1959. We watched again on Sunday as they won it all.
The good, pure fun of these eleven- and twelve-year-old kids playing on ESPN and living like big-league heroes is just the best. Most of them won’t come anywhere close to The Show, which just makes all this extra sweet. I’ve always loved Tony’s work, and his coverage of details like the coach going back to his day job is awesome.
Much of The Discourse around social cultural representation, diversity and appropriation in media swirls around a false binary of inclusion versus quality, politics versus art, quotas versus merit.
In fact, white creators thinking about other cultures and pulling the nearest things off off their dusty mental shelf is almost certainly going to result in a combination of stereotypes and caricatures–like J.K. Rowling’s weird description of a Native American woman almost certainly coming from a 1616 English-made engraving of Pocahontas.
Francisco does a deep, deep dive into the history of Fu Manchu, the character’s very specific history of directly and intentionally embodying the Yellow Peril stereotype by name, and how SHANG-CHI director Destin Daniel Cretton and screenwriter Dave Callaham set out to make a much better movie by deconstructing and destroying the stereotypes that served as the foundation for Marvel’s source material.
I can’t wait for parts two and three.
Our refrigerator HAS an ice maker, but it’s not really up to keeping two coolers full of drinks crispy over a Labor Day weekend, turning our bathtub into a cold tub for the athletes in the house, soccer match, or making a batch of top-shelf margs for the weekend.
Yes, it’s some random company dropshipping an expensive gadget over Amazon, but I talked myself into believing it’s going to make my life better and GOSH DARN IT I will review it right here in this space once it comes.
The Price of Dreams
Brian Cook and his wife are separating, and they have kids.
That’s all I know, and all I care to know, about that situation. But what Cook wrote resonated with me–and, I’m sure, with everyone who’s ever tried to attract and hold an audience big enough to keep themselves fed:
already wrote a column about how my initiatives to be a different person—starting with walk more, drink less—had been obliterated by the ever-hungry maw that was football season. And she begged me. She said I should stop and try to do something else because now that we had a kid, and then kids, that the maw could no longer be sated while keeping everyone sane. I tried to feed the maw. Feeding the maw was all I knew.
In the few years I worked “full time” as an FTE permalancer at Bleacher Report, I was doing what I was born to do, how I was born to do it. Waking up later than most, helping with the kids, then settling down to a day of reading and writing Football Stuff as best I could manage for a huge national audience and a sufficient paycheck before spending the night I wasn’t on MNF deadline chilling with my family.
I didn’t say “steady paycheck,” because once Turner bought the company my bimonthly direct deposits could be anywhere from two days early to six weeks late and it would just be a fun surprise as to when they’d actually hit. But it WAS sufficient to keep food in the bellies and gas in the minivan as we went between home, school, and the ice rink/gymnastics complex about 82 times a week.
But as inevitably as it seemed the B/R content engine sucked me in its intake, it spewed me out the exhaust. I latched on to any gig I could, making money however I could, and it was neither steady nor sufficient. I was “working” every second I wasn’t sleeping, and stressing about money and my family every second I was “working.” I began to resent every word I wrote, curse every Adam Schefter tweet that sent me running back to my desk.
Every time I wrote, I had to put on a mask and pretend I was still that guy that burned for it so hard I’d wake up at 2:47 a.m., hands on the keyboard and screensaver running.
With my eldest set to enter high school, I had to make a choice: continue to Live The Dream of being a “full time writer,” or keep being a full-time husband to the love of my life, and a full-time father to our three incredible kids.
I’m not going to go into the personal lives of everyone I worked with, competed with, knew, or admired in the sports blogosphere from the mid-aughts to mid-teens. But suffice it to say that enough of them have gotten divorced at least once since then that one of them started a podcast about it.
It turns out, the stodgy old union newspaper jobs were were working so hard to disrupt were the ones we were counting on landing once we got too old to grind content for digital medals. And while some of those Old Guys frankly deserved to be pushed into different careers, others were pushing just as hard to innovate and connect with the audience as us bloggers were. And in hindsight, plenty of us Cool Young Digital Guys were actually huge douchecanoes who didn’t deserve their cushy jobs, either.
In the end, I went back to a dayjob, consulting for some of the people I used to work for. I got to work on only projects that pay great, only projects I’m thrilled about or intrigued by, only projects of my own heart.
Regardless of medium, #ADayOffTwitch should be a shining example for all #content creators: We make the product, we have the power, and if our platformers can’t take care of us well enough to make both art and a satisfying life for ourselves, we need to walk away.
Did you enjoy this issue?
Ty Schalter

The latest thoughts, hottest takes, and coolest work of Ty Schalter, a professional writer & talker (@FiveThirtyEight, @ThreeOutPod). Lots of sports, geeky stuff, social commentary and more.

In order to unsubscribe, click here.
If you were forwarded this newsletter and you like it, you can subscribe here.
Powered by Revue