It’s one of the worst Christmas songs ever, according to the Telegraph, but I think it might be one of the BEST ever.
Anyhow, Happy Holidays to you all. Yes, I’m a participant in the War on Christmas. Oh, I celebrate Christmas, and I enjoy it, but maybe I think there’s something ridiculous about insisting that your holiday is persecuted at the same time you get offended when someone acknowledges there might be any holiday beyond your own in this “Christian nation.”
Before we jump into the year in review, first things first: To everyone who visits this site, to everyone who participates in the discussions one way or the other, I thank you. Times a billion. You quiet ones — I get it, some of you are shy. I thank you tremendously for visiting. You talkative ones — I continue to learn from you, to be challenged by you, to be entertained by you. As much as I like writing about boxing in and of itself, the real joy of the blogging experience for me is fostering discussion, either when you respond to what I say, or when you give me ideas about things to write, or by letting me publish your work.
So, thank you. Now, some reflection. This will contain a lot of bellybutton gazing, so if that’s not your thing, you might want to skip ahead, even though I elaborate on just how much I love you.
I’ve been at this blogging thing since 2007. Every year, whatever site I’ve been affiliated with — be it Seven Punch Combo, Ring Report or the modern incarnation you see before you now — has seen exponential traffic growth. Multiples of multiples. This year, things settled down, without getting into specific numbers. We’ll end 2010 about as big as we ended 2009.
Naturally I’ve wondered why that is the case, as I don’t think the quality of the site has suddenly taken a nose dive or anything. One thing I’ve learned is that when boxing is doing well, the site is doing well. Traffic was off the charts in November, which happened to be a terrific month for the sport, with tons of interesting/controversial/exciting fights.
Another thing is that in 2010, plenty of news outlets and blogs discovered a shortcut to web traffic, and that shortcut is to mention Manny Pacquiao. It’s hard not to mention him a ton — he’s the sport’s biggest star and it’s pound-for-pound king. Before Pacquiao exploded, I mentioned Floyd Mayweather all the damn time; before Mayweather, I mentioned Oscar De La Hoya all the time. It’s only natural. But some sites have figured out that if you mention the man gratuitously, traffic will pour in from the Philippines, and with that traffic, money. With so many other sites mentioning Pacquiao — particularly, the endless Examiner blogs, where bloggers are paid by the click, and where only a handful of the bloggers are competent — traffic is diluted. I’m not the only one who’s noticed this trend. I’ve talked to proprietors of other boxing sites who have groaned about it.
Nonetheless, the traffic we got in 2010 broke down identically to the traffic in 2009: 1/3 from the United States, 1/3 from the Philippines, 1/3 from everyone else. Referral-wise, the biggest contributors to traffic here were, in about this order, Pacland, Google, Philboxing, Yahoo, Twitter (whose impact on the site and boxing discussions I have discussed at length), Deadspin and Facebook. Thanks to all those sites, or, in the case of all the Facebook and Twitter links, those who were kind enough to post entries from this blog to their timelines and news feeds.
Occasionally, someone will say something to me about the site along the lines of, “This is a place where I can come to have reasonable, intelligent discussion and debate.” It means a lot to me, because that’s exactly what I want this site to be. Some of it is about the tone I try to set (although I’m ashamed to say, there were a couple times this year where I lost my cool during debates; I’ll strive to make sure it doesn’t happen again).
Mostly, though, it’s about the people who visit. There are a lot of great sites out there for boxing discussion, but I can proudly proclaim that the caliber of people who participate here have incredibly substantial, well-reasoned, funny things to say that put this site right up there with just a couple others at most in that regard. And I was happy to see when I was looking back over the site that some of the people were people who were here this week were here at the beginning of the year, too. There are too many of you to thank individually, but I suspect you all know who you are. Many of you have become friends, virtual or actual, and I appreciate it.
Something that happened more this year thanks to my end of 2009 request is that people contribute more actual blog posts. Thirteen different people wrote 69 (heh heh) blog entries this year, and I liked every single one of them, even the ones I disagreed with. This has proven to be one of the more fulfilling aspects of the past year for me — not just writing what I think, but working with people to help them write what they think. Some of them were some of the more well-trafficked entries of any given month, too. Since there were only thirteen of you, I can thank you individually: Scott Kraus; Alex McClintock; Johnathan Clarke; Andrew Harrison; Carlos Acevedo; Paul Kelly; Corey Erdman; Gautham Nagesh; Evan Holober; Rebecca Wolfe; Mike Coppinger; Tom Chmielewski; and Paul Magno.
Check On The Regular Media
The area where things got the most controversial around these parts is when the blog challenged the media itself, not just the boxers, promoters and other figures the media itself usually challenges.
If you’re a regular consumer of boxing journalism, you know there is some tremendous work out there. You also know there is little in the way of actual standards. I’ve been confronted by some of those journalists who argue that I’m in no position to criticize, either because I’ve written for an organization that has its own conflicts of interest or because I myself am not a daily boxing reporter.
I’m not interested in reviving any of those conflicts or Twitter feuds or private e-mail discussions or any such thing; for the most part, everyone I challenged handled it well, responding maybe with a touch of sensitivity but also a respectful exchange of ideas, criticisms or defenses. But I’d like to take this opportunity to explain my credentials, such as they are, for the next time this comes up.
In my day job, I report about Congress and the intelligence agencies of our country. In that capacity, lives are literally in my hands. If I publish some piece of classified information thoughtlessly, someone could actually die because of it. This was crystallized for me years ago when, toward the beginning of covering the spy agencies, a rank-and-file agency employee asked me to read an anonymous quote back that the employee had given me. The employee, as we discussed how I would provide anonymous-yet-somewhat-identifying details about what kind of work the employee did to my readers, explained why: “Because I don’t want to wake up with a gun in my face if you say too much about who I am.” So when I discuss the use of anonymous sources in the boxing world, you better believe I know a lot about this, and have thought a lot about this, and have had endless discussions with editors about this.
Nor am I a “mere blogger,” although that’s a big part of what I do. Indeed, over time, I’ve become more of a reporter in the boxing world than ever, especially when freelancing for The Ring and The Sweet Science. I’ve covered boxing matches ringside. I’ve interviewed promoters, network officials and managers. I’ve gone to training camps and weigh-ins. I’m not on the beat every day the way some are, but I have some hands-on experience, not that it’s a necessary requirement for criticizing other reporters, anyway. Many of the boxing journalists I’ve written about have never run HBO, but that doesn’t stop them from validly criticizing HBO.
And I’ve addressed it before, but the conflict of interest thing is a valid issue, although not when it applies to whether I can criticize any other journalist over standards. Moral perfection is not a prerequisite for someone to raise questions about ethics, or else no one could ever raise ethical questions ever. And besides, working for Ring — owned by Golden Boy Promotions — isn’t the only conflict of interest out there. Most boxing writers work for organizations with financial interests in the boxing industry, be they direct, indirect, marginal or temporary. It’s less than ideal, to say the least, but it is what it is. I should be judged, as should everyone, by the quality of my ideas (although if I behaved in a way where I constantly praised Ring and Golden Boy and refrained from criticizing either of them ever, then I become more dismissable).
Starting tomorrow, I’m going to take my first extended vacation from the blog. I figure it’ll last two weeks. Posting should be sparse; I have three blog entries planned, and naturally if there’s some huge breaking news, I’ll jump in there. Also, there could be some guest posts.
This year, more than the others, has been a tiring one. Part of it is that with the site and my work becoming a meaningful (if small) part of the boxing world, it has become a more stressful endeavor. When I was just spouting off what I thought, it was more like fun and less like a job. Now, what I say has much more potential for impact, and impact equals stress. The site and my work have gotten to the point that promoters recognize me, networks take me seriously and other writers (for the most part) respect me. Impact is a good thing, but there’s a tradeoff. You have to become more responsible in what you say, and there’s the chance somebody’ll get ticked off about it, which I can live with but which does add some stress to your life. And when what you’re doing is more like a job and less like a hobby, a vacation is helpful. It’s still fun, mind you — I also have fun at my day job. But jobs produce stress that hobbies don’t.
Another is that I’ve written, on average, more than one blog entry a day for going on three years. That’s exhausting. I spend between 10 and 20 hours a week on the blog and boxing writing, and sometimes, such as in particularly busy periods or when I have a freelance gig, more. I need to recharge my batteries a bit after an extended run.
Another exhausting element is that boxing in 2010 frustrated me just as often as it made me happy. I’ll elaborate in the annual grading post that will run before the new year, but I am, above all else, a boxing fan. All the business about promoter feuds and failed negotiations for Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao — it sucked away some enjoyment. I thought about calling it quits a few times, and I know I’m not the only one, as Kraus departed because of some of this stuff. But I suspect I’ll stick around boxing writing for a good long while. The last two months of the year reminded me that the highs of boxing are higher than the highs of any sport. I’m one of those boxing fans, and I know I’m not alone, who keeps coming back for those highs no matter how ugly the rest of it gets. I can’t blame anyone for walking away permanently, because sometimes it isn’t worth it — indeed, boxing has lost too many hardcore fans because of people deciding it wasn’t worth it. But for me it could be helpful to step away for a week or two, so as to come back with a fresh perspective.
The last reason for the vacation is that I’ll have a chance to think about what kinds of things I might want to do differently in the new year. This year we had some fun innovations, like the Prediction Game and When Boxing Writers Talk. (I also foolishly turned down an innovative idea from Mr. Holober that another site later took up. Sorry, Mr. Holober, and sorry, everyone else.) I sought your opinion on what I could do differently in 2011 in the last Open Thread of 2010, and you gave me some good ideas. But do I want to report more and blog slightly less? Do I want more frequent, shorter posts? I really haven’t decided. I go back and forth.
I’ll figure it out over the break, I expect. For instance, I know for a fact that I want even MORE guest posts. If you’ve written a guest post before and haven’t in a while, I hope you’ll do it again soon. If you haven’t written a guest post before and have an idea, hit me up — and don’t be insecure about your writing, because I’ll have your back as an editor. There are guys out there who write for other publications whose work I love, but I’m not gonna recruit you or pressure you, because I hate feeling like a headhunter. I’m a low-pressure cat all around — I don’t want anyone to feel obligated to do something they don’t want to do on their own. Just know that I’m interested. The monetary rewards are minimal, but I can make it worth your while in other ways. (Not sexual favors. Well, probably not. Depends on if you are beautiful woman or not, and you want sexual favors from me in exchange for writing for me.) Contact me privately at tstarks2 @ gmail.com and we can discuss.
Enough mental masturbation. It’s Christmas. I’ve got naps to take after playing with a 2 1/2-year old niece who is a ball of energy, and before I get my drink on this evening at a party.
Seriously: Thank you all again, and we’ll talk soon. I know I’ll enjoy it.