By Nick Zararis
Typically, when I’ve watched New York Rangers’ hockey, it was simply for the love of the game. In my continuing quest to be as difficult a child as possible, I picked a fairly esoteric sport to fall in love with. I never thought that I could develop a following or the early stages of a writing career from vocalizing my thoughts about hockey and my favorite team, but I have.
In my time at Bluelinestation.com, there have been days when coming up with story ideas was as easy as interpreting Latin—in other words, not. In the world of sports writing, everyone and his mother thinks they know what they’re talking about, and it isn’t hard to set up an individual WordPress blog to rant. Finding my own unique voice and editorial direction for the website was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. Striking the right balance of the-sky-is-falling with the-future-is-bright makes for interesting content creation. Producing and editing stories every day makes for a real content grind. It really is a matter of combing through box scores, injury reports and charts to produce meaningful content. Anyone can go through the motions of writing semi-coherent rants, but I think I’ve managed to make content to be proud of.
The biggest lesson in my time at the site was learning to juggle many responsibilities at the same time. As the editor, I had to massage 13 different egos and personalities while still keeping the site on course. Keeping track of a staff taught me a lot about leadership and how to get the most out of people. Trying to give contributors something they themselves would be interested in to produce the best story is difficult when there’s a large group. Some people on the staff really needed to be babied along to produce at a level satisfactory to the type of site I wanted the team to produce. Different people respond to different types of persuasion. The most difficult needed to literally get nagged every single day because without a constant dialogue, they’d disappear for days at a time.
The most important lesson within this realm of editor management was balancing being friendly with leadership responsibility. Going to dinner or Ranger games with the staff could not compromise the professional relationship I had with each individual. Learning how to be friendly as a leader is not for everyone, and I could see how it may cause issues for certain types. It was uncomfortable having to tell certain contributors that they needed to step their work up or they’d be let go. In addition to that, I learned how to fire someone in a respectful way. If someone is not pulling his weight at a publication, it’s unfair to the rest of the staff that is. For the most part, they were clean breaks with little spillage. However, feelings get hurt when someone is let go, so firing them in the right way is key.
The lessons I learned from also juggling social media responsibilities are quite glaring. Because there are going to be internet trolls no matter what type of content I or co-workers produce, it’s imperative to manage them in a way that it does not corrupt the integrity of the site’s community. Bringing the audience into the discussion and making content a two-way dialogue was invaluable to the site’s performance. In a typical month, the site was averaging around 400,000 viewers and once peaked at more than 600,000. I also learned how to interpret Google analytics and use them to produce content that the audience was more likely to engage with. Serving as editor effectively made me both a social media director as well as the head of public relations. I needed to wear several different hats.
As for what I had known coming into the job, I wish I had a better understanding of how to manage different types of personalities in a team setting. It’s the easy choice to just do something yourself and not teach someone something new. Making the conscious decision to make my own job more difficult and dealing with telling someone something he or she did not want to hear was important. The site benefitted from these difficult discussions because it made the contributors better.
When it comes to advising others if they had this role, managing people is the most important aspect. Accounting for your own production and effort is fairly straightforward, but the site doesn’t work without the contributors. I learned the importance of maximizing their role in the site and empowering them to the point that they felt like meaningful members of the team. Giving their respective voices a platform is an important part of the hockey community. The social media sphere of hockey is littered with the equivalent of a person yelling into a megaphone. Having a site to refine your point and put it out into the world is a big stepping stone.
All things considered, this internship was a lesson in being a jack of all trades and open to any job. Serving as editor has taken a lot of time and effort, but it’s all been worth it. The practical hands-on experience of being an editor early on in my career was enlightening about the journalistic process and establishing a brand. I’ve managed to cover every single area of working at a publication during the course of my time at the site.