By R. L. Bynum
HighSchoolOT.com expanding to Triad, Charlotte areas
The media landscape has dramatically changed since HighSchoolOT.com launched in August 2008 with Nick Stevens as its only staff member.
The Capitol Broadcasting Company website also has evolved, and it announced last week expansion to the Triad and Charlotte areas.
“As other media companies pull back on high school sports coverage, we see an opportunity to expand ours,” John Conway, CBC’s general manager for new media, said in the website’s story announcing the move.
In the last 11 years, while some newspapers and television stations significantly reduced their commitment to covering high school sports, the site now has two full-time staffers, five part-time staffers and a contract contributor (former News & Observer preps editor J. Mike Blake), in addition to hiring freelancers to cover games.
“I honestly think that covering high school sports is super-important,” Stevens said. “While there are fewer people covering them and less resources covering them — and maybe that is a good thing for us from a competitive perspective — I actually think it’s sad because I think the more coverage that high school sports get, the better it will actually be for us. One, it makes us work harder, it makes us better but, two, it gives more people more reason to be more interested in what we’re covering.”
As some local newspapers and TV stations in and east of the Triangle have trimmed their high school coverage due to shrinking staffs and early deadlines, HighSchoolOT.com has seized the opportunity to fill the void, met the demand and has gained more popularity. That led Stevens, the site’s managing editor, to suggest to upper management that the site expand its coverage area westward, initially with the modest addition of three part-time writers.
“Obviously, you can only do so much with part-time staff,” said Stevens, who will also hire freelancers to cover games in the website’s new markets. “But that’s how we started here and we’re going into this knowing that we have a lot of work to do in terms of building a following and building brand-recognition and credibility in those markets. I think this is something that we’re doing that’s going to be a long-term play for us.”
In 2008, the site initially only covered four Class 4-A conferences in the Triangle, then added the Fayetteville, Rocky Mount and Wilson areas in 2010. With the last NCHSAA realignment two years ago, HighSchoolOT.com added the Wilmington area.
What works digitally in one area doesn’t always transfer to another area.
Charlotte Agenda established, and still has, a very successful brand. But it wasn’t able to achieve the same success in the Triangle with Raleigh Agenda, which shut down in December 2016 after four months. HighSchoolOT.com is different because it’s an expansion of one website rather than starting a new one, in addition to the content being vastly different.
“My main focus has been on the digital side, and how can we produce content or obtain content in an effective, efficient way that people want to see from those markets,” Stevens said. “There are some solutions in the works but, again, we’re going into this knowing we have a lot of work to do.”
WRAL has a name presence from the Triangle to the coast, and the TV station’s coverage also aids HighSchoolOT.com. There are no such advantages as the scope expands to the west.
“We didn’t do this blindly. We did a lot of research,” Stevens said.
Surveys with athletics directors in the western part of the state and website analytics that indicate the location of users show that the site won’t be starting from scratch in terms of recognition.
“We have pretty strong brand recognition, really, statewide, particularly when it comes to playoff time,” Stevens said.
The site’s statewide playoff projections, statewide scores and interactive brackets that work on mobile devices have drawn traffic throughout the state during the postseason.
“So, in a way without really knowing it, we’ve been kind of laying the groundwork for this over the last several years,” Stevens said.
The site goes from school to school previewing the football season in its annual tour and has added western schools this month. Last weekend, the site covered a 7-on-7 football event at Greensboro Dudley.
“It’s going to be a good thing, but it’s going to take time for us to get there and for us to cover as in-depthly as we do here,” Stevens said. “It’s taken almost 12 years to get to the point where we’re at right now, so I think that’s going to be the key for us. Getting out there and meeting the people. We have a marketing plan to do that and we’ll be announcing some more things down the road in the not-too-distant future.”
He expects “HighSchoolOT Live,” the streaming Red Zone-style show that airs on the website and its app Friday nights, to include games in the western part of the state this season. Last season, the show included games in Greenville and Wilmington.
Stevens recognizes that there are strong, established brands in the News & Record of Greensboro, the Winston-Salem Journal, The Charlotte Observer and TV stations in those markets. He doesn’t expect to “knock off” any of those outlets.
“We want to go in and supplement what’s already there and try to expand our footprint some,” he said. “And, hopefully, we’re going to make the state smaller when it comes to high school football and high school sports in general. Because right now it’s the west and the east. Why feud? Greensboro is 45 minutes from here, why is that a whole different world in terms of high school sports?”
While the only full-time reporter at The N&O/H-S who covers preps, Jonas Pope IV, also covers many other subjects, including recruiting, the commitment of the Triad papers and the Charlotte paper is larger.
Winston-Salem has two high school sports writers (Patrick Ferlise and Jay Spivey), Greensboro has a full-time writer (Joe Sirera) and a part-time writer (Spencer Turkin) and Charlotte has a full-time writer (Langston Wertz Jr.). Greensboro and Winston-Salem have print deadlines that allow high school football game stories to make Saturday print editions.
Stevens doesn’t see it as HighSchoolOT.com battling media outlets in the western part of the state any more than he thought about Triangle and eastern North Carolina outlets that way.
“I think it’s a supplemental thing and think the more high school sports coverage that’s out there, the better it is for everybody who covers high school sports,” he said. “If you don’t have Tom Suiter at WRAL, you don’t have Tim Stevens at The News & Observer, I don’t think HighSchoolOT is a thing. Tom always told me, he said, ‘there are a few people who work in sports and when somebody else does something well, commend them for it because you’d want them to return the favor. It’s not about the whole competition side of it.’ Obviously, Tom had a pretty good career, I’d say.”
NBA Draft telecast popular in our area
With three Duke players going in the top 10 — including top pick Zion Williamson — and three North Carolina players picked in the first round, the NBA draft telecast on ESPN drew huge ratings in the area.
While New Orleans, no doubt excited about Williamson, drew the best ratings, the Raleigh-Durham market was second, Greensboro third and Charlotte fourth.
The draft usually draws good ratings in North Carolina, though. In 2017, Charlotte was second and the Raleigh-Durham market was sixth. That year, three from Duke, two from North Carolina and one each from N.C. State and Wake Forest went in the first round.
ACC Network hires producer for ‘Packer and Durham’
If you listen much to ESPN’s “Baseball Tonight with Buster Olney” podcast, you’re probably familiar with Josh Macri, who has produced that and other podcasts for ESPN for a while, including the “Adam Schefter Podcast.”
The Syracuse graduate is joining the ACC Network to be the producer for the “Packer and Durham” show on the channel, which debuts in Aug. 22.
Some personal news on today’s #MorningCap video pic.twitter.com/v0gDUdmEqn
— Josh Macri (@Josh_Macri) June 24, 2019
Inside Carolina tops 247 Sports lists for May
According to Shannon B. Terry, the founder and CEO of 247 sports, Inside Carolina, which focuses on UNC athletics, was its top site in the country in May under two metrics.
Terry tweeted that IC had the top revenue of any 247 site in May, closely followed by its Ohio State site. The only other ACC site making that top 20 was Irish Illustrated, a Notre Dame-focused site.
Terry tweeted that IC had the largest message board community for May, which is based on total traffic. Pack Pride, which focuses on N.C. State, was 12th in that metric and VT Scoop, a Virginia Tech site, ranked No. 20.
In April 2018, this column focused on IC and what has made it so successful.
No more scoreboard pages
The old days of perusing the scoreboard pages in print editions of The News & Observer or The Herald-Sun for all of the standings, box scores and transactions are over. The change was made last month.
All McClatchy papers ended the traditional scoreboard page in favor of packaging standings, schedules and other agate near relevant stories. Instead of placing the Women’s World Cup schedule on a scoreboard page, it appears next to a story. That means that the TV/radio schedule is placed wherever it fits. A list of transactions, a staple on a traditional scoreboard page, makes the print edition most but not all days.
“It’s being done because it’s more helpful to readers,” Robyn Tomlin, the executive editor of both newspapers, said via email. “It’s better when you don’t have to hunt that info down in a different location.”
Digital subscribers to McClatchy papers have access to SportsStats, which offers an extensive national agate package. On most days, it has the most updated standings and even the box scores from the West Coast.
Minor-league baseball standings, scores and box scores, once staples in the print edition, don’t appear in SportsStats or the local McClatchy papers.
McClatchy calls it the “Digital Saturdays initiative”
On June 5, it was announced that this would be the last month for Saturday print editions of The Herald-Sun. The last Saturday Durham print edition publishes this week. Two days after the announcement, a McClatchy-wide memo was sent in which the move was said to be part of the “Digital Saturdays initiative.”
McClatchy, of course, also is pushing its digital products seven days a week.
The memo said that an evaluation will be made on the success of the moves in Durham and at The Bellingham (Wash.) Herald.
“We will see how those announcements go and make quick determinations about whether to expand this to other markets,” read the memo. “We’ll learn everything we can along the way, watching customer response and adjusting our approach, including our content mix, as necessary.”
According to the memo, when the move was made at The Sun News of Myrtle Beach, S.C., subscribers activating their digital access rose from 43% to 51% and unique visitors to the e-edition went up 30% on Saturdays. [editor’s note: the story’s author was a Herald-Sun copy editor from 1998-2005]
CBC has a NASCAR podcast
There isn’t much NASCAR talk on the Triangle radio airwaves, but you can still get some racing talk via a CBC podcast.
Michael Shelton, the producer of “The Sports Shop,” the drive-time show on Buzz Sports Radio (96.5 FM and 99.3 FM), is host for the “Checkered Flag Podcast,” which started in February. There have been 19 episodes, and it comes out Fridays.
The podcast has featured drivers, team owners and commentators. Fox’s Larry McReynolds appeared on last week’s episode.
North Carolina-related sports stories of note
Alex Wong wrote in The New York Times that “reppin’ Asians” meant more than winning an NBA title for reserve Toronto Raptors guard, and former Charlotte Hornet, Jeremy Lin.
N&O/H-S sports intern Alex Zietlow wrote about Durham’s Desmond Jackson, who competes on the track despite being an above-the-knee amputee using a blade. He also wrote about UNC defensive end Jake Lawler’s battle with depression.
Before the NBA draft, former UNC point guard Coby White wrote in The Players’ Tribune about the pain of losing his dad to cancer and how he still is an influence for him.
Even before the New York Knicks drafted RJ Barrett, Ian Begley wrote for SNY about how the former Duke star is built to succeed in New York. After the draft, Steve Serby of the New York Post had an interesting Q&A with Barrett.
In the York (Pa.) Daily Record, Frank Bodani wrote about retired ACC men’s basketball referee Duke Edsall. The story details how a doctor’s appointment before he was about to take a five-hour drive may have saved his life. Edsall explains how he liked to get to know the players and practice “preventive officiating.”
In the News & Record, Ed Hardin reflected on the memorable 1999 U.S. Open in Pinehurst that Payne Stewart won.
In the Portland (Maine) Press Herald, Glenn Jordan wrote about the difficult life for minor-league umpires as they pursue their dreams of working in the majors. He focuses on Tom Roche, who has advanced to Double-A after working the 2017 season in the Carolina League.
Charlotte Observer columnist Scott Fowler questioned why the Charlotte Hornets would select Jalen McDaniels in the second round of the NBA draft considering claims by two female former high school classmates that, without consent, McDaniels secretly recorded them performing sexual acts.