By R.L. Bynum
Subscription and other websites help meet the demand for high school sports coverage
What digital metrics does high school sports content produce?
By dramatically reducing coverage levels, it’s clear that many newspaper executives don’t think the return is worth the investment of resources that publications made just a few years ago. In some cases, editors would prefer not to cut coverage but feel compelled to reallocate parts of their increasingly smaller budgets to other areas.
Several North Carolina websites suggest that there is a demand for preps coverage, and they are filling part of the voids left by some newspapers.
There is HighSchoolOT.com, which is backed by the resources of Capitol Broadcasting Company. But there are several online news outlets without the financial backing of an established media brand that are finding their niche, including CarolinaPreps.com and two sites that began selling subscriptions last month: CoastalPreps.com and HobbsDailyReport.com.
Former newspaper sports writers run both subscription sites: CoastalPreps.com is run by Tim Hower and HobbsDailyReport by Chris Hobbs. In both cases, they write all of the copy and have no other editors on staff. They both focus on all sports while CarolinaPreps.com (run by Chris Hughes) only covers football.
Hobbs, 61, who spent 41 years in the newspaper business, is very familiar with the glory days of newspapers when print deadlines were reasonable and the budgets for high school coverage were much larger.
“To see what happened in sports, in general, is painful for any of us who’ve been in the industry,” said Hobbs, who suspects that early print deadlines have played a role. “To me, the coverage went away because, one, they no longer want to pay for the personnel and, two, I guess the production schedules. Do I think people are interested in high school athletics? Absolutely.”
Hobbs said that he’s had to upgrade the capacity of the website five times because of ever-increasing traffic levels. The site originally was on a shared server but now has its own server.
Hower, 34, started stringing for the Wilmington StarNews when he was 16 (back when there was a hyphen between Star and News), first working part time before covering preps full time at the newspaper for 16 years. He resigned in May 2018 and launched his website in July 2018.
“I wanted to be my own boss and make my own decisions about what games I covered and what stories I wrote,” Hower said via email. “At the end of my time with the StarNews, there was a difference in opinion between myself and my editors about how high school sports should be covered. Now that I’m out on my own, I am focused on providing positive and uplifting news, because I think that is what the world needs more of.”
Although the StarNews replaced him, Hower says that early deadlines prevent much game copy from making the print edition and that not many game stories are written outside of football, with roundups and features more common.
At Hobbs’ site, a subscription costs $8.95 a month and $85 a year and on Hower’s site it’s $7.50 a month and $75 a year. Hobbs plans to donate $1 for every monthly subscription and $5 for each annual subscription to area high school athletic programs.
Hobbs’ site, which has an affiliation with radio station WNNC, still allows users to read a good bit of content free. Some longer, in-depth stories are behind the paywall, with much-shorter versions available for free. Every story on Hower’s site is behind the paywall.
As of Tuesday, Hower’s site has 156 subscribers since the paywall went up Aug. 4, and it is averaging about 2 or 3 new subscribers per day. He hopes to reach 400 by the end of the school year. People have only been able to subscribe to Hobbs’ site since Aug. 22, and there were 41 subscribers, including some complimentary subscriptions to school athletics directors, as of Tuesday.
“The first year ended with a loss of profit because I was offering all my content for free and trying to make a profit off advertisements,” said Hower, who still has ads on his site. “I switched to the subscriptions model and so far am on track to turn a profit this year.”
Coastal Preps covers 14 high schools in New Hanover, Brunswick and Pender counties and Hower plans to add coverage this month of 15 New Hanover County middle schools. HobbsDailyReport.com covers three conferences, including schools in Catawba, Lincoln, Burke, Caldwell, Alexander, Watauga and McDowell counties.
The Hickory Daily Record (owned by BH Media Group, which owns six North Carolina newspapers, including the Winston-Salem Journal and the News & Record of Greensboro) laid off Hobbs in February 2017 after nearly 20 years. He was sports editor there before they eliminated the position and then acting editor. Before that, he was sports editor at the Salisbury Post and spent 13 years at The Charlotte Observer, principally covering high schools (although he also covered the Final Four, the Super Bowl and Davidson College). He also was assistant sports editor of the Gastonia Gazettefor nearly a year.
“I’m covering high school coaches now that I covered when they were athletes themselves,” Hobbs said. “The first high school game I covered, the school no longer exists.”
He takes the same drive and passion for high school sports he put into newspapers into the website, but the hours are just a little different. On a typical football Friday night, he leaves his Denver, N.C., home about 6 p.m.
“I’m lucky if I’m in the bed by 7 a.m. because I stay up all night, putting up the football games,” said Hobbs, who was the NCHSAA media person of the year in 1992 and received an NCHSAA distinguished service award in 1999. “I still do the same work I did newspaper-wise, I just do it for myself. Also, I don’t have some editor bugging me. And I don’t have somebody worrying with a deadline or pushing me.”
Hobbs runs the site along with his wife, Myra, who is the video and graphics coordinator. The site, which has published more than 5,000 articles since it started in April 2017, merged with CatawbaValleySports.com in May. His wife owns 50% of the site and Will Hancock, a former tennis coach at Lenoir-Rhyne, owns the other half.
“I don’t want to be a website that has a reputation for trying to make money on the backs of kids,” said Hobbs, who says that the site is making a profit on ad revenue. “That’s not what I’m trying to do. I hope that some of the kids benefit from it in some way and the communities do. That’s the objective.”
Hobbs has a good relationship with most newspapers in his area and works together with them on statistics. His biggest competition is the BH Media papers and some radio stations.
“What we’ve done is we’ve reached out to other media and said hey, ‘here’re some things we’re going to try to do. If you will work with us, we will waive our copyright,’ ” Hobbs said.
He’s also beat the Hickory paper on stories. He reported on Bunker Hill High School’s basketball coach hire on Aug. 8, but the Daily Record didn’t report it until Aug. 14
Throughout the state, readers in many areas have choices if they aren’t satisfied with the high school sports coverage their local newspaper provides.
More Triangle Maven sites start
The Heelsmaven site that publisher Brant Wilkerson-New started last month was the first such site in the Triangle and the main subject of the previous Media Musings column. Now two North State Journal sports writers have started separate Maven sites, with Shawn Krest publishing Dukemaven and Brett Friedlander publishing Wolfpackmaven.
While Wilkerson-New left his job as an ACC beat writer for the News & Record, Krest and Friedlander will continue to write for the North State Journal. Management still hasn’t approved hiring a replacement to fill Wilkerson-New’s old N&R position.
There also is a Carolina Panthers site called Panthermaven, which has been around for more than a year. Isaiah Houde became the publisher in March. Houde, a graduate of the University of Akron, previously worked with the USA Today Sports Media Group as a contributing writer for Panthers Wire and still writes for the group’s Patriots Wire.
Familiar N.C. media members are AP voters
None of the three AP football poll voters from North Carolina media outlets this season are new to the poll.
Included for the third consecutive season is WRALSportsFan.com’s Lauren Brownlow, and voting for the second consecutive year is Connor O’Neill, the Wake Forest beat writer for the Winston-Salem Journal.
The third N.C. voter is Steve Wiseman, the Duke beat writer for The News & Observer and The Herald-Sun, who has been a voter before. He replaces Scott Hamilton, who is not a voter for the first time in six seasons.
New co-host for HSOT Live
Chris Love, brother of injured Washington Redskins rookie running back Bryce Love, is the new co-host for the fourth season of HighSchoolOT Live, CBC’s Red Zone-style streaming high school football broadcast.
The former Wake Forest-Rolesville and East Carolina player defensive back replaced Wayne Bragg, who has returned to coaching as the offensive coordinator at Fuquay-Varina High School.
Nick Stevens remains the main host.
N&O writers now welcome on CBC programs
A longtime policy that prevented N&O sports writers from appearing on Capitol Broadcasting Company sports programs has ended.
“Yes, policy has changed,” said Dennis Glasgow, CBC’s programming director for sports audio, said via email. “If any guest in the Triangle has something to offer and further a sports discussion, they’re welcomed any of our local shows — including guests from The N&O.”
Last month, Joe Giglio, the N&O/H-S N.C. State beat writer, appeared on “Adam and Joe” on WCMC (99.9 The Fan).
Late last month, columnist Luke DeCock appeared with Adam Gold on CBC’s Canes Corner Podcast. It’s a solid, informative hour of Canes talk.
New Triangle podcasts debut; some existing ones change
There is plenty of Triangle sports podcast news, with some additions and some alterations.
As a runner, I’ll have to first point out CBC’s “Runologie Podcast” that Joe Ovies hosts with Alex Warren and Brent Francese, co-owners of the Raleigh running store Runologie. Beer (it can be used as a carbo-loading method, right?) and music are woven into the running discussion. It’s not the only area running podcast. The 48th episode of the “Summer of Miles” podcast, with Sir Walter Miler race directors Pat Price and Sandy Roberts, was released last month.
In the third season of CBC’s Tri-Partisan podcast, there will be individual podcasts for each of the Triangle ACC schools instead of just one. The same representatives for the three schools (Ben Swain for Duke, Dave Staley for North Carolina and James Henderson for N.C. State) from last season will each have their own weekly podcasts, although they will appear on each other’s podcast from time to time. Swain is the only remaining host from the first season. Turner Walston was the original UNC host and James Curle was the original N.C. State host.
Brownlow returns as host for the third season of CBC’s “Topics and Takes.” The format again has changed. Marilyn Payne was co-host the first season, then Brownlow was the sole host the second season and interviewed sports media people.
This season, Jasmyn Fritz, a regular on Buzz Sports Radio’s “The Sports Shop,” is the “Topics and Takes” co-host. While media people may still be guests, many times Brownlow and Fritz will simply discuss sports topics in a format much like the first season. With “SportsChannel 8: The Radio Show” now airing weekdays and Steve Logan’s show not returning, “Topics and Takes” is the last local show on WCMC on Saturdays when it airs from 9–10 a.m.
Brownlow also is host for a new SB Nation podcast, “An ACC Podcast.” In the first episode which uploaded last Thursday, her guest was Banner Society’s Bud Elliott. Wilkerson-New was her second guest in the episode that came out Tuesday.
On this website, SportsChannel 8’s Josh Goodson and Weather Moose are co-hosts for the “State Channel 8,” a podcast about N.C. State athletics. They plan two short, weekly podcasts: one on Monday recapping the Wolfpack’s game and one Thursday with a look ahead at the next game. Giglio and Patrick Johnson, radio host on Greenville-area radio station WRHD (94.3 The Game), were guests last week.
Sports journalists on the move
A few sports journalists with state ties took new jobs.
Mike Persinger, The Charlotte Observer’s former sports editor who took an early-retirement buyout in February, became the director of content for EveryIncome in June.
Alex Zietlow, who spent most of the summer as an intern at The N&O after graduating from UNC last spring, is a sports reporter/editor at the Rock Hill (S.C.) Herald, another McClatchy Company newspaper. Zietlow, who also had a summer internship with The Washington Times, covers high school sports.
C. Jackson Cowart, a former sports editor of The Daily Tar Heel and editor-in-chief of Argyle Report, became a sports betting writer for The Score in June. The 2018 UNC graduate previously spent eight months as a sports reporter for the Times Herald-Record in Middletown, N.Y., and seven months as a staff writer at BetChicago.
Andrew Schnittker, who graduated last spring from N.C. State and was sports editor for the Technician for two years, is the sports editor of The Mountaineer in Waynesville, which publishes Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. He has also written for Canes Country and Pack Pride.
Chris Hilburn-Trenkle, a Chapel Hill High School graduate and The Daily Tar Heel’s sports editor for the last school year, is editor of the weekly News of Orange County. A former Baseball America intern who graduated from UNC last spring, he covers sports as part of his duties.
Still no sports editor in Raleigh
After the sports editors at The Charlotte Observer and The N&O/H-S took early-retirement buyouts in late February, McClatchy decided to hire two North Carolina positions: a senior sports editor and a sports editor position, with one based in Charlotte and the other one in Raleigh.
McClatchy hired former Denver Post deputy sports editor Matt Stephens as the senior sports editor. He is based in Charlotte and he has been on the job since July 22.
Robyn Tomlin, the executive editor of the N&O/H-S and McClatchy’s Southeast Regional Editor, said via email that they still are talking to candidates for the Raleigh-based sports editor position.
North Carolina-related sports stories of note
Royce Young wrote on espn.com about N.C. high school basketball legend JamesOn Curry, whose life changed when he faced drug charges during his senior year at Eastern Alamance. It was the first of a few brushes with the law because he was “hustling, I ain’t going to lie.” He also got into a bad car accident. Like Moonlight Graham, he made it to the highest level (in this case the NBA), but it was a career that lasted for seconds.
In The Charlotte Observer, Brendan Marks took a wide-ranging and interesting look at the career of Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton.
In The Athletic, Joe Vardon wrote about why United States coach Gregg Popovich trusts former UNC star Harrison Barnes and is counting on him to play well in the FIBA World Cup.
In The N&O/Herald-Sun, Jonas Pope IV wrote about Lee County’s Desmond Evans, who is considered the No. 1 high school football player in the state.
In The Athletic, Megan Linehan wrote that North Carolina Courage player Kristen Hamilton is enjoying the spotlight.
On Heelsmaven before UNC’s opener, Wilkerson-New wrote about quarterback Sam Howell’s work ethic and his strange route to Chapel Hill, all while dealing with his dad’s health challenges.
Years ago, most newspapers had regular outdoors columns. That sort of story is hard to find these days, so this story from Ed Hardin in the News & Record of Greensboro about a kid battling something on the end of the line at Oak Island was nice to see.
In The Athletic, Seth Davis interviewed former ACC and national TV commentator Billy Packer, who now apparently prefers watching kickboxing and cage fighting over college basketball. Packer says he barely watches the game he analyzed for years.