Eight months ago, the Washington Post announced that columnist and DC Sports Bog founder, Dan Steinberg, would take a step back from writing and slide into an editor’s role at the newspaper’s blog desk. The move was bittersweet for many. Steinberg “is not only a great reporter and writer; he has a keen eye for what makes a good story,” sports editor Matt Vita wrote on January 26.
After becoming a pioneer of a blogging style that many now ape a decade later, the beloved sports journalist admitted in an interview with RMNB that he “was just kind lost” as a writer. But last week, Steinberg began typing words again – this time in a different medium. Steinberg is now authoring a daily email called the DC Sports Bog newsletter which you can sign up for here. The move allows one of the Post’s most captivating sports writers to blaze another new trail. It also capitalizes on a growing trend by media companies to use email marketing as a way to connect directly with their readership and drive traffic to their websites.
Steinberg, using his signature style with article titles in the newsletter’s subject lines, brings to readers’ inboxes content that is unique, insightful, honest, and a step removed from the sports desk’s reporting. For instance, earlier this week, Steinberg interviewed and challenged Barry Svrluga on why he thought Bryce Harper wants to stay with the Nationals. Steinz also makes jokes. “The meat of the [newsletter] will remain our coverage of D.C. sports, which continues to be the core of our department’s mission. (That and eating doughnuts).”
I recently reached out to Dan and asked if I could interview him about his new project. He said, sure!, but with the caveat that no one will read this. I talked to Steinz about writing, the good and bad of the DC blogosphere, Alex Ovechkin, The Athletic (who reportedly tried to hire him to their new DC vertical), and the journalism brilliance behind Adam Kilgore’s Partying Caps story.
[Note: For many of you, this will get too far into the weeds of sports journalism and not be enough about the Capitals. That’s fine. I begrudgingly forgive you. Just sign up for Dan’s newsletter, hit the back button in your browser, and then scroll down to the part where Adam Kilgore goes behind-the-scenes and reveals what it was like covering the Capitals partying with the Stanley Cup in Las Vegas.]
Ian Oland: Hi, Dan. I haven’t talked to you in a while. As you know (and as you hate for me to point out), you are one of the journalists who inspired me to become a sports writer and start RMNB with Peter nine years ago. Since then, sports journalism has greatly changed.
Now you are an editor and recently got into email marketing – which is actually my day job (I love it). You recently began taking the DC Sports Bog to people’s inboxes and author a daily newsletter promoting the work of the Washington Post’s sports section.
Is this the only writing we can expect you to do moving forward? Do you miss writing in general?
Dan Steinberg: I think (?) The Post would take as much writing from me as I would like to provide, assuming I could still do my editing duties. But I really want to do those editing duties, and it’s hard to find the time for that and writing, and now this daily newsletter, so I would be surprised if I’m writing outside of the newsletter absent special occasions.
That’s a hard question. Writing lots and lots of words a week was a very big part of my life for a long time, and it also prompts feedback (and sometimes kind words) and engagement and conversation and demands creativity and thought and yeah, I guess I miss many of those things. But I was so burned out on it. Sooooo burned out on it. And really was just kind of lost and no longer sure what to write and what mattered and what I was supposed to be doing with my life. So I needed to get really far away from doing that every day, which I did.
Ian Oland: From a pure strategy standpoint, why did the Washington Post have you do this?
Dan Steinberg: I think newsletters is one of the many engagement strategies that are important at The Post right now, and they wanted to include a local sports newsletter as part of that effort. Not sure why, but they thought maybe my voice might work well in a newsletter format, and that my job might allow me to do it consistently on weekday mornings. Guess we will find out. But I think our if our section has a challenge right now, it is less in content creation (the content and the writers are great) and more in content distribution. This is one effort we’re making to get our content to people, and I was happy (ish) to try to make it work.
Ian Oland: Are you seeing this as a trend with bigger journalism outlets?
Dan Steinberg: You know as much about trends as I do, but for all media outlets, finding ways to find and engage with readers is one of our biggest challenges. There are so many places producing content right now, and not that many people who are just going to bookmark web pages and go there over and over and over again. You have to find a way to get the content to people, a way that they will even enjoy at times. You have to be willing to change your assumptions every year, or every six months, or every day. I don’t know if this will work (now, or in the future), but I think being willing to try new things is (and has been) crucial for mainstream outlets. So we’re trying this. We’ll see. Maybe it works less well for local sports than for some other topics, or maybe it works wonderfully. But why not try, I guess?
Ian Oland: What can people expect from your newsletters moving forward? And I’ll tell you this. After two weeks of it so far, I find that the concept of it is different in a refreshing way. While the end goal is for people to click through to the website, the writing isn’t focused on having promotional language or call to actions. It’s creative writing to engage readers and give them something new that they wouldn’t necessarily get from wapo.com.
Dan Steinberg: Hm. Well I guess I’m not sure. We have another Post Sports newsletter that will go out every Saturday, featuring our best work from the past week, with an explanation of how at least one of the stories came to be. My local sports newsletter is obviously a work in progress (it’s two days old as I type), but I want it to feel like something conversational and casual and engaging, something that includes occasional reader submissions, something that makes following sports fun (and also makes it easier for people to find our content). Not sure how that will go. It’s also possible we will find I’m not able to do that well while also doing my job.
The problem with your observation (and thanks for that) is that if people aren’t feeling a need to click through … what do we get from it? Brand loyalty, I guess. I’m not sure. Our awesome newsletter boss Tessa is going to explain this to me at some point. (Hi Tessa.)
Ian Oland: I consider both you and Ted Leonsis to be blogging visionaries and two people who have, intentionally or not, helped grow and encourage a powerful sports blogosphere in DC. Over a decade ago, Leonsis gave access to Caps bloggers before many others leagues or teams did so. Later, he even let RMNB, for some reason, on his TV show before he realized that was a mistake to put these ugly mugs on camera. But because of this encouragement from Ted, the Caps blogosphere did very passionate work and helped grow the fanbase, which I think you saw some evidence of in the 500k plus at the Caps Parade.
Then there’s you. You were someone who wrote in an engaging way — a steady stream of consciousness — and used your access to ask athletes things people really cared about – no matter how irrelevant. You made sportswriting fun and thoughtful. You always went out of your way to link and give people credit who inspired or helped you with stories.
So that leads me to this question: What do you love about DC’s blogosphere for sports journalism?
Dan Steinberg: What do I love about DC’s blogosphere? Besides you? I love you, Ian. And your blog. Sincerely. Anyhow, the D.C. sports blogosphere of 2018 is different from what it was in 2014, or 2010, or 2006. So is the mainstream coverage. I think the walls between the two are much smaller, to the extent they even exist. And I think D.C. is much, much less distinctive now than it was before, because the world has changed. I think the things I originally loved were that readers here were open for anything, and weren’t unduly unreasonable about wins and losses, and were very eager to reach out with feedback and suggestions and other ways to foster community around following sports teams. Maybe it’s like that everywhere. But I think the D.C. blogosphere really helped lead to that sense of community here.
Ian Oland: Is there something you dislike – that you’d wish would change or improve?
Dan Steinberg: Dislike? Man. I don’t even know anymore. I do think there are real challenges for our beat writers — who are trying to be both fast, and unique, and expansive, and quick-twitch, and, responsible, and on top of news — and are competing at times with a whole bunch of people who maybe don’t have to check all those boxes. In many ways, the online sports revolution has made the already impossible job of beat writing even more impossible, and I think that’s kind of sad. But nothing about that is really unique to D.C.
Ian Oland: In June, when we last talked extensively, you told me about how proud you were of the Post’s coverage of the Stanley Cup Final, especially after Game Five when the Caps won the Cup in Las Vegas. We’re obviously all superfans of Isabelle Khurshudyan’s hard work on the beat.
I also recall telling you how much I loved Jesse Dougherty’s feature where he explained who each player passed the Stanley Cup to and why. Not only was the story ingenious, fast, usable, and beyond fascinating, the quick turnaround of that story was stunning.
You told me about how blown away you were about Adam Kilgore’s story documenting the Caps’ partying with the Stanley Cup that night in Las Vegas. Could you tell our readers about that?
Dan Steinberg: You should ask, Adam! Really. [Dan gives me Kilgore’s email address]
I just know that our boss, Matt Vita, really wanted a story like that, and assigned it to Adam, who is both an amazing reporter and writer and someone with an intimate familiarity with Vegas and casinos. He knew his job that night was going to be to not sleep, and to somehow get himself where the Caps were. It’s actually a pretty great story, how he found them, how he got into VIP, how he spent the night.
But I’m not gonna be able to re-tell it.
[Adam Kilgore writes me back a few days later.]
— Alex Price (@AlexAtJazz) June 8, 2018
Adam Kilgore: Any success the story had starts with editors’ ideas and encouragement. Sometime between Game 4 and 5, Mike Hume was the first to tell me my assignment if the Caps won: “Follow the Cup.” I immediately had dim expectations. It was a great idea, but I didn’t really think it would be executable based on access and timing. Mike and Matt Rennie both told me just to get what I could. They were always optimists; I had doubts, probably based on fear I’d blow the assignment.
I let Sergey Kocharov, the Caps’ excellent PR man, know my assignment and asked if I could get any kind of inside access in the event the Caps won. I followed up the day of. He wanted to help but explained, justifiably, any post-arena parties would be players and players’ family/friends only. And per NHL rules, there’s no locker room access to the Cup-winning team. There wasn’t anything he could do.
Isabelle Khurshudyan, who is marvelous, helped me so much. She knew the team was staying at the Mandarin Oriental and their first stop would be a party at a ballroom there. I figured at the very least, I could cobble together a story with the scene on the ice and some scene from outside the hotel and/or ballroom, and maybe inside if I got lucky.
After the game, I got down to the ice level and watched them skate around with the Cup on a TV monitor. When reporters could go on the ice, I kept following the Cup around and jotting notes, especially intent on eavesdropping for any dialogue between players.
After about an hour, they went into the locker room. Isabelle and I waited outside. I used some of that time to type out scenes from the ice. We could hear a good bit of the party inside – we didn’t realize then that “We Are The Champions” would become an echo. We wanted to see the Cup leave. We felt like fools when we saw Ovechkin put a video on Instagram or Periscope of himself on the bus with the Cup. There was a backdoor we didn’t know about.
I got an Uber to the Mandarin. I guessed at which ballroom level the party would be on; the Caps fans outside let me know I guessed right. I still had my game credential on, and it must have looked official enough to the bouncer outside the ballroom. I asked him, “Is this the Oriental room?” I knew it was, because that’s what the sign said. I walked briskly, and he didn’t stop me.
When a team wins a championship, I realized, they don’t care who shows up. I saw Sergei, and he gave me a look like, “What are you doing here?” But he left me alone. It probably helped that I hadn’t spent much time around the team, so despite my media credential, I didn’t seem too suspicious. I was kind of a fly on the wall until Ovechkin grabbed the cup a little before 1 a.m. and carried down to some busses.
I followed. I heard some fans say they were going to the MGM. Isabelle had told me Ovechkin was friends with Tiesto, the DJ at the club there. I could get there faster walking than cabbing because of traffic on the Strip, so that’s what I did.
I never saw Ovechkin carry the cup inside in person – I went to the VIP lot. Ovechkin’s bus went to the main entrance, which kind of hacked off the MGM people because it caused such a traffic snarl. I kind of suspect Ovechkin and the players on that bus wanted to make a scene.
The Hakkasan is not really my scene. The guys at the VIP lot weren’t letting me pass. I walked through the casino and, after a few awkward questions to dudes to headsets, just got in line. A guy told me I couldn’t wait there with backpack on – I was still carrying my laptop. I went to the front desk to drop it off. When I came back, after buying a 5-Hour Energy, I saw another entrance with no line. I learned that 60 bucks would get me in with a minimal wait. That turned out to be an interesting expense report.
Once I finally got in, it was pretty much a goldmine. I typed notes on my phone by emailing myself, which turned out to be really helpful on deadline. After 4 a.m., I went back to grab my bag, and the woman at the desk kindly told the guy looking for a place to work at sunrise that there was a FedEx office across the lobby. And so there was. It was perfect – I would have crashed if I went back to my hotel room, outside the over-oxygenated casino.
Since I had so many notes already typed, and the structure was pretty obviously going to be based on a linear timeline, I hacked it out in about 90 minutes. It felt not totally unlike writing a running game story, which is definitely in my wheelhouse. I think I filed around 6 a.m., which was pretty ideal timing for readers waking up and getting to work at 9 a.m. back home.
I got back my room and realized I had time to kill before I caught my morning flight. Isabelle agreed to get a beer with me. Did I mention she’s marvelous?
Ian Oland: Adam’s behind the scenes of that story. Wow.
Dan Steinberg: Adam is resourceful, observant, a brilliant writer and hard-working. You’d have to be all of those things to even come close to what he did on that story.
Ian Oland: Agreed.
This is a video package Steinberg created in 2009 covering Alex Ovechkin and his other teammates doing a segway tour.
Ian Oland: So a few more questions. You have covered Alex Ovechkin pretty much since he first entered the league so you have a unique perspective on his career. What makes him such a unique athlete and what have you enjoyed most about covering him over the years? Why did it take a Stanley Cup to validate how great of a player he was?
Dan Steinberg: I think Ovechkin, for me, demonstrates as much as anyone that I care more about what someone does in competition than off. And I used to be almost completely the reverse. I just wanted people who were smart and funny and amusing and quirky. Hence, Gilbert, Then it turned out Gilbert was a bad guy. And I gradually matured, or changed anyhow, and saw so many supposed good guys turn out not to be that, and I just altered my thoughts. I like sports, or liked sports anyhow, because of the sport. Ovechkin is great because he’s indestructible, because he plays with joy, because he’s been with one team for his whole career, and because he fucking scores the fucking puck better than almost anyone, ever. I don’t know if he’s a good guy. I don’t really care all that much. I enjoy watching him play hockey, because he’s great at it.
I don’t know if my enjoyment in covering him goes beyond that. I do think we underestimate how much durability and longevity can improve an athlete’s legacy, and I don’t really know if his durability and longevity are because of how he trains, or how seriously he takes his body, or just he’s been lucky. But to be consistently great, for that long, without virtually any let-up, is truly incredible. That’s what’s the best.
The Stanley Cup thing? I get it. It would have been a massive hole on his resume. Unfair, sure, whatever, but a massive hole. And it’s gone now. And anyhow who has watched his career has to breathe a little bit easier because of that, because “how much does this diminish his legacy” is a dispiriting conversation.
Ian Oland: What are your thoughts on The Athletic? I saw a Deadspin article that they tried to hire you. 🙂
Dan Steinberg: Anything that is employing (and paying for travel) of sports writers is good. Full stop. The end. I want them to succeed, and I don’t want their success to hurt local newspapers, and maybe those are incompatible goals. But no part of me is rooting against them. And I am incredibly flattered if anyone ever thinks about hiring me for anything, because I still think I’m terrible and bad etc. etc. etc. so I never take any of that for granted.
Ian Oland: Okay, I’ve wasted enough of your time. But, but, but I must ask this.
I get this question a lot from students and up-and-coming writers who really want to get into journalism, especially sports journalism. What’s your best advice to them if they someday want to work at the Washington Post or be a beat writer? Should they be scared or intimidated about the current climate?
Dan Steinberg: I’ve been doing this for like 17 years now (oldddddddd) and my number one piece of advice hasn’t changed and won’t. Read. Read everything. The best way to become a good (and interesting, and thought-provoking) writer is to read as much as you possibly can, and the best way you can get me to read your stuff is by being a good (and interesting, and thought-provoking writer).
But look, the industry has changed in a zillion ways since then, and there are tons of other things that are important. Being good at social media. Being good at multimedia. Being good at breaking news. Being a likable, or compelling personality. Knowing what the next thing is before anyone else. Dozens of other things. And you can be good at some but not all and still make it. My own advice focuses on writing because that’s what opened every door for me, but there are other ways in.
And hellllll yes they should be scared and intimidated about the current climate. Not only because it’s now common to lash out at journalists, and not only because the industry is undergoing seismic changes. All the reasons. Because teams are so involved in content. Because people don’t like paying for content. Because there are very very good sites who will provide great coverage as a hobby, and thus can undercut our attempt to turn it into a career. (Aheeemmmmmmmmm). Because everything will change all over in the next two years, and then in the two years after that, and who knows what it will look like. Because if you want to write about sports for a living, you are signing away your nights and weekends and holidays forever, and then one day you will be in your 40s with a family and young kids who want to know why you can’t just have a normal 9-to-5 and be home for dinner.
There are a million reasons not to want to do this, but there are a million people who want to do it anyhow, and I always tell kids if you just absolutely cannot imagine yourself doing anything else in the world but this — if it’s something so embedded in your guts that you can’t avoid this career — then what the hell, just do it and find a way to make it work. But you have to really really want it. So make sure you want it.
And finally, I will close with how Dan promoted the newsletter on Twitter.
Ugh I promise I will stop doing this soon but I am supposed to tell you that I am doing a D.C. sports newsletter and you can sign up for it here. If you want. https://t.co/70xGE9fSnf
— Dan Steinberg (@dcsportsbog) August 23, 2018
I used to be better at self promotion. In 2006 I printed out little fortune-sized pieces of paper with the url for the DC Sports Bog and handed them out to strangers. And to everyone I met. True story. I was loathsome.
— Dan Steinberg (@dcsportsbog) August 23, 2018
I have done so many psycho things in pursuit of web traffic for a sports web log. And gone to so many therapy sessions. About a stupid sports blog. It's incredible. Anyhow, uh, newsletter. Righto.
— Dan Steinberg (@dcsportsbog) August 23, 2018
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