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First, a confession.  I don’t watch ESPN and haven’t for three or four years now, so I’m probably not the most knowledgeable guy to be talking about this.  On the other hand, why I stopped watching might be instructive.  We didn’t exactly “cut the cord” on cable TV (antenna reception here in the hinterlands is a little inconsistent), but when the rates for “basic” cable spiraled through the roof, we did a little research and found out that the local cable company offered something that was sort of a super basic plan that included the local networks and a few other channels like the Weather Channel, three or four home shopping channels, and Univision.  They do provide TBS, which used to be a good network, but now specializes in reruns of The Big Bang Theory.  From a sports standpoint, it’s not all bad.  Sometimes, when I’ve drunk heavily enough to think soccer is interesting, I’ll catch a game on Univision.  Unfortunately, the charges for this stripped down version of cable are starting to skyrocket as well, so we might be forced to cut the cord for real.  Apparently, our local cable company hasn’t quite figured out that they don’t have the monopoly that they’ve enjoyed for so many years.  That monthly payout we’ve been making to Netflix is looking like a better investment every day.

ESPN is hemorrhaging viewers and money at an alarming rate and recently had to fire a lot of people to put a tourniquet on the bleedout, including a lot of their on-air talent.  Given my personal experience with local cable, when ESPN spokespeople state that this loss in viewership is because of several factors (including rising cable rates) and has nothing to do with their wide swing to the left on the political spectrum (a shift that they freely admit was a part of their business strategy), I believe them.  Or rather, I believe that they truly believe that.  ESPN also made some really terrible business decisions over the past few years.  If you’re not a fan of college football, you might not have noticed that it’s nearly impossible to watch a football game after December 10th if you don’t have ESPN.  ESPN now pretty much monopolizes the entire college bowl season, right up to the national title game.  To achieve that monopoly, the network had to spend a lot of money for the rights to air these games.  With more and more people cutting the cord, advertisers are less willing to fork over the big bucks to help defray those costs.  It’s not just college football.  ESPN overpaid for the rights to almost every sporting event it shows.  Basically, the market ESPN caters to shifted away from cable television and ESPN didn’t adapt to that shift fast enough.  Now, they have to navigate through the consequences of that mistake.

Still, in choosing to become the network of the sports-conscious social justice warrior (or if you prefer, the politically left leaning sports fan; take your pick), ESPN made a deliberate decision to tick off at least half of its audience on a routine basis.  Unless it intentionally wants to become a niche market like the Carpentry Channel, this just doesn’t seem like a good business strategy.  Here in Flyover Country, ESPN was already a four letter word even before this foray into politics.  Most sports fans around here believe, with a good deal of justification in my opinion, that ESPN should be renamed the Entertainment and Sports Programming Network of Everywhere East of the Appalachian Mountains and North of Chesapeake Bay (although I understand that ESPNEEAMNCB is probably a little too bulky for advertising purposes).  If you watched ESPN’s baseball coverage, you might think the Major League baseball was only played in Boston and New York and, sometimes, Philadelphia and Baltimore.  I don’t have the numbers to back it up, but I have to think that the shift left was the last straw for at least a few people and right now ESPN needs every viewer it can get.

Probably the two biggest killers of businesses are the failure to adapt to new circumstances and the failure to understand your customer.  For both of these killers ESPN is really killing it.

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On Writing a Blog

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When I started writing this blog fourteen months ago, all I thought I was doing was channeling my inner Sheryl Crow.  I enjoy writing and I had a few things that I’d written just sitting around inside my hard drive gathering electron dust, so I just thought, “Why not?!”  Of course, anyone that really knows me knows that I’m not quite that impulsive.  Let’s just say I can’t floss my teeth before bedtime without doing a quick cost-benefit analysis in my head.  I can’t even take credit for coming up with the idea in the first place.  A couple of months earlier, my counselor read something I’d written and thought it was pretty good.  He suggested doing a blog.  I wasn’t nearly so sure that I wanted to and I spent about a month agonizing about it.  I sent essays to friends and relatives to get their opinions.  I prayed about it every so often.  As it happens, the final decision actually was on an impulse.  It was the week before Memorial Day and I was having a particularly rotten week.  My wife had a bad lapse with her health, work was pretty gruesome, New York was facing a disaster of Biblical proportions…  Wait, I think that last part might have been in a movie I saw that week.  Anyway, by that Saturday, I was in a pretty foul mood even for a three day weekend and I decided I needed to do something to keep my head from exploding.  I suppose that’s what it took to get past my “paralysis by analysis.”  I looked up WordPress and found out that I could set up a blog in about fifteen minutes.  I signed up and wrote a quick post titled Beginnings.  Then I put a link on my Facebook page.  That was the hard part. I liked the idea of doing a blog, but I wasn’t sure I wanted anybody else to actually read it.  I felt a little like I was running naked through a convent.

The reason I’m writing about this now is that just this last week I passed 1000 hits on the blog.  I celebrated by doing a little Snoopy Happy Dance.  That’s not a lot of hits, but it was about twice what I thought would happen.  So, for the 21.02 of you out there that read my blog each time I posted something, I am grateful and much obliged.

For me, the hardest part of writing this blog is choosing a topic and I’m afraid it shows.  My posts tend to meander a lot.  Most people who write a blog pick a topic and stick with it.  That’s what I intended to do once I’d gotten my feet wet, but here we are fourteen months later and I’m still a little unfocused.  My problem with picking a topic is that there just aren’t that many things that I know that much about and most of the things that I do know something about aren’t all that interesting.  For instance, I know quite a bit about nuclear power plants from my time working for the Navy.  Sadly, nuclear engineer just isn’t popular a topic for dinnertime conversation.  However, if any of you out there are having problems with your home nuclear power plants or would like to install one in your home, I am available for consultation at reasonable rates.

General ennui is also a characteristic of my current career, environmental engineering.  Environmental engineering is actually about two percent engineering, 98 percent environmental law, and 100 percent boring as hell.  If I wrote a blog about environmental engineering, I wouldn’t read it.

For a while, I toyed with the idea of writing a Christian blog.  I am a Christian, a fact that spills over into my writing fairly frequently.  I have written a couple of posts that were theological in nature, one on the book of Job and one on the first chapter of Luke.  I was particularly proud of the one on Luke.  The intertwined stories of Mary and Zechariah have always fascinated me.  This particular piece literally came to me in a dream.  I was taking a nap a few days before Christmas and I woke up knowing exactly what I wanted my next blog post to be.  I ran to the computer and started typing.  The post was almost 2000 words, which is a lot for me, but I finished it in a couple of hours.  I actually choked up a little when I read it to my wife.  Only a couple of times have I thought I’d written something that was pretty good and this was one of those times.  A few days later that feeling was reinforced when an organization called the “Belgian Bible Students” linked to what I wrote.  Now, as nearly as I can figure, the Belgian Bible Students is an organization run by some dude named Henri from his mother’s basement, but I still did the Snoopy dance anyway.

I felt so good about it that I gathered up my courage and asked the education pastor at my church to have a look at it.  He’s one of those guys that’s forgotten more biblical Greek and Hebrew than your typical seminary professor will ever know.  I actually took a Hebrew class from him several years ago, although I must confess that all I remember now is about the first six letters of the Hebrew alphabet.  I sent him the link by e-mail and got a response the next day.  “David,” it started. “Interesting slant on the Zechariah/Elizabeth story.”  Translation: Were you on drugs when you wrote this?

Okay, his response wasn’t that negative, but he did point out six places where I’d either omitted something or got a point completely wrong.  It reminded me that I’m not a theologian by any stretch of the imagination.  Of course, you don’t have to have a theological background to write about your Christian faith.  C.S. Lewis wasn’t a theologian and I’m a lot like C.S. Lewis, except for the fact that he was intellectual giant and I’m the opposite of that.  I’m probably not done writing on Christianity, but I think twice a year is plenty.

I also considered writing about politics, but the problem with political writing is that writing this blog is supposed to be fun and politics in general is about as fun as leprous sores on the bottom of your feet.  It requires huge amounts of research and time and, for reasons that I just can’t really grasp, my employer occasionally expects me to show up at my job and get work done.  My employer (that being the Federal Government) also frowns on its employees being politically active, which also puts something of a damper on political writing.

My latest attempt at politics was something I wrote a few weeks back concerning the VA scandal, something about which I actually have some personal knowledge, given that my father has been at the mercy of the staff at the VA hospital in Wichita for about three years now.  Even with some first-hand experience and doing a couple of days of research, I still had trouble making a cogent point and the result was pretty awful.  I could have made the same point by writing, “The VA system sucks,” and leaving it at that.  I’m sure I could have found something useful to do with those two days I lost.

The third topic I’ve considered focusing on is sports.  There are two problems to overcome if I’m going to write a sports blog.  First, my editor-in-chief hates it when I write about sports because she just hates sports.  I really don’t want to lose this particular editor, since finding her involved nearly twenty years of searching the seamy underside of the universe, including some dark and forbidding places like video dating.  Second, the field of sports blogging is really saturated.  If you emptied the water out of your local public pool, filled it completely with guys, and then threw a rock into the pool as hard as you could, you’d likely hit at least three guys writing a sports blog.  If you could kill at least two of them with the rock, we’d all be far better off.

And like religion and politics, I’ll still keep writing about sports every now and then, editor-in-chief be darned.  In fact, I’m probably not going to change much about what I’m doing with the blog, which is writing about stuff that I find interesting and can turn into a good story.  I covered a lot of this in a blog post I wrote back in February called Telling a Story.  It’s probably about the best thing I’ve written since I started doing this (aside from that post on the first chapter of Luke, of course).  There’s just something about spinning a tale that, for me, releases more endorphins than exercise and comes up just a little short of sex.  It seems to be a part of my genetics.  Sadly, genetics doesn’t actually make me a good writer, but it does give me the impetus to keep on trying.  I’m still having fun.

One last word about the previously aforementioned editor-in-chief, a person without whom this blog would not exist.  I should mention that she doesn’t do any actual editing (spelling, grammar, that kind of stuff).  I do all of my own editing, so if you find any mistakes, they are on me.  My editor actually has a much tougher task.  She has to listen to everything I write before I publish it and then tell me if I should publish it.  She has a number of criteria that she uses, but these are the most important:

1. Is it any good?
2. Does it offend anyone that might be looking for an excuse to kill me?
3. Will I regret publishing it at some point in the future?

That last one is pretty tricky and requires a good bit of diplomacy from the editor-in-chief.  I wrote a post several months ago that the editor, upon hearing it, thought was deeply moving and personal.  The problem was that it was too personal, so she recommended not publishing it for now.  She was right, of course, but I moped for a week and I can be pretty pathetic when I mope.  It’s a wonder she lets me live.

Assuming she continues to do so, I should be back next week.

Mitch Teemley

The Power of Story

It's THE Flyover Country to You!

A blog about Kansas, the Midwest, and the World