USA Today's 'For the Win' shows social shares are the new pageviews

The media coverage surrounding the Boston bombings and the manhunt that ensued has been written about by everyone, with many noting the event was a seminal moment in the evolution of journalism. For me, listening in to police scanners and tracking others on Twitter as the Camden police chased down who we eventually learned to be Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev for a full half hour before national news channels cut in was added to the long list of events that made me think that those individuals who don't follow news through social media are getting a drastically different and infinitely inferior view of what's going on.

A common theme runs through all the analysis on what this means for journalism: reporting news is now a collaborative process, and news agencies need to do more with what's being put out there socially and connect those who aren't connected. We saw it start during the coverage, with an example of that being MSNBC pulling witness-turned-Twitter-celebrity-reporter Andrew Kitzenberg on the air via Skype.

So what does this have to do with USA Today's latest sports venture, For The Win? Well, they're doing the same thing, but with softer, sports-oriented content: connecting those who are less social with socially-popular content.

paidContent's Jeff John Roberts spoke with FTW executive Jamie Mottram, a veteran in the sports social publishing space as creator of AOL Fanhouse, on the vision for For The Win:

According to executive Jamie Mottram, For The Win is the first sports site designed specifically to reach readers on viral networks like Facebook or Twitter. Owned by USA Today, the site is staffed by veteran sports writers from outlets like Deadspin and the New York Times who are tasked with finding sharable content. [...]

Mottram thinks such tactics can give For The Win an edge as it competes with traditional outlets like ESPN and CBS Sports, and with popular digital natives like Deadspin, SB Nation and Bleacher Report.

“I think a lot of those sites are catering to legacy behaviors and technology,” said Mottram. “SB Nation was born on online communities — message boards around each team. Bleacher Report is a search-oriented content farm. For The Win is produced on a basis of really sharable content.”

And what do you think is the quickest way to ensure your content will be widely talked about and shared on social networks? Curate the best of what's already been widely-shared. For example, the lede on the Welcome to For The Win! cites the story of Jack Hoffman, the young Nebraska fan with brain cancer who scored a touchdown in the team's spring game. And here's a collection of what's up today on For The Win!:

There's no way around it: this site, for the most part, is pageview journalism. The goal, it seems, is to quickly put as many posts as possible geared towards easy views. Sites like this have always existed—FTW is cited as the Buzzfeed of sports—and there isn't anything vehemently wrong with them, but let's not hail it as some transcendent platform. The goal is pageviews, and on today's internet, social shares are the best way to get them.

And again, the easiest way to find what's sharable is to curate what's already been shared, and then pass it along to those who are less tech-savvy. The bio on For The Win's Twitter handle even says "What everyone will be talking about." It isn't the site that's being referred to, it's the content on there. Explained another way, here's Jamie Mottram again, involved in an exchange that also includes Mark Pesavento, VP of Content for USA Today Sports Media Group:

It's going to be interesting to see how this plays out, as it certainly fits well with what USA Today has always stood for: a more accessible version of news for the everyday person. While I'm sure the site will be widely popular—just as USA Today's recently-acquired and very similar site The Big Lead already is—it isn't right now anything that moves the sports journalism world forward. In fact, if this model proves successful and other mainstream media outlets devote resources to platforms like this over more traditional sportswriting, it could have a negative impact on the journalism world. As it is now, this is a publication that fills a need and will, undoubtedly, prove fruitful for USA Today.