I’ve officially had my first stomach-sinking moment as a middle-market niche sports blogger.
We at WFNY often verbally examine the impact LeBron James’ departure has had on the Cleveland blog scene. While our traffic undeniably peaked (to this point) in July of 2010, what The Decision left behind in its wake was an ocean of capsized sports blogs that focus(ed) on anything Cavaliers.
But in the same, I would argue that it has made the content at WFNY that much better. Harder to come by, sure, but decidedly better. No longer can we rely on “what LeBron did last night” gamers, ripping apart Sam Smith/Colin Cowherd/anyone from Washington D.C for their latest thoughts on the two-time MVP, or all things “Witness.”
Today, we are forced to take a few extra steps to derive content - you know, assuming we want to continue to differentiate ourselves amongst our peer group. Whether it’s a most-excellent piece on a secondary mascot and how he came to life or taking a would-be first-person narrative and making it transcend over an entire city, getting deeper into the story (or “takeout” for journalists at home) make it more of an experience than a report.
But sometimes, as I found out the hard way, getting closer to the story often throws us a few curve balls that would not be seen by merely recapping a game/player/coach from the cozy confines of my camel-colored sectional; and in some cases, curveballs lead to heartache. Just ask Cerrano.
Going the proverbial extra mile on my last piece - Cavaliers head coach Byron Scott discussing an infamous photoshoot from 1986 - I wanted to obtain a few thoughts from the other side of the lens. Brian Lanker was the photographer of the shoot in question; Pulitzer-Prize winner, twice-named the National Newspaper Photographer of the Year. LIFE Magazine, Sports Illustrated, you name it.
Byron Scott was a sixth man for the 19865-86 Lakers. Jack Nicholson was the “celebrity” sixth man for the same team. But Lanker was the sixth man on this day.
Sadly, Lanker - now 64-years old and easily the least known member of the triumvirate listed above - was recently diagnosed with late-stage cancer.
A cold call to an Oregon area code, I find myself talking to a complete stranger, spilling my story to a woman who I presume is his wife. She listens acutely as I explain how I am a Cleveland-based scribe who is doing a piece on a picture Brian captured 15 years ago (she knew exactly which photo I was speaking of, a true testament to his work) and was hoping to get a few words with the man who is responsible for a photoshoot that is still being discussed more than a decade after the fact.
This would be when she dropped the bomb and my jaw in one teary-eyed sentence. Understandably, she would explain that Brian is not going to be “talking business” with anyone for a while due to the news which he was unfortunately graced with this past Friday, but that I was more than welcomed to try back in a month or so. All of the awards, all of the covers and even his first documentary film - at this point, they all mean very, very little.
I kindly explained to the woman on the other end of the phone that I hope she would pass along my cliché thoughts and prayers, to which she obliged. “Thank you, Scott,” she replied.
As I shared the news with Scott in a follow-up, he was equally surprised and saddened by the news. That phone call was unabashedly the biggest surprise I have faced since we started this mom-and-pop website three years back. Naturally, I will not be bothering Mr. Lanker during his (and his family’s) time of grieving. And, while I continue to remain a complete stranger, I can say that the piece on WFNY - which started as something fun and a bit creative - will forever be thought of in a different light.