This has been a summer and early fall of turbulent change for the Miami Heat and its fans. A unique collaboration of talent has joined the team, turning it from also-ran to title favorite. And with that increased attention comes increased viewership of online content related to the team. Because of that, ESPN has decided to create an aggregation site for Miami Heat coverage, entitled "The Heat Index." The TrueHoop Network has also decided to end its association with Hot Hot Hoops and make The Heat Index the TrueHoop Network blog for the Miami Heat. I don’t think the idea of The Heat Index is terrible. However, I do believe what ESPN is doing with Hot Hot Hoops and, on a larger level, the TrueHoop Network, is wrong and stunting the growth of new media. From ESPN’s press release:
Editorial contributors to The Heat Index: • Brian Windhorst – formerly with the Cleveland Plain-Dealer, Windhorst is one of the leading authorities on LeBron James. Windhorst has written two books about James and has covered him since middle school. Windhorst has been the Cavs beat writer/blogger for seven years and has won awards from the U.S. Basketball Writers Association and the Associated Press. Windhorst will be based in Miami as one of two regular beat writers assigned to the team. • Michael Wallace – Wallace has been the Miami Herald’s Heat beat writer for the previous three seasons and is an experienced sports and news reporter. Wallace, an award-winning writer, will team with Windhorst as regular Heat beat writers covering the team daily throughout the season. • Kevin Arnovitz – in addition to his role as managing editor and contributor to ESPN.com’s TrueHoop Network, Arnovitz will provide digital media content and edit portions of The Heat Index. • Sebastian Martinez-Christensen – Martinez-Christensen will be a regular contributor to The Heat Index. He formerly served as a multi-lingual columnist and contributor for ESPNDeportes.com, a reporter for ESPN Deportes (radio and television) and ESPN Deportes La Revista magazine.Some backstory: I started the Miami Heat’s TrueHoop Network blog in June 2009 after consulting with Kevin Arnovitz, mentioned above. When he didn’t find a Heat blog to his liking to become part of the TrueHoop Network, I was put in contact with him and we discussed creating what became Hot Hot Hoops. I spent the time to build the site. I paid for domain and hosting. While this site was affiliated with ESPN, I have not received dime one from ESPN, nor did I ask for it. I value editorial control, which is one of the great strengths of TrueHoop Network. It took a lot of time and effort, but on June 17, the blog launched. It took a long time to grow, but with linking from ESPN’s team page and my focus on social media expansion, the viewership grew. This will be the 401st post on Hot Hot Hoops, and the number of comments, Twitter followers and Facebook fans grow each day. I intend to see to it that all those numbers grow exponentially in the coming days, weeks, months and years. What has happened will not make Hot Hot Hoops go away. Now, on to what has happened. Based on my understanding of the situation, higher-ups at ESPN decided on the aggregation page due to the obvious interest in the Heat. They have hired Wallace and Windhorst to cover the team, in what I’m sure will be a similar style to the work they’ve done for their former papers and on the blog sites they had at those papers. It’s fine work, and if you recall, I discouraged many of you from taking ESPN and other national reports as gospel and encouraged you to stick to local reporters like Wallace and Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel during the Free Agency Frenzy. As I said before, I don’t hate the idea of the site. I loathe the idea of it becoming part of the TrueHoop Network. TrueHoop isn’t about aggregating the work of print reporters. TrueHoop, to me at least, was about bringing outsiders into the fold, even if it’s just a little bit inside, to get outside perspectives. Sure, you’ve seen more traditional journalism work done on this site, like when the incomparable Surya Fernandez covered Summer League in Las Vegas. But you’ve also seen discussions of labor relations, race and silly things like the defunct Friday Funnies (it’s really hard to come up with something Heat-related and funny every week) and T-Shirt polls. Hot Hot Hoops, and to a greater extent the Network, is like a modern-day basketball coffeehouse, in the French Enlightenment sense (self-aggrandizing, I know). People of different stripes and backgrounds gather, present topics for discussion - whether they be news, analysis or opinion - and they either get bolstered or shouted down. Whatever The Heat Index becomes, I’d be willing to bet it will not be that. Why couldn't The Heat Index just fall under the main ESPN page? It's so different from everything else on the network, and fits in so well with ESPN's main page. Especially Page 2! Why didn't they do that? Who knows. The bigger concern to me is the long-term viability of THN. What’s to say this doesn’t happen to KnickerBlogger if the Knicks get Chris Paul? The Lakers and the Celtics certainly have comparable interest to the Heat, what happens to Forum Blue & Gold and Celtics Hub if ESPN decides to drop some more cash? My point is this: ESPN has a virtual monopoly on national sports coverage and is flush with cash. Local print reporters are looking for a lifeline every day, fearful that the morning’s newspaper will be the last. There’s no reason why this trend couldn’t continue for every major market. THN is about to add its biggest blog to the lineup. However, the biggest blog with the most eyes will be completely unrepresentative of the rest of the network. I think this is a major problem for THN, and I'd be raising this concern whether I was on the receiving end of this decision or not. The thing that pisses me off the most is that I’m not really pissed. If you’re familiar with my style here, you know I don’t get mad, even when insults are hurled at me in the comments. I get this is a business decision. And I am appreciative for the opportunity to start this blog; without Kevin Arnovitz’ phone call, you’re not reading this right now. That doesn’t mean this whole thing doesn’t suck. I get Windhorst and Wallace, combined with all the collected powers of ESPN, will probably draw more eyes than Surya and I could. However, for two guys getting paid $0 for their work and working at least one full-time job (I can’t speak for Surya, I work 60 hours a week), I think we do a pretty damn good job. It’s not a fair fight, and none of the bloggers on THN will have a fair fight if ESPN is faced with this choice. ESPN has decided what to do with its Heat affiliate. It doesn’t impact what we will do here. It just means that if you reach the site through ESPN.com, you need to remember the URL, bookmark the page or sign up through an RSS reader. Hell, write it on your hand if you have to. I’ll be reminding you of this frequently in the next week, before The Heat Index launches Oct. 11. I sincerely wish a lot of people from THN well. There’s a reason I’m so mad about what’s happening, because I feel it jeopardizes the great work they all do. Thanks for reading my mini-manifesto. I now return you to regularly scheduled programming, already in progress.