Cue the 30 for 30 voice: what if I told you some of the best sports journalism in 2022 lived in 300+ page password protected .pdfs exclusively available to subscribers of a digital only publication?
Yup. That's right. I said .pdf. The portable document format still reigns supreme.
Dane's NFL draft guide clocks in at 288 pages and Sam's NBA draft guide is, by comparison, a "slim" 130 pages. These volumes are textually dense, information rich, and obsessively detailed rivaling (exceeding?) the quality of research performed by professional scouts working for actual teams. I'm calling bulls*it on any scout who claims they are "unaware" of these draft guides. Even you Stanley Sugarman.
But if you want to read either one of these draft guides, there's no elegantly produced website full of small flourishes and multimedia features. There's no microsite or story hub. There's no tab in an iOS or Android app. The Athlethic hasn't built (or licensed) any specific digital storytelling tools.
It's not Snow Fall 2.0. It's a d*mn .pdf.
Let's rewind to 2012.
Remember a DECADE AGO when the New York Times published John Branch's Snow Fall? The story reported the gripping (and harrowing, I feel like I'm supposed to describe this story as harrowing) tale of a group of athletes who got caught in an avalanche in Washington State. Snow Fall was not just an incredible piece of reporting, it was also an incredible piece of digital journalism as it showcased new forms of storytelling.
Since then, Snow Fall has become a trope for fancy looking but ultimately too much effort for a limited return. I've always found this slightly misleading as the legacy of Snow Fall is felt on thousands of websites from journalism to commerce to travel to, well, every corner of the web. But there's a kernel of truth to it in that this once celebrated storytelling style has mostly faded at the New York Times.
I can't help but think that nearly a decade since Snow Fall was published it's telling that there's probably more value for a subscriber in being able to download a massive .pdf than scrolling through any fancy longform with embedded graphics, audio clips, and videos.
If anything (and if I was working at the NYT and/or The Athletic), I'd think about how to improve on how those PDFs can be distributed and shared outside of a password protected file. I'd think about why a .pdf can rival nearly every single longform published in the last decade. I'd question what both subscribers and journalists really value versus what shiny object can claim the fleeting attention of a junior media buyer.