The Magazine That Could be Great

slam-magazine

Every once in a blue moon I talk about magazines on this site—the good, the bad, the blah. Today, because it arrived yesterday in the mail, I want to talk about Slam.

Slam has long been one of my favorites. First, because I love basketball. Second, because one of my good pals, Russ Bengtson, used to be its editor. Third, because in the mid-to-late 90s it offered me mucho freelance work. Fourth, because my son has Slam posters covering his walls (His favorite: Rajon Rondo. Who he calls Rajon Gumbo).

Dating myself here, Slam reminds me of the old Sport Magazine—in a very good way. It’s reader friendly, it has some cool, quirky features and it caters to the youngish sports fan—not a tyke, but the 15-to-28-year-old guy who loves his hoops. Slam boasts great photos, funny insight. Its editor, Ben Osborne, is someone I’ve known for many a year, and he’s a talent.

That said, here’s my complaint—and it’s a big one: the writing doesn’t measure up to the product.

Slam relies on a lot of young, obscure scribes. Which is cool, and the opportunity to have a byline in Slam surely means a great deal to a 22-year-old up-and-comer. But with youth comes inexperience, and with inexperience often comes, well, problems. Too often, Slam’s writing is sloppy and its reporting paper-thin. For example, the magazine profiled Schea Cotton, the once-upon-a-time prep phenom who was hyped by Sports Illustrated as a 15-year 0ld. These days, Cotton coaches a high school team in California, having never played in the NBA. The story gives you the facts and a few quotes, but never delves into the depths of Cotton’s hell—having people consider him a bust; a disappointment; a failure. I mean, how does it feel to have been LeBron before LeBron—and now, nothing. That’s an automatic theme to Cotton’s life, yet one largely missed in the profile. It bothered me.

This happens too often in Slam, and I’m not sure why. They have a talented staff of editors; an incredible grasp of the subject (pro and college hoops). The magazine looks great, and it has stayed true to the original vision.

Oh, well.

PS: That said, I love, love, love Ben’s choice of former athletes to profile. Slam is the one place that seems to truly respect sports history.

7 thoughts on “The Magazine That Could be Great”

  1. I’ll take this as way more positive than negative. Thanks for the thoughts, Jeff. The biggest reason for using “young, obscure scribes” is that we have a tiny writing budget that is less than half of the small amount it was when you were much more familiar with the inner workings of the mag. That said, we’ll keep trying to make the writers and work get better. Thanks for reading.

  2. When I was 22 I was so frustrated when I would get my stuff turned down by newspapers and magazines for being “too inexperienced”. I’m not familiar with Slam’s hiring practices but if they are taking stuff from young writers those guys are probably so excited to get a byline, that they miss the point of what they are writing.

  3. I shouldn’t be spending this much time over here but I do want to add that I actually loved both stories Jeff mentions and wouldn’t change them if I could. And the two writers (Matt Caputo for Stanley Roberts and Aggrey Sam for Schea Cotton) are, while young, both very solid writers. And as for the even younger, less experienced writers we’ve used, it is a thrill to watch some of them grow and improve.

    1. Ben, I like debates here, so I’ll ask: How can you run a Stanley Roberts profile, learn the guy’s living in an LSU dorm and not elaborate heavily, if not focus in a major way, on that fact?

  4. Possible answer? Don’t have the budget to send the writer to LSU for a day. So you could make up detail, but that’d be a lie.

  5. I know what you meant, and I know it’s not the point of your rant, but not being in the NBA doesn’t mean Schea Cotton is nothing.

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