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March 22, 2016 | Issue 19
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the morning shakeout by mario fraioli
Malcolm Richards, a working man's runner with a 2:15 marathon personal best, en route to winning the Jig and Jog 5K in San Francisco on Sunday. For many reasons, including the fact that he's a school teacher, Richards reminds me a lot of Bill Rodgers. instagram.com/mariofraioli

Good morning! I've got a full plate for you to digest this week, so let's dig right in:

Much ado about Rule 40.

If you haven’t already heard the chatter about “Rule 40,” there will be a lot more noise about it in the coming months as we approach the Olympics Games in Rio. Fair warning, it could get so loud that you might go deaf. Once we get to August—or July 27 through August 24, to be specific—what you won’t be hearing a lot about is the athletes themselves from the brands that sponsor them. Why? The short answer is because “Rule 40” says so. You can read a summation of its ridiculousness for yourself here (note: there’s a PDF download of the rule in its entirety at the bottom of the page) and I encourage you to check out this lengthy and informative post from Oiselle founder Sally Bergesen, who I’ve always admired for calling out bullshit when she sees it. 

“Not only are we not allowed to mention (tweet, post, home page, email, etc) the athletes we might have there, but as a “non-Olympic partner,” Oiselle (and any other business) is forbidden from acknowledging that the Olympics are even taking place,” Bergesen wrote yesterday

So what’s a brand/sponsor to do? I’m not exactly sure but I’m going to do a little more research and report back to you in the coming months. It seems absolutely ludicrous to me that a brand, business, sponsor or whatever you want to label it, can’t so much as wish one of its athletes well or congratulate him or her during the Games’ blackout period. It’s like bizarro Fight Club, Olympic edition. The first rule of the Olympic Games is: You do not talk about the Olympic Games. The second rule of the Olympic Games is: You do not talk about the Olympic Games. Third rule of the Olympic Games: Someone Tweets a congratulatory message and shares it with thousands of followers, the Games are over. Fourth rule: Only Olympic sponsors exist during the Olympic Games. Fifth rule: You may not thank your sponsors, fellas. Sixth rule: No logos, no advertisements. Seventh rule: The blackout period will go from July 27 through August 24. And the eighth and final rule: If this is your first Olympic Games or your fifth, your sponsor cannot acknowledge that you are actually participating in the Olympic Games.

Needed: A new definition of success.

The IAAF World Indoor Championships were held this past weekend in Portland, Ore.,—no doubt a dry run and showcase for the 2021 outdoor championships to be held a couple hours down I-5 in Eugene—and by all publicly accessible accounts (n.b. I was not in attendance), the four-day meet appeared to be a success. But was it? American middle distance ace David Torrence, who did not compete at the meet, had an interesting contribution to a relevant Twitter conversation yesterday. “Yes T&F seems to be thriving…when it is moved to smaller & smaller cities/venues,” Torrence Tweeted. “That (to me) is not success.” Torrence makes a good point and I find it hard to argue with his stance. Can track be popular beyond the Oregon bubble? (Nothing against The Beaver State—it’s one of my personal favorites.) And why isn’t it as well-received outside of TrackTown and its surrounding areas?

“Say what you will about Big Swoosh, the folks in Oregon understand track and field, and know how to present it,” longtime running commentator Toni Reavis wrote almost two years ago. “The 2008 and 2012 Olympic Trials in Eugene felt like a major sporting event. The stands were full, and a fan festival was erected right outside to entertain and inform the casual fan.”

This past weekend’s world indoor championships followed a similar storyline, as the smallish arena was filled to capacity (it sat 7,000 fans), the energy in the stands was high, and the award ceremony was held in downtown Portland for the public to see. Heck, the meet even found its way onto the NBC Sports Network. In short, the little meet was made to look like a big deal. This summer’s Olympic Trials, as they always are when held in Eugene, will be the hottest ticket in that track-crazy town. No doubt the world outdoor championships in five years will be too. But does hosting most of track’s major meets in not-so-major cities help improve the longterm health of the sport in this country? And will that strategy of selling out smaller venues help attract new fans and garner more interest in a sport that needs all the positive exposure it can get? No offense to TrackTownUSA and the excellent job they do putting on an event, but if key stakeholders within the sport want to see it expand beyond its current small circle of diehard fans, they need to start thinking—and executing—on a much larger, wider scale. 

Knocking down the firewall. 

Is there money in journalism? The short answer to that question is yes. I’ll also add that it depends on where you look for it and, on a more philosophical level, how you define journalism these days. I thought Jacob Silverman’s “The Rest Is Advertising: Confessions of a Sponsored Content Writer” from The Baffler painted a pretty accurate first-person portrayal of today’s media landscape. As a former freelance writer who cobbled together online articles at 150 bucks a pop (which, for what it’s worth, is still close to the going rate around the web) and as someone who currently works “inside the fences” as an editor assigning stories similar to the ones I once pitched, I found myself nodding my head in agreement throughout his 5,000-word piece. “Because who would bother pitching a story to The Atlantic for $100 when you could pitch yourself as a copywriter and make twenty times as much?” writes Silverman. “And why would a Fortune 500 executive respond to a journalist’s questions when he could just hire The Atlantic to produce a glittering, 1,200-word advertorial instead and then buy some promoted tweets to ensure it racks up shares? …. And so it is that American journalism, in this late decadent phase, has come to mistake its biggest rivals for its dearest sponsors. Now that visibility, which can be bought like so many ad impressions, is won by gaming search and social platforms, publishers are no longer just hosting or appeasing advertisers; they are also competing with them.” Bottom line: It’s an interesting time in modern-day journalism, as media companies scramble to identify new and different strategies to offset declining advertising revenues, journalists seek out alternative opportunities to make a living telling stories—as Silverman writes, “It is indeed a strange thing to identify yourself as a journalist and then ask someone to comment for an ad you’re creating”—while brands (read: potential advertisers), ever intent on creating a narrative they can control, decide how to best spend their money to reach new customers and influence existing ones.

Cal Fussman and the art of interviewing.

If you’re a loyal reader of this newsletter, you’ve likely figured out by now that I have a fairly stable rotation of podcasts that I listen to on a regular basis. The Tim Ferriss Show is one of those podcasts and his recent episode with New York Times bestselling author and Esquire writer Cal Fussman is perhaps my favorite one yet. I’m not an advocate of Ferriss’ self-help books, questionable pseudo-science or life hacks, but I’m a huge fan of his interviews. Why? 1. He has a diverse lineup of interesting guests and 2. He’s getting better and better at asking them questions and extracting thoughtful, useful answers. His lengthy interview with Fussman—it’s around 3 hours and took me a roundtrip drive to Mill Valley and a 60-minute run to finish—is a must-listen for any writer or aspiring storyteller. Aside from sharing some incredible stories from his own life, Fussman imparts his best interviewing advice, honed through years of traveling and unique experiences, including conversations with everyone from random strangers to world leaders, top athletes, famous musicians and others. “Listening is an art form,” he says. “People just aren't using it as an art form but it is an art form. And a lot of great things can be achieved through listening.”

What are you afraid of?

Elizabeth Gilbert, best known for her book, “Eat, Pray, Love,” is a great storyteller—on stage as well as on the page. I enjoyed this short supplement to her TED talk, “Your elusive, creative genius.” In the written piece, she shares her best advice for living a meaningfully creative life. My favorite bit was #7 addressing fear. “Because for one thing, you don’t want to get rid of your fear; you need it to keep you alive,” she writes. “We’re all here because we had fear that preserved us.” This tied in nicely with a TED Radio Hour podcast re-run I listened to recently called “What We Fear,” which took a deeper dive into what it means to be afraid and what effect fear can have on our lives. The first conversation with astronaut Chris Hadfield was my favorite part of the episode and resonated most with me. “If you’re gonna take any risk in life, if you’re gonna expose yourself to any danger, it’s worth asking why,” Hadfield says. “For me, if I’m going to take a risk, I want it to be for a purpose. I want it to have a reason. And also something that I have some control over, so I can be master of my own destiny and fate, at least to some degree. That’s sort of the essence of exploration.”

That’s a wrap on Issue 19. Please share your thoughts with me by replying directly to this email or Tweeting in my direction on the interwebs. If you liked what you read here, feel free to pass it along to someone else who might enjoy it. 

Thanks for reading, 

Mario

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