Let’s get one thing out of the way right now: I’m not a professional writer.
I’m not. I write for Pats Pulpit because I enjoy it and I appreciate the community we have built here. But I’m no pro.
The good news about that is that this is 2018, which means that you no longer need to know a single thing about a particular subject to ramble on about it for a few thousand words, and if anyone calls you out on that lack of knowledge you can just say how offended you are and before you know it the accusing party has to quit the internet altogether. And because of that, I thought I would draw upon my vast experience as a Patriots fan who occasionally vomits words into a blog in order to teach anyone willing to learn how to professionally cover this team for a major outlet.
There’s a secret to it, you know. And that secret can be summed up in one word:
That’s it. That’s the magic formula when it comes to mainstream media. The one - and only - question you need to ask yourself when writing an article in 2018 is “will this article get pageviews?” If the answer is yes, then you’re on the right track.
And when it comes to traffic, few things get that mouse button clicking quite like the New England Patriots. So it’s no wonder that so many reporters have been riding New England’s coattails to fame and glory for so long now.
Now let the record show that there are some absolutely fantastic reporters out there, most of whom spend a ton of time on the beat grinding out content that we all appreciate. But there are also a ton of complete hacks out there as well, and the sad part is that the hacks are probably better known than the talent. But guess what? Hacks get you traffic. And traffic makes you money!
And I’m here to show you how to make it.
Unfortunately, the wisdom I’m about to impart won’t work if you have dreams of writing for Pats Pulpit, or pretty much any other SBNation site for that matter; this network prides itself on by the fan, for the fan content that represents a community of like-minded individuals looking for legitimate news and passionate, respectful conversation in the sports arena. So if you’re looking to make a go of it here on this site, this article isn’t for you.
However, if you’re hoping for a career at ESPN, The New York Post, The Boston Globe, or any other rapidly failing media outlet, I present you with the definitive guide for covering the Patriots in a way that will put you on the map and give you the attention you clearly so desperately crave. You’re just eight steps away from achieving your dream!
Step 1: Choose an ambiguously anti-Patriots title.
This step is crucial. This is what’s going to get you your clicks. Whether anyone reads the whole article, whether they even like it, or whether it’s factually accurate no longer really matters once it gets clicked on. The article gets clicked on, traffic gets registered, and the pageviews increase, which helps the advertising money, aka the only thing that will be keeping your lights on as a member of the Worldwide Leader. Without a catchy, ambiguous title that suggests you’re down on the Patriots - but not totally down on the Patriots - people will likely move on from your work. But if you do it right, Patriots haters will click on it so they can agree with it and Pats fans will click on it so they can disagree with it. If all goes well, you’ll get a bunch of angry commenters fighting about your work on message boards, and maybe even a retweet or two with some kind of “get a load of this moron” rhetoric that will have even more people clicking on your stuff. Love you or hate you, they gave you your traffic, so your job is already done before you even type the first word.
Unfortunately, though, you can’t just have an empty space where an article should be, so it’s time to go to the template and fill out the rest of this bad boy.
Step 2: Acknowledge the remarkable run, but “reluctantly” acknowledge that the run is over.
Start off by gaining some capital as an ”objective” reporter without an agenda. Tip your cap to what the Patriots have been able to achieve in the 21st century and acknowledge that there will likely never be another run like this one again. However, don’t spend too much time on it, as it’s important to shift to the main crux of the article: unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, and we’re nearing the end of this Patriots dynasty.
Once you have that out of the way, it’s time to get to the meat of your argument. Don’t worry – the hard part is over. Now it’s just a matter of a glorified cut and paste.
Step 3: Pick a Tom Brady angle and go with it.
Put three Post-It Notes on a wall. On one, write “Age.” On the next, write “Motivation,” and on the third, write “Supporting Cast.” Grab a dart, close your eyes, and throw. Whichever note the dart lands closest to is your Brady angle. He’s getting up there in age, and Father Time is undefeated, so the window is closing. He’s won so much and set his legacy in stone, so the motivation and drive – two things that have been largely responsible for making him who he is – just aren’t there with the same intensity as he shifts his focus to life after football. Belichick hasn’t done enough to give him the weapons he needs to succeed, and so don’t be surprised to see him extremely frustrated with the lack of talent around him and what he’s being asked to do to carry this team. You can’t go wrong with any of these three, and they’re sure to get some good traction.
You’ll find few sports figures as polarizing as Brady, and so this is bound to get the juices flowing from both sides of the aisle. Next it will be time to take a look at the other permanent installation in New England and see what you can do with it.
Step 4: Pick a Belichick coaching decision and trash it.
Bill Belichick makes moves every single year. It’s his job as the coach. And there’s always one or two of these moves, sometimes more, that can be a little puzzling. The key is to find one of them that strikes your fancy and just relentlessly rip it to shreds. You can use any number of buzzwords to support it – arrogance, ego, turmoil, insanity – but just make sure you only look at one side of the move and do zero research into what his thinking might have been or how it might benefit the team. And whatever you do, don’t admit for one second that in reality, you have absolutely no clue what Belichick’s logic for any of his decisions might be, because nobody really does. That he has more than built up enough capital to gain our trust doesn’t matter here; just pick a move and stick to it. Choose wisely, though, because this is the move you’re going to be talking about for the entire season, and perhaps longer, and you’ll need to bring it up every time anything goes wrong as the sole reason for a loss, or even for a win that wasn’t convincing enough for your liking. Did the Patriots lose by one on the road on a questionable coaching decision? Shouldn’t have traded Garoppolo, Bill! Did they only win by a field goal against a team they should have crushed? Shouldn’t have cut Lawyer Milloy, Bill! Was Tom Brady inaccurate? Shouldn’t have traded Randy Moss, Bill! Did the Patriots lose a big game? Shouldn’t have benched Malcolm Butler, Bill!
Because you’ll be sticking with this Belichick call all year no matter what, I don’t recommend the dart approach. Really take your time, find the one that most chaps your ass, and get to work.
Next up, we need to show how this downfall has been in the works for years, despite all of the wins and playoff appearances and MVPs and Super Bowls. Don’t worry about any of those. Keep your eye on the prize.
Step 5: Look back on a loss – any loss – the Patriots have suffered over the last five years, and deem it the beginning of the decline.
The Patriots don’t lose often, but when they do, it’s national news. It’s the beginning of the end. There are chinks in the armor. This is probably the hardest step in the process, as it requires some original thinking and in-game analysis as opposed to simple regurgitation. Here is where you take a look at one of these losses, find a place where something went wrong, and make the case for a different personnel grouping or better off-season acquisitions or more effective preparation would have swung the game the other way. Bonus points for being able to point to another similar scenario in a game from a few seasons back that went differently, as this will allow you to say “Bill Belichick used to be able to deal with scenarios like this, as evidenced here, but it seems that he has lost a step and the game may be passing him by.” What’s great about this move is that 90% of your readers will be more than willing to accept that one example as all the proof they need that Belichick doesn’t have it anymore and will just run with it. There will be that other 10% that know football well and will be able to point to other plays and scenarios, from around the league and otherwise, that show that Belichick actually played it right, there was just an individual breakdown or something along those lines. But you know where they’ll be doing that? On Twitter, Facebook, in comments sections, or anywhere else that helps you generate…you guessed it…TRAFFIC!
Things should be really moving along nicely at this point, which will allow you to delve into the roster for your next target.
Step 6: Highlight an “unhappy” player and use him to show how the Patriots have lost the locker room.
It’s always tough when you spend an entire offseason talking about how a player is unhappy with his contract or feels unappreciated by his teammates or is of the opinion that he isn’t being utilized the right way, and then all of a sudden he shows up to camp eager and ready to work – but don’t let that stop you. Take a look at players at or nearing the end of their contracts, choose one, and bring up a lack of negotiations, unhappiness “from those close to him,” or “he doesn’t feel appreciated by the coaching staff.” Words like “tension” work really well, and feel free to cite “an anonymous source,” because there’s no way anyone will ever know if you’re full of it or not. “This is probably his last year in New England” always goes a long way, particularly if you can find a player elsewhere in the league who hated his time with the Patriots and has a lot to say about how they run their organization. Find one of these guys and quote him nonstop. Great places to find these players is on practice squads, deep on depth charts, or home waiting for a call from their agent in case a team needs a camp body.
Now that you railed on the QB, the coach, and a player, time to subtly jab at the team as a whole.
Step 7: Bring up Spygate and/or Deflategate – but very briefly.
You know how some people say “I don’t want to start any trouble, but…” before they say something that starts trouble? This is what you do with Spygate or Deflategate. Don’t spend too much time on it – a sentence or two will do – but make sure you’re of the opinion that there will always be those who will question all the success the Patriots have had because of pointing a camera 100 feet further to the left than you were supposed to and the Ideal Gas Law. But you don’t want to put any focus on that. Nope, not you. We should all just move on. Feel free to use this time to also draw attention to a previous storyline from the last season, like how Brady and Belichick hate each other or how Bob Kraft has begun overstepping his bounds. But that was last season, right? No need to bring it up now...
You have a solid piece now, and one that’s sure to turn some heads. Time for the coup de grace.
Step 8: In conclusion…
This is your time to really express yourself creatively, maybe make some deep comments about the end of days and how the world is going to react when the Patriots go 8-8 this year or exit the playoffs early. There’s no wrong way to do it, just make sure you don’t spend too much time rehashing Step 2, or else you might end up losing some people. The dynasty is over, that’s all there is to it, and so let’s all find something else to talk about. Of course you don’t really mean that, and nobody will talk about anything else anyway, but by acting all deep and contemplative, almost sad to see it all end in such a tragic way, you can put to rest any doubts that you’re a lazy, incompetent writer just trolling for eyes on your stuff. Maybe even one sentence, all on its their own, that shows just how much work you really put into this piece. Perhaps something like:
The Patriots have been the breathtaking stained glass window at the Sistine Chapel, and we have been gazing upon it’s beauty for so long, that maybe we haven’t been able to see that the sainted mother’s teardrop is actually a tiny crack - one that will soon cause the glass to shatter altogether.
It can really put an exclamation point on this masterpiece of an article.
The good news is if you keep following these steps, year in and year out, without fail, eventually you’re going to be right at some point. The Patriots aren’t going to be good forever (unless they can make it to 2021 when there is almost sure to be a lockout and maybe once people realize that Sundays without football isn’t so bad, the league will just crumble. Who knows?), and if you just keep writing the same article over and over, you’re going to look like a genius at some point down the line. The internet has made sure that we all forget what happened 24 hours ago, let alone last year, so there will be no need to worry about looking like an idiot regardless of how things shake out.
So there you have it. Go forth and write. If you’re doing it right, the whole thing shouldn’t take you more than 20 minutes, and you’ll be rolling in pageviews before you can say “more probable than not.”
Just don’t be too surprised when you get laid off a few weeks later.