Aaron Portzline had his dream job. The Mount Vernon native and Ohio State University alum traveled with the Columbus Blue Jackets as he covered the team for The Columbus Dispatch, a paper he joined as a part-time employee at the age of 18.
Now he’s leaving the 146-year-old newspaper for a startup website that’s trying to reinvent local sports coverage.
Portzline is among several well-known writers around the country leaving newspapers, magazines, and other publications for The Athletic, a subscription-based site built on in-depth reporting instead of ads and auto-play videos.
So far they’ve launched local sites for Cleveland, Chicago, Detroit, Toronto and the San Francisco Bay area, and hope to expand further.
Portzline will cover the Blue Jackets for the Cleveland site.
“They are hoping to build almost a Netflix model,” Portzline says. “If you think of newspapers and existing media as network TV or cable TV perhaps, this is more of the Netflix model where people show a willingness to pay with the promise they’ll get the bang for their buck.”
Subscription rates are similar to those of Netflix: People pay $10 a month ($5 a month if they pay for a year up-front) for unlimited access to the site.
Portzline calls it a haven for hard-core, smart sports fans who crave deeper coverage than just nightly game recaps.
“They have not given hard directives as to ‘This is what you will do,'" Potzline says. "They’re hiring people that they feel have established themselves in beats, that they know what to expect from that person, and their only directive to me is, ‘Do what you do.’”
It’s a welcome break for a journalist who spent the better part of 30 years working on deadline. As a beat writer, he always had to make deadline for the print edition, then write a longer story for the web.
Portzline says he's happy to move on from a system that he says often made him feel like he wasn’t doing either version of the story justice.
“No deadline, no space limitations, and a chance to spend some time with things and dive deeper into stories than maybe the hamster wheel of doing beat work for a newspaper allows," Portzline says.
Aside from picking up nationally-recognized newspaper veterans line Craig Custance and James Mirtle, The Athletic is poaching another hockey writer from the Dispatch. Portzline’s former colleague Tom Reed announced on Twitter last week he’ll join Portzline in writing for The Athletic’s Cleveland site.