Blogger profile: Ian Koski, Nationals Daily News

We’ve got our second installment of our occasional series profiling some of the bloggers writing about the Nationals every day. I sat down earlier this month with Ian Koski, the co-founder of Nationals Daily News. A former newspaper reporter who now works as a political strategist, Koski helps manage a site that now includes nine writers. He and I discussed the site, now in its sixth season, and traded some thoughts on the Nationals, which will run tomorrow. The first part of our conversation is below:

BG: Start by telling me a little bit about the site, when it got started and why.

IK: It started a little over five years ago. My then-roommate, Mike Kanick, and I said, “‘Hey, there’s this baseball team coming to town, and there’s no presence for it. There’s very little marketing, and we said, ‘Let’s give it a shot.’” We didn’t know what the hell we were doing. We started by aggregating the news stories that were out there. A couple months later, we said, ‘We should have a blog of some kind.’ That blog started with just the two of us. We’d post every week or so. At that point, we’d have 30 visitors a day. That was huge! We couldn’t believe 30 people cared at all what we had to say. Since then, it’s grown. We’ve now got nine writers for the site. Some of them are people we knew were interested in baseball. Others were real fans of the site and came to us. Our capacity in web development has grown significantly. Every year, we update the site with new technology, with better design, new content. At the core of the site is still the aggregation of daily news coverage. The traffic tends to bear out that people come for the news; they stay for the opinions. They come back for the opinions. The morning traffic tends to be about getting news, and the afternoon traffic tends to be about the opinions. We have some great writers with pretty diverse perspectives. You never know what people really care about. We’ve got a guy who likes to review bars and restaurants in a sports context. And those stories do as well as the regular news. There’s a whole constituency of people who care about the history of Washington baseball. It’s great.

BG: What was behind the name change (from Nationals Pride to Nationals Daily News)?

IK: Five years of confusion. We really committed this year -- before we knew we were going to have access -- to be more of a news venue than a blog. We felt the need to differentiate between blogs, that were kind of just opining on whatever was happening that day, and reporting. We always felt we were more reporting-focused. I remember one of our guys, Mike Henderson, he was doing interviews and would say, ‘I write for Nationals Pride,’ and people would say, ‘What the hell is Nationals Pride?’ We considered about a dozen different names that all sounded like newspapers. While something like TBD is trying to run away from a newspaper-sounding name, we felt it was a step toward credibility.

BG: Of the Nats blogs out there, yours particularly seems to have more direction and more of a well-defined structure than a lot of them. Are you primarily responsible for calling the shots there?

IK: Before I turned to the dark side of politics, I was a reporter and editor. I covered a lot of college basketball, college football, baseball, just every now and then a little bit of pro stuff, in college and after college. The journalism thing never left me - at least, it hasn’t left me yet. From Day One, we said, ‘We’re not going to be a gossipy blog. We’re not going to be irresponsible and say stuff just for the sake of getting a rise out of people. We’re always going to be more reporting-focused. This year, now that we have the access to do that, we’re trying to make the most of it, with as much original reporting as possible. It’s certainly not our goal to replace the reporting done by you guys, the beat reporters. We just can’t do it. That’s not our need. That’s why we don’t write game recaps. We want to try to provide slightly left- or right-of-center stuff that the beat writers can’t necessarily get to, stuff that we have specific curiosity about, just let the fans get a little bit closer to the game.

Having the photography we have now, whether we shoot it or others from the online (photography) pool shoot it, that’s just been tremendous for the site. The action photos make the coverage that much more real and engaging, whether it’s in the lead position on the home page or with our blog posts. It’s just been an incredible asset for us.

BG: With as many writers as you have, do people kind of just write what they want, or is there a plan in advance?

IK: Last year, I would send out e-mails with a list of 15 story ideas. This year, I haven’t had to do that so much. People tend to have their own areas of expertise. There’s a guy who’s ridiculously statistically-oriented. We call him Stat Boy. And then we’ve got now (former Washington Times sports business reporter) Tim (Lemke), of course, too. He’s got this tremendous experience. People come up with their own ideas. Sometimes, story leads will come from (Nationals Park), and Mike Henderson or I can’t get to it. So I’ll say, ‘Hey, there’s this,’ or ‘Someone’s got to write about Tyler Clippard today,’ and they’ll do that. But it’s pretty organic. We were getting to the point last year where people were publishing so frequently that sometimes their story would get pushed down. So we built in some automatic queueing, so stories wouldn’t pile up.

BG: That’s the other thing with the site -- the design of it is certainly superior to most of the fan sites out there and really competes with most of the professional stuff. Are you in charge of that?

IK: My day job is (being) a web strategist for candidates. I have the designer (responsibilities) inherently. So every year - it seems to get earlier and earlier, and it really depends on how the team’s doing - I start redesigning the site. Last year I started in August. This whole concept of the way news is presented online is evolving. It’s changing. I don’t think anyone’s perfected it yet. But we have the opportunity and the flexibility to do it. I don’t have a boss telling me, ‘You’re not allowed to spend your time designing the site.’ And frankly, we keep on getting new material. Next year, we’ll shift again to focus a little more on the original reporting. We’d hoped video would be a bigger segment this year, but there’s only so much time in the day. Our podcast kind of has died off, because I now live in the District, one of us still lives in Virginia and another one lives in Maryland --and that one’s got a kid.

I really believe, though, that the strength of our site isn’t in the technology -- it’s in the writers. They provide a constant flow of ideas and energy. The site would be nowhere without them.

BG: So what’s the goal?

IK: The goal is to keep doing it. This is enjoyable for us. It’s 7:00, I’ve been at work already for 12 hours, and this is still enjoyable. And the fact is, we now have a really significant readership, people who like it, depend on it, throw up one hand if the site goes down. People get some value out of it. And so long as that’s happening, and we’re still having fun doing it, we’ll keep up with it. There’s no goal. It’s not to get rich. It would be nice to cover costs. I’m not going to lie. It hurts to suffer a loss to do it. But it’s still worth it.