My colleague, Christer Ahl, noticed the other day that Team Handball News (THN) was approaching the posting of its 1,000th article and indicated to me that this milestone was probably worthy of comment. I agreed and thought it would be a good time for a commentary about the site, its history, its content and its way ahead. So here goes:
Site History: As this site regularly picks up new readers from everywhere in the world a little bit of history is warranted as to why the site got started initially and how it has evolved over time. During the 2004 Olympics I stared a simple blog on Team Handball primarily as a way to share my views about Handball with friends back in the U.S. while I was living in France. You can still read those old posts at http://teamhandball.blogspot.com. In 2006, an internal dispute within the USA Team Handball Federation bitterly divided the sport’s community within the U.S. In the midst of this dispute it became apparent that a blog couldn’t address the myriad issues as effectively as a dedicated website. So on 2 January, 2006 Team Handball News was born with this post.
With a dedicated site it was now easier to post documentation and store audio interviews on the site. Additionally, the site allowed more flexibility and made it easier to distinguish between commentary and straight news.
Since 2006, we’ve covered Handball news from all of the continental federations and we haven’t shied away from controversy. We’ve covered the never-ending (seemingly anyway) transgressions of the current IHF leadership, the occasional lack of transparency in the EHF and the PATHF’s unfair practices against its North American members. Sometimes forgotten, however, is that we also cover the “good news” stories like the IHF’s President’s cup, the EHF’s wonderful promotion efforts and the progress Brazil has made as a Handball nation. For those of you new to our site or new to handball, it’s probably worth your while to use the search function (upper right hand corner) to find out more about a particular topic.
THNs Content: Since being established, we’ve experimented with many different themes and topics, but for the most part we’ve focused on two major themes:
1) Handball news from the developing nations
2) Handball news for the English speaking world
With the addition of Christer Ahl to the site in July of 2009 we’ve also started to include more stories on technical issues like proposed rule changes, refereeing, coaching and gender issues.
We can’t even begin to cover everything so we have to pick and choose. Often that meets simply writing about what interests us, but we try to focus on events like Continental Championships (other than Europe) that are woefully under-reported. We also pay special attention to transparency and conflict issues because, not surprisingly, official sites either don’t report on them at all or provide a very slanted, one sided story. Finally, commentary is another important aspect of our site. For whatever reason, many European news outlets (not just handball news outlets) don’t do much in terms of opinion pieces. Shockingly enough, sometimes our site is the only one out there (in any language) stating a position on a controversial issue.
THN’s Audience: If it’s not already obvious, THN has a bifurcated audience. On the one hand there is the English speaking Handball world with the U.S., Canada, UK, Australia, New Zealand, India and other assorted countries. On the other hand is the Handball world that has English as a second language and is looking for Handball news outside their home country. The interests of these two audiences overlap, but rest assured there are plenty of Americans who could care less about International Handball political developments and plenty of Europeans who could care less about American Handball development. The relative size of these audiences ebbs and flows, but currently are English second language audience is on the upswing. I guess if we are the only ones to report and comment on IHF developments the rest of the Handball world is going to take notice.
Audio Podcasts: http://teamhandballnews.com/download5.html
We’ve done several interviews, provided Champions League commentary, and a few “Handball Talk” shows since our inception. While I’ve enjoyed doing these podcasts they can be a time consuming endeavor. As the technology evolves and more people get comfortable with consuming audio content we’ll relook the possibility of regular shows on a weekly or monthly basis.
The Forum: http://teamhandballnews.com/e107_plugins/forum/forum.php
I probably get more feedback on our forum section than any other aspect of our website. Generally, that feedback is about how the reader doesn’t like the negativity coming from some of the participants. My response has been, universally, to tell those readers, “if they don’t like it, don’t go there.” While I prefer constructive dialogue on the many issues related to Handball, I acknowledge that the forum does sometimes degenerate into silliness, but we don’t have time to police and arbitrate every post. Instead we do minimal policing of the forum and as long as the attacks aren’t directed at race, creed, and the other assorted discriminatory categories we let the posts stay. Generally, the “idiots” eventually depart, but some do stick around to provide entertainment. It kind of reminds me of the old poker adage: if you don’t know who the worst player at the table is within 15 minutes, then you are the worst player.
Are we journalists?: I occasionally get emails along the lines of “you never went to Journalism school, why should we take you serious?” This, of course, is a debate that is taking place in every corner of the internet, and handball is just one niche example. In today’s world, anyone with an internet connection can spout their opinion and stake a claim as a news outlet. For the record, I’ve never been to journalism school and this website can best be described as a hobby. I have to admit that I have had to study up on the use and application of some common journalism terms such as “on background” and “on the record.” To those out there who do take us seriously and have seen fit to provide us “inside information” I say, thank you. To those out there who don’t take us seriously, I say, “Explain to me, Why do you check our site so regularly?”
How bout a little respect: Continuing on this journalistic credo theme: Team Handball News has queried major Handball organizations on a number of occasions. Sometimes the issues are controversial, but often they are about more mundane issues. Usually, we are lucky to get any response. And when it comes to unsolicited communiqués, we rarely get notification of major newsworthy events. OK, I understand we’re not a mainstream news site, but we are a Team Handball News site. Oh, and one other little factoid:
WE ARE THE ONLY INDEPENDENT HANDBALL NEWS SITE IN ENGLISH, THE WORLD’S LINGUA FRANCA.
Wow! You would think that the world’s “2nd most popular sport”* would be genuflecting daily in the direction of its only world-wide news outlet. OK, maybe genuflecting is a little much, but I’ll settle for a little respect. That respect could start with answering email requests for information. The next step would be periodic phone conversations and interviews.
*FYI. It’s pretty self-evident that I’m a huge fan of Handball, but the oft quoted claim of it being 2nd most popular sport is simply not a credible one. In fact, by a number of metrics it’s only the 2nd most popular team sport in a handful of countries. http://teamhandball.blogspot.com/search?q=popular
A call for help (reporters): Sometimes we’ve been critiqued for too little reporting on actual handball events. It’s certainly true that actual on the scene reporting has been scarce. I would certainly like to do more reporting like I was able to do at the World Championship in Germany (2007). To the IHF’s credit they gave me full media accreditation and access for the games. I was able to put this to good use and wrote several stories and even did some audio interviews like these with Greenland national team:
http://teamhandballnews.com/news.php?item.254 and IHF Treasurer, Miquel Roca http://teamhandballnews.com/news.php?item.264 There’s nothing to say that other Handball fans attending events couldn’t also do the same sort of reporting. If you’re interested in playing reporter let me know and we’ll even try and get you media accreditation.
A call for help (commentators): Have you got an opinion on Handball related issues? Would you like a platform to broadcast that opinion to the world? Team Handball exists that for that very reason. Since its inception we’ve been open to posting commentary from guest contributors. Few, however, have ever taken us up on this open invitation. The requirements are not overly stringent, but the prose does need proper construction and a reasoned argument. If you have a proposed essay, send it to email@example.com
A call for help (web designers): THN’s current web site can best be described as functional. It gets the job done, but it clearly lacks bells and whistles. If you are interested in spicing up our website by making it simpler to add more pictures, video, more web 2.0 features and/or an online shop please let me know: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Way Ahead: THN plans to continue the same things we’ve been doing. As highlighted above there are several features/functions that we’d like to add to the site. I’d also like for the site to add more reporting on handball, but there’s only two ways that’s going to happen. We can either bend time to add more hours in a day or we could add more contributors to THN. The latter is more feasible and I would like to see THN have a sizable staff of dedicated volunteers. With such a staff more and better content could be provided. Ideally, the site would then grow to a point where revenue from advertising could be used to cover a portion of travel costs for volunteers to attend major events like the World Championships. But, barring an influx of volunteers we’re more likely to continue as before. We’ll keep fighting the good fight for transparency and fairness for our sport and hopefully, you’ll keep reading.