A year ago today, I published The Aggship's first story. It was an explainer of sorts, for an outlet that needed a lot of explanation – more, probably, than I provided at the time.
I had been living in Logan, Utah for about a week when that story went up, having just moved away from my hometown of Columbus, Ohio. I moved to Cache Valley having only once traveled west of Texas (I spent three days in Davis, California in 2021). I knew no one in town and had no prior connections to Utah State. But, I had seen the Aggies from afar as a staunch advocate for Group of Five football and mid-major basketball, and I was sold.
Back in 1981, my former employer, Frank Moskowitz, started Buckeye Sports Bulletin – now the longest-running independent outlet covering Ohio State athletics by a wide margin. I spent three years working for Frank, first as an entirely unprepared 19-year-old intern covering Ohio State's Olympic sports teams, then as a full-time staffer, and finally as the newspaper's editor. Every day I worked in that old, wood-paneled office, I saw what BSB meant to its readers; many of whom had been with the outlet for its entire run, and many others who had inherited their subscription from a parent or grandparent.
I came to Logan wanting to cover Utah State with the same dedication, skill and passion that Frank has brought to the Ohio State beat for more than 40 years.
In retrospect, I'm sure this all sounded completely bizarre to you all at the time. Utah State fans are, as I've since learned, a pretty tight-knit bunch. There's not a particularly rich history of unaffiliated sports writers parachuting into town asking for six dollars a month in exchange for coverage of their teams. I'll admit that it still sounds pretty bizarre.
Despite that, many of you have embraced me and my coverage all the same, and The Aggship has grown accordingly over its first year in existence. Utah State fans, coaches, players, administrators, and my fellow media members have all treated me with more respect than I was probably due. I really can't tell you how grateful I am for that, and for the kindness I've been met with at every turn.
As for the job itself, this past year exceeded even my wildest hopes.
I traveled to new towns, covering season-defining wins, gutting losses, and just about everything in between. I watched dozens of basketball games in the Spectrum, an environment unlike any other that I would be thrilled to spend the rest of my career dispatching from. I went to Las Vegas twice, first for MWC media days and again for the MWC men's basketball tournament – two events entertaining enough to distract from my disdain for America's tackiest city. I've seen, time and time again, the endless passion of the Aggie faithful.
As The Aggship celebrates its first birthday, I'd like to take the time to reflect a bit on this past year, before looking ahead to what the future may hold.
What Worked Well
Features Over News: My background is in newspaper writing, which I always planned to bring with me to Utah State. As I'm sure you've noticed, I don't really do news hits here, save for the really big stories. I don't do true game recaps, either.
If I can be totally honest with you, I don't like those stories. I'm not good at writing them, and I'm not particularly interested in reading them. There are far better quick-hit news writers than me, and I feel it's best to leave that task to them. If I'm going to charge you $6-10 a month to read my stories, I think I should put as much work into them as I can – and if I'm going to break or share news, I'm usually going to do it on The Aggship Twitter account.
The Aggship's subscribers seem to agree with that. My post-game cover stories routinely led the way in weekly views, and the amount of work that went into writing a story usually correlated with its reception. Those will remain a staple of the site moving forward, as will the in-depth game previews, post-game notebooks, player features, and the film review stories exclusive to subscribers at the $10 tier.
In-house Photography: This was totally new to me, and I really enjoyed it. Because I'm not doing those time-sensitive game stories, I have the freedom to cover games from behind a camera on the sidelines (or baseline).
It's a very different experience than being in the press box, but I can get a much better feeling for the intensity of the game that I try to carry into my stories. Sports are visceral, and I want my writing to reflect that. Plus, I rewatch every game before writing a story, so I'm not missing any action by removing myself from the birds-eye view of a press box.
Another benefit is that my pictures are mine to share as I see fit. That means entirely free photo galleries, which can be very important for players and their families. Several Aggie parents reached out to me last season for photos of their children, and I would love to grow that list moving forward. I know how much those memories can mean.
Speaking of photography, keep an eye on Instagram in these coming weeks. I have plans to launch an account exclusively for The Aggship's in-game photography.
What I've Learned
Basketball Matters... A Lot: I could chalk this up to the influence of my time at Ohio State, but that wouldn't be entirely fair. The truth is, the bulk of my preparation ahead of my first season on the Utah State beat went toward football. That team was coming off a conference championship, while the men's basketball team went 18-16 in 2021-22 and the women's team... well, the women's team has had some more significant troubles.
So, much of my focus went to covering the football team with the same fervor that I did when I was in Columbus – where basketball isn't a topic of discussion until its first game, and where it isn't really a focus until the football season is over. I didn't realize the importance of basketball in Cache Valley until the season tipped off, a significant mistake for which I accept full responsibility. One season preview and a few player features is not giving the program enough due ahead of the start of the year.
I've already started to shift my coverage to feature more basketball, hence the scouting reports for every new transfer into Danny Sprinkle's program, and will continue to do so once fall arrives. The football team will still get plenty of coverage, but I'm going to dedicate more time to previewing the basketball season and a little less time to posting three or four post-game stories about every football game. A cover story/game notebook and a film review should be plenty, accompanied as usual by the opponent preview and depth chart and a player feature. The slots that belonged last year to the film preview and a second post-game story will go now to basketball coverage or additional football feature stories.
Once we get to basketball season, those teams will also get more coverage than they did this past year, primarily in the form of player features and film studies. I only have so much time, so I am going to make a few changes to give myself the room needed to provide the coverage these teams merit. More on that in a minute.
Show, Don't Tell: This one is simple, and I won't dwell on it because I don't want to get bogged down in the business side of things. I'm not especially good at advertising my work, and the Utah State fandom doesn't seem all that interested in being advertised to.
So, I'm not going to tell you about the coverage you can get with a subscription to The Aggship. I'm not going to build up a marketing budget, either.
Instead, I'll just show you. The Aggship's base nearly doubled with last season's "free until the end of the basketball season" deal, and a huge chunk (upwards of 90 percent, which is nuts!) of the group that signed up for that deal liked what they saw enough to stick around. I'm going to keep offering seasonal deals like that, and I'm going to start introducing a few other frequent discounts that I learned from my time at Buckeye Sports Bulletin.
One of my favorites there was the hugely popular "four free issues" promotion, which is exactly what it sounds like. I don't have four free issues to give you, but I can offer you a full month of access to The Aggship, free of charge. If you like what you see, I'd love to have you stick around. If not? No big deal. The subscriptions can be canceled online, no strings attached. All I ask is for the chance to show you what I can do.
This is the part where I look ahead, and more importantly, where I listen to what you all have to say about the direction of the outlet moving forward. I have some core tenets I won't be moved off of, namely the site's in-house style (frankly, I can only write how I write) and my total disdain for advertisements, but my vision for The Aggship has always been that of an outlet that takes the shape of its audience. I know how important community is at Utah State, and I think this thing can only work if it adapts to the community around it.
I have plenty of ideas about features I want to implement and things I'd like to change, which I'm going to detail momentarily, but I'm not the only person who should have a say in these matters. The Aggship is supported entirely by your subscriptions and should, in turn, take much of its direction from you.
In that spirit, I've attached a Jotform below (embeds don't appear in email readers, so click this link if you're viewing within an email reader) to solicit feedback from The Aggship's de facto shareholders. What do you want to see in your Aggie coverage? What don't you want to see?
Personally, a few key things have really stood out to me.
Podcasts: I've dropped the ball on The Aggship Podcast, and I plan to fix that before the 2023-24 Utah State sports season gets underway. That's going to start with the designation of a steady co-host. I found myself struggling to fill episodes with compelling information from the very beginning of The Aggship Podcast, and I think the lack of a second voice was the primary cause.
Once I find one, the podcast will be back to a twice-weekly schedule with the flexibility to add extra shows to that schedule whenever needed. I'd like to start adding interviews to that feed as well, be it those I conduct individually for the sake of stories, audio recorded from press conferences and media events, or interviews done specifically for the podcast.
New Voices: In that same vein, I would love to open The Aggship up for guest features from freelance writers. I want to bring you the best and most comprehensive written coverage of Utah State athletics, and I was foolish to think I could do that entirely on my own. There are stories out there I just can't get to, and perspectives I can't replicate.
If you have Utah State coverage you think would fit The Aggship, pitch me at email@example.com (and of course, all freelancers will be compensated appropriately).
Expanding The Aggship: I'll be blunt – The Aggship does not yet have the subscriber base to support a second full-time staff writer. I would love to reach that level (and beyond), but it just is not a realistic option at this point. What I do have, however, is the ability to support a part-time beat writer. That's what I intend to do this upcoming year.
As I touched on earlier, my time is spread very thin from August to March, and I often felt I was not doing justice to the teams I cover because of that time crunch. Specifically, I want to run more than just previews, post-game stories and the occasional film review during basketball season. Those aforementioned freelance stories will help, but what I'd like to do this fall is hire a part-time staffer whose sole focus is on covering the women's basketball team.
That'll free me up for more feature stories on the men's basketball team, and it'll provide The Aggship's subscribers with a much more consistent flow of women's basketball coverage (meaning previews, post-game stories and the same types of features you'll see on the men's side). I believe firmly in providing comprehensive and equal coverage of the three Aggie teams currently in The Aggship's purview, and I think this is the best way to do that.
I have a few people in mind for that gig, and you'll hear more about that as the season draws a little closer.
I'm proud of this first year of coverage, but I know The Aggship can be so much more. I'm completely committed to building it, and to providing the kind of coverage Utah State fans deserve. There's nowhere I'd rather be. I couldn't be more excited for the years still to come, and I'm immeasurably grateful for all of the generous support that allows me to do what I do. Thank you.