When we talk about journalism’s evolving future in this digital age, the New England mixed martial arts media community is hardly the first thing that comes to mind.
Engrained in the public’s consciousness is the image of the old-school reporter, holding a vintage camera with a giant flash bulb while sporting a spiffy fedora (press card sticking out from the side and all). Basically, it’s a caricature, one that comes with a whole set of connotations that journalists still can’t seem to shake.
Even as an aspiring media personality myself, I sometimes share the widely held view that this career path is confined by rigid structures, requiring an immense amount of formal education and experience in order to reach the goal of mainstream prestige.
While this may have been the case even just a decade or two ago, modern technological advances have forced us to broaden the definition of what makes a person a journalist as the emerging digital press lacks not only the old-school look common in the profession’s past, but many of today’s new media members don’t even have backgrounds in the field.
As social media sites like Facebook and Twitter continue to dominate the Web, as well as with the advent and ease of blogging, pretty much anyone with an inclination for telling a story now has the ability to rise to prominence. The growth of the New England MMA media scene shows that these new mediums can bring individuals journalistic success, even without having the formal reporting background.
“I started reporting on MMA almost by accident,” Rob Gagne, writer and owner of ExtremeMMANews.net, told me in a recent online chat. “I was fed up with all of the so called ‘forums’ and Facebook fan pages on the Web. I felt that nobody was allowed an opinion without being harassed and insulted. As a result, I decided to create a discussion forum on Facebook that would be accessible easily through social media.”
The Extreme MMA fan page, started in September of 2011, quickly started gaining a following, forcing Gagne to create his own website and explore other aspects of the online media world that he never expected.
“I originally meant it to be a discussion forum,” Gagne said, “but I began covering the news and I feel, rather than an average forum, the convenience of having access right in your news feed really sets us apart.”
While Gagne, a car detailer and seasonal Christmas tree wholesaler with no prior journalistic experience, has a ways to go before Extreme MMA News can be his full-time job, the Franklin resident is already experiencing success due to the site’s major social media presence.
“It is hard to solidify a name, but every time I am told of how well the forum is run, I take that as a sign of success,” Gagne said.
Like Gagne, Travis Sinclair and his crew at WesternMassMMA.com have made strides through social media and treating their site as more of an open discussion forum. But Sinclair and company have also included the realm of visual journalism, an area they’d like to explore further in the future.
“We constantly challenge ourselves to improve our photography skills and to give the fans a better experience,” Sinclair said. “I would love to have more interviews and articles about new fight signings, but we are all stretched out to our max.” With the help of photographer and videographer Joe Leonard, Sinlcair and company hope to add even more original videos in the future.
Sinclair, a former engineering major at Western New England College, also stumbled upon the world of MMA reporting by accident. While hiking with his neighbor and good friend Jeremy Reipold in 2008, the pair of MMA fanatics came up with the idea to create their own site inspired by the local coverage over at NortheastMMA.net. The rest, as they say, is history.
“We have had lots of success,” Sinclair said. “Our fan page has over 1,100 fans and our Twitter has over 400. We have a good core of fans that check out our site everyday and, obviously, our peak times come around MMA shows that we are covering. We have many fans that talk to us at the shows and it’s a great feeling.”
While these guys’ talent and their utilization of new media has certainly brought their sites to prominence, one factor that I think has really helped them grow is the very close bond that the New England MMA scene shares. From fighters and promoters to fans and media members, the local community is pretty tight with each other and constantly comes out in support at regional shows.
There’s even a Facebook group with over 700 members connecting fighters, fans, promoters, journalists and more from the New England MMA community as they talk about everything from upcoming local events to general sports talk.
“I feel it is a very close knit community and everyone is very connected,” Sinclair said. “We get along with all of the other websites and the community because life is too short to have enemies. The reason I say everyone is all close is because I’ve seen many times when the community comes together for great causes.”
Sinclair noted that the Massachusett’s based promotion Cage Titans does an excellent job raising awareness for blood cancer, often providing bone marrow swab tests at their events on behalf of local MMA community member Mike Guglielmo. An ex-street fighter and criminal, Guglielmo has turned over a new leaf while becoming one of the nation’s leading bone marrow donor recruiters in the wake of losing his son Giovanni from complications stemming from the blood disease.
In honor of his late son, Guglielmo now travels New England, often going to various MMA events to promote DKMS Americas and recruit potential bone marrow donors.
“It’s an honor (that) because of my son all these other people got to live,” Guglielmo told UnionLeader.com. “It allows you to believe that there was a larger reason for him to be here.”
Like the sport they cover, the members of the New England MMA media bring a variety of skills to the table, many of which you wouldn’t expect from a traditional journalist, that have helped these incredible people within this tight-knit community connect with each other.