Produced by the Office of Marketing and Communications
80 Students Contribute to Award-Winning Blog
John T. Consoli
The Left Bench began as a haven for Terp journalism students who fit the moniker, an online playground for sports-obsessed writers who failed to crack the starting lineup at other publications.
So much for being sidelined: The Left Bench has blossomed into an award-winning sports blog and on-campus source of University of Maryland recruiting news.
Michael Stern, Justin Meyer and Kofie Yeboah (shown left to right, above) started the website in the eighth-floor lounge of Cumberland Hall as freshmen in 2013 after struggling to find another outlet for their sports perspectives and hot takes. They had just a few contributing columnists, a WordPress site and a mission: to give young sports journalists every opportunity possible.
“We look to have our writers tell the stories behind the athletes we cover,” Stern says. “On our recruiting coverage, we look past statistics and focus on what makes that athlete unique.”
After a few months, the website drew interest from other Philip Merrill journalism students, and the volunteer staff began to grow. The group attended panels by the Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism, solicited feedback from professors and decided to graduate from general sports columns. During a meeting in the North Campus Dining Hall, Meyer came up with the idea to pivot to recruiting coverage.
“There was a very narrow market for sports student reporting here on campus,” says Meyer, the editor-in-chief. “The Diamondback was the only one who did it. Because they’re a student paper, their coverage is pretty narrow, they only cover Maryland sports and don’t specifically cover the recruiting. We were lucky that there wasn’t anything else. We kinda just filled a hole.”
As for competing with top national sites like 24/7 Sports and Scout.com, Stern says college students have a distinct advantage over seasoned reporters because of their age. He believes high school students are simply more comfortable being interviewed by Left Bench reporters.
The Left Bench also branched out into a variety of platforms and now has a television broadcast (TLBTV), a podcast channel (Inside the Maryland Lines) and even a high school sports page with content from high school students (TLBJV). The site also has beat writers for Maryland basketball, football and baseball in addition to DC United coverage. Now the staff numbers 80 students, including 14 writers just for recruiting.
“I think what I’m most surprised by is kind of the community we’ve developed with Left Bench,” says Stern. “Not only are they are coworkers … but they’re our friends, that’s who we go to basketball games with, that’s who we hang with on weekends. That has been kind of the coolest thing to develop, and it definitely shows in how we work together and how we come up with ideas.”
In 2016, The Left Bench and its offspring took home a truckload of hardware from The Baltimore Sun’s annual “Most Outstanding Blogs” contest. Known as the Mobbies, the awards are voted on by readers. The Left Bench was honored with “Best Blog” and “Best Writing,” while TLBJV won “Best Newcomer” and TLBTV picked up “Best Use of Video/Moving Image.” The team won Mobbies in 2015 for “Best Pro Sports Blog” and “Best Twitter Account” and in 2014 for “Best College/Amateur Sports Blog.”
After the Left Bench’s success covering National Signing Day, when the staff’s videos netted 3,000 views, and stories posted every hour about the collegiate decisions of star high school football players, the three founders are feeling safe about moving on after graduation.
“Our coverage, I think, was some of the most extensive out there, and we didn’t have a hand in it,” Stern says. “That was a clear indicator that it’ll be in good hands next year.”
Jared Goldstein ’19 will take over as director of high school recruiting. He bypassed other campus news organizations when he arrived at Maryland in order to get involved with the Left Bench.
“There was something about the challenge of joining something that was growing instead of something that was already established that I liked,” says Goldstein. “There was some intangible something that I was like, ‘These guys get it.’”
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