This is the second part of an interview I conducted with World Wrestling Entertainment icon Jim Ross. For background on the interview, please see the first part in this series. For J.R.'s appearance here at MIT, listen to the podcast here.
Sam Ford: J.R., what do you feel are the biggest changes in marketing and producing professional wrestling in the Internet era?
Jim Ross: I think one of the biggest changes would probably be the timeliness with which information is provided. When I was a kid, before cable television was invented, we got our one hour wrestling show in our area, and that was it. We got one hour a week on our local show.
The wrestling promotion ran their circuit, their little route every week on tour to certain cities. Then, once a month, you got a chance to go to the drug store and buy Wrestling Revue magazine, or one of the other newsstand wrestling magazines. All that material was evergreen material because of the delay in writing, printing, and distributing news to get the magazine into the consumer's hand. You couldn't talk about last week because it was impossible to collect that information and get it out in time.
Today, we are in a situation where, because of the Internet, we can talk about five minutes ago. We can document last night's event. We can document an injury that occurs and the subsequent fallout or results of that on a daily basis. I think the bottom line here is the timeliness. We can also go into more detail, as opposed to the old days when there was such a delay.
As with the changes the Internet has brought along, our television has undergone significant changes. We would produce two television shows at once, when I first started in producing syndicated wrestling television. Every other Wednesday, we would produce these two one-hour shows. The first show would air that weekend, on Saturday or Sunday. The second show was put in the can to air the following weekend.
Nowadays, the TV shows in the WWE are much different. Monday Night RAW as our cable flagship show is live on the USA Network, and you can't any more current than that. ECW is live on Tuesdays on Sci Fi, and Friday Night Smackdown is taped on Tuesday and then airs in some parts of the world on Thursday and the U.S. on Friday, currently on the CW Network.
Everything has been accelerated as far as the information flow for professional wrestling. We provide more information more quickly now than wrestling has ever done before, all thanks to essentially the Internet and the pressure the Internet puts on you to keep your product current. I look at WWE.com every day, and to me it is a continuous activity just like keeping up with the news. I expect to see new new things every day, with whatever news is current. Just like I look for new weather, sports scores, and news, I look for new updates from WWE.com.
There is a fan base now used to a faster flow of information, and we try to provide them with instant gratification, instant information, and instant access. When I was a young fan, you waited with bated breath for that one hour and just hoped nothing would interfere because there was no DVR or TiVo. if you missed that one hour, you had to depend on a buddy to tell you what happened, because there wasn't an Internet to go and read about it, Now you can DVR or TiVo your pro wrestling, and you have the Internet to keep you updated as to what happened.
Sam Ford: How does the Internet function as a way to fill in gaps in the WWE narrative between television episodes, and do you feel this adds value to the show?
Jim Ross: I think using WWE.com in that way is a function of good storytelling. The Internet provides you the opportunity to add new updates, speculation, interviews, and other content on a regular basis. You can talk to a star involved in an important altercation from the latest Monday Night RAW episode on Tuesday. Then, you can have a rebut from their opponent on Wednesday. A neutral observer can comment on Thursday. This can all build for a Friday preview of the next Monday's show, when the followup of that altercation will air. That way, everything continues to be tied together.
I think WWE.com is a real asset and a significant tool for storytelling. I think the Web site helps fill in the gaps. Sometimes, because of time restraints, you just don't have the time to get to everything you want to do on the show itself. We're not in a patient generation, so the pace of producing a television show like Monday Night RAW is so hurried that we sometimes don't have have the opportunity to stop and discuss events, with the way the show is structured. We can thus use our Web site to ask questions and reflect on the show to create interest in the next installment or the next WWE pay-per-view event.
Sam Ford: What balance do you feel WWE.com should strike between being part of the fictional world, on the one hand, and competing with what people within the business often call the "dirt sheets," including both professional journalists and fans who write about what's happening in the wrestling industry, rather than what's happening within the fictional world?
Jim Ross: The first priority of our content, since we only have so much time in the day to write, should be to help forward WWE storylines and maintaining interest in our upcoming events, whether it be next Monday's show or our next PPV event or other events of that nature. It goes without saying that you want to supplement that with hard news. If someone has had an injury or a surgery, we will want to provide an update on them. We might want to tell fans that superstars have arrived safely in London for a European tour, for instance.
We will supplement our entertainment content with news, but, in my view, we want to weigh a little heavier on the entertainment side than the hard news side. We are trying to create interest in watching another one of our wrestling shows. Once our Monday night show has aired, our intention must be to get fans to watch our next installment of Monday Night RAW the next Monday. If we can do that in an entertaining fashion on WWE.com by continuing to tell the stories from Monday night by looking at the repercussions of those events, then it's a good investment of time.
That's not to say that we should ignore major news situations, and we have to report on that news, even if it's not always good news. Sometimes, there's an unfortunate injury or someone from the wrestling world passing away, but our obligation to report on hard news is a supplement to using our Web site as an entertainment vehicle. I don't think the divide should be 50/50. I'm not sure what our Internet team's philosophy is, but I would suspect they agree that it should be more entertainment and sizzle than hard news. We have parts of our site that is for hard news, whether it be updates on our corporate site if you want to know about the business side of things, and so on, but for the regular WWE.com main page, we have to focus on telling stories.
I don't see our site as a way to compete with independently owned Web sites who focus on pro wrestling. I am not attempting to be critical of the amount of time and effort those people put into their sites, but most of them would agree that their sites are understaffed. They aren't provided the resources of an organization of reporters like the Associated Press, so much of the information they get is secondhand, leaving them spending a lot of time trying to chase down and confirm rumors. Those sites have the right to do what they do, but you just have to realize that they aren't staffed like CNN or Fox News with reporters all over the world. Those sites do the best they can, and they're sometimes right and sometimes not.
As far as access to hard news, the WWE has the upper hand, so I certainly feel we should take advantage of that and focus on that news to supplement our entertainment content. We can be somewhat like NFL.com, which gives fans hard news and injury information and other events that are considered news, but we don't give our own reporters unabashed access to the locker room. I know when I was doing NFL football for the Atlanta Falcons, there were so many minutes after the game that no one was allowed access, and we were allowed in when the head coach was ready to open the door. I don't know that what goes on in an NFL or an NBA or an MLB or a WWE locker room is really anyone's business other than those people who are actually in it. I know there are things that I have seen and been privy to as a member of the personnel of this company backstage, in relation to someone's reaction to a performance or a personal issue that I would say is no one else's business to know about. There's a certain level of confidentiality or respect that should be adhered to, and I feel our site should always do that.
Sam Ford: You were one of the first main presences on the WWE Web site, with your Ross Report column each week, and you have maintained involvement with WWE.com. What do you feel the advantage is to your own career to participate so heavily in new media?
Jim Ross: First of all, I enjoy writing. I don't look at it as a chore. I look at it as an opportunity to communicate with fans who are largely no different than me. I don't think being a fan has anything to do with race, color, creed, social status, your job, what tax bracket you are in, or anything else. If you are a fan, you're a fan. I have always tried to communicate to the fans in a way that, if I were on the other side of the screen, I would find entertaining or informative or thought-provoking. I try to put myself in a fan's shoes as part of the creative process.
Sometimes, some of those columns are more entertaining or informative than others. That's the nature of the beast. Someone brilliant like John Lennon had songs he wrote and, after he wrote them, he threw them away because he knew they weren't hits. You can't write hits every time you sit down to author something. Very few do, anyway. I just think that, on a personal level, an online venue gives me a chance to establish with the fan base that I'm a fellow fan and that I enjoy communicating wtih them. I am dedicated to writing to fans online, and the fact that wrestling is non-seasonal means I get the opportunity to write about our product 52 weeks a year.
In the next part of this five-part series, J.R. and I discuss his involvement in various projects outside of his work directly with WWE. Thoughts? E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.