Nathanael Rutherford, a University of Tennessee alumnus, covers Tennessee athletics for Rocky Top Insider. After three years at RTI, Rutherford now serves as managing editor for the site.
As social media, new technology and paid premium content change sports reporting methods, Rutherford and his staff must adapt.
Lexie Little: Do you think sports is shifting more [to stronger voices as opposed to inverted pyramid writing] as we start looking at the “talking heads”?
Nathanael Rutherford: I do think you’re starting to see people, and fans especially, and consumers kind of go back to the whole “we’re getting tired of the hot takes, we’re getting tired of the everyone can have an opinion.” That’s why I think we’re seeing things like The Athletic. Their mission is to go deeper, to go back to that kind of long-form journalism type thing to have more of an analytical approach. To have a less clickbait-y, less “talking heads” approach.
Thinking about audience hunger for just the facts…how has Rocky Top Insider adapted in the time that you’ve been there?
We had a daily radio show…then we switched to podcasts using our radio equipment. During the season, we do biweekly podcasts. Now we have Periscope and Facebook Live.
We’ve always branded ourselves as a digital destination for Vol fans. I feel like we live up to that every single day, every single week, because not only do we do articles…we have a podcast and the live shows.
You all recently launched the Premium content. What kind of a response have you had from fans?
I’ve been very happy with our response to Premium. We’ve grown a ton. Not just follower accounts, but just viewership on our site and everything we’ve had since I started there in 2015.
Especially last year with the coaching searches…we broke records for viewership in the months of November and December.
In a situation [like the coaching search] with so much misinformation, how do you keep the trust of the fans looking at your site for the truth?
I tried to make sure that when I put things out there…I would try to be transparent and say, ‘This is what I’m being told. This could be true, this could not be true.” I’m not going to ever live and die by my sources…unless I, myself, have seen it.
What are some of the craziest things you’ve heard sources say, whether it be coaches or players or fans?
The craziest things I heard were during the coaching search. A lot of it had to do, obviously, with Jon Gruden. I remember…a radio caller who has a son who was at UT. His son wasn’t a roommate, but a suite mate with Jon Gruden’s kid. His son proclaimed to him that he heard through the doorway that Jon Gruden’s son was saying that he was going to come to Tennessee. So that’s one of the funniest ones I’ve ever heard because, obviously, that was not true.