Josh Yohe still remembers the moment Dejan Kovacevic came calling.
“March 4 at about 6 p.m,” says Yohe, then the Penguins beat writer for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “I was sitting in the parking lot at Pepsi Arena in Denver, about ready to cover the Penguins-Avalanche game. Dejan called and, in his characteristically impulsive way, asked how much money I’d require to leave the Trib and work for him.”
Two months to the day later, and with the help of some savvy social media persuasion, Yohe left the Trib to accept a position as lead reporter for DK on Pittsburgh Sports, a subscription-based, online Pittsburgh sports website launched last summer by Kovacevic, a 25+ year veteran of the Pittsburgh sports media, most recently the lead sports columnist for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
Kovacevic joined the Trib in 2011 after more than 20 years with the Post-Gazette, where he started as a high school sports reporter before becoming an award-winning Penguins and the Pirates beat writer. He has also covered four Olympic Games, and his sports journalism awards cabinet (assuming he has one) overfloweth.
The idea for an exclusively online sports website “really all came together last July,” recalls Kovacevic. Dejan, as is he known, spoke with NEXT before a first anniversary party for site subscribers, at Highmark Stadium on the South Side. (July 23 is the official anniversary.)
“I went on vacation to Pittsburgh–because I travel so much, that’s where I go on vacation–and my brain was just clear. And usually when that happens–this has always been true to me–I think farther out about work. What’s the next level? What’s the next thing I can do?”
“It took about, I’d say, two full days for the real eureka moment to hit, and then once it did, you know how it is: once you think of something there is no going back.”
Dejan knew it was a huge risk to ditch a hefty salary and benefits and set off into uncharted digital territory, especially with a wife and two young children at home. But he also knew there was a niche to be filled, and he coveted the chance to be his own boss and editor.
He had also grown tired of what he perceived as the limitations of print-based media.
“The more proficient or more prolific that you become on the internet or through an app or something like that, the fewer newspapers you sell and the faster you accelerate your own death. If you are a print-based model.”
Dejan boasts over 14,000 subscribers, or 4,000 more than he originally hoped the site would attract in its first year. Subscription fees make up more than 75% of the site’s budget, while the remainder comes from advertising and some negligible merchandise sales. There is also a free DK on Pittsburgh Sports app, which has been downloaded 13,000 times and accounted for nearly 50% of the website’s 800,000 page views in June.
Sports fans can join with a monthly ($4), annual ($24) or three-year ($54) subscription. The three-year subscription is known as “lunatic” level, a term the site’s commenting community developed and has since evolved to refer to any of the site’s subscribers. (The party at Highmark Stadium was billed as the “Lunatic Bash.”)
The site itself is updated with new content all day, every day. There’s a Dave DiCello photo gallery on Mondays, while Dejan answers readers’ questions every Tuesday. Dejan has several other columns throughout the week, and he and his former Trib colleague Josh Yohe take turns on the Pirates beat. There’s also a stats guy, Matt Gajtka, and today Dejan announced the hiring of a new writer, Neal Coolong, of USA Today‘s Sports Wire, to cover the Steelers.
A major difference between print and Dejan’s product is that the former has a more formal division between fact (news articles) and opinion (columnists). Dejan says that he employs a simple policy where beat writers can offer their expert opinion—“X player is having a terrible training camp”—but they cannot advocate—“X player should start ahead of Y player.”
Although sometimes that line, too, gets blurred. “Next week I’m going with the Pirates to Kansas City, and I’m going to be doing pretty much straight game stuff and whatever else, even through we don’t do conventional game stories. But because it’s me and it’s my voice, readers won’t be [shocked] if they see me say [for example], ‘My god, why is Caminero still in this bullpen?’