Thursday, May 8, 2008

Honest to blog

If you haven't seen the now week-old freakout by Buzz Bissinger on Deadspin blogger Will Leitch, do yourself a favor and check it out. The topic that they were supposed to be discussing with Bob Costas on HBO was the role of the Internet in sports. The discussion degenerated quickly as Bissinger imploded on national (premium) TV. His rage is felt by many in traditional media who seem angry that no one wants to read their papers anymore. Earlier this week, Jason Whitlock weighed in the issue, basically telling the print world to get over it. I realize this story is a few days old, but the Harrison stuff kept me from having time to really comment on it, and there are a couple of points that I feel are worth making.

I completely understand the antipathy some feel toward blogging. It is an inherently narcissistic act to assume that anyone else would give a crap about something you have say. I don't frequent too many 'classic' blogs, and generally pay more attention to 'old media' sources. But, um, I also write a blog. Of course Bissinger is correct in asserting that many (most?) blogs are profane and moronic, but he fundamentally errs when he chastises Leitch for not measuring up to one of the great sports writers of all time. Bloggers don't have go be better than W.C. Heinz. To be useful, they only have to be better than no talent ass-clowns like Bob Kravitz and Scoop Jackson.

Aaaaaaand there's the rub. The truly gifted and great writers will always find a way to be gainfully employed even in world ruled by the BgAngridit69. The problem with traditional media, and honestly the reason why Demond and I started writing this blog is that a. the traditional sources weren't meeting our needs, and b. we think we can do it better (smarter and funnier) than some.

I do disagree with many of the points about access being the reason writers suck. I'd freaking kill to have access to players. I don't think it would jade my perspective. I hope that it would give me additional insight into the 'whys' of sports. Access is one of the reasons I love Phil B. Wilson's stuff.

The traditional media has lost its way because it has to keep stirring controversy to keep people reading. The bizarre way this Harrison case is being handled in the media certainly doesn't bolster Bissinger's arguments that journalists are some how more disciplined and principled than idiots like us. When you get right down to it, what's the difference between a blogger and Jay "I don't ever show up at the park" Marriotti? When he writes, he has a disincentive to be honest or accurate. He HAS to be inflammatory and shrill or people will stop paying attention. When you don't write for money, you can be concerned with stuff that matters like strategy and performance. You can say things like, "Wow, that was a bad break" and not be forced to label every loss a choke for fear of losing readers.

This is the ultimate free market. People have a limited amount of time and will gravitate toward spending what they have reading people who are right or interesting or amusing. Most sports columnists have few credentials to recommend them to public. They are just guys who took a journalism class and kissed some editor's butt along the way. Some are great writers, most aren't. Some watch the games and pay attention, others just rumor monger and try to be on the cutting edge of controversy (by the way, I appreciate Kravitz holding back this time). We base our 'authority' to write this blog about the Colts on the fact that we've watched (multiple times) every game for more than a decade and spent time breaking down plays and players. We are amateur hacks to be sure, but I'd like to think we provide something that was missing in the panorama of Colts coverage. And if we don't...no one will read us. That should say something important to the Bissinger's of the world.

And yes, I'm well aware that the only thing more self-important than a blog is a blog about blogging. Siiiigh...

Demond Sanders: I was really down on the concept of blogging at first. I used to make fun of people who had their own blogs because I personally hate talking about myself. I would never post pictures or videos of my family paling around the house. My wife would, though. Then it clicked. I realized you could blog about sports instead of baby clothes.

I agree that bloggers aren't any more foul or crass than Kravitz, Mariotti, or Scoop. Those writers generally don't swear in print, but they would if they could. They do, however, get away with a lot of things written in poor taste.

The distinction does need to be made between beat writers and opinion givers. Beat writers are irreplaceable because of the vast amount of time they spend around the team. We rely on them for news and I don't see that ever changing. Phil B's blog is relevant not because of his opinions (he's understandably reserved), but because he gives us insight to the severity of injuries and the development of young players. So the question is: do we need highly paid columnists to interpret the beat writer's news for us? I'm not sure we do. Clearly there are a decent number of people who are happy to do it for free.

Columnists are not significantly more knowledgeable than the average blogger or blog-reader. Most of us have been following the Colts for a decade or more. This stuff isn't rocket science. Locker room access would be great, of course. There are those of us who would love to know what Bob Sanders looks like naked. Sorry, I'm just bloggin'.

Sportswriters are hypocritical on the blogging issue. Most of them have lucrative spots on radio and television where they amp up the drama and vitriol far beyond what is necessary. The trend of making sports louder and dumber started from within.

7 comments:

Bob M. said...

Being a non-TV watcher (no NFL = no TV) I really had no idea what Costas Live even is. But on a long drive last weekend I found out that a brother and his wife went to the live taping. Having recalled your commentary, I was up to speed pretty quickly.

Nick could not recall the names until I prompted him, but said the Buzz rant was even more ridiculous in person. If that's possible.

BTW notes from the live show: Bob Costas is shorter than my family, which is saying something (unofficial filial estimate is 5-4 or 5-5), and the whole audience is filled with NY area 'Cuse grads (Costas is an alum), which is how bro got the invite.

My $0.02: Blogs are somewhat like diaries. 70% of them are narcisisstic internal monologues, giving some insight into the auithor but none into the greater world. 10% are even worse: semi-literate wish-fulfillment. But the final 20% have potential.

The best are timeless. Even today, some autobiographies and diaries from the last 250 years are read. But certainly not all. Same for blogs. (But I tend to take a long-term view of things; my favorite music was written between 1750 and 1850 and for now I'll use longevity as a proxy for quality.) That addresses their quality and general appeal as reading matter.

Now for the interactivity and community aspect: Blogs blow static print media, even broadcast media, out of the water. Can you imagine a music medium that allows the audience to not only sing along, but to compose along and shift the course of the final product? A news organization that gives the TV anchor smiul-feedback so he can ask an interview subject questions directed by the audience? Mind-blowing. It takes a steady hand to not end up with mob-produced crap, to guide, establish rules, and moderate the discussions so that the final product--which is essentially a community discussion--is a worthy product. I suspect it's easier in a small forum like here, rather than at FO where things can get out of hand with thousands of readers and many hundreds of posters.

Sorry this went on so long. Hopefully it was lucid.

Deshawn Zombie said...

Good thoughts Bob. I actually love the idea about interactive music just as a concept.

Look, no one is claiming that most blogs are high art, but I don't think that the genre compares all that unfavorably to the sports page. Especially if the guys from Around the Horn are any sampling of what most sports writers are like.

Picky said...

I watched what I am referring to as the "deadspin meltdown." Since I don't get HBO, I watched it on YouTube (or something like that). I remember being ticked at Buzz Bissinger. His point (as I understood it) was that professional journalists are the only ones who can be trusted to disseminate information to the unwashed masses. Add that to Bob Costas calling me an idiot:

"...it's one thing if somebody just sets up a blog from their mother's basement in Albuquerque and they are who they are, and they're a pathetic get-a-life loser, but now that pathetic get-a-life loser can piggyback onto someone who actually has some level of professional accountability and they can be comment No. 17 on Dan Le Batard's column or Bernie Miklasz' column in St. Louis. That, in most cases, grants a forum to somebody who has no particular insight or responsibility. Most of it is a combination of ignorance or invective. It's just a high-tech place for idiots to do what they used to do on bar stools or in school yards, if they were school yard bullies, or on men's room walls in gas stations. That doesn't mean that anyone with half a brain should respect it."


I posted a big ole post on Stampede Blue about this, but I think I'm going to migrate it to my blog for ease of access. So yes, Bob, I am a blogger. No, I didn't graduate from journalism school. And no, I'm not an idiot. You are for alienating your fan base.

Picky
http://pickysworld.blogspot.com

Bob M. said...

Picky, I guess that makes us all idiots. Let me see, am I an idiot for reading it, or one for writing it, or a double idiot? D'oh!

DZ, regarding Around the Horn and most of ESPN, my bachelor TV life consisted of ESPN and The Simpsons. The past 10 years it has been just about non-existent if you exclude the NFL. But based on what I recall from the 90s and what I sometimes see now, plus a wife who worked in the cable biz, I think ESPN has evolved more into entertainment than sports reporting (sort of like MTV, which used to have music videos all day).

ESPN has their newsy stuff, and their opinion stuff, and their pure entertainment stuff (i.e. showing actual events). But there is the gray area of their infotainment/Around The Horn crap. I agree, it is drek. It is a place for people who aren't up to the level of David Halberstam (or even the old Dick Schaap-hosted Sports Reporters from Sunday mornings)as reporters, and not quite up to the level of Jerry Seinfeld as comedians, but who have opinions and want to be both. The loudest and fastest mouth is the victor. ESPN has also just about crippled the field of sportscasters/anchors. Everybody wants to be snarky and with it. Ugh. I love Dan Patrick and Keith Olbermann, but the world does not need a million clones of them.

Oooh, here's another blogging analogy: think of a classroom where you can sit and learn great stuff, but cannot ask a question, cannot clarify a point, cannot redirect the discussion to a new area. You sit and absorb and then go home. That is traditional journalism. Hey, for millennia, that was what education was mostly like and it worked. But did we like it?

Now put yourself into a classroom where the teacher asks your opinion, lets different opinions slug it out, defend their positions, and students learn from each other with the instructor serving as guide when needed. I have been in those classes and I loved them. That seems to be the blogosphere.

BTW, why the hell am I posting on your blog at 10 pm out of football season when I have a few more hours of work to do and my whole family is happily asleep? (Well, yes, there is a little patheticness to it, I admit, but mainly...) Because I love the Colts and think your blog is great.

Anonymous said...

Bob,

Olbermann?!

He left his brain in Bristol when he "moved on". Unfortunately, his mouth keeps moving on without it.

Journalists are pathetic incompetents. Michael Crichton made a great point in a speech years ago:

Media carries with it a credibility that is totally undeserved. You have all experienced this, in what I call the Murray Gell-Mann Amnesia effect. (I call it by this name because I once discussed it with Murray Gell-Mann, and by dropping a famous name I imply greater importance to myself, and to the effect, than it would otherwise have.)

Briefly stated, the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect works as follows. You open the newspaper to an article on some subject you know well. In Murray's case, physics. In mine, show business. You read the article and see the journalist has absolutely no understanding of either the facts or the issues. Often, the article is so wrong it actually presents the story backward-reversing cause and effect. I call these the "wet streets cause rain" stories. Paper's full of them.

In any case, you read with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story-and then turn the page to national or international affairs, and read with renewed interest as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate about far-off Palestine than it was about the story you just read. You turn the page, and forget what you know.

That is the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect. I'd point out it does not operate in other arenas of life. In ordinary life, if somebody consistently exaggerates or lies to you, you soon discount everything they say. In court, there is the legal doctrine of falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus, which means untruthful in one part, untruthful in all.

But when it comes to the media, we believe against evidence that it is probably worth our time to read other parts of the paper. When, in fact, it almost certainly isn't. The only possible explanation for our behavior is amnesia.

http://www.crichton-official.com/speech-whyspeculate.html

Deshawn Zombie said...

The problem with sports media is that for every 5 Mike Freeman's claiming that guns (wet streets) are causing athlete problems (rain), there are guys out there who are working hard and doing the dirty work in the trenches. In the same way that I can recognize a bogus story, I can also recognize a good one. The great part about blogs is that they give a forum to the 'lunch pail' reporters that was previously only open to the blowhard columnists.
Phil B. talked about this in his interview with us:
http://www.18to88.com/Articles/18q%20with%20Phil%20B.html (question 3)

If the paper was all written by the same guy, I'd be more inclined to agree with Crichton. In every field there are idiots and excellents. I don't think journalism is any different. The self-righteousness of it all is what drives me nuts.

Shake'n'bake said...

"There are those of us who would love to know what Bob Sanders looks like naked."

I have it fourth hand (a guy I know told my friend that he heard Sanders ex-teammate drunkly talking about) that Bob Sanders is "packing some heat."

Not sure where to go with that, but I felt like sharing.