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Saturday, May 10, 2008

Blogging and Sports Journalism - Can't We Get Along?

I guess that I must be the last person weighing in on this issue, and I'm not carrying much weight to throw in. However, I feel like I'm one of the people caught in between the sides of this suddenly hot issue.

For those of you that haven't heard about the craziness of Bissinger v. Leitch, here's the video. Anyone who is interested in how sports are going to be covered in the future should watch it. As well as anyone who loves to watch a profanity-laced argument on TV. Isn't it ironic that Bissinger accuses bloggers of vulgarity by whipping out the bleepables?

I feel like Costas was a good moderator, but I also felt like both sides were misrepresented. If you're going to do a debate, do it right. Get a roundtable of bloggers and writers - not just the poster boy for sports blogs, an irate Pulitzer winner and a random athlete who has a vague understanding of the topic (no offense, but Braylon Edwards was beyond out of place in that debate).

BLOGGERS LOOK LIKE: Young irresponsible jerks who live in Mom and Dad's basement and take out their youthful angst on sports stars through a series of personal attacks.

Ancient, arrogant grumps who love the smell of their own flatulence and fight their fear of the younger generation with outright animosity.

Articulate, but unprepared to talk about blogging specifically. Sorry, buddy. Do your homework.

All of these perception beg the question: What is the real deal about blogging? Is it the next thing in sports journalism? Is it just a bunch of kids making up stuff on their computers?

The answer: It's a movement of culture. It doesn't have to make sense by our traditional standards - it just is.

The confusion lies in perceived overlap of fields. The media feels threatened because people increasingly get their news from blogs. The bloggers feel like they have to "fight the power" of traditional media, either because their coverage doesn't satisfy them or because their voice isn't being heard.

I wouldn't say blogging is the same as "journalism," partly because they don't have the same standards, but also partly because the word mentally confines the movement to journalistic functions. It's a battle of semantics, but really, they don't have to serve the same functions.

If ESPN were to shut down for one day, how would the bloggers get their news other than from people who were actually at sporting events anyway? And although the media can technically function without blogs, where is the outlet for a fan's opinion? I think in a way, traditional media and the blogosphere can form a weird harmony, even if they're bashing each other, because they don't necessarily do the same things. Think about it.

I also would like to defend blogging on a personal level, because in my experience, most people I've met in the online domain are perfectly nice, and some even strive to create a more responsible environment. Leitch is right - it really is a meritocracy. Among other bloggers, you're responsible for what you write. People get a reputation for reporting false rumors or being overly judgemental, although I think people on the Internet are given a lot more leeway.

Also, I think critics should take into account that while athletes are dismayed when their drunk pictures are displayed online, they are also embracing this trend. Yardbarker is one online forum where athletes are starting their own blogs. And not just no-namers, guys like Donovan McNabb and Baron Davis - yes, really. And their are ones who actually talk back to you: Where else is an NFL fullback like Ovie Mughelli going to talk to a dopey college kid like me? Blogging is calling to a market demand for sports coverage on a more personal level. We still get our info from the sports media moguls, and guys like me still want to read the paper every day, but we get to add our own spin. And you know what? People respond to that. They actually like to read it.

About content: I try to be mindful that my subjects are people and they could read it, but it is also a basic tenet of journalism in general that athletes are public figures and they know what they're getting into. Even Joe Newspaper Writer can agree with that. I try to avoid swearing and innapropriate references just out of decency, and to maintain a degree of professionalism. Many bloggers don't really have that standard, and on some level I feel that a lot of web content is trashy and immature, but I can't help that - I just try to produce my own work at a respectable level of quality.

One of Bissinger's valid points (and Michael Wilbon said this to me as well) is that bloggers don't have the experience of a professional writer and they aren't close enough to the game to know the intricate details and true nature that goes into being a great writer. If someone is going to write their opinion they should know these things.

I've tried to take this to heart and not overstep my bounds: I go to games and I cover the access I get. I make it a point to say when a guess is a guess. But in the same breath, why does blogging have to be held to the same standard as newspaper writing? Is it possible that sports media just feels a threat to their industry? I think that blogging can have its niche in the sports world, as traditional coverage can have its niche. One is fan opinion, the other is insider opinion - is it so bad that we should allow both? I don't think so, and I think they overlap less than people realize. Plus, we honestly have no idea where this technology is taking us.

We're stuck in the standards of our conventional systems: Sports media are caught up in the idea that blogging will replace them, and I think a lot of bloggers have it in their heads that they will. But take an example: When someone invented a home phone with a camera in it (so you could talk and look at someone), a lot of people thought they would replace regular phones. It didn't happen. Instead, we have online video chat that we can use on computers (which has come in very useful for business conferencing), and home phones are being replaced by cell phones simply for convenience reasons. No one uses home phones with cameras. Why? Because they don't conflict as much as we thought they would. You don't talk to someone on the phone necessarily for the same reasons you see them face-to-face.

Hopefully that analogy makes a little bit of sense. I see why there's so much strife between these parties, but at the same time, it seems overblown. I think we should do a media v. blogosphere part two, but do it right with more individuals who will represent a broader spectrum of their fields, rather than just representing, in effect, themselves.

It shouldn't be confrontational - it should be constructive. Old media and new media are blending together whether we like it or not, and sooner or later we're going to have to learn to be cooperative, not to mention work in both strata at the same time. There's a lot of shaking up to be done, but just trying to tear each others' throats out on national TV isn't going to make this stuff go away.

Photo Credits: Deadspin, Business Blog Consulting, RetireSloan.com, 700level.com, CBS Local


J-Red said...

I think the major distinction between sports news media and the blogosphere is that sports news media unearths the information and then occasional provides a little more in-depth coverage or opinion. The blogosphere consumes the uncovered knowledge and provides perspective or opinion.

Outlets like ESPN.com are frustrated because they have a near monopoly on the information side, but they've been unable to convert that into more $$$ because people are unwilling to pay for their "Insider" perspective and opinion. The truth is that once we all have Mortensen's information, our opinion and perspective is no less valid than John Clayton's.

Woody Hinkle said...

Great post.

I think sometimes sports writers feel as though us regular fans aren't qualified to talk about sports. (How often do you hear Rick Walker and the guys on WTEM talk about how uninformed -- and therefore unqualified to criticize -- typical fans are?) When I watched the Costas segment about blogging, by the way) what I kept yelling at the screen was that blogs -- even the language that is in some of them -- is how "us fans" talk amongst ourselves. I don't need Michael Wilbon or anybody else to tell me what my opinions ought to be about anything.

His informed, skilled writing of course enhances my sports knowledge, but I kind of feel like a sports blog is somewhere between a barroom conversation and the sports page. A blog is its own thing, not a competitor with a newspaper.

"Traditional" journalists shouldn't feel so threatened.

The Conformist's Choice said...

surprisingly good/somewhat refreshing take on a dated and beaten into the ground subject. kudos for it being enjoyable and not a painful exercise in reiteration.

Mike said...

good post