By now, most of you should be familiar with Will Leitch of Deadspin.com and his appearances on Costas Now and Best Damn Sports Show a few weeks ago (the videos can be viewed here and here). To summarize, Pulitzer Prize-winning sportswriter Buzz Bissinger, the legendary Bob Costas, and the consummate host/windbag of Best Damn Chris Rose, all question the value of blogging. The most extreme view, which was embodied by the flustered old-schooler Bissinger, was that bloggers represent the second sign of the Apocalypse; preceded only by Bret Michaels’ Rock of Love.
As you will notice on the Costas Now video, Costas turned into a potty-mouth while reading a few blog comments posted in response to an entry on Sean Salisbury leaving ESPN. Costas says, “Now, these are posts. It isn’t you [Leitch], but you don’t stop these posts from following what you put up there. This is HBO, so…‘Good riddance, f-ck face’, ‘So long, you fetus-faced windbag’, ‘Good luck managing a Denny’s, douchebag.’”
Although this historic moment in television would make for an excellent ring tone or voice mail greeting, the biggest fireworks came from Bissinger, who melted down and told Leitch “I just don’t know where you’re coming from except that I think you are perpetuating the future and the future in the hands of guys like you is really going to dumb us down to a degree that I don’t know if we’ll ever recover from.”
Now, I accept that in the blogosphere, there is a lot of crap out there. But that’s probably because many blogs are written by 12-year-olds with as much life experience as a pet rock. [Editor’s note: For those of you under the age of 20, “pet rocks” were sold in the ‘70s to thousands of still-shamed buyers duped by the idea that a rock-in-a-box could provide both entertainment and a best friend.] What Bissinger doesn’t understand and what Leitch explained on both shows, is that it’s not easy to maintain a successful blog. Leitch said, “The nice thing about the Web is that it’s a meritocracy; anyone can start a blog. But to get a readership you have to be serious, you have to be consistent. It’s hard god d-mn work doing a blog.” So, if your blog is weak and relies solely on personal attacks or profanity, no one is going to pay attention to what you have to say.
Leitch said that Bissinger is probably afraid that blogging will eliminate quality journalism. This assessment has merit, but I think if Bissinger wanted to confront what is really bothering him about the blog-generation, it would include the following:
- Unfamiliar format. Blogs represent a new media that many sportswriters are not comfortable with and are actually intimidated by.
- Job security. Unpaid fans can provide content to blog-sites for free, so companies may choose to retain fewer experienced, higher -paid sportswriters. There will always be demand for quality journalism, but writers now need to be able to meet fans on a new medium, which may be unfamiliar to certain sportwriters.
- Random criticism. Bloggers can criticize a sportswriter’s takes almost immediately. Rather than have his opinions automatically placed on a pedestal, informed (and unfortunately uniformed) readers can take pot shots with few negative repercussions. This is a huge change from writing newspaper articles.
- Limited accountability. Unlike sports beat writers, bloggers are not accountable to a media outlet employer (newspapers, magazines, sports websites) and typically do not have to maintain personal relationships with players. Consequently, bloggers don’t have to live up to the same standards of journalism that beat writers do.
- Decrease in player access. If bloggers are overly critical of athletes and base most of their opinions on what sportswriters and sports media companies are reporting about athletes, they may be less willing to be candid with sportswriters.
Although most bloggers probably laughed at Bissinger’s rants against Leitch, the concerns listed above probably get to the root of why many sportswriters’ loathe the average blogger. The most detrimental concern that is applicable to all of us, may actually be the potential restriction of the media’s access to athletes.
If the “trust gap” between athletes and those who write about them continues to widen, and athlete-endorsed companies continue to have millions of dollars riding on an athlete’s image, it will be increasingly common for them to issue all significant statements solely through press releases or their websites, both of which would be ghost-written by their publicists. This information would communicate
the endorsing company’s the athlete’s desired message and not necessarily the true emotions that make sports so compelling.
I won’t be aligning myself with Buzz Bissinger to strike against Will Leitch and all blogs anytime soon, but his concerns are based on the unknowns of what new digital medias bring to the sports world and whether we are headed towards a watered-down version of the sports we have grown up with.
So what do you guys think? Bloggers? Sportswriters? Let's hear it.
Baseball Jones ~~ Hustling since 1980