Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The BLOGOSPHERE

Man oh man, does it give me douchechills to type that fucking word.

Ok--here's the thing. As you may or may not (you probably are more likely to may) know there was a huge blowout on some Bob Costas special last night between Will Leitch and Buzz "Benry" Bissinger.

As any of you who may know may know, Bissinger threw a hissy fit at Leitch for "ruining America with your rock and roll music and your bloggerations" whilst Braylon Edwards looked on with an eyebrow dazily arched.

The consensus--i.e. what has been taken away from this--is that Bissinger, by virtue of being a moron, is wrong and that Leitch, by virtue of not being the moron in this exchange, is right.

As Lee Corso would say (prior to being excoriated on the BLOGOSPHERE)--not so fast my friends.

Here's the thing: Bissinger is without a doubt unhinged (and also very wrong, as we've seen today at firejoemorgan.blogspot.com, and will no doubt see in greater detail as the blogoverse strikes back at him). But does that make Leitch right?

I want to start by saying that I read Deadspin quite a bit. I find it often hilarious and of a similar mind as me. I have very little problem with Will Leitch (though I can't help but be reminded of former Kids in the Hall geek Dave Foley every time I watch that clip of him and Bissinger). Larry B, it seems, does not like him one bit, but that ain't me.

But here's the thing: many of the problems brought up by Bissinger and by Edwards ARE VALID POINTS. There has been a huge deterioration in the quality of sports journalism--whether it be in print, online, or on television and radio--and it DOES seem to have a lot to do with the internet.

Here's the facts--sports journalism seems to consist of the following things:

1.) reporting of the results of sports contests (about 5% of all stories and television coverage)
2.) interviews, insight, and speculation regarding the players' opinions and reactions about the games, their team, and their league
3.) scandals
4.) lawsuits
5.) scandals and lawsuits
6.) predictions and speculation, be it about injuries, results of future sporting events, trades, strikes, scandals and lawsuits, what have you

The problem is, if you watch, read, or listen to sports coverage you'll notice that the vast majority of pundits and analysts, AT THE VERY LEAST take a very authoritarian absolutist position toward these things, particularly items 3-6. There is also a lot of moral grandstanding and finger pointing. Now: these are things that exist as much in the print and television (to say nothing of the cesspool that is Sports Talk Radio) as on the internet--hell, just check out the name of this "blog" to see the prime example of an authoritarian, morally high-handed, always "right", ignorant king of all dirtballs ever to walk the earth.

But here IS the problem--blogging makes this attitude contagious. It would be foolish to point to the advent and proliferation of the yelling/arguing genre of shows on television as coinciding perfectly with the internet. That would be false and anachronous--PTI was already on when I was in high school. However, the blogosphere IS a significant breeding ground for this. It's the perfect environment for sports bleating to fester. Look--opinions are like assholes. But while it does seem silly to hear Michael Wilbon saying "If I don't know your credentials as a sportswriter why should I listen to you?" it does raise a good point.

Even 15 years ago, a sportswriter's opinions superseded your opinions as the casual fan. That didn't mean you just got on your knees and took his thought-juice all over your face. But it did mean that in order for a bleating voice to be heard, it had to have a forum. And though there will still some jackasses morally highhanding the players and fans alike (particularly around time of the 94 strike), it did mean that sportswriters didn't have to be on the offensive all the time--their opinion "mattered" more because they had "the floor".

Now, anyone has the potential to be heard. Obviously, not everyone is going to be Will Leitch or Ken Tremendous or even Larry B, but fact of the matter is, everyone thinks they COULD be and without much effort. Nowadays everyone has an opinion and everyone will be heard. That's not a BAD thing but what it does is turn sportstalk into an argument. Now, that's nothing new PER SE, but it's new that that it is the full extent to how we communicate in the realm of sports.

Were the Bears winners or losers in the draft? Will Indy win the Super Bowl? Is Lebron the next MJ?

These are all questions we might have wondered aloud 15 years ago, given the opportunity, but there wasn't the implication that we NEEDED AN ANSWER NOW nor that I MUST BE RIGHT AT ALL COSTS. The instant access to past statements and statistical data makes discussion in the internet forum a very objective and coldly rational forum--but the item of discussion is not a cold, mechanical object. It is a living thing. Now I don't mean to say "numbers don't play games" but the fact is, anything can happen over the course of a season. If you and I are arguing about who will win the AL Central, you can make the most airtight argument that the Indians are a far better team than the White Sox in every relevant area, but the fact is, the White Sox could very well win. At that point, you lick your wounds with a defensive argument about why that happened.

THAT IS NOT A BAD THING. However, because of the success in this realm, people demand that in other realms (i.e. Television) and what we get is Around the Horn (the most asinine yet infinitely watchable show on at 6:30 ET). Arguments, purported to be founded under the premise of being "RIGHT" about something that one can not be right about. And so, in this "society" of argumentation and absolutism, we also get a meanspiritedness that I enjoy (as long as it's not morally superior meanspiritedness, Jay, you shithead) but that others might take offense at.

Look: Rich Garces has tits. That's funny. But how do you honestly defend making fun of Rich Garces tits to someone who's offended by that? You can't. It's not nice to make fun of Rich Garces tits and it's not something to be proud of if called on. And yet, that's where we're at. And I'm fine with it--but it doesn't mean that those who aren't fine with it are wrong.

Also it's important not to overlook Braylon Edwards's very valid point--athletes can't go out in public anymore. Ever. Not now, not for the rest of their lives (if they're at all noteworthy) for fear of being NeckBearded.

I loved the Neckbeard pictures. I loved the Rexy Morgan pictures. I loved the Peyton's Sweet 16 Pictures. But shit, that's got to suck for those dudes. What can be done about it? Nothing. What should be done about it? Nothing. But here's the thing: it's a problem.

And ESPN is a problem. And Jay Mariotti is a problem. And the fact that the blogosphere has helped to make ESPN and Mariotti who they are is also a problem.

End of rant.

24 comments:

Martin said...

Actual sportswriting in general has become "worse" the last decade, partly because the internet has allowed more writers to be seen and read. if ESPN didn't have a couple dozen writers on board, would 90% opf the country have ever read a Jemele Hill column? Doubtful.

Also, I think the media editors and writers have become less concerned about good product, and more concerned about more product, and "hot" product. This creates problems because with the net as a resource system, people like us go from "dedicated fans" to "fans who can look stuff up, and make better arguments about the topics then the guys who are getting paid for it." It has helped make journalists even more lazy and less concerned about good stories, and concentrating more on "being right".

Chris W said...

And what has driven this demand for immediate and continuous access?

The internet. When you had to wait for 6 PM sportscenter to get the news, or the daily paper, or SI to come in the mail, there was no need to manufacture the story.

You might say having 24 hr. sports channels by the half dozen hurts, but that demand comes from somewhere.

sports used to be something which, if you weren't watching the game, you digested over breakfast or in the evening after the weather.

Now it's continuous and that causes all the blogarazzi problems and bullshit ESPN shout-vision.

That's not necessarily a PROBLEM (although the results of it are shitty) but what it IS, to me, is a tangible result of the new technology that most people who remember what sports used to be like would perceive as a problem

Of course, the internet has allowed for some unbelievably awesome changes in the way we perceive sports (hell, for instance, 24 HOUR ACCESS TO SPORTS!!!) but we can't ignore the fact that the blogosphere has some shitty implications just because KSK is a site we love to read

Anonymous said...

I agree with you to an extent. There were a lot of complaints that Leitch didn't do a strong enough job representing bloggers. But what about the terrible job that Buzz did representing their opponents? In general, the criticism is off base, but blogs are far from perfect. I like Deadspin and KSK a lot, but their wide exposure means they have some responsibility.

I don't know where I stand on the picture posting thing. I think you're exaggerating when you say that athletes can't go out in public. They aren't given the same attention that movie stars are, as Leitch pointed out. And they are public figures and performers, whose careers depend on public attention to an extent. But that doesn't make all of the picture stuff right either. An extreme example of the Peter King daughter pictures that KSK put up a while a ago. Very rarely does it get that bad, but it can.

I sort of disagree with the point about credentials though. Columnists usually aren't widely read because they are great analysts. They gain attention because of writing ability usually, or sometimes by taking attention grabbing positions. Educated fans often understand the games better than the columnists that they read. This isn't exclusive to statistical analysis, but that's a large part of it. Columnists will always have an advantaged position over the reader, but its good that there is a forum for the reader to disagree.

Lastly, Dave Foley is awesome.

Anonymous said...

Same anon as above. I agree that the internet has caused the shitty implications that you're talking about, but I don't really see that as being a blog problem. MSM internet sites competition which each other is the big cause of columnists taking outrageous positions and reporters trying to scoop each other. Blogs play a role in this, but I see it as a lesser factor. Only pretty recently has the blogosphere been more than a tiny bleep on ESPN's radar.

Chris W said...

Anonymous--

I think we generally agree, and I might have failed in accurately communicating ideas. Paragraph by paragraph

1.) Buzz did a real shitty job representing bloggers. But Costas was essentially backing him up under the guise of "devil's advocate"--and the show itself essentially presented a toned down version of Buzz's position

2.) I didn't mean to imply that they can't go out in public. But they can't go out in public without expecting that if they even look slightly goofy in a bar, they'll get toasted on it.

Is this any different from celebrities? Well, no. But athletes probably deserve a little more privacy than celebrities, since their meritocracy actually depends on performance rather than perceived performance (this may be refuted by citing Barry Zito, Mike Hampton and Chan Ho Park, among others, but I'd rather you didn't.

3.) I'm by no means saying that being a journalist means you know more than someone who's not a journalist. I'm not a journalist, and I'd put my (or Dan Bob's or Larry's or PNole's) expertise over 95% of print and online journalists.

What I'm saying is the idea that in order to be a columnist you have to go to journalism school, work your way up through the beats, etc. helps to create a divide b/t the general public and the media.

Now that that divide's been torn down, journalists have go on the offensive and their columns seem out to PROVE they

a.) know more than you
b.) have better connections than you
c.) USED TO PLAY THE GAME MAN AND YOU ARE JUST IN YOUR MOTHER'S BASEMENT.

The easy access to blogs any joe has, causes the devaluation of the print media and sports columnists in general, which causes reactive sports journalism

Tonus said...

I don't think this is about bloggers and quality of material and whether the internet helped spread Jerry Springer disease. What you're seeing is a very old phenomenon that repeats all the time. New technology versus people who really really HATE new technologies.

Well, they don't really hate technology per se, they just think that they do because the technologies that they don't understand make them feel helpless. So they lash out at it and misdirect their anger. Anger at the growth of the internet and "always on" media (blogs, 24/7 TV, phones that take pictures and record video, the ease of placing those on the net, etc) is from fear of a technology that they can't grasp. How do you make it easier to handle? Point your anger at sports blogging. There, that's an easy target!

Any time people have something that they feel is too big to handle and too difficult to grasp, they try to recreate it in their minds in a form that they can deal with. Kids shooting up schools? Ban video games! Sports information overload? Scream at a blogger!

Progress happens. The road to tomorrow will be paved over the bodies of the people who couldn't get out of the way today. Hot damn, am I a whiz with analogies, or what?

Chris W said...

ok fine--progress happens.

I'm more than fine with that.

But progress presents problems.

Cell phones present the problem of kids needing to be on their cell phones at all times, including in the classes I teach. That is a problem with the level of discourse our society participates in that comes along with this new technology.

Likewise the advent of bloggers is a great advancement in sports culture, but it also carries along some inherent problems as people adjust to the curve of the new freedoms.

That's all. It's not enough to say "well if this this this and this happens as a result of changing culture and technology and you think it's bad, you're just against the change of culture and technology."

We have to admit that some things that come along with these changing times are things that need to be adjusted and altered as we grow accustomed to it.

Martin said...

Chris points out something which is what I think the sticking point for "real" journalists. The bloggers have more expertise then the great majority of them, and with the internet, can actually prove it. This really pisses the Screamin' Stephan A. Smiths of the world off because they want to be lazy journalists. Their entire tone when talking/writing about bloggers is patronizing in the extreme..."Now now son, I'm a REAL journalist...just run along and let me do the work."

If these guys spent as much energy at their craft as they do being angry at bloggers, bloggers would have much less fodder for their grist mills.

Analogies for the win!1!

larry b said...

Re: Leitch

Just because I think he's annoying and a little too casually pretentious doesn't mean I don't think he's incredibly important. I love Deadspin, and I completely respect Leitch and what he's done. I just don't really like his style. And since I'm a hater, I express that by bitching about him and pointing out that his shit does in fact stink. But don't let me be misunderstood- both he and Deadspin are fucking great on the whole.

larry b said...

More importantly, Martin, Chris W's Corso reference FTW!1!1!1!1

Archie Micklewhite said...

Here's the real question, Larry...should you be ripping Deadspin posts?

jones said...

So the thing is, when Bissinger wags his finger at "Big Daddy Balls" and slouches way back in his chair and sneers out stuff like "you let anyone say whatever they want!" he's just remembering an age that wasn't even all that ancient, just a few years ago, in fact, when sports journalists were the ones who go to say whatever they wanted and we, the audience, had no way to talk back to them.

Now the shoe is not only on the other foot, the foot is wearing an entirely different shoe. We can and will talk back to Buzz Bissinger, because we can look shit up. FJM (the other one) has a great bit deconstructing Bissinger's Kerry Wood article. It reminds me of what people who worked for newspapers used to do; that they were lazy, that they consistently failed to do research, and that they depended almost entirely on managers and insider people like Tony LaRussa to give them things to write about.

Basically if Dusty Baker says "clogging up the bases," someone like Bissinger (40 years of experience!) simply writes down "clogging up the bases." That's good enough for Buzz!

I won't miss that when it's gone, and the last of these old-school ass-shiners is sent out to pasture, because we can check on this stuff now, you now. If Dusty Baker says something ridiculous, we can look that up and write an article ("post" makes everything sound so temporary and picayune) that says so and put it up somewhere where everyone can see it, if they're interested. Even Buzz Bissinger.

Now the flip side of this freedom, of course, is that any moron with an Internet connection can go on Deadspin and call Tony Romo a cock-gobbler.

But that's the price we're going to have to pay. Eventually we'll learn to filter out this stuff the same way we do at bars and at baseball games. At some point your brain just starts separating signal from noise in a more highly efficient manner.

The thing is...and this is pretty important...the percentages of good, neutral and godawful are still the same as they always were. There are still the same amounts of all those things in the universe; the web didn't increase the demand or supply of one or the others.

That's what Buzz doesn't get, actually, and why it's so important to fight him like you would fight a wounded bear... to the death. You gotta keep these people honest on this stuff.

That doesn't mean it's all going to be pretty (Rich Garces' man-teats notwithstanding), but it's what we have now, and pretending it's not happening or that "calling bullshit" on Wil Leitch will fix anything isn't going to do anybody any good at all, and will, in fact, ruin us.

Chris W said...

jones--

you're right. It's a price that we DO have to pay AND that is generally worth paying (the whole meanspiritedness coming to the forefront as people are allowed to hide behind anonymity)

however it's something that we DO have to acknowledge as a problem--not just as a PART of progress, but a part of progres that is problematic.

Tonus said...

"But progress presents problems."

Oh, I agree. Most technological innovation comes with a bad side along with any good. Industrialization brought about a lot of progress... and tons and tons of pollution. I think that we're still in a period where we're discovering all of the things we can do, and it may be some time yet before we start to deal with the bad side of so much freedom and power.

I do agree with jones that we're also at the start of a paradigm shift, from the old school of sports analysis and reporting, to a newer and more objective one. That fight will be lengthy and ugly, but I think the cat is out of the bag, and you can no longer go back to the days where the guys who "played the game" can get away with making stuff up and with idiotic analysis that goes against what the facts tell us.

I'm enjoying watching that particular bit of progress develop, and people like Bissinger can rant all they want, but they can't stop it anymore. And the harder they scream, the more childish and pathetic they look.

jff said...

Back to the posting photos thing...

This point has been made before, but there is a satirical, sophmoric nature to a lot of the deadspin peaces (most of BDD's stuff in particular) and, among the hardcore readership of the site, there is a recognition of the silliness of posting pictures of big ben drinking and brady quinn being gay... and that the site isn't only a sports site, but a sports site very much grounded in humor. but to a casual reader? an outside observer (buzz, costas), someone young enough to not be able to tell the difference between a playfully titled "looks like matt leinart is working hard in the offseason" post and a serious condemnation with the same title... basically, when deadspin had a small hardcore readership, the defense that, if you were offended you were just taking it too seriously (as will says in the interview... no one seriously stops liking leinart because they saw him drinking... its just an opportunity to crack some jokes about a famous person you know and then move on) but that defense holds less water now, as the readership grows. Deadspin can't reasonably expect their entire readership to be reasonable, so the issue becomes do they "dumb-down" their content (i can't believe i'm suggesting LESS drinking pictures and half naked chicks would be dumbign down) or do they keep doing it and hope every catches on/they dont care.

as someone else pointed out (on deadspin) when they post a picture of big ben drinking... deadspinners laugh and think its funny/cool/dumb then move on... its ESPN and SI that have the righteous indignation thing going

Bengoodfella said...

I think part of the anger of Buzz is what was said earlier in these blog comments, that progress brings change, and most of the time the established people in the industry do not like change.

This may seem stupid and dumb, but I compare it to the 50's when Elvis was controversial and the establishment did not like him gyrating his hips, they preferred to watch Patsy Cline sit there, sing and do nothing but sing. Then came the Beatles and etc. and the change actually ended up being a good thing. I don't think print newspapers are going to go out of print or anything like that, but in a 24 hour news cycle, the paper is usually way behind the trends. One thing good papers can do well is they still have the circulation and the name branding that will carry them for a while. Everyone knows the New York Times, but not Deadspin...yet.

I agree with Chris W that the Internet and blogsphere is a breeding ground for crap, but that is the price we pay for free speech. Many people write crap on their blogs, myself potentially included, but it is our opinion and we have a right to it. The line that really separates sportswriters from bloggers is the access the writers have to the sports teams and individuals. So rather than report news stories and give opinions, bloggers generally give their opinion, make observations and write articles that generally have little substance compared to "real journalists". There is nothing wrong with that, if we had access we would not be dumbing down journalism as much I guess.

I can't take any industry with Woody Paige and Jay Mariotti in it accusing any one of dumbing down journalism.

Chris W said...

But the thing is, Woody Paige and Mariotti are beneficiaries of internet sports (if not the blogosphere).

Why is Mariotti on ESPN and a senior writer for the Chicago Sun-Times?

Is it because he's a good writer or well-respected?

No.

It's because he generates controversy which generates web-hits. In the days of print only journalism, you couldn't really make the argument that "if Mariotti gets you talking about the Sun-Times that's good" because people wouldn't likely buy a paper to see "what that idiot has to say today". Well, perhaps some would...but it's not nearly as easy a thing as "hey click this link and see what the moron says".

Also, although the blogosphere is just now gaining prominence on the national radar, it hasn't affected the level of discourse.

To use a completely inapt analogy, The Pixies were affecting Nirvana's sound before mainstream America knew who the Pixies were.

ROCKBLOG!

Martin said...

The hope you would have about print journalism is that it would begin to do the thing that they should be good at....in depth articles with good research and points that aren't going to be made on a blog (in general). Instead, these folk keep writing what are pretty much "blog" articles that they hate. Maybe that's the problem, these writers are filled with self hatred.

Angelo said...

let's not give the blogosphere too much credit: while bloggers probably check stats more than journalists, their writing (including you, fjm) is not top notch or anything like that. Further, the ideas expressed are not revolutionary or more interesting than the standard sources. I realize deadspin has a ton of readers, but if I (and millions of other people) want to read articles on sports, I head to ESPN or buy the sporting news or sports illustrated. If I want to see ESPN's shitty writers made fun of, or I really really don't want to work, then I head to the blogs. So chris w aka "I'm not a journalist, and I'd put my (or Dan Bob's or Larry's or PNole's) expertise over 95% of print and online journalists", you may be a little biased. I've heard you (and dan bob and larry and pnole) spout ridiculous ideas and seen your shitty posts, and let's just say your journalism degree isn't coming in the mail.

Who am I, C Hart?

Chris W said...

Look--I'm not saying I'm God Jesus, but what I am saying is, I'd put my baseball knowledge up there with 95% of writers and commentators at, say, ESPN.

Rob Neyer, Tim Kirkjian, maybe Jayson Stark. That's about it. There's like 60 shitty writers and commentators ESPN employs to talk about baseball (Jon Miller, Joe Morgan, Orel Hershiser, Jon Kruk) that I know for a fact I know more than.

Martin said...

Angelo, you really need reading skills if you think that Chris or any of the bloggers here are talking about writing "ability". The writers for ESPN and wherever should write better. They went to school for it, it's their JOB. Bloggers have almost never said they are better writers, but that in some cases they are better JOURNALISTS, which involves writing in detail, with facts and probable theory, not "shit made up cause I'm too lazy to look it up".

No shit most writers for ESPN are better then most bloggers, go check out MySpace for fucks sake. What's that, 20 million blogs? Christ, they can barely keep a thought straight, much less stay on topic. This is where your argument becomes the straw man, for the discussion isn't about how good a writer Larry B, Ken Tremendous, Chris W, or Archie is, but the how the Mainstream Media is so asshaty that it can't recognize blogs for wht they are. A nice little place for people to write and express their opinions. The MSM on the otherhand have in many cases abdicated their own responsibility to be accurate, write coherently, and be the publics advocate, eyes, and voice in whatever it is they are covering. They are scared that their day may be passing, and it could very well be that they have only themselves and their arrogant indolence to blame.

Chris W said...

not to mention sports journalists (and Angelo) talk about journalism as if it's not the bitch of the writing world.

I have a lot of respect for sports journalists, but if I really wanted to be one, I would go to j-school (where my excellent GRE scores and cum laude English degree at a top 20 university could EASILY get me in) and do the easy coursework.

But here's the thing: I don't want to make 22,000 a year working annoying hours doing bitch-interview work.

It's, like, kind of a choice thing?

douce spit said...

Jeebus, Chris W sure is an old fart and has a few too many black and white opinions. May this blog get fired by the internet.

Archie Micklewhite said...

This is where your argument becomes the straw man, for the discussion isn't about how good a writer Larry B, Ken Tremendous, Chris W, or Archie is

WOO! That dude in that list is me!

What a waste of a comment on my part.