Monday, January 10, 2011
Posted by Qris Johnson
The New York Times has observed that we at Pass it to Bulis are the blogosphere, and speaking for the entire blogosphere at large, I'll point out that the much-ballyhooed battle between bloggers and journalists is pointless and counterproductive. People get too hung up on their status as a blogger or professional writer and forget that quality is the most important thing. I've said it before -- sports writers are in their position because of their communication skills. Sports beats have very few instances of investigative journalism. The closest thing to it is usually rumoring, and anyone can do that. Most cases, sports writers are reporting on the same games their readers watched, the same streaks their readers observed, the same stats their readers have access to. Hardcore sports fans often cram their brain with even the most useless trivia. I know I'm not alone in knowing more about my sport of choice than I need to. So when what would be the main qualification for a sports writing position -- knowledge about the sport and/or team in question -- is common even among the general readers, the most important qualification becomes something else: writing quality.
Quality of writing is the single greatest concern for any source of sports commentary -- whether it's a blog, a newspaper or a broadcast. We asked Bob McKenzie what he thought about the dynamic between blogs and the mainstream media, and he said essentially the same thing. "The fans ultimately make the call on who's good and who isn't," said McKenzie, in an e-mail. "Anyone can fire up a site on the internet and call themself a blogger and/or someone can work at some level in MSM, but if no one is watching you or listening to you or reading you, well, figure it out. If you provide something of value, you will get traffic or responses. If you aren't getting traffic, you might want to ask yourself what you're doing."
This is one of the reasons nonprofessional sports blogs and some of the more traditional media forms have occasionally been at odds. While big national names like Bob McKenzie are safe, there are plenty of small-time columnists for whom bloggers are a real threat. Sports writers know that their job could, technically, be filled by any fan who happens to be as good a writer as they are, and thanks to blogging on the internet, such folks are getting plenty of exposure. Most sports blogs are more than just a way for folks to rant about their favorite team -- I'd expect almost all bloggers at least hope of one day making money for their writing, even if some don't pursue that goal as fervently as others.
While lots of blue-collar jobs are being outsourced to countries willing to do the same jobs for a fraction of the pay, the entertainment industry is mostly safe from such foreign incursion. Still, sports writers are in danger of losing their jobs to another vast group of people willing to do the same job for less -- the massive pool of bloggers of varied talent whose websites constitute a constant wave of attempted auditions. Blogging has already made opinion sections in newspapers almost completely unprofitable. The news sections are still sort of safe, because Random Angry Citizen X doesn't actually go out and research stories in the way investigative journalists do. Sports writers have no such cover, so it's no surprise some of them seem to go out of their way to disparage bloggers. In their defense, because any idiot can start a blog, most of the blogs out there are pretty crummy. Also in their defense, blogs threaten to put them out of work, and people tend to protect their livelihood. Once more in their defense, plenty of blogs actively go after the "mainstream media," spouting conspiracy theories and other garbage, constantly attacking them for typos and other nonsense, and just generally being mean-spirited.
This is completely independent of the media form -- most news sources have noted the advantages of Internet coverage and its ability to comment on events the hour they unfold. Most have blogging in some form or another.
Damien Cox is a blogger. What sets him apart (aside from being better at it than most) isn't the medium he uses, it's that he's paid for it. He does it for a living. As such, he has the job all the unpaid, unprofessional bloggers want. The two groups are naturally at odds, and not everyone's as cordial as McKenzie. "Plenty of room for everyone," McKenzie said. "In terms of whether a blog does well or not, it's not for me to decide. Traffic and popularity with readers/viewers is what it's all about.
Still, it seems unlikely someone as big as Damien Cox is actually worried about being supplanted (again, a national name), and he's been one of the more visible critics of blogs. Obviously, there's more to it than just competition. If a journalist's craft is what sets him apart, then he probably cares about it. Bad blogs, with poorly-written, half-formed ideas and stupid analysis, clutter up the net. They suck, and then some have the gall to go around taking pot shots at real journalists just to garner attention. It makes sense that professional writers who strive to meet high standards would take issue with the garbage thrown around by folks who don't care for accuracy, tact or, often, grammar. With what Fox News has done for broadcast journalism (or rather, to broadcast journalism), it's easy to worry that the bad bloggers might drag quality down. The Internet's instant gratification has already made the speed of publication almost as important as its quality, which has to eat at any perfectionist. If it seems like a journalist's beef with bloggers is personal, maybe it should be.
Here's the thing, though. This animosity does no one much good. Bloggers are good for hockey. Professional sports journalists are good for hockey. Diversity is good for the fans. And slagging each other is bad for both independent bloggers and syndicated journalists.
There are blogs out there (you know who you are) who seize every chance you can to attack the "mainstream media," and professional journalists. They should know better. People don't buy it when inexperienced people try to gain credibility by slagging the ones who have the job, and implying that their experience is a negative. A lot of blogs spout ridiculous incendiary drivel, and then attack the mainstream media for not following suit. The reality is, the mainstream media -- the ones who are paid professionals -- understand that being incendiary for its own sake is counterproductive, juvenile, and informed readers don't take it seriously. Attacking professionals for being professional is petty, transparent, and makes the world a worse place to live in, in general. Shame on anyone who practices it.
More, none of these media outlets are going to hire the idiots who show such contempt for professionalism or truth in journalism. The bloggers who are actually trying to get real media jobs sometimes lose sight of this truth, and shoot themselves in the foot by going after real journalists. Many current sports writers and broadcasters have schooling in journalism, and for guys like Bob McKenzie, for instance, it's something they take seriously. Making blind attacks can give the wrong impression, as Bob McKenzie pointed out. If someone is going to call me out for doing a bad job or whatever, that's fine, but they better have their facts straight or I'm going to challenge them on it," he said. "Some blogger questioned my 'accountability' in a tweet and/or a blog, I don't exactly recall now, and I fired off a lengthy and detailed email challenging that. Never got a response back from that person, which I thought was pretty funny for a guy who is running around challenging people's accountability."
Sensationalist attack blogs spouting vitriolic drivel are essentially taking a crap on the principles the real journalists hold dear. To all these blogs: stop, you're making yourselves and the rest of us look bad.
Besides, sports fans usually don't care so much about how the media is doing. Some bloggers may think that by attacking mainstream journalists, they're appearing edgy, and generating hits, but really, they're just boring the fans. Blogs that whine about how bloggers aren't being taken seriously won't be taken seriously anyway. "For me, a good blog is one where the blogger is covering the game, not the media," McKenzie said. "A lot of bloggers don't have access to the players or the games or whatever and, therefore, cover how the MSM cover the game. Which is fine, everyone is entitled to do whatever they choose. But I don't really care to spend my time reading about whether the MSM is doing a good job or a bad job or whatever. I do my job, I let the readers/viewers decide. I am interested in interesting hockey info or issues. Media matters don't turn my crank and as I said, a lot of guys who start blogs don't have the wherewithal to cover the game so they cover the people who cover the game and, again, no problem if that's what they want to do but it doesn't really interest me on a regular basis."
Some talk on the media is going to come up from time to time, but any good sports blog obviously has to have its foundation in the sport it covers. Spending all your time attacking journalists doesn't make fans, interesting content, or friends.
That said, professional sports writers' animosity towards the blogosphere in general doesn't help them much. Most of the time, the professional writers and broadcasters just ignore bloggers, which often just makes them seem out of touch. Tyler Dellow breaking the story about the Colin Campbell e-mails led to coverage about the blogosphere's impact on hockey journalism, and very few professionals managed to talk about it without looking like they just discovered the internet a few days ago. The savvy reporters were the ones who didn't make a big deal about Dellow being a blogger at all. McKenzie said he handled it like any other story. "I treated it exactly the same as if I had read the report in a newspaper," McKenzie said. "What vehicle the information arrives in is unimportant, it's the information that's key."
This is a smart way to handle things.Most sports fans, when surfing the net, wind up reading a blog or two, and attempting to belittle the influence of the blogosphere as a whole makes it seem like you don't realize that it actually has any. Blogs won't go away, even if some members of the media shut their eyes and chant "not there."
Worse, when professional writers actually go to the extent of slagging a blogger, they never look good. They appear to be bullies, and rightly so. Damien Cox suffered a fair backlash after going after Tyler Dellow on twitter. Dellow is just about the worst target you can pick -- a guy who actually did investigative work, and succeeded in breaking a story that immediately became a league-wide issue. Dellow credits anyone who helps him, works hard to keep his facts straight, and is a credit to bloggers as a whole. Plus, he uses his real name, rather than hiding behind anonymity, as Cox charged bloggers in general of doing. Cox deleted the tweets, and was right to. Besides, going after individual bloggers is never a good idea, because just gives their site more hits, so even if the target is deserving of your scorn, it's best to just stay away.
All that said, Cox had some valid points that, for many, got lost in the mix -- advice to bloggers who want to be taken seriously. He argued that bloggers aren't held accountable for what they say because they hide behind anonymity, and that's sort of true. If I blogged anonymously, and no one liked my rant about how Gary Bettman is secretly a Nazi, I could just make a new blog and no one would know I was the same guy. There's no accountability whatsoever. Still, I can name more bloggers who use their real names than those that don't. I'm sure there are many anonymous blogs, but without a name, you can't get name recognition. Cox also argued the importance of contacting the people you're writing about for comment. Most of the time, small-time bloggers can't expect the people they cover to have time to comment, but he was right that we should at least make the effort. Why should anyone take a blogger seriously if he doesn't act as if he's serious? These, as well as simple adherence to truth and (for the love of Gillis) good spelling and grammar should go a long way toward legitimizing a blog. In other words, take the advice of one of the most successful hockey writers out there.
In fact, saying all these things about Damien Cox, I, of course, had to email him asking for comment. While he responded to my email and received an advance copy of this post several days in advance, he elected not to respond. (I don't consider it a snub, so much as an indication that he agrees 100% with everything I said, right?) Of course, being who he is, I doubt he has a whole lot in the way of free time, and he can't respond to every blog that finds his email on google. This isn't a knock on him, although it does call into question the validity of his criticizing Tyler Dellow for his failure to get a comment from Colin Campbell.
In any case, sports blogs aren't going away, and they shouldn't. There are some great blogs out there that have contributed positively to sports discussion. Many have earned the success the quality of their writing warrants. Bloggers have carved out a role in sports commentary, and the more they improve, the better that news will be. Most professional writers worked hard to get where they're at, and take their influence very seriously. Bloggers who follow suit, and strive to make sure they're producing quality commentary, are more likely to be taken seriously themselves, and more likely to garner real influence.
McKenzie made the same point. "It's all communication and if you do good work that is fair and responsible, the work will speak for itself," McKenzie said. "I mean, you either do good work or you don't. Information and entertainment never go out of fashion. If you can inform people or entertain them or do both, you're going to make a mark regardless of whether you get paid by a MSM outfit or you're self employed and doing your thing on a website or blog or whatever. Fans figure out who's legit and who's not. The market always ultimately speaks."
Just like sports knowledge doesn't make a good sports writer, it doesn't make a good blogger. In both cases, the most important qualification will always be the quality of the writing, so bloggers -- just like the rest of the media -- owe it to themselves and everyone else not to suck.