(Written by Ken Crawford)
I’m a pretty Cal focused writer. I don’t read general sports blogs, even ones dedicated to college football. So when I saw a post over at California Golden Blogs about a big controversy with blogs and specifically an interview with the author of DeadSpin, I have to admit that I had never even heard of DeadSpin.
Seeing as how the conversation/controversy is really about blogging versus the print media, I think that I’m in a unique position to comment on it being a full member of the blogosphere and a half member of the print media.
Before I get to my main point, I’d like to make a couple foundational points (please see the video to understand the topic fully):
- Every blog is different: It’s completely unfair to compare my blog to another blog in regards to the appropriateness of the content. It’s not different than it being unfair to compare the New York Times to the Sacramento Bee. A good discussion of the topic needs to transcend the specifics of one blog or another to the reason certain types of blogs are popular.
- Viewership is what gives credibility: This is true for traditional print media just as much as it is for blogs. What is different is the bariers to entry. For print media, you have to have a certain level of readership before you can be in print. Nevertheless, the underlying principle is the same. However, print media advocates don’t seem to realize just how irrelevant a small blog is. They often seem to forget that the small blogs are far less consequential.
- Access to team only 1/2 the equation: The only aspect which professional journalist have an advantage is in quotes and ability to cover players. The reality is that any fan can watch the games and learn the formations and all that needs to be learned to be an excellent analyst of sports. What they will not have is the personal access to the players to see that half of the game.
With those foundational points out of the way, I think that what upsets people here is two-fold. The simplest level is just journalists who are losing their jobs being upset about that. I won’t begrudge them that. It is difficult to see your living disappear. However, that’s not the important aspect that upsets people. What upsets people is the vulgar, crude and inflamitory content that is on a number of blogs. As many might guess, you can count me amongst those who find those types of blogs very objectionable.
But here’s the key point: Those blogs are only popular because people enjoy/like them. The reason that is such an important point is that if we want someone to point a finger at there is only one place that blame should go: the public.
The public is who views these blogs. It’s their decision. You want to know why the blogger in the interview sounded so cocky? Because he knows he’s successful and there’s nothing any journalist can do to change that. So the reporter who was lambasting him was really lambasting the wrong group. Who he should have been lambasting is the crowd behind the moderator. They’re the ones who determine what is newsworthy and what is disgusting.
To go further, if you look at other aspects of the news, it’s immediately clear that it’s not just the blogs who are catering to low-brow content. All one has to do is look at the headlines of major papers that talk about tabloid content like Brittany Spears or Paris Hilton. A generation ago newspapers had a society page, and it was buried. It would never have made the front page.
So it’s not like the traditional print media is holding some impressive high moral ground here. They just as much as bloggers cater to what society wants. And what society wants has generally, in this bloggers humble opinion, degraded a great deal over the last generation.
To weave that point into the final thing I want to say, I’ve always been a big proponent of just covering the team. I like to talk X’s and O’s and all that sort of stuff. I’d prefer never to mention a player’s name. “The quarterback passed the ball to the outside receiver on the weak side” would be just fine with me.
But if we look at the majority of sports press coverage today, and I mean the print media primarily, it’s far more about the individuals involved than it is about the team. This has only become more true over the last 10 years as the press’s monopoly on game information has disappeared. As that has happened, their coverage moved to what they still had (and still have for that matter) a monopoly on.
In my opinion, it is the move towards covering the players, not the team, that is just as much directly responsible for the disgustingly tabloid-like coverage of sports. As such it is my opinion that the print media is just as much to blame. Or said another way (and circling back) they’re just as willing to cater to the public’s desire for low-brow news.
Finally, I wanted to give some perspective on how my mind changed when I became a part-time member of the press. I’m hoping that my experience will be valuable to others:
- I realized just how much the players are regular people: The moment this sunk in was when I was covering the 2006 USC game. I went up to Hughes after the game to interview him about the play where he got beat on 4th and 2 for the go-ahead touchdown for USC. I saw a man who’s heart was crushed. To some degree this is a bad example because of just how good of a cornerback he is and everyone was willing to overlook his somewhat minor mistake. Nevertheless, while there are plenty of players who make big mistakes that cost Cal the Rose Bowl now and again, let us not forget that these are human beings that need to be treated with the respect that every human being deserves. There is no need to kick them when they’re down.
- I realized how hard it is to write a good article: Blogging is hard work. To get a good following takes a ton of work and dedication. It’s peanuts easy to being a reporter. As a reporter, you’ve got to write a game summary article that can be printed whether or not you want to. You can’t just swear off football for a week after the OSU loss. You’ve got to stick it out. You’ve also got to find something good to write about both in the good weeks and the bad weeks. It’s really far more demanding and I say this as someone who’s given a great deal of freedom as to when to write.
- I realized how making something a job makes it entirely different: If I do something the Cal Athletic department doesn’t like, it’s a big deal. I can lose my job. While to some degree I think that means that bloggers are a bit more free to say the truth, that lack of accountability also means they’re far less likely to make sure they give everyone their due. They won’t spend the extra time to make sure that their opinion is supportable and reasonable because there is no consequence to not doing so. For the reporter, you need to be squeeky clean on everything and it’s a much bigger burden to carry than most people think.
Hopefully this post has some value other than helping me put my thoughts on paper. I can say that while Deadspin’s author made some good points about the value of blogging, I can also say that he really is, as the reporter put it, “full of shit”. Deadspin is completely unwilling to be accountable for their own content. They don’t care that it’s profane. They don’t care that the commentors are profane. Hiding behind free-speech and saying “not every post is like that” or “I didn’t post that” when you’re the publisher of the site is completely bogus. He’s personally responsible, just as is every publisher, for the content of their publication. I haven’t visited his site in the past and now I’ve got a reason to make sure I don’t in the future.
Hopefully the public will have the same sort of backbone and moral fiber to do the same to every publication, whether it be traditional print media or blogs, who are the cause of the this moral collapse. The public is not only the only entity that can reverse the trend but they can easily do so if they have the will.