There Is No Place In the Present For the Future

Unless you live under the same rock as author Buzz Bissinger, then you already know all about HBO’s Costas Now last night, which was a 90 minute live program attempting to examine various aspects of sports media. The program was broken up into five segments, but for our purposes, the one that mattered most was “The Internet.” We’d hope it would be an intellectual discourse about blogs and their place currently, and moving forward, in the sports media landscape. Instead, what we got was a deranged Buzz Bissinger losing his mind on Deadspin’s Will Leitch, and on blogging in general. ↵

↵But before we get to that, here is the intro to the segment, which features Leitch, FireJoeMorgan’s Michael Schur and WaPo/ESPN’s Michael Wilbon: ↵

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↵What you just saw were pretty much the only worthwhile points that any bloggers were able to  make during this segment, because once they went to the live set, it was Bissinger gone wild time. ↵

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↵Here is most of the live segment, and you should be warned, this clip contains strong language, none of which -- ironically enough -- comes from the one blogger on the panel: ↵

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↵Thoughts from myself, Spencer Hall and Dan Shanoff after the jump. ↵

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↵Chris Mottram:
↵There is just so much to chew on here. First off, I concede that bloggers may be (at least partially) “full of s---,” as Buzz so eloquently put it, but no one is more full of it than a mainstream media which thinks its opinions on sport are somehow more valid than those of bloggers. Or of anyone else, for that matter. A journalism degree doesn’t make someone’s thoughts matter more. It might make someone more capable of writing a good lede or a punny headline, but a person – a fan -- needs no credentials to have opinions that are valid and just as important and accurate as the mainstream media’s. And at the root of it, that’s what blogs are all about: The opinions and interests of real fans, which to me, makes blogs more relevant to the current sports landscape than traditional media. ↵

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↵Second, mainstream media members need not worry about bloggers attempting to take their jobs, or take them down, or whatever it is that seems to have them so concerned about blogs. Trust me: We don’t want your jobs. Ours are much more fun. ↵

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↵Third, fearing what we don’t understand is obviously natural. Buzz, and I’m sure plenty of others, don’t understand what blogs are all about. All they know is that we occasionally make inappropriate jokes and don’t have credentials around our necks (most of the time, anyway), yet somehow, we’re taking over. I don’t know what to tell ya, Buzz. Welcome to the future, my man. Things change. You used to only have four television stations and now you have 600. Horsepower used to literally mean horsepower. And not long ago, you’d have to actually use a mailman to send written correspondence. But whatdaya know, all those things turned out alright, and the world still spins. ↵

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↵Fourth, how can Buzz so openly bash something he admittedly (and clearly) knows nothing about? This would be like me lambasting the Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 6th Marines for their tactics in disarming insurgents in Fallujah. And as Schur put it in the intro, you cannot make these oversimplified generalizations about an entire medium. You cannot say all blogs are bad, the same way you cannot say every single book ever written is bad. ↵

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↵Fifth -- this is a point Leitch attempted make in between the LOUD NOISES coming from the windbag to his right -- being a successful blogger is hard work. Yes, anyone can start a blog, but a very, very small amount of sports bloggers are actually successful in building a large readership. Any blogger who has had “success” has done so thanks to extremely hard work, myself included. I can appreciate that traditional journalists busted their asses through college, and perhaps graduate school, then fought their way up the ranks to make a name and living for themselves, the same way I (and many, many other bloggers) have been grinding for years, writing every single day, multiple times a day, to build an audience and recognition. ↵

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↵Sixth, Buzz Bissinger’s kid is going to be a lot cooler and wittier than his father for having grown up reading sports blogs. ↵

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↵Seventh, there is a difference – a HUGE, fundamental difference – between blog posts and blog comments. Yes, I realized that’s obvious to you and me, but I figured I’d clear that up for Bob Costas, who doesn’t seem to be able to separate the two. ↵

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↵Eighth, what the hell was Braylon Edwards doing on that panel? If you’re going to have an athlete up there, at least get one that blogs. ↵

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↵Lastly, this segment truly made me concerned for humanity. (Not so much for my friends and fellow bloggers – I know we’re gonna be fine; our medium isn’t dying.) I was aware that there are people out there, both in and out of the media, who are totally out-of-touch and don’t understand or enjoy blogs. That’s fine, not everything is for everyone. I happen to dislike the vast majority of sports talk radio and, despite living in the south, I hate collared greens. But the intense anger and fear displayed by Bissinger is what concerns me. I’m completely certain that nothing about blogs is that scary, so why and how does Buzz feel this why? And is he alone, or is this the way the majority of older Americans feel? Obviously, I don’t have the answers to these questions. All I can do is assure Mr. Bissinger, and anyone else who echoes his sentiments, that blogs are not to be feared. Tomorrow, the sun will rise, and your newspaper will be on your doorstep, filled with eight-hour-old game recaps and box scores. And we’ll still be here too, locked inside the computer, ready to welcome you in if you’re interested. But if you don’t wanna read us, and it’s all still too new and frightening, then we understand. But don’t forget: The milkman is stopping by around Noon, and tune into 580 on your AM radio dial for the The Avenger at 10:00. ↵

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↵ ↵Spencer Hall:
↵Bloggers are many things, but bloggers who cover sports accept the following conditions: ↵
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↵1. Reporting is a given, and a shaky one. Not even access--the pride and joy of journalists everywhere--changes this. The dirty, filthy truth about sports blogging is that it's entertainment writing. If you don't want to comment on the actions and results of the game, you may speculate on the causes of the outcomes. You may even speculate on the character of the player based on some assumed knowledge gleaned in a postgame interview, or on a "source" who gives you another perspective, or crazily enough, do this based on their on and off the court actions. ↵No matter what you do, though, you are describing a non-scripted contest played in front of some form of crowd for the purpose of diversion or entertainment. This differentiates your efforts from the political or the scientific; from sports, it's just a hop, step, and giggle over to Lindsey Lohan plowing a line into her nose at the club. ↵
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↵2. This doesn't matter. People care passionately about distraction, and sports is one form of distraction in a world full of horrible, very real, and utterly unavoidable things. Distraction is a healthy coping mechanism. I knew a guy who played soccer with soldiers and refugees in Sarajevo to get through the snipery winters there. Even in hell, people need diversion. It's not as vital as food or water--without KSK, for example, we won't seize up and cease to function as a person--but as a psychological need.
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↵3. Despite what reporters say, they do not tell the whole story. Each viewer tells their own story, and to be fair, the story a blogger can tell may be more complete. In truth, you actually see more watching on television (or preferably multiple televisions) than you see from the pressbox, and I have been in pressboxes. You go down to the lockerroom; you ask dumb questions and get dumb answers; you write it up. This is the nearly universal experience of almost every sportswriter I know. Ultimately, it is not the whole story; the uncontrolled discussion, speculation, and association occurring with the fans is the territory of bloggers, and is just as valid a discourse as any. ↵
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↵4. Bloggers are: Roughly speaking, of course: ↵
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↵Tipsters. Gossip hounds, advance shocktroops of idle rumor, and occasionally just blatant liars. Read blogs for a week, and you'll be able to feel them underneath your clickfinger. Frustrated journalists? Occasionally, but more often than not they're connecting dots journalists could not under pain of litigation. ↵

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↵Ripsters. Anger addicts who use sport as a vent for their need to "have a take." Screedy. Long. Interested in "debate," meaning they want a podium. Thanks to the internet, they have one, and if compelling enough, others will read them...for a while. ↵

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↵Hipsters. My tribe, blogwise. Could not care less about doing the serious (grr!) analysis of sport because, for the most part, they know how completely unserious and irrelevant sport is to 90 percent of humanity. Obsessed with turning sport into a part of a larger creative endeavor whose sole purpose is humor or distraction. May decide the name "Limas Sweed" sounds like a 19th century villain; may decide to use Hines Ward's Korean ancestry as an excuse to write wrong and hilarious monologues in cartoonishly bad Asian pidgin; may assume their reader is smart enough to figure all of this out for their own. ↵

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↵All three present immense problems for journalists, who see this as a zero-sum game: a reader not reading my pieces must be over at TBL or With Leather or Free Darko. Incorrect: on the contrary, I'd all but given up reading mainstream journalism in 2005 because it all seemed bled dry of interest, passion, or humor. ↵

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↵Beauty? There's plenty of it. Here: take it, it's free, it all its spooky, God-haunted glory. Funny? Subjective, perhaps too subjective, though I'll put Big Daddy Drew's Wade and Jerry pieces up there with anything I've read in print lately. Insightful? All over the damn place. Just start with SMQ and work your way in concentric circles outward. ↵

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↵It records the truth the viewer and fan sees, the one untainted by access. In terms of facts, it cannot live without the fact-producing media; in terms of validation, it needs none. ↵

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↵The crippling thing about the blogosphere is that it assumes a certain level of intelligence. The reader may enter or leave at any point. They may determine what is crap and what is not. They may laugh, or they may keep clicking. This kind of freedom does what true open-throttle freedom always does: it terrifies people because it does not play to the lowest common denominator. ↵

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↵Dan Shanoff (short and sweet):
↵In the end, the hostility -- like most hostility -- is rooted in insecurity. That's not unique to 50-year-olds. Instead of griping (or shouting), I encourage anyone -- professional, amateur or anything in-between -- to take advantage of the emerging platforms of sports media in the way that fits them best, and leave everyone to produce (or consume) as each sees fit. ↵

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↵(Both videos via Awful Announcing)
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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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