Our Interview With the Great Buzz Bissinger

SH: Everyone, Buzz Bissinger, Pulitzer Prize-winner, author of Friday Night Lights, current writer for Vanity Fair, and blog aficionado. ↵

↵BB: I’m not sure I would call myself a blog aficionado. (Laughs.) More of a blogger blower-upper, I think. ↵

↵

↵SH: The term is used with some irony. ↵

↵

↵BB: But I’ve learned about blogs the past few days as a result of the whole flare-up with Will Leitch on the Costas show, and you know I mean it when I say I have learned a lot. I’ve gotten a lot of emails. Many of the emails have been predictable in their nastiness, their maliciousness, their profanity, their endlessly sophomoric and pathetically sexual allusions to me. But many emails have been smart, and cogent, and well thought-out, and said, “Hey, if you want to see a good blog, here’s one.” I’ve looked at them and realized there are some good information-based blogs out there, just as I still maintain that the majority of blogs are founded upon mockery and maliciousness. And yes, a lot of those are the comments, but the comments go hand in hand with the posts. I know the difference, and let’s face it, the more provocative the blog is, the more comments it gets, the more hits it gets, the more traffic it gets, the more chances you get of getting advertising, which is what all bloggers want. ↵

↵

↵SH: Let’s unpack a few of those and work with them. First, you say blogs are based on cruelty. How is that true of an information consolidator like the Drudge Report, or more pertinently a tech blog? ↵

↵

↵BB: I don’t think the Drudge Report is a blog because I don’t think he really does any posting of his own. The Drudge Report is a compendium of various sites you can go to and get news. I think Matt Drudge himself does very little posting of his own. ↵

↵

↵I think those sites are great. Those are the sites that I generally look at and get my information from. There’s a new one that I’ve come across that I really like that points you to legitimate news sources called Newser. It’ll point you to the AP, to the New York times, to the BBC, to the London Times, so that’s where I see the difference. ↵

↵

↵Blogs that aren’t news sites...there’s one for the Miami Dolphins that was really, really good. Now, I confess there aren’t many things less relevant to my life than the Miami Dolphins--they’re not in the top one thousand--but for those who follow the Dolphins, you’re gonna get a lot of news. ↵

↵

↵What I did to Will Leitch was wrong. I’ve said that publicly-- ↵

↵

↵
↵SH: You said that on NPR last week-- ↵

↵

↵BB: I’m a man of passion, and I speak what I believe, and I’m not doing it to spin it in my direction. It’s too late for that, and I’ve been killed all over the place. It was wrong to treat anybody that way. It was wrong to use the profanity, and here’s where my self interest comes in (because everyone’s consumed with self-interest), it subsumed the valid points I made and that could have been considered for discussion. ↵

↵

↵I thought that Rich Sandomir’s column in the New York Times put it very well. I came across as so angry and so prosecutorial that I did a disservice to myself and was not at all representative of who I am. ↵

↵

↵Having said that, I received a lot of emails saying “Right on, congratulations,” because they in particular find Deadspin to be snarky, and “wink-wink, nod-nod,” and the sexual allusions and the T and A, and full of the tone of mockery that young people think is funny. ↵

↵

↵SH: With that: if there is a lot of T and A, and a lot of what in some cases you might call irony, and in some cases what you might call sophomoric humor, if it does not come in the guise of “journalism”...then what is wrong with having that? ↵

↵

↵BB: I actually disagree in that bloggers want their seat at the table. They’re now arguing with various professional franchises like the NBA that we want to be credentialed. I guess what’s wrong with it is that I find them stupid. They add nothing to the discourse. They’re written so someone can hear the sound of their own voice. ↵

↵

↵Deadspin, to its credit, has interesting posts and interesting links to other things where you might get some information. I hear a lot about democracy and the First Amendment, all of which is great, but that doesn’t mean that everything goes. So I do think there are too many blogs--and there are 150,000 being created daily--I just find too many of these blogs to be indulgent, they’re not funny, they add nothing, and they’re rooted in maliciousness and mean-spiritedness. I don’t think it’s about the First Amendment. ↵

↵

↵Who does it hurt? It doesn’t hurt me, because up until recently I didn’t read them, and I won’t read them just as there’s some like The Big Lead that are quite good. The Big Leaguer concentrates on Philadelphia sports which is quite good. Redbird Nation, which was up until recently blogged by Brian Gunn, is quite good. ↵

↵

↵But I still believe those to be the exception. But trust me, I know this now, they’re here to stay. They’re not the future, they’re the present. Collectively, they’re a tremendous force, and they’re gonna be with us as they become the new form of media. With that does come some responsibility, the missing element in many blogs. There are some exceptions like the Daily Kos, which is now hiring its own reporters, and has done some great reporting. What is lost mostly in a lot of this is the kind of reporting that made a book like Friday Night Lights whether you like it or not, or made a book like Three Nights in August whether you like it or not. ↵

↵

↵The irony is that I acted like the worst kind of blogger toward Will Leitch, and for that I am ashamed and embarrassed. ↵

↵

↵SH: And as a blogger myself, I would agree. That is the worst kind of blogger. ↵

↵

↵BB: I sunk right into that. That’s shameful on my part, and I feel quite embarrassed. ↵

↵

↵SH: You made it clear that you don’t like them. What value or purpose whatsoever could they have? ↵

↵

↵BB: It’s not that I like them or don’t like them. ↵

↵

↵SH: Let’s talk about value then. ↵

↵

↵BB: I just don’t generally have much interest in other people’s opinions. ↵

↵

↵SH: (Laughs). ↵

↵

↵BB: I don’t religiously read Maureen Dowd. I don’t religiously read David Brooks. Because all they are are just spitting into the air with their spin on things, and I’m much more interested in fiction, I’m much more interested in magazines that are rooted in reporting like The Economist, like Fortune, like Baseball America, like New York Magazine. That’s me. That’s my failing. I’m really not interested in other people’s opinions, because I think frankly most of those opinions are either misinformed and adding to this endless ball of hot air we have in our society where everyone thinks their opinion is valuable and sacred and what counts. I don’t subscribe to that. Nor do I exist in a bubble. I don’t consider Drudge a blog: he doesn’t post at all. He has great links to sites, great links to stories. It’s the same with Newser: great links to other stories. That’s what I find valuable. ↵

↵

↵SH: You mentioned on the NPR interview your dread about blogs being able to dumb down a generation of readers. How does that work? That’s a cultural critique that comes up cyclically and has been ascribed to anything new--that this was going to dumb down society. People have been saying it since the advent of rock and roll. How would blogs do this? ↵

↵

↵BB: I think our culture is woefully dumbed-down, and I don’t think it’s just blogs. Look at what’s on commercial television. Look at what sells. Look at reality shows. Look at American Idol. Look at American Gladiator. Look at the bestseller lists, full of books that are faked, like the woman in Eugene, Oregon who wrote about living as a teenage gang member and made it up. Look at the woman who described herself as Holocaust survivor who was raised by wolves. Look at the bestseller lists and compare it to the 1960s and see what’s on them now. Look at celebrity biographies, and what magazines do well. It’s gossip magazines and magazines like The New Yorker and Vanity Fair that are going down in circulation. ↵

↵

↵Are blogs responsible for all that? Absolutely not, but they are part and parcel, and blogs are only going to get bigger because newspapers are--let’s face it--facing extinction, at least in print as we know it. So we’re shifting to the internet, but you rarely linger on something too long. What’s nice about the internet is that everyone has a voice; what’s bad is that you can go nine million miles an hour at any pace you want. ↵

↵

↵I think the only safe medium are books, because people like to hold books in their hand. But that’s not true of newspapers. ↵

↵

↵SH: By the way, the number one bestseller in 1966 was Valley of the Dolls by Jaqueline Susann. ↵

↵

↵BB: What was number two? ↵

↵

↵SH: 1966...The Secret of Santo Vittorio, by Robert Crichton. I’m admittedly cherry-picking there. In 1964 it’s The Spy Who Came In From the Cold by John Le Carre. ↵

↵

↵BB: You take Jacqueline Susann and I’ll take John Le Carre and we’ll split the difference. I think the non-fiction. ↵

↵

↵SH: Do you think your views are widely held among sports journalists? ↵

↵

↵BB: I think a lot of it cuts depending on what age you are, and where you’ve grown up in the business, and frankly what you care about. A lot of sportswriters are both sportswriters and bloggers, and some of them are good, and some of them are not. I think the older you are, the more you’re going to cling to the printed word as being sacred. Why did I become a writer? Because I grew up in New York City, and there were seven newspapers in New York City, and my family was an inveterate reader of newspapers and I loved holding a paper in my hand. It was something sacred. ↵

↵

↵Young kids today, most of them never hold a paper in their hands. What is saddening to me, and I understand this because of the vitriol I spoke with against blogs, is how many people out there seem to relish the death of the newspaper. A lot of the emails I get read like, “We are the new kids on the block, go f#@$ yourself.” ↵

↵

↵SH: That can’t be entirely invalid. What validity could there be in this anger towards newspapers? On a personal note as a resident of Atlanta, I’ve felt neglected for years in the news department by the AJC because the AJC’s reporting has been so underfunded, so poor, and so poorly tended to. If newspapers are given part of the public trust, when newspapers violate that, why shouldn’t people celebrate their deaths? ↵

↵

↵BB: Wasn’t the editor of the AJC just named Editor of the Year? ↵

↵

↵SH: Yes, but it’s reviled in town as a fish wrapper. ↵

↵

↵BB: What that means to me is that we’re even more f$*##d than I thought we were. Newspapers now are very underfunded, newspapers are fighting for their lives. Maybe I do have rose-colored glasses because I started in the business at the perfect time. I started in 1976 at the peak of Watergate with Woodward and Bernstein. Look, I got out in 1988 when it became clear to me that newspapers were already sliding, that fundamental changes were taking place. ↵

↵

↵Now let me pose this to you: so where are you going to get the good reporting from? You gonna get it from blogs? I haven’t seen it in many places in blogs. You say you’re not getting it from newspapers, and I’m not going to disagree with you. I think newspapers are, in their efforts to figure out what to do, getting more bloggy. ↵

↵

↵Now they do have certain standards that they’re held to that blogs are not, which may make them unsuccessful as blogs because they don’t have the openness and the back and forth and the incendiarism that I may not like, but that kids like. I think a lot of people read blogs because they like to read the comments. ↵

↵

↵SH: I think there’s already a model for this. They will become more bloggy, they will open up to more reader access and give and take. Nothing was more exhilarating to me as a reader than during Katrina seeing what NOLA.com became as the Times-Picayune went fully online, opened up the boards to readers to post about what was happening, sent reporters literally out in boats. ↵

↵

↵It gave readers this chaotic, decentralized view of what was going on. I’m not saying it was always clear, but it was nimble, quick, fact-checked as well as it could be, and gripping. That’s probably the general path things are gonna take. ↵

↵

↵The NYT is leading the way with their free access and doing blogs all over the place. Again, I don’t think that blogs like mine seek to replace mainstream media at all, because the information is still primary. I think what people do with it can vary a lot, like your favorite blog (being ironic here) Kissing Suzy Kolber. They use sports as a basis for what they do. ↵

↵

↵BB: Which blog is this? ↵

↵

↵SH: The one that accused you of making love to a horse. ↵

↵

↵BB: Who was...Big Daddy Balls? Balls Deep? ↵

↵

↵SH: Big Daddy Drew. ↵

↵

↵BB: Someone I knew described him as one of the great sports comedy parodists of all time. That escapes me, but maybe I just don’t have a very good sense of humor. I think the model you use of the Times-Picayune is a great one. ↵

↵

↵SH: But...if you accept Fire Joe Morgan’s argument that blogs, like everything else, are 95 percent crap, then that includes bad newspapers as well. ↵

↵

↵BB: There are some terrible columnists out here. What’s the first thing that goes when a newspaper cuts back? The book review section. And the second thing is the investigative unit. And the reporting becomes thinner, and thinner, and thinner. People are looking for alternative sources. I don’t see blogs as filling the gap of great reporting. I think magazines like the one I work for are the ones who are doing great reporting. ↵

↵

↵SH: You’ll see a lot of great work done on wired.com ↵

↵

↵BB: But again, that’s a mainstream national publication where the writers are going to be held to standards that bloggers aren’t. ↵

↵

↵SH: Of course. But it’s a matter of mission. If a blog has a certain mission and focus and stays within those bounds, then-- ↵

↵

↵BB: I agree. The Daily Kos has done some great work about Rumsfeld and the defense department, and actually hired reporters. That’s a good model. That’s a great model. ↵

↵

↵SH: But there’s also humor blogs. There’s a lot of humor blogs out there that are really only accountable to being funny. And if they’re funny, then people will read them, and if they’re not funny, then people won’t read them. ↵

↵

↵BB: I guess I don’t get the humor in someone f*$#(@# a horse. Maybe I’m just to close to the subject matter. ↵

↵

↵SH: I will say they can be as funny as anyone I’ve read online or offline. Given all of this, have you seen any other blogs that are fusing the medium of blogging and journalism effectively? ↵

↵

↵BB: I haven’t, but I’m not an expert at blogs. I don’t spend ten hours a day looking at blogs. I will never spend ten hours a day looking at blogs. I actually have other things to do with my life. It may be a matter of ignorance, and one of the other things I regret is that my generalizations were too sweeping. I would hope there are blogs out there that have actual reporters, and are trying to do what newspapers do and do it better. The Daily Kos is the one I’m familiar with, and blogs are not the future, they’re the present. ↵

↵

↵SH: And what would the future be? ↵

↵

↵BB: I hope the future would be something like the Daily Kos that undertake the responsibility with a greater seriousness than perhaps they’re undertaking themselves, I don’t know. Whether that happens, I don’t know, whether readers want that, I don’t know. Readers may just want the kind of glib, off-the-cuff stuff that too much of writing is filled with whether it’s blogs or newspapers. It’s hard to find a well-written newspaper today. It’s hard to find a really well-written blog. It’s hard to find a really well-written anything. ↵

↵

↵What do I read? I read fiction. Last book I read was Lush Life by Richard Price. Before that was Sacred Games by Vikram Chandra. Before that was Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy. Before that it was Rumor of War by Philip Caputo. This is what I read. It doesn’t mean I’m smarter than anyone else. This is what I gravitate towards. ↵

↵

↵SH: Would it surprise you to know that a lot of the top bloggers are big readers and library freaks? ↵

↵

↵BB: I guess I would be to the extent that I don’t see a lot of it coming out in a lot of their blogs, though I have seen some with some good discourses on literature. I certainly wouldn’t know that about many of the sports blogs I look at. I think sports blogs are a very different creature because sports fans are very, very, very critical of the people they’re judging. That’s the way of the world. ↵

↵

This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

X
Log In Sign Up

forgot?
Log In Sign Up

Forgot password?

We'll email you a reset link.

If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead.

Forgot password?

Try another email?

Almost done,

By becoming a registered user, you are also agreeing to our Terms and confirming that you have read our Privacy Policy.

Join SBNation.com

You must be a member of SBNation.com to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at SBNation.com. You should read them.

Join SBNation.com

You must be a member of SBNation.com to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at SBNation.com. You should read them.

Spinner.vc97ec6e

Authenticating

Great!

Choose an available username to complete sign up.

In order to provide our users with a better overall experience, we ask for more information from Facebook when using it to login so that we can learn more about our audience and provide you with the best possible experience. We do not store specific user data and the sharing of it is not required to login with Facebook.