I generally try to avoid blogging about blogging because I'm just not sure that most people find it that interesting but I'm going to make an exception here. The blogging world is all atwitter over a panel discussion - and I use the word discussion loosely - that recently took place on Costas Now, hosted by Bob Costas. It would be helpful if you watched the video found here but I'm going to try not respond too specifically to it so it's not necessary. I think it's pretty interesting and entertaining though and if you read or write blogs you might think so too.
I have a lot of problems with Buzz Bissinger's take on blogs. For one, I think it's really deceiving to center a conversation about an entire medium on the worst of that medium which both Bissinger and Costas repeatedly admitted they were doing. Of course there are poorly written, shrill blogs out there. There are poorly, written shrill newspapers writers too but you don't see me tearing down the entire institution because of those guys. If I'm going to have an intelligent discussion about newspapers today, I'm not going to focus on the guy in Ottawa who suggested the Senators test out just how healed Sidney Crosby's ankle was. It would be stupid for me to ignore all the quality writing going on in newspapers to focus on that.
I also think it's stupid that Costas and Bissinger were reading comments on Deadspin and passing judgement on Deadspin because of them. Obviously, the people commenting on a blog are not the same people writing the blog and it's not fair to hold stupid comments against the blogger. That would be like reading the letters to the editor or emails inspired by a certain column and holding them against the column or columnist. (I do think that some old-school journalists are just not sure what to make of comments at all though. Watching the Buffalo News blogs develop has been interesting because I think there are some writers who understand comments and how they ideally lead to some interaction between writer and reader and I think there are some writers who seem a little taken aback at how strongly people sometimes respond to their writing and seem unsure how to respond to that or if they should respond at all.)
But my main problem with the panel is that Bissinger and Costas both seem determined that everything be reduced to a competition between writers with access and writers without access, journalists vs. bloggers. Costas says there is something to a fan's point of view but then says, "There are some things that couldn't possibly be done except by someone with some talent and powers of observation who has that access." That's completely valid and I don't know a single blogger who wouldn't agree. I don't think bloggers want people with press passes and special access to go away. I want to know about those moments between athletes and between athletes and coaches and athletes and fans that I'm not going to see from my seat at HSBC or my couch at home. I read lots of blogs but I also read the sports section in the newspaper and not just the local one. I read lots of blogs but I've also read most of Bissinger's sports books. It's not an either/or. I like reading people in the know but I also enjoy talking to other fans about our opinions and takes on what's going on.
Bissinger also seems very hung up on how the writing is presented. He seems to think that because writing appears online, it automatically has less worth. He brings up W.C. Heinz, ignores that Will Leitch of Deadspin is familiar with Heinz because it doesn't fit in with his idea that these darn kids today don't have any appreciation for good writing and asks who can better capture the feelings and emotions of a game or sporting event, Heinz or some blogger? First of all, way to stack the deck by comparing one of the best sports writers of all-time to an imaginary and symbolic writer who doesn't actually exist. Second of all, good writers are good writers are good writers. There are good writers writing for newspapers, there are good writers writing for magazines, and there are good writers writing on the internet. (There are also bad writers writing for newspapers, bad writers writing for magazines, and bad writers writing on the internet.) If Heinz had been born 33 years ago instead of 93 years ago, guess what? His writing would be online. He'd be typing his column on a laptop and emailing it to an editor and even if it's going to be printed in an ink and paper newspaper, that column is also going to show up on his newspaper's website. (Because in this day and age his paper better have a website of some kind.) Is that column suddenly lesser quality because people are reading it on their computers instead of on paper?
I think what Bissinger and a lot of other journalists don't understand is that many, many bloggers are not interested in being journalists. There seems to be a misconception that we're all aspiring to higher things and falling short, and while some of us probably are professional writers in training, some of us aren't. I don't pretend to be an expert, I don't pretend to be working in the trenches with the guys getting paid. I think it's pretty clear that what I'm writing is what I think and feel, nothing more and nothing less. Most fan bloggers want to converse with other fans while maybe attempting to capture what it's like to watch and care about a team in a way that the guy in the press box can't. The guy sitting in the press box can certainly write great pieces and he's going to write things that I can't. But I can write things he can't because he's not going to see the same things and experience the same emotions as the 30-year-old female in the cheap seats or the 22-year-old male banging on the glass or the 63-year-old life-long fan who is finally seeing his team win a championship. One point-of-view isn't more valid or right or important than the other. They're just different.
Bissinger's assertion that "blogs are dedicated to cruelty" is especially offensive. Maybe some blogs are and fans can definitely get cranky when they feel let down but the sports blogs I read are clearly written out of love and affection for a sport or a team. I know he's an older guy who's freaking out about a changing world but I feel sad for Bissinger that someone as talented as he is can't see or understand that.
(Bissinger might be an angry, close-minded jackass but he's not wrong about W.C. Heinz. I highly recommend What a Time it Was: The Best of W.C. Heinz on Sports. He made me briefly care about things I have no interest in like boxing and horse racing. Really good stuff.)