Saturday, May 3, 2008

Buzz Bissinger is an Angry, Close-Minded Jackass

Who knew?

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.)


Becky said...

I think being an opinion writer for a newspaper would be sort of like a dream job. But then you'd probably still have editors suggesting topics and banning or modifying others (yes, I do think that happens).

Bloggers are their own boss. Professional writers are just jealous.

twoeightnine said...

You know what? I think you're full of shit. This blog is nothing but cruel to Bucky and that is just wrong or something.

coolman856 said...

Nicely written piece. I happen to agree with everything that you said and wanted to add that the same type of "good journalism" that comes from having that extra access could be given to bloggers who have earned a reputation of being well written and genuinely good. If you look at the USRT guys, they are the only Buffalo bloggers around that have press access because of the fact they work for the Artvoice. Their material is just as good with quotes from players and coaches as compared to this site, BfloBlog, and the countless other great Buffalo blogs that grace my reader every morning.

Press access does not make a good blogger nor does it make a good article. Many of these closed minded writers are just scared of the fact that their art is starting to disintegrate and they need to accept the changing of the time and not discredit it. There is a reason that less and less people are getting their news from a newspaper and more and more from the internet. And we seem to be the ones getting the information out.

Schnookie said...

I was all kinds of het up about what a bloviating jackass Buzz was in this piece until I decided the whole thing was kind of disingenuously set up by Costas -- I mean, they talk in this segment about how no one over 50 understands or reads blogs, but let's be honest here. Did anyone under 50 know Costas had that show? Well, now we all do. Well played, Costas, well played.

But seriously, it's preposterous of Buzz to be holding up the golden standard of sports journalism and then criticizing bloggers for not meeting that standard, as if somehow everyone in the professional field does, too. Like, say, John Dellapina at the NY Daily News, the guy who wrote a sensationalist story about Sean Avery going into cardiac arrest, then literally erased the story when it was proven wrong, then irrationally lashed out at his professional colleagues when he should have been explaining himself. Even the very worst among us in the blogosphere can hold ourselves up to that professional standard, can't we?

amy said...

I do think that some old-school journalists are just not sure what to make of comments at all though.

I think for a lot of them, it's a shock at how immediate the response level is. Before the internet, time passed before readers responded to an article in the printed paper. Now, if an article or blog entry is posted at 10am, there's feedback by 10:01am. It can be jarring.

Regarding the Buffalo News blogs, there's one particular writer who seems to take feedback especially hard. (I think you could guess who it is.) Responding snidely to the feedback in his blog entries is just feeding the crazies. It doesn't do anything to add to the discussion.

Heather B. said...

Becky, if I can find a job where I can write whatever I want about whatever I want, I'm there, press access or no.

You know what? I think you're full of shit. This blog is nothing but cruel to Bucky and that is just wrong or something.

Well, I suppose I can't argue with that :P But Buzz and Bob said bloggers and journalists are supposed to hate each other! I'm just living up to expectations!

coolman, thanks! And I think you're definitely right that a lot of the problem is older guys not wanting change and more importantly not really taking the time to understand the change. I understand the panel was focused on Deadspin because Will Leitch was one of the guests but Deadspin is ONE blog and it's a blog that is mostly written for a certain audience. You can't disregard an entire medium based on one or two samples. That's like me refusing to read Bissinger's Friday Night Lights because I once read a book about a high school football team but didn't care for it.

But seriously, it's preposterous of Buzz to be holding up the golden standard of sports journalism and then criticizing bloggers for not meeting that standard, as if somehow everyone in the professional field does, too.

Exactly. And Schnookie, that's a perfect example. Am I going to stop reading ALL newspapers and say the whole industry should be tossed because of one irresponsible journalist? No, of course not. That would be ridiculous.

Regarding the Buffalo News blogs, there's one particular writer who seems to take feedback especially hard. (I think you could guess who it is.)

Amy, I'm pretty sure we're talking about the same guy :-D

I guess commenting makes it easier for the jackasses to get through especially on TBN where there's no registration or email verification or anything. It takes 30 seconds to leave a stupid, insulting comment and then there's no accountability whereas maybe people who take the time to write emails or letters are a little more reasonable. (Maybe.) And I think there is something to the idea that commenters feed off of each other, especially on a site as large as TBN. If a few comments are negative or derogatory the overall tone can move very quickly in that direction and commenters who might feel differently are less likely to wade in. That could be tough to ignore. I'm not writing the entries and I find it tough to ignore.

I imagine some of it is personality too though. I guess no mater how long you've been writing, some people are going to be able to ignore criticism especially when it's obviously intended to just be cutting or hurtful and some people are going to take it more personally.

Whatever the reason, I think the differences are interesting.

twoeightnine said...

You could tell exactly what was going to happen as soon as the intro started to roll. A dim room, a blogger with his back to us and his hat pulled over his eyes, pages and pages in rapid succession flying over his computer screen. It was like a news at 11 special report on how bloggers are going to rape your kids if you don't get the lead based paint out of your hotel room.

Anne M said...

I was really surprised by Bissinger's vitriol when I watched that video the other day. Way to back up his argument that traditional journalism is classy and blogging is trashy! His fear was palpable and I give Leitch a lot of credit for not rising to the bait.

It's too bad those paragons of journalistic excellence, Costas and Bissinger, couldn't bring themselves to demonstrate any of that wonderful talent on the show. All that ranting about good journalists being unbiased, but there was an awful lot of bias on display from those two.

I think amy really hit it on the head regarding the quick response. Traditional print journalists have no clue about that rapid response and they aren't prepared to handle it. Bloggers are either able to fire back in the same vein, or their skins are thick enough that they can blow it off. Same for the guys on radio shows--someone's going to call quickly to disagree with them, but they're ready for it. Print journalists might get a nasty letter to the editor, and those are probably easy enough to avoid, plus there's no need to respond. Unfortunately for them, hiding under their papers and cursing bloggers won't slow the rise of the blogosphere. I think most fans, and plenty of writers, think that's good--the more information that's out there, the better for everyone. Too bad Bissinger can't see that.

Lee Andrew said...

We're cleaning the garage over here and I found a picture and some Jaromir Jagr cards. I'll save them for you because I know how much you loooooove the Rangers now.

TheSharpie said...

You probably know this by now, but the Sabres signed The Hobbit to a 3 year deal this afternoon. I'm just excited because I managed to use Yoda in a Sabres post.

Heather B. said...

Sharpie, I did hear that! I meant to post about it last night and never got around to it. Any day you can mix hockey and Star Wars (and heck, LotR too) is a good day in my book :-D