Sunday's RGJ sports blogging story

Posted by Ryan Jerz on Wednesday July 30, 2008.

I was interviewed for a story that ran Sunday in the RGJ on sports blogging by Chris Gabel. It wouldn’t be appropriate (would it?) if I didn’t have some sort of reaction to the story. So here it is.

Gabel did a solid job of getting information from some of the biggest sports bloggers out there. Hitting up A.J. Daulerio from Deadspin and Jason McIntyre of The Big Lead showed that he was serious about talking to the real players. They threw me in there because I’m from around here and I sometimes talk about sports. Thanks for that.

The focus, and this is what Gabel told me on the phone, was the criticism of bloggers by old-school reporters, namely Buzz Bissinger, who recently screamed down Deadspin’s editor at the time, Will Leitch. Bissinger accused bloggers of making sports fans dumber by focusing on the things that established media writers would never focus on. I can only assume he means the publishing of photos of drunken athletes at college parties and revealing locker room secrets that are passed on through many anonymous tips.

I have the advantage of writing this while reaching the final pages of Leitch’s book, God Save the Fan. In the book, Leitch talks with pride about Deadspin’s “lack of access.” He says he would never have accepted press credentials because he always wanted to talk about sports from the perspective of a regular fan. He also admits that’s very cliché, but goes on to say that part of what he sees as Deadspin’s mission is to break down the hero barrier that separates athletes from fans. He wants to show everyone that athletes are real people, just like us, so he doesn’t mean to necessarily embarrass athletes who get wasted and pour tequila down women’s throats. He just wants to show us that they do the same things we all do or have done.

Back to Bissinger now. When asked what I thought about his assertion that blogs were killing the intelligence of the average sports fan, I laughed. This was coming from a guy who, by the very nature of his business (print reporter) is limited in what he can put on paper. This is a man defending a business that, when the San Francisco Chronicle got wind of Barry Bonds and people close to him being investigated by the feds for steroid distribution and use, sent investigative reporters to cover it instead of the guys who already knew the beat. Why might they have done that? Access. You couldn’t have the biggest sports star in San Francisco shunning the city’s biggest paper’s sports reporters because they also happened to be looking into his misdeeds.

But dammit, that’s not why we’re here. I want to get back to my role in all of this. I was asked my reaction to Bissinger, and that’s it above. Bigger than that, though, I was asked what I thought my role as a blogger is and what I thought about blogs in general, as opposed to the established media. That answer is simple, and if you have been a regular here you probably have been bored to tears with it many times over.

The exact quote that was used was:

But I don’t think blogs can be painted with such a broad brush. There are a lot of blogs out there that I don’t think are very worthwhile, but I think there are also some very good ones. I think you’ll see soon some really good journalism come out of blogging, and one day it’s going to be seen as a medium and not just a description of the writer.

I have a couple of things to say about that quote.

First, when I say that blogs shouldn’t be painted by such a broad brush, what I mean is that there are so many different types of blogs out there that I cringe when I hear someone described as a blogger. That typically draws the type of response that looks down upon the blogger. The joke a couple years ago was that they’re just guys sitting at a computer in their pajamas typing away at things they know nothing about. Of course that’s bullshit. Some bloggers are that, and some bloggers choose not to write about things that are significant to the world’s “thought leaders.” But some bloggers actually do boots-on-the-ground journalism. Better journalism, in fact, than their established counterparts who are writing for big-name dailies. My point was that the word “blogger” can mean so many different things that invoking it effectively kills any discussion that’s taking place over the merits of an online journalist. We need to figure out a new way to describe people that are doing journalism work.

The second part of that quote, about seeing good journalism coming out of blogs, is incomplete. At least once in the conversation I said that blogs are already producing plenty of good journalism, which is obvious. I tried to stay away from talking about political blogs because this was a sports story, but they’re the easy ones. If, of course, you can wade through the crap that is punditry (admittedly, also done crappily here on occasion). I limit my sports blog consumption to the likes of Deadspin and Dodger Thoughts and whatever they throw at me that sounds interesting. The journalism (through writing, research, and access) that comes from Dodger Thoughts make it the best baseball blog out there. Granted, that’s largely because it covers my favorite team better than anyone, but it also includes some of the most logical thinking I’ve ever seen online backed up by statistics and in-depth game accounts that you simply do not see in the newspaper. Or on ESPN, but that’s another matter entirely.

I also spoke about the idea that while blogs can certainly mess up, it’s not like the papers and television networks don’t. In fact, there have been some epic screw-ups by major papers, and even the people who nominate for the Pulitzers. So, yeah, about that thing where we’re supposed to take their word for credibility. My ultimate point was that there is more information out there now. As a reader, you can choose to read the paper and discount blogs, but you’re doing yourself a disservice. You should, however, be smart enough to figure out who is credible and who is not. In fact, that should be the duty of people who are seeking information. We can no longer rely on the paper of record in our community to give us all the information that’s being published. There are simply more choices (and better ones) than them, and those choices offer different and often more interesting information.

I find it a little funny that a print article about bloggers, likely limited by space, failed to get across complete thoughts. In the print version, they even got wrong why I had taken down my posts on Terri Patraw (they said a lawsuit was filed, which is incorrect—to his credit, Chris Gabel seems to have had the online version corrected). Everything I wrote here I said in one way or another during the interview. That’s also a major shame. The interview was done by phone after I asked that I get a chance to write my answers down to the questions, for the express purpose of publishing my answers here. It’s an opportunity I didn’t get. I understand the idea that talking to me helped the interview process, but it demonstrates to me, that it’s a poor method to convey the full thoughts of the people who are shaping your story. It’s far too easy for a quote to get lost in a different context or to be used to shape the story in a preconceived way. Nothing I was quoted as saying was wrong, mind you, but it did not do justice to my thinking about blogs, the established media, and the roles that each will play in the future—something that I think was the point of the story

A major beef I have, again, is that a story was done with the focus on web activity, but the online version contains exactly ZERO hyperlinks. Jesus. Even better, I suppose, is that the sites mentioned only contain their titles (e.g. instead of saying deadspin.com, they say Deadspin, and more important to me, they don’t ever say mrjerz.org, but instead say Mr. Jerz, which isn’t even the name of the site). I would love to think they simply don’t want to send a single person away from their site, ever, but holy shit that’s stupid. And if that’s the case, I would love to suggest that they just start interviewing their own bloggers instead. Then they can not only keep people on rgj.com (see what I did there?), but it’ll also increase pageviews per visit, and advertisers can get raped even further. It’s ridiculous.

Ryan JerzRyan Jerz is an all-around good guy who wants people to eventually refer to him as "that dude who climbs mountains."

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