Monday, May 19, 2008

Blog Buzz

By now most of you have probably read about or seen the "discussion" on HBO a couple weeks ago about blogs and sports between Deadspin's Will Leitch and author Buzz Bissinger, goaded on by Bob Costas. If not, here is:

The video

Leitch's reaction to what happened

I finally got a chance on Friday to watch the segment. It was brutal to watch because a. I love Bissinger's work; Friday Night Lights still may be my favorite book, and b. I write a blog about sports.

Bissinger came off as a raving lunatic in his criticism of sports blogs. He appeared to have been stewing about the topic for weeks if not longer, and his premeditated lines about W.C. Heinz and Jimmy Olson were like bad Dennis Miller one-liners from Monday Night Football. Carping about Deadspin's posters' usernames was a superficial criticism. Costas was almost as bad, grilling Leitch about comments made on his blog; surely, Leitch said, you know the difference between blog posts and comments, right? It's not clear Costas did.

Leitch handled it all very well, and I think most impartial observers would agree. He said everything I was thinking, only eloquently, on the spot, and in front of a national television audience. And poor Braylon Edwards, the third member of the panel.

Here's the thing, though: I've had the same thoughts that Bissinger put forth.

Several months ago, I was talking with my friend Lisa about how Badgercentric had seen steadily increasing traffic since his inception. She said something to the effect of wouldn't it be cool if blogs replaced today's mainstream media outlets. No, I said. If, by some miracle this blog started earning significant advertising dollars, and started siphoning those dollars away from, say, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and the MJS had to cut staff and/or operations ... well, I for one would be bummed.

Quality sports journalists and the work they do are a necessity to any serious sports fan. It can't just be guys sitting on their couch watching games on the Big Ten Network and writing their knee-jerk reactions to what they've just seen. Badger fans need the work of Jeff Potrykus, Mark Stewart, Mike Lucas, Rob Schultz, Jim Polzin, Tom Mulhern, Jesse Osborn, Todd Milewski. They're the ones who take us closer to the teams we love, who often start our conversations.


Then again ... there is something to be said for Leitch's assertion that he wouldn't want to report on games from the press box, because then you're writing for the other guys in the press box. How valuable is access nowadays? Statistics, quotes, they're all available online. Not many teams allow reporters into practice anymore, and the truly breaking news coming from practices is off-limits for general consumption. Couch-bound bloggers don't do significant, thought-provoking enterprise reporting, but how often do we read that nowadays?


Plus, as a friend of mine who covers the NFL points out, truly deep access comes with a price. When we traded emails this winter, he was referring to ESPN's college basketball guys, who regularly drop "When I had dinner with (famous coach) last night" lines, then launch into impassioned pitches for said coach's team to be a lock for the Big Dance.


In a follow-up interview with
Sporting News blogger Spencer Hall, Bissinger acknowledged that his treatment of Leitch was wrong, and that many people had emailed him examples of good sports blogs. But he still maintains that blogs are founded upon mockery and maliciousness.

I don't think that's true. Blogs are discussions among sports fans taking place online. Do mockery and maliciousness creep into those conversations? Of course. Otherwise Tim Brewster and Tom Crean would never appear here. But are blogs replacements for sports journalism? No.

Can't they both just get along?

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