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The Buzz of integrity

Posted by Eric Wilbur, Boston.com Staff May 1, 2008 11:55 AM

If there is, somewhere, a patron lord of all things newspaper. He’s hunched over his typewriter today, his ink-stained tie splattered with the remains of his once-vital industry. The yellowed press card has long fallen out of the belt on his faded fedora; cracked light bulbs once popped with frequency by the photography department litter the tops of hundreds of thousands of unread first editions piling up like unnecessary phone books in an apartment lobby.

It was with great interest, I presume, that this lord of all things newspaper watched Bob Costas’ roundtable on HBO Tuesday night, which focused on the state of sports journalism. He waited for Buzz Bissinger to intelligently and prominently explain why newspapers are still important, why they cannot and will not be challenged by new-wave journalism such as independent blogs. Journalism is about integrity and accuracy, the lord supposed Bissinger would argue, and come Wednesday the newspaper industry would be better off in this light, shown for what it is, a necessary medium between readers and the sports stars on the field.

“I think you’re full of &*^%,” Bissinger told Deadspin’s Will Leitch seconds after opening his mouth for the first time.

And the lord of newspapers let the stake puncturing heart ever so slowly dig a little deeper into its modern quest to kill the lord off forever.

If you missed the program, which focused on the way we receive sports news and information on TV, the Internet, and radio, it's worth a watch, if only for the menacing figure that Bissinger turns into at the outset of his introduction, staring at Leitch like he's ready to pounce and beat him into dinner. Leitch is overmatched, unprepared for the intervention that was to take place. Braylon Edwards simply played the role of Roger Loge on Jim Rome, a presence that admitted he doesn't read blogs or write a blog. Brilliant. In a related note, I'll be on with Emily Rooney next week discussing stem cell research.

Aside from the fact that he publishes one of the web's most-read sports sites, Deadspin's Leitch has apparently become the ubiquitous authority on all matters new wave journalism by the mass media, possibly because he is a nice-looking, Midwestern boy, which would seem to portray just the opposite message of impending danger that Costas and Bissinger want to send about blogs.

Nevertheless, if someone wants to discredit the people behind blogs, Leitch isn't a great candidate. He has an educational background in journalism and is a published author, much like Bissinger. Both have had work of theirs recently in the "New York Times." Yet, we're to believe that Leitch is the danger here, despite the nostril-blazing, red-faced, expletive tirade Bissinger treated us to on Tuesday night.

Ironically, it was Deadpsin's vulgarity, both in posts and comments, that Bissinger seemed to have the biggest problem with, explaining his issues somewhere in between expletives. Costas joined in on the act of criticizing Leitch. Edwards sat in the corner, possibly afraid that if he spoke Bissinger might burn a hole through his chest with his laser pupils.

As it turned out, what could have been a truly interesting 10-minute discussion on the changing face of newspapers and the Internet turned into Jerry Springer.

To be fair, it's not easy to predict the future of print sports journalism -- or any journalism for that matter -- in a 10-minute increment. There are students at JO schools all over the country taking courses that might be moot in three months. Who knows? The next person who can accurately present a solid model for the rest of the field to copy -- and sell -- will be the first. This is revelatory, but the Internet has changed the way we receive our news. I know, huh?

But this disaster, well this certainly didn't do anybody any good. It made bloggers look like immature potty mouths. It made newspaper folks look like angry old dinosaurs. It made Braylon Edwards look like a high school kid who wandered into the wrong AP class.

Aside from the fact that Costas could have actually done his homework and gotten someone like Curt Schilling, Gilbert Arenas, or some other athlete who, you know, blogs, to do the show, the host really didn't do much to moderate, mostly because he recently started his own campaign to rid the world of the blog as we know it. If it's anything like his campaign to get rid of the DH and the wild card, they're going to be here for a while.

I'm in two camps on this issue. On one hand, I love reading what folks have to say on sites like Deadspin, The Big Lead, and Surviving Grady. I also love reading the analytical discussion of Red Sox fans on Sons of Sam Horn, the bile-filled comments of folks on Boston Sports Media Watch, and skiers posting the latest conditions on Alpine Zone. I even like it when my Bay Area friends send incomprehensible text messages at 4 in the morning. I'm not sure that makes any of them "journalists" per se.

I think this is where this all gets mashed into one big mess of confusion. Just because it is the printed word doesn't make it journalism, does it? Did the GM of the Pony Express light up against the installation of the first Post Office, railing that it would be the end of society as we know it? Here's a news flash for those who still don't get it. Times change. Ask Tower Records. Ask the VHS tape. Ask the Berlin Wall. Keep yourself up to date and you can swim. Don't, and you're that 55-year-old guy who still makes jokes about his VCR flashing 12:00.

Because fans are flocking to the Internet to get all of their sports news, this relegates the newspaper to second-rate status, according to some. That must mean simply that all bloggers are after the jobs of newspaper folks, like some sort of medieval takeover. That's not the case, but indirectly, it has sort of begun to seem that way. Fewer readers of a paper means fewer advertising dollars, which means more cutbacks, layoffs, and buyouts. Plenty of journalists have reason to be angry at the way their livelihood has been taken away by the web. Well, those who decide not to adapt at any rate.

There's an accountability issue here, too. For years, hack journalists could simply print their opinion as gospel with little fight from the little people. Now those little people have a voice, a fact that tends to anger those who have had their authoritarianism stripped from them.

I have bachelor's and master's degrees in journalism, a field I have worked in for 12 years now, in the newspapers, TV, and Internet realms. When I started this blog back in (yikes) 2002, I was hesitant, concerned about the perception that writing a "blog" would have. Essentially, this turned into a glorified daily column with some blog attributes, but it still had that named attached to it. Blog. It was, at the time, like journalistic leprosy.

Now, blogs are like the fix-all for the newspaper industry trying to figure out how to survive on the web, fighting blogs with ... blogs. What newspaper online doesn't have at least a half-dozen blogs? I think we have 5,436 of them at the Globe. Give or take.

But here's the thing. Because this is still a legitimate news corporation, there are limits to what we can do. We're constrained by the things we can say, bound by a wall of decency and integrity that defines the organization. Basically, I could probably post about 2 percent of what Barstool Sports does without getting fired.

Does that mean I think Barstool Sports is the representation of the end of society? Hardly. I think it's a hysterical, often NSFW destination, but also one based in absolutely zero journalistic foundation. And that's OK. There is a place for both T.J. Simers and Ken Tremendous in my world. And frankly, if the newspapering business weren't in such dire straits to begin with, this would never be an issue, except for the wanna-be bloggers out there, seeking to gain respect by being granted access to the locker room. (This, I have a problem with, not because it's a journalist's God-given "right" to be there as opposed to a fan, but because the only reason the journalists are in there in the first place is to do their job. One they're paid for. That's hardly the case with a number of bloggers demanding the same access.)

But with community journalism becoming such an integral part of how we get our news, what defines a journalist these days? Hell if I know. If Maria Menounos wants to get credentialed for a Sox game, she'll get credentialed. Does that make her any more of a "journalist?" Geraldo? The kid who used to correspond for Letterman? Cedric Maxwell?

Joe Posnanski (bookmark it) writes on his blog:

"I think blogs are dedicated to cruelty," Buzz said just before he started screaming and swearing at Will, and this is so weird because I was actually thinking for a long time about calling this blog "Dedicated To Cruelty" or DTC (you know, for the kids). Come on. Is journalism dedicated to lies because a couple of pretty famous writers made up stories? Are books dedicated to murderous anti-semitism because Hitler wrote "Mein Kampf?" Is music dedicated to demeaning women because Flo-Rida sang "Low?" How are you going to judge blogs and the Internet because some anonymous jerk on a message board or in a comment section decides to tell poo-poo jokes about Tony LaRussa?

How ironic then that all this hubbub over the state of sports journalism, and the anger and vitriol that it has sparked, ignores one of the very cornerstones of journalism, freedom of speech.

Nobody knows where sports journalism is headed. But if it's anything like the other night, we're all in a whole lot more trouble.

9 comments so far...
  1. Totally agree, Eric. I love this piece by you. Sure, the Globe limits what you're allowed to say, but as a reader, I know I can expect certain standards when I come to this site, so it's a trade off. I make sure to read up on Boston.com and then head over to WithLeather and FireJoeMorgan, so obviously there's room for both types of "blogs".

    Posted by J-Bone May 1, 08 01:12 PM
  1. Well said. I blog for Perkisabeast.com/blog and I know for a fact that none of us would ever claim to be journalists. It is a fan-based site for a hardworking guy that turns out to be 1,000 times cooler than imagined 3 years ago at the blog's inception. But to group stuff like TrueHoop/yourself/Simmons as being "just bloggers" is ridiculous. I can read Bob Ryan and With Leather and be smart enough to know who is or isn't a journalist.

    I would've asked Buzz why he thinks continuing the Football mentality in Texas/USA with shows like FNL is somehow a "good thing"!

    Posted by Carl Spackler May 1, 08 01:36 PM
  1. After reading the umpteenth story about a traditional journalist who hates bloggers haven't we figured out that it's journalists who call bloggers non-journalists? I don't think I know a blogger who actually claims to be a journalist. I blog myself as well. Heck, the company that I own, replaced it's boring corporate website with a blog because it's more interesting. Blog, being short for Web Log, is meant to facilitate conversation by sharing opinion and links to other media (a lot of times traditional) that otherwise we may not have known about. What the "dinosaurs" need to understand is that we aren't leaving you because we believe what we're reading elsewhere. We're leaving because it speaks to us, is more inclusive and on most occasions more interesting. Simple as that. So when the Globe's Dan S rips Curt Schilling for blogging and calls the readers of Curt's blog losers who live in their parent's basement it proves how disconnected and uninteresting he is. Ever since he wrote that story I've been curious how he looks at you Eric or Bob Ryan who are bloggers (Although Ryan's really doesn't count due to a lack of web logging)? Does he just say "Aww shucks. It wasn't aimed at you per se. I just hate Schilling and needed to pour some more fuel on that fire."? When my grandmother got really old and reclusive she ended up hating everyone and everything. I guess that's what it's like to be a 50+ year old journalist these days. They're lost, they pee themselves and they're bitter.

    Posted by MSGiro May 1, 08 02:16 PM
  1. Eric--I think one thing gets overlooked when journalists go on tirades about blogs and bloggers: the readers and the fans. If there is one thing the invention of Web 2.0 has shown us is that readers WANT to PARTICIPATE in the news. Reading a newspaper article in the traditional sense gives readers no way of commenting on or asking questions about the news. Blogs, especially sports blogs, create a sense of community no other medium can match.

    Posted by Shelley B May 1, 08 02:22 PM
  1. For me . . . news journalists give me information that I wouldn't get otherwise. I check the globe's site religiously to find stories.

    Then, I check out the blogs to see what they have to say. Why? Because the bloggers have the ability to pull information from many sources and are not inhibited by corporate policies.

    IMO there is a place for both. Professionals to obtain the news, and individuals to pool resources to give opinions wthout restrictions. Each is important, and neither are suited for doing the job of the other.

    Posted by Adam May 1, 08 02:35 PM
  1. Just to echo everyone else, I think it's great to see this posted on a newspaper's website. There really is room for both. My daily news reading routine looks pretty similar to J-Bone's posted above. Blogs don't spell the end for all newspapers - just for the ones that have the Bissinger mentality.

    Posted by Jeff May 1, 08 03:06 PM
  1. As a graduating JO student, and frequent reader of your column/blog/what-have-you...I completely agree with everything you have to say.

    Really, what in the hell was Costas thinking? How ignorant are these chest-thumping "I have a god-given right to tell YOU what is happening" elitists?

    Journalists are constantly preaching accountability, as well as learning the importance of accountability in this field. It is after all, journalists who are supposed to help sustain a rigorous system of checks and balances in this country.

    Despite plenty of avenues that in fact could be used to benefit and advance society (yes, the internet being one of them), the very people that are supposed signify the upholding of freedom in this country are exemplfying the exact opposite.
    Shame.

    Posted by Joe May 1, 08 05:20 PM
  1. Was it "The Natural" where the sports writers thought that they were the story instead of the athlete? Sounds like Mr. Bissinger has been playing that tape i nhis VCR for far too long.

    Posted by RP in NC May 2, 08 07:35 AM
  1. Great article, As a Green Bay Packer Blogger, it was influential in the way the way I do things.

    Alex

    www.citizwenwausau.com/packone

    Posted by Alex June 25, 08 02:04 AM
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