Blogging and traditional media: Part 2
Several weeks ago, Goat Riders published in article in which we interviewed a group of journalists - Paul Lukas, Paul Sullivan, Bruce Miles, and Will Carroll. You can read about it by following this link.
For this article, we interviewed four bloggers. Transmission of The Cub Reporter, Al Yellon of Bleed Cubbie Blue, Joe Aiello of View from the Bleachers, and Chuck Gitles of Ivy Chat - and theoretically Goat Riders, if we ever get around to including him. The interview will start after the jump. If you are timid about cursing, be warned: there are hypothetical uses of some vulgarities, which I know for a fact may deter one of our contributors from reading the article.
So, without further delay, the second round table:Goat Riders: Alright. The questions.
For starters, what is your take on how MLB views blogs?
Al: It depends on the team. Some teams are more open than others -- I know of a couple who communicate with bloggers, and have even helped arrange interviews. Others would rather believe we're just not there and wish we would go away, even while reading our stuff every day.
I'd say MLB in general would rather we weren't there. But we're not going anywhere, and in fact, I think bloggers are closer to the pulse of the average fan than the MSM. We tend to attract the devoted and passionate fan, MLB's best customers. It is in their interest to pay attention to us, but they haven't figured that out yet.
Chuck: I don't think MLB has a good handle on blogs yet, but they know they need to operate in this space. They've tried hosting their own. They've tried celebrity blogs. I'd venture that the 10 ton gorilla that is MLB Advanced Media really, really wants to get a piece of this action. They just haven't figured out how to do that yet. Maybe a private label version of blogger? I might be willing to setup shop at ivychat.mlbblogspot.com.
Joe: I think that Major League Baseball views and treats blogs exactly the way they need to. Blogs are not and should not be members of the accredited media for a few simple reasons. First, there are so many blogs. Anyone can start one. If baseball, and sports in general were to open the clubhouse to bloggers AND media members from radio and print, there would be no room in the clubhouse for the players or other people who need to be there. As a blogger and a member of the "media" I now understand their concern. It would be too hard to distinguish between people who want to be there to bring a legitimate story to their readers from people who feel they can get into the game for free. It's simply too big a can of worms for them to open. It's their product. They can reserve the privileges if they feel the need to. If they feel that a blogger has established itself and maintained credibility, they maybe they can let their guard down a little.
Goat Riders: Do you feel that organizations like MLB are incapable of deciding which blogs are worthy or unworthy? In other categories of mass entertainment (and in other countries) bloggers are getting jobs with newspapers and major magazines, and some are asked specifically by larger organizations to cover major events. (For example, the ladies of Go Fug Yourself are often hired to cover major entertainment events, and some political bloggers get invited to the Republican and Democratic conventions.) Has it gone badly for those organizations for including the blogs? Has it helped promote those events and organizations even further? How does it help MLB to not do that?
Joe: It's not that I don't think MLB is capable of monitoring the blogs and deciding which ones are "legit". I think they just choose not to. They must feel like their product is promoted enough already with the bloggers doing their own thing. If that is the case, it would serve them no additional purpose in granting access to the clubhouse and other aspects to bloggers and the like.
Transmission: My sense is that MLB views blogs the way they view every other element of their audience: as a short-term sorce of revenue. This means that their interest in blogs is negligible. As virtually everyone has observed, MLB has this strange dichotomy where on the one hand it has done an excellent job of promoting MLB overseas, but has been incredibly myopic when dealing with its American fan base. Whether it's the whole DirecTV deal, the issue over whether fantasy baseball sites would have to pay for use of MLB statistics and player identities, or the denial of credential to bloggers, MLB seems intent on treating its most devoted fans as ATM machines. Blogs don't dispense as much money as fantasy sites, hence MLB's disinterest.
Goat Riders: Do you think bloggers should be considered "members of the media" in the same sense that journalists are? Why or why not?
Joe: I do not feel that bloggers should be considered part of the "media", but they should be considered part of the media. What I mean by that is this. The media in the way you're referring to it is the media that includes radio, newspaper, and magazine as well as television. These are people who are working and this is their job. They have gone to school for this, just like any of us could have. They need to be able to do their job and not worry about a bunch of idiot bloggers with a "take down everyone" type attitude over their shoulder. However, I do feel that bloggers are members of the media in that we all bring news and musings and rumors to our readers. A blog can be just as useful to a fan as the newspaper can.
Al: We are different. What we write is, in general, our opinion rather than what, say, a beat writer would write (facts, figures, summaries of the games). We're more like a newspaper columnist in that sense. Now, columnists are as much "members of the media" as beat writers -- but some of them (you listening, Jay Mariotti?) don't even go to a lot of the games, don't go into the dugout or clubhouse, etc.
I'm not saying I necessarily agree with a paid columnist doing that, but that's one approach to take.
More in the next answer.
Chuck: Clearly not. While some of the larger, better financed blogs certainly seem to want to be news makers (Pro Football Talk comes to mind), most seem to be sites for individuals or small groups to comment on the teams and the reporting of those teams. Given that the bulk of what we are doing is commentary and analysis, we really don't need access that comes with credentialing. Nearly all the information needed is available by watching the games and reading the published reports from the professional media.
In fact, many in the professional media are more than willing to correspond with bloggers to discuss various takes on events. That eliminates a portion of the wall. Granted, it's second hand information, but there is communication now.
Transmission: As Paul Lukas observes, this question is problematic because "media" is a slippery term. Historically, the media simply comprises whatever person or group of people have the perceived credibility and a powerful enough medium of communication to command the public's attention.
In terms of having access to a powerful medium, the bloggers already are on par with print journalists. In terms of perceived credibility, let's not kid ourselves: "bloggers" as a collective don't have and don't deserve the sort of credibility associated with print media. Even though the bar for professional entry to print journalism is relatively quite low when compared to entry into most other professions, there still is a threshold of education and experience that sports journalists have to reach in order to earn a living as such. There's no similar threshold for bloggers. There's a presumption that when you go to any newspaper column for any newspaper in America, the sentences will be coherent, grammatically correct, logically sequenced, and deal with known facts. Whether or not the newspapers always meet that presumption, its presence is something that just doesn't exist when you start looking at any blogger on any website on the internet. Looking for good reporting in the sports blogosphere is like when you played spin the bottle with the high school band: You might get the hot saxophonist, but more likely you get stuck with one of the woodwinds.
But just as newspaper readers learn to distinguish between better and worse print columnists, blog readers distinguish between better and worse blogs. The best blogs regularly meet higher standards of writing, research, and critical thinking, than the average city newspaper's sports columnist. Again, I think this is because of the relatively low threshold for admittance into the profession of sports journalism. The best blogs feature writers with stronger skills and more advanced professional credentials in writing, critical thinking, and quantitative and qualitative analysis than what can be found in print. Men and women with J.D.s and M.D.s and Ph.D.s, baseball rats who have had season tickets for 30 years and can name and evaluate every rookie-ball player in their team's system, ex-athletes who can explain the fine points of pitching mechanics, people with advanced statistical and historical and medical and legal and scientific training - these bloggers aren't considered to be members of the media because they lack the professional credential of journalism B.A.? Please.
Goat Riders: Do you even WANT to be thought of as a "member of the media" with opportunities for credentialing? Why or why not?
Chuck: I suppose access would be fun to a point. But, as writing will never be a full time gig for me, access to me wouldn't really do anything for the team or for me. However, if they wanted to send me a press pass so that I could partake in the pre and post-game reporter buffet when I attend my handful of games each year, I'd gladly accept that.
I really don't want that. I started Ivy Chat as a place to store my thoughts and be able to re-read them. That OTHER people actually read them and comment back to me still never ceases to amaze me. I'm not in this to make a buck or get access.
It all comes down to the reason an individual starts their site. My goal was to store my thoughts, nothing more. If others intend their site to be an audition for a more professional gig, I can certainly see those bloggers wanting to be recognized as media.
Transmission: I can honestly say I've never thought about this. I started reading and posting comments at TCR because I wanted to follow the Cubs with a greater deal of intensity and at a higher plane of analysis than what ESPN or the newspapers had to offer. I accepted the invitation to write for them because I wanted a hobby. I guess so, sure. All it really means is that some external source has recognized my legitimacy, and that's always a good thing...
Al: I do and I don't, and maybe that's part of the dilemma for the clubs. I don't want a daily credential for covering games -- first of all, I prefer to sit in the stands among my friends, and second, paying for my tickets gives me, I believe, a certain independence, to say what I please. I haven't, as you well know, been one of those who criticizes constantly. Do I LIKE not winning year after year? Heck, no! But I also enjoy other things about baseball. I want to win as badly as anyone else, perhaps more so since I am older than most of the other bloggers you're likely interviewing for this piece, and have seen way more losing.
That said, I wouldn't mind SOME access -- perhaps an opportunity for an interview from time to time, or at least some contact with the ballclub officials, most if not all of whom I know are reading what I write.
Joe: I am not sure how to answer this one. Do I want to be considered that way? I guess I do, because I am. If I didn't want to, I wouldn't have pursued it. However, I do understand that when I am at various events, whether itâ€™s high school or professional, I am there to do a job. I check my fan attitude at the door and try to best serve my readers by doing the best job possible.
Goat Riders: Okay, let me ask you this again. Would you want you - or the other writers of your blog - to be invited to have credentials to cover baseball events because you have a blog? And how do you feel about the fact that a website like Baseball Prospectus can't get credentials... are there no non-mainstream baseball sites that deserve attention or recognition?
Joe: I would want our site to be invited, but mainly so that my other writers could have the privilege of going to the game and experiencing some of the privileges I've had to this point. I have some very talented writers on my sites that deserve to get noticed and employed by "national media".
Goat Riders: Two part question - what should MLB do differently in how they deal with blogs, and what should blogs do differently in how they write about MLB?
Transmission: 1. Don't fall into the blog tokenism trap. It seems like more and more media outlets, politicians and celebrities are making half-hearted attempts to establish a presence in the blogosphere, to give at least the appearance of being "interactive." Most of the time this amounts to a hollow tokenism, another way to ask fans or supporters for cash. I'd rather see MLB completely avoid blogs than to do half-assed entries into blogging as a way to "connect" with its audience.
To that end, MLB should consider hiring someone that the baseball blogosphere considers to be one of its own. Bring him or her in to MLB to work at identifying other bloggers whose work merits press passes, greater attention, all the good stuff that comes with the mainstream media. Blogger outreach, basically.
2. Hard to say, as no two bloggers are alike. I think that in general, the writing about MLB is not the issue. It's the writing about sports journalists that gets problematic. Paul Lukas is right that the professionals always get antsy when amateurs threaten their status. Calling them douchebags is a quick recipe to make them move from antsy to angry. That doesn't help anybody.
Al: I'd like MLB to not be so rigid in its "blogs are not to be dealt with at all" policy -- at least consider us on a case-by-case basis. There is no doubt that some blogs are bigger than others, some aren't updated often enough, while others carry more influence. Ignoring us isn't going to make us go away.
I think blogs, in general, do a good job in writing about baseball -- I read a lot of them, both Cubs blogs and blogs about other teams -- and I'm not sure I'd ask anyone to change a thing. They are, by their very nature, more opinionated than the MSM, since most (not all, and not GROTA in particular) are written by one person.
Chuck: MLB should reach out to blogs to help them with various news releases and event promotion. Clearly the readers of most baseball blogs are the most passionate consumers of their product. This is a great way to "narrowcast" to the audience. Perhaps offering a clearing house of information so questions like, "Can Mark Prior be sent to the minors without clearing waivers?" can be answered would be a good first step.
Bloggers should continue to write about MLB in whatever way they feel in whatever style they want. What bloggers cannot do is say something baseless and derogatory, and then be upset when MLB ignores them. If they want to be taken seriously, then make sure negative comments are backed by evidence and facts. Additionally, the "blue-skies" bloggers need to understand that if their commentary is unrealistic, they won't be taken seriously by their readership. An unserious reader base will not help get MLBs attention. Criticism and praise both need to be constructive and accurate.
Joe: I think that MLB should continue exactly what they're doing with how they handle blogs. As they get more and more popular, it becomes harder and harder to know what to do. They're policy is exactly what it needs to be. In terms of what they should do differently in how they write about MLB, I think it would be in their best interest to hire a beat writers AND a blogger. The beat writer would provide the same news they have to this point. The blogger would be more fan interactive and less formal. It would also be a paid position and would help fans have a voice that the team could read. It would have to be heavily moderated though.
Goat Riders: Lastly, do you have any further thoughts on this, particularly in response to what Bruce Miles, Paul Lukas, Paul Sullivan, and Will Carroll said in the earlier article about the subject?
Al: I've communicated with all four people you mention, and Bruce Miles has become a friend not only to Bleed Cubbie Blue, but to me personally. I think they all made cogent comments about the nature of blogging and its relationship to the traditional media.
The best remark, I think, was made by Will Carroll, who said that "bloggers should earn the right to recognition". Absolutely. I don't think that, four years ago when I started my original blog, I could have contacted Cubs media relations and gotten anywhere. But through two years of writing there and two years since I started BCB, I think my writing and what I've done with my sites has established a certain reputation -- and sometime down the road, I would hope that I *have* earned that right to recognition.
Chuck: I did find it funny that one writer says he doesn't read blogs that often but does read one because it's not too serious. That same writer suggested that "most newspaper reporters have to actually go to college and get a degree before they can get a job in the media." There's an awful lot of disdain in that. Aren't some of the great reporters and writers in history essentially uneducated beyond high school? Mike Ryoko dropped out of college.
Perhaps if there was less bile and more collaboration between both sets of writers, everyone would report a better story.
Joe: Bruce Miles said it perfectly for me. When I see conspiracy theorists, or people who are using language that you wouldn't see in the newspaper, I quit reading. One of the biggest turnoffs for me is vulgar content or language. I think bloggers who write that way tend to set us back enormously in the quest for legitimacy in the media circus.
Goat Riders: How do you feel about the major newspapers that now allow for vulgarities, such as the use of the word "fuck" in their articles? Do you see a difference between a blogger saying "this transaction is bullshit" and "that manager is a douchebag idiot?"
On one hand, you seem to be saying that bloggers shouldn't receive the same treatment as "legitimate" writers - like those who go to school for journalism - yet you also seem critical of blogs that "set us back enormously in the quest for legitimacy." You gave me the impression that you don't think blogs should be on a quest for legitimacy - unless that quest includes a trip through journalism school - so why should it matter if blogs are less formal and use phrases and language that you wouldn't see in a newspaper? Should blogs strive to be more like newspapers? If so, what's the point of the blogs to begin with, if not as an alternative to the mainstream media? Should a blog be used as an audition for a more mainstream gig?
Joe: I think that the use of those words is inappropriate in major print media like newspapers and magazines. They are available to a wide audience, including children. As a parent, I don't want to have to worry that my child would read that kind of language while reading a newspaper. That's unacceptable.
Goat Riders: Well, at least you don't have to worry about children reading newspapers. Ba-dum-bump!
Transmission: I've already given a few tips of the cap to Lukas, I think for the most part he's spot-on. I also agreed with his observation that the most likely response from MLB and the mainstream media will be to try to co-opt blogging. It absolutely is what the mainstream culture always does to any counter-culture that it perceives as a threat. Think rap music.
Regarding some of Paul Sullivan's comments: I've already discussed at length his remark about how "most newspaper reporters have to actually go to college and get a degree" and pay their dues, and so forth.
But I wonder if Paul is aware that he split an infinitive in his sentence about the necessity of getting a college degree? ~grin~
Seriously, though, his comment and my snarky response illustrates where the tension is. The professional status of the sports journalist is precarious. They have a credential that deservedly sets them apart from the riff-raff on the internet. But it's a credential that, by itself, doesn't separate them from the best that the blogs have to offer. The better bloggers resent the conflation of a journalism degree with superior skill or the notion that it gives the journalist's words greater heft. Sports journalists and the better bloggers should be allies - we both want intelligent and accurate reporting and commentary on the teams that we love. We both can't stand the "u r a douchebag" style posts. We both want to see excellent reporting rewarded, and weak reporting exposed and critiqued.
Finally, regarding Bruce Miles: thank you for giving me the opportunity to type the word "douchebag" about three more times than I normally do in the course of a year. It's one of my least favorite insults, but I figured I'd roll with it. Douchebag!
Goat Riders: And that sums up the second part of blogging and the traditional media. On one hand, we have a group of bloggers who seem to agree that MLB doesn't seem to know what to do with us. On the other, we have a blogger who works as a stringer for a newspaper, who both agrees with that sentiment but feels that MLB should stay the course.
In my own mind, I believe that most bloggers don't care, and those who do blow it out of proportion a bit. At Goat Riders, we have had a handful of good rumors and scoops in the past. We've had stories that were unreported by traditional media, and checking those stories gets annoying if the organizations involved simply do not want to deal with us. Yet, most blogs don't care about that sort of thing, because most blogs just want to provide commentary, and that's fine.
I do feel a little bit of concern over some of the unanswered questions, however. Not to single out Joe for his responses, but they struck me as being a bit contradictory, perhaps because he's thinking as both a blogger and a stringer. Should blogs try to be legitimate or not? If the answer is "not" - for whatever your reasons are - then should it matter if some blogs choose to be less formal? If we shouldn't try to be legitimate, if there are no reasons to consider us legitmate, then who gives a shit if we write or do things that "sets us back" on our quest for legitimacy? (The "who gives a shit" line, in case you missed the point, was a joking example of "setting us back.")
As for the vulgarity issue, I believe it gets blown out of proportion. Me, I'd rather worry about basic television and their lax rules for vulgarity. I work with children, and I am shocked to realize how few know how to use the internet or read blogs. (IE: none of them really seem to have any clue, and I don't exactly live in a backwater part of the world) These same ten-year-old kids, who probably couldn't find Goat Riders if they spent a week looking, like to brag about the latest R-rated movie they've seen which contained way too much violence and nudity to be anywhere close to appropriate.
In other words, the blogging audience is not young. We may have a few parents who read blogs with their kids, but I would be surprised if we had many people here under the age of 18. And if those youngsters had never been exposed to raunchy jokes or language except for on this website or others like it, then they live impossibly sheltered lives. Me, I'd be more worried about the news on television leading off with racist images of death and violence, and I'd be more concerned about prime-time television including sex scenes, vulgarity, and so-on. But that's just me.
Therefore, I believe that blogs should not aim for "legitimacy" - unless they want to. And not every blog should feel the obligation to aim for something like that. In fact, I believe it is more important for blogs to develop their own voices. It's far more interesting that Bleed Cubbie Blue is nothing like Ivy Chat, and that Goat Riders is very unlike The Cub Reporter, or View from the Bleachers. Each of these blogs have unique voices and unique followings, and to be otherwise would simply be bland.
Regardless of that, blogs are a source of income and are a unique source of information, but compared with "traditional media," our readership base remains very small. But it seems to make sense to me for players and teams to be a little more receptive to us, if only because it will popularize them in our eyes, and in the eyes of our readers. But is it essential? Hardly.
Stay tuned for part three of this series, where Goat Riders interviews not the media, nor the bloggers, but representitives of the organizations themselves.
P.S. One thing I learned about bloggers in how they differ from journalists: they are way more long winded! Sheesh!