Blogging and traditional media: Part 1
Not too long ago, our friends at Bleed Cubbie Blue posted an article about a blogger's inability to receive any kind of media credentialing from Major League Baseball.
A lot has been said on the subject, and there seems to be a general paranoia amongst bloggers regarding the level of disrespect from baseball and a condescending attitude among journalists. But how much of that is actually true? Any journalist would tell us not to make assumptions, and yet we've done just that to our detriment. However, tired of making assumptions and curious for fact - or at least verified opinion - I took it upon myself to contact several writers and journalists, many of whom straddle the line between blogging and traditional media. These writers are Will Carroll - best known for his work at Baseball Prospectus, Paul Lukas of ESPN and his Uni Watch blog, Daily Herald journalist Bruce Miles, and Tribune writer Paul Sullivan. Yes, Paul Sullivan - who we have railed on so often in the past (beyond the bounds of fair play and good humor) - agreed to this interview, and let me commend him for doing so. We've been very tough on Paul in the past, to the point where he could have and should have denied us this interview. Because of his willingness to contribute, I'd like to thank him in particular and apologize for any unecessarily snide comment written in the past.
Thanks to Bruce, Will, and Paul Lukas, as well. We appreciate the time you've taken, fellas.
One final note: This was clearly done via EMail over the course of a few days, so the contributors had no chance to read each other's thoughts or react to them unless I mentioned something I learned in a response to somebody else. However, I'm sure they will all be reading this, so, Misters Sullivan, Lukas, Carroll, and Miles, feel free to add more thoughts in the comments or through another EMail if anything strikes your fancy. Without further delay, the questions and answers:Goat Riders: First, a question for the two bloggers: what inspired you to start your blog and how long have you been blogging?
Paul Lukas: My blog is a spin-off of a sports column I had already been writing for "traditional media" for seven years. The column runs every two weeks, and the blog gave -- and continues to give -- me an opportunity to react to news more quickly, explore smaller ideas that might not be column-worthy, etc. In short, it felt like a natural extension of something I was already doing.
Will Carroll: I just was reading them and thought "hey I can do this." It's an interesting, unedited medium where you can have conversations. I think its that latter part thats the most interesting.
Goat Riders: Based on our experiences, a lot of journalists seem to dislike blogs, or at least they seem uneasy about them. What are your thoughts on the way that traditional media looks at blogging, and why do you think people feel that way?
Paul Sullivan: I don't know that journalists as a group dislike blogs. Many of them have their own blogs, including many my colleagues. I think it's some of the bloggers they may dislike, for various reasons. I made fun of bloggers at a Cubs Convention once and never heard the end of it. Maybe your blog was one of them. I'm not sure. Some Cubs bloggers can dish it out, but they can't take a good-natured jab.
Goat Riders: We were there in 2006, and were one of the ones who promoted our website during the Saturday morning Q&A, but we didn't mind you making fun of bloggers for being self-promotional. We did mind your criticism that Cub fans gave Hendry and Baker an easy time with their questions, as I suspect that they wouldn't see it that way.
Bruce Miles: I enjoy the blogs and don't feel threatened by them at all. There's probably some feeling in the journalism community that bloggers remain at a safe distance from those they make fun of and never have to worry about facing those people. One thing journalists get tired of hearing from bloggers is that we don't ask tough questions because we're afraid we'll lose our access. That's just silly and wrong. Managers and GMs don't launch into monologues during their sessions with the media. We ask them questions that elicit responses. For example, Dusty Baker didn't call us in one day and say, "Fellas, you know, I've been thinking about walks and on-base percentage. It's my opinion that walks are overrated unless you can run because they clog the bases for guys who can run." No, it didn't happen that way. I asked him a question based on his record and tendencies, and boom, we have the quote that lives in infamy. That's how it works every day. We ask questions. They provide answers. Sometimes they don't like the questions. Sometimes we don't like the answers. Sometimes you don't like the answers.
Goat Riders: I agree with you on that, although I suspect that some Cub bloggers will always believe that the Tribune writers are going to be less critical of the Cubs since they work for the team's owners (also probably an incorrect assumption).
Will Carroll: Any traditional media is going to dislike the thing that's whacking them. Low cost and immediacy are driving print magazines down. Newspapers are getting crushed. I think the future is in some cross between a newspaper and a blog -- online, immediate, but edited and trusted.
Paul Lukas: "Professionals" always get antsy when "amateurs" tread on their turf. In my case, I've come full circle: I began writing in the early '90s by publishing my own zine (zines, of course, were the precursors to blogs). The zine got me a lot of attention and led to my writing career with "real" magazines. Now one of my "real" media projects has given birth to my blog.
Goat Riders: Was there the same level of antsiness with fanzines as there is with blogs?
Paul Lukas: To a certain degree, but it wasn't as strong. That's because zines were much more of an underground thing, and not many people know about them. But everyone knows about, and has access to, blogs. If I'm sitting at a computer, I can go to uniwatchblog.com just as easily as I can go to nytimes.com. But if I'm at a newsstand, I can't find a zine as easily as I can find a newspaper or magazine. So zines were much more of a fringe thing.
Goat Riders: Should bloggers be considered a part of the media? Why or why not?
Paul Lukas: I think that question misses the point, since the term "the media" is always fungible and doesn't really mean anything -- it's just a convenient shorthand. A better question is whether bloggers (or zine writers) can create work that's just as good and just as valuable as mainstream journalists. And I think the answer to that is clearly yes. I'm not saying all bloggers are good, or that the ratio of good bloggers to bad is higher (or lower) than the corresponding ratio of mainstream journalists. I'm just saying that it's entirely possible to create valuable, even important, work while working outside the boundaries of conventional journalism.
Bruce Miles: I guess if you look at the word "media," you'd have to count blogs as part of it. Now, that and a couple of bucks might get you a ride on the CTA. Blogs certainly are part of the information media. Whether they're part of the "news media," I'm not sure. Much of what bloggers do isn't traditional news gathering, per se _ it's commentary. But I do know there are bloggers who do interviews and write stories based on those interviews.
Will Carroll: Bloggers should earn the right to recognition. For instance, BP cannot get credentialed by MLB. When I did Jamey's function last year, I was denied a press pass -- had been hoping to get down to the clubhouse and try to get some radio interviews. Now, BP has a best-selling book, a radio show, and 10 years of history, so if we can't get it ... I don't think everybody's blog should get the same rights, but I think there should be a standard -- someone like Jamey or Adam Morris have probably done quality work for long enough to get credentialed. Remember, for the team, blogs can be promotional. If Jon wanted to get a message out, he could call Jamey and the quote would get out. Newspapers aren't always quite so cooperative.
Paul Sullivan: I don't know why bloggers would want to feel they're part of the media. It's not like there are any great rewards for being able to say, "I'm in the media." It's just our jobs. Maybe they should invent a separate category, like the "bloggia." Obviously anyone with an ISP can start a blog, while most newspaper reporters have to actually go to college and get a degree before they can get a job in the media. We've paid our dues. I'm sure many Cubs bloggers feel they could cover the Cubs for the Chicago Tribune without any reporting experience, and maybe some of them could, but I doubt it.
Goat Riders: I can't speak for everyone, but I think that some bloggers take themselves more seriously than others, and would like to have the ability to call the team up for confirmation or denial of stories, and perhaps for the chance to interview players from time to time (at least, that seems to be the biggest general complaint). Quite frankly, I suspect that a lot of bloggers will make claims that they want to be accepted as "traditional" media, but in reality I think they want the ego-trip of knowing that they have access that their "bloggia" contemporaries don't have.
One thing we like to consider is that we are basically promoting the teams we write about for free, and would like some sort of recognition for it. There are some genuinely informative websites out there like Baseball Prospectus, which has been denied credentials by MLB - something many bloggers would be astounded to know about.
After all, if MLB won't give BP credentials, what hope do other sports bloggers have?
Paul Lukas: Wow, that surprises me. I'd say that's really unenlightened on MLB's part.
Goat Riders: To be a little more specific, since that question missed the point: will the pop media phenomenon like blogging ever be considered mainstream enough to be recognized by large organizations like MLB?
Paul Lukas: Sure. They'll try to co-opt it -- that's what mainstream culture always does when outsider culture starts lapping at the shore.
Goat Riders: How many blogs do you read, and do other journalists you know read blogs?
Paul Sullivan: I don't generally read blogs, but I do check out deadspin a few times a week. I do enjoy their warped sense of humor. I'm not sure about the other writers' interests, so I can't really speak for them. I do know of a Cubs blog by Al Yellon, Bleed Cubbie Blue. I read that once in a while because I've met him and he doesn't take things too seriously.
Bruce Miles: I don't know the number, but I read several blogs every day. I enjoy the bloggers' take on things and the irreverant humor. Other journalists read the blogs, as well. Sometimes we enjoy a good laugh on ourselves if our names are brought up.
Will Carroll: I think everyone reads blogs. I actually just get stuff spidered in -- keyword searches. I probably read ten baseball blogs a day and more on a catchup basis. Ballbug is a great source.
Paul Lukas: Not too many -- five or six, maybe. This has less to do with my feelings about blogs than with my feelings about information overload -- there's only so much data I can process. (And) yes.
Goat Riders: Would they all admit to it?
Paul Lukas: Sure. That doesn't mean they all consider bloggers on a par with themselves, however.
Goat Riders: What do bloggers need to do to gain the respect of the mainstream?
Paul Sullivan: I don't think they should care about getting the respect of the mainstream. I always assumed it was fun for them to write something, stick it on the internet and let people read it. If it's an interesting blog, it's probably going to be well read. If respect from the mainstream is that important, send your clips to a newspaper and try to get a mainstream media job. Otherwise, why can't you just enjoy what you're doing and leave it at that?
Bruce Miles: Part of the charm of blogging is the irreverance. On the other hand, part of what turns some media people off is the silly name-calling. When I see the word "douchebag," for example, I pretty much stop reading. Those of us in the MSM, as you guys call it, have little things like libel laws with which to contend. I don't have any "disrespect" for bloggers. In fact, there's been some pretty good sabermetrics-related pieces on the blogs. If you balance the irreverance and the humor with a little less mean-spiritedness, I think you'd gain more respect.
Goat Riders: I'm not sure if that criticism (and a fair one at that) is directed at Goat Riders. We certainly do get overly critical of some journalists sometimes, and I can't say for certain that we've never called a journalist a douchebag on the site (although I hope we haven't.) I do know that we refer to some by pet names, however. Morrissey is "the Nameless One" because he was unecessarily critical of the Chicago Bears recently, and so we have concluded that he's seeking attention rather than reporting. We call Phil Rogers the "Caveman Journalist" because of the monosylablic nature of his headlines, which I'm sure he doesn't actually write, and we have been particularly harsh on Paul Sullivan from time to time, although he's turned out to have a good sense of humor about it and we are going to be fairer in the future.
Anyway, I can say that this was a learning experience. It's fair to conclude that we are perhaps going through the 1950's paranoia period of blogging - the press is out to get us, and MLB is out to bury us - when in fact the press is a part of blogging, even if blogging isn't a part of the press, and MLB isn't out to bury us, they just want to pretend we don't exist.
For the bloggers out there who are reading this, it seems simple: if you want credibility (and I honestly don't know how important "credibility" should be - readability seems more important to me), and if you want to be accepted as a part of the mainstream media rather than the fringe pop-media, then you need to work hard and write like a journalist, not like a fan. It's fun to take players and writers to task - but at the end of the day, they are people like us with families. Would you want somebody to write a post about what a douchebag idiot you are because of comments you've made? Would you want your wife, or your little brother, or your mother to stumble across those comments on a google search?
The point is, our attitudes seem to hold us back. Regardless of that, if you write for a blog that wants more access, MLB should be able to determine the difference between a "good" blog and a "bad" one. They should be able to look over your writing and determine if you should get limited access. Perhaps someday in the future, they'll start doing that. But I don't think that's the route for Goat Riders. I don't want to personally attack players or writers, but I do enjoy our twisted sense of humor here and I look forward to years of continued teasing. For that reason, I don't see us ever getting mainstream enough to be considered a part of the "traditional media," and I'm fine with that.
Tune in later this month for the reaction from the bloggers.