Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Required Reading

So Buzz Bissinger threw bloggers under the bus and Bob Costas and Bissinger attempted to throw Will Leitch under the bus...big deal right? It kind of is.

There are many, many good blogs out there - this not being one of them, and for someone as highly respected as Bissinger to condemn the entire medium based on a Deadspin comments thread is ridiculous.

As usual Ken Tremedous at FJM offered a insightful view on what transpired, read it and be impressed with how great the content on FJM is - I'll be studying.

Okay. So. "Costas Now."

Tonight, I was interviewed as part of that program's multi-part investigation of Sports and the Media. What followed the tape piece was a live discussion among Will Leitch of Deadspin, Buzz Bissinger of "Friday Night Lights" and "Being Very Angry," and of course the one guy you go to for any discussion of Sports and the Media: Braylon Edwards of the Cleveland Browns.

If you didn't see it, the discussion went like this:

Bob Costas: There are some criticisms about blogs. How do you respond?

Will Leitch: Well, I think some of them are valid--

Buzz Bissinger: I have to interrupt here. (to Leitch) Fuck you and everything you stand for.

Braylon Edwards: (to himself) I am going to kill my agent.

The argument I had tried to make in the pre-taped segment was: you can't say anything about "blogs," any more than you can say anything about any medium. There are good blogs and bad blogs. There are blogs that cover the personal lives of athletes, ones that cover only the games, ones that offer opinions, and even a few that quixotically and foolishly attempt to metacriticize the media as a whole. What Bissinger did that was so annoying to me was: he lumped all of these into one thing ("Deadspin," essentially), then took one article from one day and read it aloud from a file that looked suspiciously like it'd come from Joe McCarthy's safe, and read one sentence from it aloud. And furthermore, he seemed to conflate the actual blog and the people who write for it with the silly comments people make at the bottom of every article.

It's a big dumb ignorant mistake to do this. It's a big hot wet mushy smelly bonebrained mistake to (a) use one sentence from anything as a representative sample of the thing, much less as a representative sample of all blogs everywhere, and (b) to mix blog comments and blog articles. It's an even bigger mistake, in my opinion, to disparage the level of discourse on the Internet and use blog comments as an example. (And swear a ton while doing it, while saying that the Internet is "profane.") Picking a random blog comment and wielding it as a club to bash "blogs" is like picking a random romance novel off an airport bookstore shelf and saying, "This book sucks. Fuck you, Tolstoy -- your medium is worthless!"

For what I hope is the last time, but is clearly not: the level of discourse on Athletics Nation, and Baseball Prospectus, and SoSH, and Joe Posnanski's blog, is every bit as high (if not higher) than what you can read in the best newspapers in the country. Bissinger's hare-brained attempt to prove Leitch an uneducated oaf by asking whether he had read any W.C. Heinz (which failed miserably when Leitch had, in fact, read some W. C. Heinz) was a perfect example of the old guard's attitude toward the new guard: you little shits don't get it. You don't know how to write. You have no gratitude or appreciation for those who came before you. So: fuck you. (P.S. I have never really read your blog.) (P.P.S. Fuck you, though, anyway.)

There are sports bloggers (and message-board posters) who write very well, in my opinion. There are those who love Ring Lardner and David Halberstam and Robert Creamer and Roger Angell. They try to write well, and entertain, and contribute to the universe of sports reporting. Please read them, Buzz. If you find nothing of interest, you can swear all you want. (For the record, FJM is extremely pro-swearing. We just feel you should be funny while doing it.)

If there is anything tangible and helpful to take away from Mr. Bissinger's performance -- and it takes a good deal of chaff-sorting to get anywhere near this little nugget -- I think it's this: a lot of the discourse and sub-discourse (commenting) on the internet is, in fact, pretty shitty. This is not news, though, really. A lot of newspaper writing and editorial writing and every kind of writing is shitty. It's just not as immediate and anonymous and easily-accessed as Internet writing is. Thus, the net has this reputation, now, as being a nihilistic and thoughtless meetingplace for people to spew venom. Partially deserved, partially not, whatever -- point is, the part that is deserved can be altered. We can all probably do a little better in this realm, by making sure that whatever we write has an actual point, and some thought behind it. So, there's that.

Okay. I guess that's it. As the kids would say: [/serious and unfunny discussion of Internet journalism standards]. Coming soon: more swearing!

[Just added two clauses to this post at 9:25 AM PST -- the clarification about what Bissinger actually did (taking one sentence and reading it aloud) and the subsequent (a), (b) follow-up in the next paragraph.]


Judge Roughneck said...

Bissinger is a fool. Look, there are people in this world who can write, and people who cannot. Some use that talent professionally, some don't. It is the height of arrogance for Bissinger to assume that only people who are paid to write for a living are the only ones who should express an opinion. Sports journalism at the professional level is not a fun business for anyone who has family or friends. Travel is tough and constant. Professional athletes are not pleasant to deal with. The competition for scoops is so cut-throat that the temptation to take "liberties" with truth is always there. Bissinger acts like he's holier-than-thou because he's been wading through this slop for 40 years. I respectfully disagree - although respect is more than what Bissinger has shown the entire medium.

MP said...

The lack of professionalism was what struck me the most - this is supposedly a man who prides himself on his professionalism and he's throwing around f-bombs condemning an entire medium because of a Deadspin comments thread. Actually, I should say using a Deadspin comments thread to try and justify an attack on an entire medium.

And I agree - it is foolish to believe that anyone who doesn't write professionally can't write. I really just echo the views they keep repeating at FJM because it's such a valid point: there are crappy areas of every medium. Whether it's newspapers,books, television, movies, blogs, whatever. There's real garbage and there's genuinely great material.

It's amazing to think that someone as well-versed and as great a writer as Bissinger could fall prey to such weak logic...but I guess that's the case.