Siberian Baseball

Friday, March 28, 2008

The freedom of the blog

(Note: I shelved this post for a few weeks as I tried to clarify some thoughts and clean up the overall post for readability issues. The times lines might be a little off on some references, but the meat of the post is unchanged.)

I'll try to keep this short, as it's been covered before and pretty well, but I've had three reminders in seven days that the blogs I read and writers I respect are still seen as some sort of outsider movement, hellbent on forcing their views on other without any research or sense of responsibility, all while throwing the rules of grammar to the wind (um, guilty) and spilling Cheetos into their laptop keyboards.

First was this posting at Goatriders of the Apocalypse, which noticed a new linking policy for the Chicago Sun-Times on Feb. 26. Given the problems at the paper, I'll go the cynical route and assume this is the free way to expand online content while the paper circles the drain.

A few weeks ago, Deadspin brought it to my attention that Bob Costas doesn't like me very much and thinks I'm an idiot. I'm firmly in the camp that thought Costas of all people "got it" and is now very disappointed that it appears he doesn't.

Finally - and oddly enough, the piece of this puzzle that started everything - was a conversation with a friend of my wife's regarding blogging and the blog culture as we were killing time last weekend.

She mentioned that an ex of hers had worked for one of the wire services and we started talking about the pros and cons of traditional reporting versus blogging.

Honestly, I don't mind the blogger side of things as much as I thought I would. Aside from the pay scales (nearly free versus free), the envy of other males (especially your wife or girlfriend's exes) and on-site, immediate access, the positives tend to pile up on the blog side.

I like being able to sink or swim on my own here and not having to go back to the locker room in a few days and defend myself because bruised egos don't want to answer questions after a loss. While the overall experience is positive, there is always someone who gets rubbed the wrong way by something you wrote, even if it's true. If a player hasn't had a goal in five games (a fact) that doesn't make it any easier to deal with when some knucklehead is writing about it in the paper, right?

We talked about the difference in approach between bloggers and reporters and the freedom that comes from not relying on access or being defined by it. Much of what the traditional media is based on is just that - access. When you flip through your local news at night, if one channel has the head coach and the other has the special teams coach, who do you place more faith in? Exactly, it's a popularity contest without anyone really noticing.

In my case access is the furthest thing from my mind and it allows for a lot more leeway. Sure, it allows for bigger, more embarrassing falls, but it's a fair trade.

Additionally, removing that access takes away the stonewall factor that the traditional media is subject to. Let's say I watch the same game on TV or from the stands that a reporter is also covering. We're both bright people when it comes to sports and we both see that the quarterback is off (and that stats obviously bear this out, as the completion percentage is just disgusting) and the reason for that is that his throwing motion is out of whack.

After the game, the reporter catches the head coach and they ask about what was going on with the player during the game. Is he hurt? Was their a problem with his equipment? Here are the numbers, what gives?

In some cases, that head coach is looking to play down an injury or a bad performance to keep other teams off balance or to save his player's ego and either way, it makes for a bad situation for the reporter. The options at this point are to run with the story as it has been neutralized by the coaching staff ("Coach X denied that injuries played a factor in the 10-point loss Saturday, despite his quarterback going 2-for-18 in the second half...") or to raise the red flags and prepare for a possible confrontation in the near future ("After the Knights' quarterback finished the game in noticeable pain, Coach X denied that injuries played a factor in the 10-point loss Saturday despite a 2-for-18 showing in the second half...").

Blogging, while it lacks traditional access, also lacks the traditional punishments by players or coaches revoking access. This an overlooked facet of the sports world, moreso than politics or other beats - while reporters can cry foul in the name of public good when a politician refuses to comment on their actions, sports aren't really governed by the same rules.

Cause a problem, get a flat quote - cause enough problems and don't expect much in some extreme cases. I think this is where some of the traditional reporters get antsy - they don't see the traditional checks and balances in place and view that as a lack of standards.

In reality, how is anything that a blogger speculates on any better or worse than a reporter fighting for access and forced to piece together stories some nights that have weak support from players and coaches? Worse still, how is the quality impacted by a reporter on thin ice who is trying not to piss anyone else off for a few days?

At least the bloggers don't have to fight for parking and risk a speeding ticket getting back to the office in order to hit a deadline.



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