I try to ignore Bob Kravitz. Sometimes, to do their jobs well, journalists have to write things that make people mad. Unfortunately, some writers turn that truth on its head and believe that if they are making people mad, they must be doing their jobs well. For that reason, I try to ignore professional hair-pullers like Kravitz and his provocative-for-provacative's-sake work product. Nevertheless, today's column, entitled "Anonymity of blogosphere is turning us into a culture of weenies," hits close enough to home that I'm going to take the bait.
I'll begin at the beginning:
Actually, we've been a culture of weenies for quite some time, but the point was driven home again the other day when Mark Cuban, the Dallas Mavericks' otherwise fabulous owner, used his blog to apologize to Kenyon Martin's mother.
He didn't do it face to face.
He didn't even pick up the telephone and talk directly to Kenyon's mother.
He wrote it in his blog.
Which, I guess, is slightly nobler than apologizing on Twitter, although not by much.
Got that? The anonymity of the blogosphere caused Mark Cuban, a world-famous person who blogs under his own name, to apologize in an insufficiently old-fashioned way. Yes, I know that reporters and columnists do not necessarily write their own headlines, but in response to an article about the inadequacy of the blogosphere compared to the royal priesthood of print media, the incoherence is fair game.
The column then devolves into a mishmash of musings about the good old days when people talked face to face, the inanity of Twitter, a grudging acknowledgment of the usefulness of athletes who blog or maintain Twitter feeds. Then, we get to the substance:
My biggest objection is the proliferation of blogs and posts by anonymous weenies -- or pansies, if you will.
Everybody is big and brave behind a pseudonym, but confront them face to face, and next thing you know they're changing underwear.
I guess I don't understand this. Is this based on personal experience? Has Kravitz personally confronted bloggers and forced them to cower in the corner? Have other journalists? He goes on:
I've asked some of my more 'Net-savvy friends to fill me in on what's out there in terms of Indy sports-related Web sites. The more voices, the better, right? I'm not so naïve or arrogant to think the newspaper owns a monopoly on news-gathering or editorial content.
Former Colts Web site reporter John Oehser has a terrific site, indyfootballreport.com, which every Colts fan ought to bookmark (right after IndyStar.com, of course).
Colt Power, which is one of the Scout.com franchises, does a decent job, even if I've never once met any of its reporters in the Colts media room. (Maybe next year, introduce yourselves.)
The local teams have sites, the best one being Pacers.com, which is written by former Star reporter Conrad Brunner. The team sites are obviously tilted toward happy news, but Bruno has retained a measure of his journalistic integrity.
The rest, though, are garbage. Some are little more than clearinghouses filled with links from mainstream media sources, including The Star. Others are dominated by the writings of people who hide behind ridiculous pseudonyms like Big Blue Shoe and Deshawn Zombie.
Certainly, his last paragraph has some merit. Some blogs are little more than link aggregators, although they may be useful in many ways, including by driving traffic to the Star's website. Maybe they aren't garbage, but I can see why one might conclude that they don't add any value. Kravitz's second point, however, seems to be that blogs written by the likes of "Big Blue Shoe," the lead writer for SB Nation's Colts blog, Stampede Blue, are garbage not because of their content, but precisely because of the "ridiculous pseudonyms."
It's like this: You will be taken seriously, and should be taken seriously and should be given credentials to cover the team, when you stop hiding behind silly names.
Bill Simmons doesn't hide. Will Leitch and the folks at Deadspin don't hide. The thousands of newspaper bloggers out there don't hide.
I don't mind personal criticism in the least; if you dish it out, you take it. Some of it is kind of funny, if I'm being honest. But who are these people writing in Stampede Blue and 18to88?
There's a lot to consider. First, Kravitz begins with the presumption that every blogger craves the "legitimacy" that comes with sitting in the pressbox. Some do, and some bloggers are aspiring journalists. That's fine. But for many of us, this is an enjoyable and time-consuming hobby. I don't write about IU because I want to be a full-time writer. I don't want to sit in the press box and pretend that I don't care whether IU wins. I don't want to go into the basement of Assembly Hall and transcribe or elicit the coachspeak that I can watch live or read hours later on IU's official site. My mission is different.
As for the list of guys who are "out there": Bill Simmons (who, as a poster elsewhere notes, began as the anonymous "Boston Sports Guy") is a highly compensated employee of ESPN. Will Leitch is a professional writer for New York magazine. The non-anonymous newspaper bloggers are paid employees of the newspapers. As I said above, I have a fairly demanding career. It's a career where thankfully, I have the freedom to devote the lunch hour or other time to writing missives like this so long as I get my work done timely and professionally. And I blog under my real first name and real last initial. But for professional reasons, I don't necessarily want this blog to show up in a Google search for my name. It's not because I'm ashamed of my opinions or afraid to stand up for what I believe. It because blogging semi-anonymously is the only way I can justify doing it. Kravitz asks, "who are these people?" This is an unorthodox idea, Bob, but have you ever thought about...asking them? I once exchanged e-mail with an IU beat writer who wanted to know who the hell I was. I told him. Others might have reasons for not doing so. On the other hand, writing anonymously on a blog under the same "silly name" every day, responding to criticism, and so on isn't the same kind of "anonymous" as writing drive-by comments on a message board. Someone who writes under a pseudonym is accountable if he consistently uses the same pseudo-identity.
I think the really damning part of Kravitz's column is that he doesn't say a single word about the content of Stampede Blue (which is outstanding, by the way, and has been a near-daily read for me since long before I was associated with SB Nation). Because they use "silly names," and for no other reason, their blogs are irrefutably garbage. That's a really shortsighted approach. Further, note that all of the worthwhile blogs are written by current or former full-time writers: John Oehser used to write for the Colts' website; Conrad Brunner works for the Pacers and used to write for the Star; Simmons and Leitch make their livings as writers. It seems that being "in the club" matters quite a bit to Kravitz, even more than the actual quality of the writing.
A final thought: near the end of the column, Kravitz laments the "one-way conversation." Let's rewind the clock 20 years, before the World Wide Web : from 1989 back, was there anything that was more of a one-way conversation than being a columnist for a large newspaper? A columnist back then had an audience of tens or hundreds of thousands, and the return conversation was, what, a couple of letters to the editor? A pile of snail mail that could be skimmed or disregarded? There was no voice mail, no e-mail, no online edition of the paper, no message boards, no comment threads. Columnists, unlike beat reporters, often don't have to face the subjects of their writing.
I wonder how much of Kravitz's article is based on nostalgia for the bygone days of the imperial newspaper, dispensing opinions from on high. Now, columnists have lots of instant feedback, lots more competition, yet still are constrained by deadlines and column-inches. Thanks to the Internet, consider what a blogger like me can do without leaving Indianapolis. Thanks to the Big Ten Network, I can watch every single IU football and basketball game and even a decent number of baseball, women's basketball, and soccer games. I can watch weekly and postgame press conferences via streaming video and/or read the transcript within hours. Statistics, both traditional and innovative, are at my fingertips. I have a high regard for the power of journalism, such as the sort of investigative journalism that bloggers with day jobs couldn't hope to accomplish. Now, it's not my goal to replace the Indianapolis Star by writing straight-news accounts of the games. I try to augment traditional reporting, not replace it. But I, or anyone else with cable and an Internet connection, could do it.
The days of the authoritative opinion-maker are gone. Some journalists accept that; others rail against it. It's a shame, because a true dialogue between Kravitz and the bloggers he derides might make both sides better off.