Wednesday, April 30, 2008

As The Blog Turns

You know how every once in a while you're watching a game, and something incredible happens, and you feel grateful to have been there (you're not really "there," of course, but you know where I'm going)? It happened to me last year, when I finally witnessed a no-hitter--even better, it was Red Sox kid sensation Clay Buchholz doing the deed.

Last night's "Costas Now" media inquisition on HBO might have been one of those moments, only I missed it live. I set the DVR and finished watching the Sox' epic 1-0 triumph over Roy Halladay, who threw his third consecutive complete game loss (that sounds like something from the dead ball era). I then put in a little wife time and watched some programming we could both enjoy. For some reason a fake town hall meeting discussing sports blogs and talk radio did not interest her.

So before I headed to work this morning, I cued up the TiVo to see if anything interesting happened on the show. Now I know that this stuff is most likely more interesting to us the writers than you the readers. The vitriol of Buzz Bissinger and Bob Costas were directed at us bloggers, not you blog consumers. But by extension, those guys were calling you idiots. They said that you are not capable of filtering information for yourself, that you can't decide what's credible or entertaining on your own, and that only TRAINED SPORTS JOURNALISTS are skilled enough to deliver sports analysis to sports fans. Just make sure you keep buying Bissinger's books, watching Costas' shows, patronizing their advertisers, and they'll take care of you, you fucking morons.

Banky helpfully provides the relevant clip below, as well as reaction from the relevant parties: Leitch, the FJM crew, and Big Daddy Balls.

First off, a note about Buzz Bissinger. If you haven't read his stuff before, you might dismiss him as a defensive old crackpot and leave it at that. I have read his stuff, and he is truly gifted at his craft. He graduated from Penn, worked at newspapers in the twin Cities, Philadelphia and Chicago, and won a Pulitzer Prize. He's most well known for two sports books: Friday Night Lights and Three Nights In August.

Friday Night Lights is and always will be one of my favorite books in any genre. One reason for this is that I have family from West Texas, and I've known about the obsession with Odessa Permian football (Mojo) for a long time. But the primary reason I love the book is that Bissinger created something entirely new with it. Sure, other authors have embedded themselves with their subjects before. George Plimpton was a member of the Detroit Lions, and John Feinstein spent an full season with Bob Knight and the Indiana basketball team. Detroit Lions and Indiana Hoosiers are, for the most part, celebrities on a national scale. Permian Panthers, when Bissinger arrived, were not. They were 15-, 16-year-old kids with acne and anxiety and shitty parents. Bissinger created on the pages of his book everything good and raw and compelling from reality TV without gratuitous humiliation and product placement. It was masterful.

It also made Bissinger rich. Then he sold the film rights and Hollywood made a lousy movie, which made Bissinger even richer. Then NBC created its TV show, which generated even more cash, even though it has no true connection to Bissinger's real-life characters. It's complete fiction. Along the way Bissinger transformed, from a crusty newspaperman to a loaded player. His roots, of course, are still in print journalism. He doesn't understand the kids and their Intarweebs and their rock and roll music. And because he doesn't understand, he's defensive and frustrated and bitter and angry, angry at Will Leitch, even though Leitch does not represent even the slightest threat to his livelihood.

Three Nights In August is compelling in its own way, but isn't half the masterpiece that Friday Night Lights is. Bissinger has lost his voice and his connection with both his subject and his reader. He's now important, he has literary agents and managers and a big advance and big-shot friends and sidekicks like Tony La Russa and Tracy Ringolsby. He's also dismissive of this new trend in baseball, embodied by Moneyball, and he spends much of the book slamming the disrespectful young guns and lauding the slow-footed old guard. Sound familiar?

Now Will Leitch has written a few books too, most recently God Save The Fan. I've read it, and it was, well, disappointing. Judged strictly on the basis of writing chops, Will Leitch can not hold a candle to Buzz Bissinger. But Leitch is a thousand times the modern sports journalist that Bissinger is. Leitch, like Bissinger, cut his teeth in newspapers before moving on to a different medium. But while Leitch is willing to adapt because adaptation is a necessary human skill, Bissinger adapts only when it is financially beneficial. If there were more money in newspapers than in his new gig as novelist/screenwriter/producer, he'd still be in newspapers. If Al Gore had invented the House of Georges back when Bissinger was a cub reporter, he'd be on the series of tubes. Bissinger pretends to have principles, but he really just doesn't get it.

The Internet is putting newspapers out of business, not because it's better but because newspapers are filled with dyspeptic old know-it-alls like Buzz Bissinger who want to own the information and dispense it as they see fit. And because they're in the information business, the Bissingers and the Ringolsbys of the world have a platform with which they can air their antiquated views.

You know who else the Internet has put out of business? Porn theaters (actually, VCRs did it first). Travel agents. Yet travel agents are not represented by Buzz Bissinger, so no one gives a shit. No one gets PISSED OFF on a Bob Costas show when they book a flight online, they're either grateful for the convenience or take it completely for granted. Like you did, when you came here to the HoG today instead of digging for Mark Kiszla's views on the state of the Nuggets in the Denver Post.

Look, I love newspapers. I read several actual dead-tree papers every day, unlike almost everyone my age. I used to work in the field, as did Bankmeister. Hell, Cecil still draws a paycheck from a major U.S. daily newspaper. We're all trained professional journalists. We've faced deadlines. We've edited our stories to avoid libel. We've interviewed smug arrogant jerks like Buzz Bissinger because it was our job. We know the game.

And yet in our spare time we publish this blog. We don't follow AP style, we curse, we run (as Bob Costas called them last night) "gratuitous potshots and mean-spirited abuse." You know why, Buzz and Bob? Because the Internet allows us to follow sports in a more democratic and accessible way than you prefer. I don't want to wait around for Buzz's next book to let you give me an opinion. I don't want to rely on Bob Costas, with his opinions and biases, to deliver information to me I can easily find and decode for myself. I'm a smart guy, and when it comes to certain teams and certain stats I'm way smarter than Costas and Bissinger. Bob Costas doesn't know the status of the Rockies' second base job, who'll play QB for CSU next year, who my keeper is going to be in fantasy football. He doesn't give a shit. So fuck him, I'll find it myself, and then I'll write about it. In my underwear. In my mom's basement. Because I can.

This is not to say that we, with our fancy community-college journalism degrees and well-worn steno pads, are uniquely qualified to dissect sports. Our only credentials are that we're fans and we care. Which makes us just as "experienced" as Mike Wilbon or Bob Costas or Buzz Bissinger. And you, humble sports fan, are just as qualified too. So you didn't go to Northwestern, intern under Grantland Rice, cover the Moscow Olympics? Who cares? Start a blog, it's easy. There's no way it can be worse than this one (Editor's Note: Please don't start a blog, you might take away our precious traffic and we're scared to death of change.)

In a way, these defenses of our medium are ridiculous, because they concede there's some sort of credence to the ancient ramblings of dumb old Buzz Bissinger. Besides, no one can do it better than Big Daddy Balls Deep Drew-lerio After Dark Piss-Fuck himself.


Unknown said...

Well said. Keep doin' what you're doin'. I cancelled my subscription to the local fishwrap about a month ago. It hurt real bad for the first day or two. I couldn't figure out what to do in the morning without it. I can't take my computer to the shitter either. But change must happen. Reading the newspaper for the past few years has felt like re-reading the same article I had already read. Something had to give. With all of the information available on the vast series of tubes and blogricerias, what use is the MSM??

Check that- the MSM has a place, it just doesn't occupy the ONLY place.

old no. 7 said...

That's exactly right. That's what I don't understand about Costas' stance, particularly, on "access." Of course someone needs to go into the locker room and into the press box. Directly covering the players, managers, coaches and games is essential. It will never replace someone watching on TV and then blogging about what they've seen. Both forms can coexist and complement each other--but the MSM has to acknowledge that they don't own the sole right to these thoughts and opinions.

Unknown said...

I get the feeling that they don't mind the bloggery, as long as it's regulated by them (Joechat, et al). Once you allow reader comments and a few words they don't like, you're an outlaw and Buzz hates you. It's all about controlling the information and it's distribution.

old no. 7 said...

Yes, but if you watched the rest of the special they (and by "they" I mean the old school press) are threatened by ESPN too. ESPN, in their minds, controls too many platforms and, like Buzz says, "dumbs down" the conversation.

It's a bunch of old dudes like Bill Conlin and Al Michaels who think that if you didn't see Ali fight you should defer to them. And even if you're my dad's age, and you did see Ali fight, you didn't interview him or share a moment in a tunnel under Madison Square Garden, so you should still defer to them.

Unknown said...

But at least ESPN is accepted. You guys, Deadspin, etc. are outcasts in their eyes. Hell, they have to be polite to ESPN because they may end up an analyst for a Bob Ley special one day.

Blogitalia's dismissal reminds me of the way our parents dismissed Hip Hop, our grandparents dismissed Rock n Roll, their parents and Jazz, etc. Hell, Candy Cummings' generation probably dismissed the fucking curveball.