Thursday, February 09, 2006

ESPN is Closing its Eyes and Trying to Pretend We're not Here
By Bryan Koch

In a Media Bistro report several days ago (cited by Deadspin), a panel discussed the future of electronic sports content (this turned out to be a thinly veiled promotion for ESPN mobile, a concept so moronic that it’s destined to be lucrative). The advent of this service is noteworthy in and of itself, for it only perpetuates the trends of “Sportstainment” and synergy that are at least partially responsible for the response that has become the sports blog community (this illustration can easily extend to mainstream media and bloggers on the whole; we are only a small piece of the “rebellion”). However, an evaluation of this technological advance can easily be tackled at a later date. What’s most timely and relevant, right now, is the following snippet of the report:

“Oh, and of course, blogs blogs blogs, ('they don't have the burden of truth,' Stern said), though we don't think any of the speakers had looked at Deadspin.com; they were asked, and none said "yes."

The photos of Ben Roethlisberger drunk and flirting were certainly hilarious, and to some extent, significantly heightened Deadspin’s visibility (which in turn endorses all of us). However, as editor Will Leitch notes in his retrospective on the pseudo-sensation, the popularity of the photographs (and of his web site) amongst the mainstreamers reached a disappointingly abrupt halt. In short, one Pittsburgh television station circulated a story regarding the pictures on their website for half an hour before promptly removing them (and subsequently lying to Leitch about them ever having been present). Apparently, the photographs were also made available on the Drudge Report for a short interim before being removed in concert with their vanishing from the Pittsburgh web site. Apparently Matt Drudge adheres to a strict policy of not referencing blogs.

And certainly, we can all appreciate the logic guiding this decision. Once the “legitimate” web site canned the story, the photographs were no longer real. Sure, Drudge had access to the same files, but clearly they were unreliable. After all, they were just on a blog. That’s not, like, a newspaper or anything.

Why did Drudge withdraw from the fray here? Why did WTAE-TV drop the story? How is it possible that not a single journalist questioned Roethlisberger on the issue? After all, the pictures hardly even threatened Big Ben’s reputation. Would it be so damaging for him to admit that he’s young and heterosexual? Is this really a surprise? I mean, I guess he’s never officially announced this, but honestly, I hardly deem it an unfair presupposition.

I believe that, ostensibly, the answers to the aforementioned questions lie in Stern’s trite, uninformed, prejudicial comments: “They don’t have the burden of truth.”

The blog community is largely young and particularly concerning in the eyes of the Old Guard. Stern may just be one man, but he emblemizes an entire generation of decidedly modernist notions of credibility and non-electronic journalism. Any media theorist will tell you that the nature of the medium will invariably determine the nature of its content, and that at the dawn of a new medium’s evolution, the older, more conservative generation will utilize new technology much like they did the old gadgets. Sure enough, for the last several years, the suits in charge have been desperately trying to harness the Internet as an extension of newspaper and television outfits. ESPN.com is more or less the Internet version of the television network. Sports publications mostly just put their materials online.

Guess what? They’re starting to lose their grip.

Naturally, the mainstream is dismissing the blog community; purportedly because we are not obligated to uphold basic journalistic tenets, but actually because they’re more or less terrified of us.

And their ammunition against us? Right, right, no burden of truth.

I mean, let’s compare conventional media and those wild upstart rogue bloggers for a moment:

Conventional Media:

-In bed with the government
-In bed with every major American institution (for our purposes, this includes all professional sports leagues)
-Bound by a capitalist economic structure
-Tied to major corporations
-Must draw viewership/readership for survival
-Have the means and influence to set the agenda, ignore certain stories, distort perception, etc.

Summarily, the mainstream sports journalists have serious cause to protect the athletes, teams, and institutions on which they report. They have substantial reasons to create or avoid a story, based on how well it promotes the product (and the “product,” of course, is the entire culture of professional sports).

Put more simply, ESPN has motive to spin the truth, reason to spin the truth, and the ability to spin the truth. And they do it all the time. That’s why we’re here. Because we’re not stupid. In fact, we’re a lot smarter than they are. They find this perturbing.

Bloggers:

-No restrictive links to any significant financial or professional institution
-Little readership (comparatively)
-Only means of obtaining an audience is to prove themselves credible
-Able to report stories without fear of reproach
-No significant financial motivations to spin/distort truth

In other words, the blog community diametrically opposes the mainstream media. Thus it should come as no surprise that it is largely ignored on their playing field – well, except for BlogMaverick, but that’s kind of like watching the Blair Witch Project and then calling yourself an indie film snob.

Bloggers must seek out the truth. If they don’t, their little web pages will die off without anyone ever noticing. It is only through decent journalism (yes, journalism) that any blogger can accrue a measurable and loyal audience. What’s more, we don’t have to worry about the influences of corporatism or any significant ties to the leagues themselves. Hey, I’m not making any money for writing this.

But that doesn’t render us a destructive force, either. If you’re reading this blog, you probably already know this, but the reason we’re out here is pretty much the exact opposite of what Stern asserted. We’re writing because we love sports, and we like the truth, too. And at some point, the truth became interweaved with monopolies like ESPN, and, well, ESPN, and now it’s being spit out at us only as some jumbled, unintelligible version of the original form. And we’re fed up with it. So we’re going to keep on writing, making fun of Joe Morgan and Skip Bayless, and winning over the audience, one sports fan at a time.

And that’s because, as it turns out, the truth is exactly what we’re after.

1 Comments:

Blogger David Arnott said...

Bryan, my man, you've articulately explained exactly what I've been trying to say in response to a column that Leitch wrote for Baseball Analysts. You've nailed it on the head that, in a certain light, there is a higher standard for credibility for the blogger than for the writer at the big city newspaper even though we all see the games and we all receive only information that those in power want to release. Ultimately, the big difference is proximity to the athletes themselves, and that is a major advantage to the Old Guard.

6:37 PM  

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