Sunday, November 4, 2007

On bloggers and the blogosphere…

Yesterday, the Detroit News ran a piece by Chris McCosky where he disparages bloggers, some quotes:

But people, let's not confuse what random fans and wanna-be pundits are tossing out there with legitimate reporting. The line is getting way too blurry now between Internet noise and actual journalism. It's actually getting to the point now where some (too many) of the bloggers are using cyberspace to discredit the legitimate media.

This sounds like a person who dislikes the fact that people can call them on doing a mediocre job and do so publicly. If the ‘legitimate media’ hadn’t done such a poor job on any number of things, there would be no way to discredit them. If anything, bloggers can serve as a valuable reminder to the media to be thorough or be held accountable publicly.

With blogging and Web sites, it seems the hard work, standards, accountability, courage all of that is bypassed. Who needs to study this stuff, or attend games, or conduct interviews when you can just sit in your basement and clack out whatever comes through your head, right? If I rip somebody, or if I get something wrong, who cares? Nobody will see me.

If a blog wants to develop and retain an audience, it has to do its homework too. Bloggers have been called to account a great many times when they have made errors. Remember Baseball Prospectus’s Will Carroll and the Pete Rose reinstatement story? I have done mainstream work and am currently employed by a mainstream outlet and interviews are more often than not a collection of all-too-predictable clichés. A lot of athletes have blogs as well and their comments are open to all. Sadly, real insights are few and far between.

A lot of times these bloggers use the work of legitimate reporters. They will lift facts and segments of stories and cut and paste them onto their blog. Rarely, if ever, though, do they bother to credit the source.

The same can be said of the mainstream media. I wrote a column on Gary Sheffield’s comments on Black vs. Latino for the Hardball Times on June 8 last spring. Two days later, this piece was penned on Lancaster Online. Parts of my column will be in bold, the other in italics:
"Let's get the easy part out of the way: The whole Latino vs. black—who gets the job, who doesn’t—has only a tiny little bit to do with control issues. There are a lot of African-American athletes in the NFL—probably the most controlling professional major league."

"Leave aside, also, that NFL players are by far the most-controlled athletes in big-time team sports even though two-thirds of them are African-American."

"An extremely talented black athlete might have offers on the table to go straight to the NBA and/or NFL ... Also to be kept in mind is that a talented black athlete in high school has the option of college."

"These guys have options. They have agents. They can go to, or return to, college. It's going to take serious money to sign them"

"Don't forget that, sadly, to a lot of kids in Latin America, the minor league lifestyle is a step up from the way they're used to living. The money offered, though it would inspire Scott Boras into gales of laughter, is quite a bit of coin to these young men—enough to make a huge difference to their families ... Latinos who are scouted have to choose between staying home or signing."

"This is a broad but, it says here, fundamentally accurate generalization: Latin players can be signed younger, easier and much, much, much cheaper than their North American counterparts.

In many if not most cases, Latin players would consider a low-minor- league salary luxurious, and the low-minor lifestyle a step up from what they're used to. And for them, college sports, or any sport other than baseball, aren't an option."

"Kids from places like the Dominican Republic and other parts of the Caribbean generally are signed by the bushel when they're 16 and sometimes earlier. Sammy Sosa was signed for just a few thousand dollars. To find major league gold you need to sift through a lot of ore. Ore is lot more expensive in the USA than it is Latin America. One piece of ore that might be gold can run you $8-10 million in the states. You can buy tons of ore in the other places we’ve discussed ... It has little to do with who is controllable and who is not—it's about simple cost-effectiveness."

"The point is, for what it's going to cost to sign Price — the African-American Vanderbilt University pitcher who was the first overall pick in the draft — you can go to the Dominican Republic and round up two dozen 16-to-18-year-olds hungry to "play their way off the island."

Which is the better investment?

It is about control, Gary. Cost control."

I know a lot of bloggers who had similar experiences to mine.

But because there is no accountability, because there are no repercussions for being wrong, because they will never have to look Zumaya in the face, who cares? Make up whatever you want.

This is baseless, a good blogger won’t make things up. Once they lose credibility, they lose readers.

All I am saying is this: You don't have to believe everything you read in the paper. You shouldn't, actually. But you do have to know most reporters at legitimate news sources work hard to deliver fair, accurate and pertinent information.

While this statement seems almost contradictory, bloggers strive to do likewise. Their names or on the blog and nobody wants to be tarred as a liar or a fraud.

And what they do is vastly different than what the clever dude in his pajamas is doing on his computer, down in his basement.

When people feel threatened, they break out the stereotype. People who are racist often try to disguise their prejudice with lofty sounding ideals: They oppose immigration because foreigners take jobs that should go to local people. They worry about possible security threats or they’re simply 'protecting their investment' when trying to bar an ethnic group from settling into their neighbourhoods etc. He bemoans the lack of research done by bloggers then throws out an unsubstantiated and unresearched blanket claim about an entire community.

The thing is, I do write for a mainstream outlet as well as a fairly well respected online magazine and I feel bloggers (of whom I am proud to be associated with) are gold--absolute gold. They can present stuff/analysis that the mainstream media aren’t allowed to cover and they have no constraints of how many words they can use or how thorough they can cover a given subject. They can approach a subject from any number of angles (i.e. sabermetrics) that those in the mainstream are not allowed to by the higher ups.

They’re just such a tremendous online resource and they’re always eager lend a hand as well as valuable feedback. I mention blogs and link to them whenever I get the chance. It’s my way of saying thanks and making sure to give credit where it’s due. That’s why I have a difficult time with blog-bashing writers--they’re too bloody arrogant to realize what is available to them. They feel they’re ‘above’ being taught by ‘the rabble.’ It shows in their writing too, I don’t think I would be writing for pay if not for the free education given me online by the blogging community and others.

A lot of bloggers are defacto experts on any number of subjects in the game whether it’s the business side of baseball, statistical analysis, the legal/collective bargaining labour issues, information on clubs’ farm systems, baseball history etc. It’s like having your own personal staff of consultants just a mouse-click away and they work pro bono. It is truly a shame that more writers don’t understand what a wonderful resource the blogosphere can be for them if they just embraced it rather than keeping it away. They are no threat to high-quality professional journalists.

Therefore, I would like to go on record as thanking the hard-working folks who use their own time and resources to provide a wonderful online database of baseball (and other) information. If you’re a blogger, take a bow and please accept my sincerest thanks for the service you provide.

Nicely done (an addendum) …

I think the last word should go to Ian Casselberry’s post on the Detroit Tigers blog “Bless You Boys”:
"That brings up the ugly truth about the sports blogosphere that the mainstream media doesn't want to acknowledge. They created us.

Fans are increasingly not getting what they want and need from the conventional outlets of newspaper, TV, or radio. So we, as readers and fans, are either going to seek out the kind of information that's more in line with our thinking, that gives us another way of looking at the game, or just create that material ourselves. Along the way, we might even find something that we hadn't previously considered, and that feeling of discovery is a refreshing bit of flavor among all the gruel we're consistently served these days. And if many other fans weren't beginning to feel that way, McCosky wouldn't have felt it necessary to explain that his job is more important than our hobby.
So very true, this was the very reason that got me hooked on reading blogs when searching for inspiration for a column; everything in the mainstream media sounded the same. There’s nothing more soul sucking for a passionate fan than feeling he or she isn’t getting satiated with their teams/sports local coverage. Yes, journalists are trained in journalism but they are not trained in certain fields that affect the sport: economics, statistical analysis, law, labour, history etc. They may know how to get a story or conduct an interview but that doesn’t mean they’re trained to understand the issues facing the game. They generally use their ‘access’ to parrot whatever information is handed to them from the front office without looking at it critically or truly analyzing what is being said. They treat spin as news rather than taking the data provided and checking its validity.

We learned from the media for years that baseball was going broke, players were greedy ingrates, that players were the main instigators behind job actions etc. Why? Simply because that was what they were fed from the club and they accepted it at face value. We think of the work done by men like Doug Pappas, John Heylar and Sean Forman in helping us understand the sport better.

Blogs are now feeding on themselves. The mainstream media created the need and now that the needs are being met by bloggers who do understand things like labour law, collective bargaining, sports economics/accounting, history and statistical analysis. The thing is, bloggers use these outlets to better their understanding of the issues while the mainstream often stick to press releases and ‘access’ to get their information. They may not know as much about journalism and conducting interviews as the mainstream guys do, but a lot of them understand the issues confronting the sport better than journalists do. I think it comes down to a mindset, journalists think they already have their education while bloggers consider it an ongoing process. A person who continues learning will always have an edge on those who feel they know everything they require.

Best Regards


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