Tuesday, June 24, 2008

On McIntyre and the Future of Sports Blogs

I'm not going to be as nice as Will. (And that was about as outraged of a reaction as I have ever seen from Will.)

If there is/was a "Deadspin Era" in sports media or sports fandom or sports consumption, it may or may not be ending as Will takes his final full-time at-bats this week.

What I do know is that I think that the quotes in that L.A. Times story quite possibly reflect the era's lowest moment. Maybe that's what had Will so hopping.

This is not "Us vs. Them": What a canard, propped up by mainstream media – presumably (and ironically) because it generates page views for the story itself, rather than because it actually exists.

It is "Good vs. Bad," to a large extent. Sure, there are plenty of sorry-ass sports blogs out there. But here's the dirty secret that Buzz Bissinger and Bob Costas and Jason McIntyre don't want you to understand (but if you're reading this blog, you probably already do):

No one reads the really, truly poorly crafted blogs.

At least, no one reads them with any particular frequency or volume, and the more widely read blogs rarely link to their work – giving them a wider audience – precisely because they don't add a lot of value.

Great – even good -- blogs aren't the norm, any more than great newspapers or great columnists or great sportscasts or great journalism isn't the norm. The best serve their core audience – the wider you want that core to be, the harder the effort.

When those great blogs are created – or even individual posts are created – the rest of the community (well-read or not) creates a virtuous circle to promote it. It may start with a single great post that raises a blogger's profile; do enough of them, and you become Matt Ufford or Spencer Hall or Michael Schur or whoever.

What all those great blogs share is a dedication to their own sense of what is good and what isn't – whether you are creating a post yourself or linking to others. They share a commitment to the core audience they are serving, whether it's a particular team, a particular sport, a particular point of view – or, hell, a particular time of day.

What offended me most from that Times article was Jason McIntyre's quote:
"The initial reaction was 'Buzz is a lunatic,' " McIntyre said. "After that, people calmed down, listened to what he said and thought, 'You know, maybe we should clean up our act a little bit.' "
Sigh. Begin rant:

My initial reaction was: Jason McIntyre doesn't speak for me. He doesn't speak for any sports blogger I know. He should speak for himself. If he wants to change his "act," he can feel free, but please don't speak for the rest of us.

I don't know what "we" or "people" McIntyre is talking about: From all accounts and evidence, I don't think he reads very many sports blogs. I don't think he cares very much about other sports blogs. I certainly don't think he has his pulse on what sports bloggers are thinking, one way or the other.

How could he? Here's another dirty secret of the juvenile junior-high-lunch-room sports-blog world: I find it hard to find anyone who says they respect Jason McIntyre or The Big Lead. The rep: McIntyre as an empty apple-polisher who lacks a position of authority or respect among his peers. And this was BEFORE the article.

I suspect that Will's post will launch a healthy meme of folks coming out of the woodwork to agree: McIntyre doesn't speak for me. (Or put another way: "What a d'bag." Wait, Jason, help me here: Was I supposed to stop calling people "douchebags" as part of "cleaning up my act?" I missed your blogdom-wide announcement.)

But it's not Deadspin vs. The Big Lead. It is apparently MANY sports bloggers vs. The Big Lead, which I'm quite sure will earn McIntyre even more undeserved credit within mainstream media. ("If other bloggers don't like or respect him, he MUST be good!")

From what I can tell, McIntyre speaks for Buzz Bissinger. He speaks for Bob Costas. He speaks for SportsJournalists.com. He speaks for anyone in mainstream sports media who will talk with him. His mouth was a little full while he "interviewed" Tony Kornheiser, so I wouldn't call it speaking.

From what else I can tell -- and, again, I stopped actively reading it a while ago -- The Big Lead isn't a particularly high-quality blog, aside from the page views, which I and everyone else would fully 'fess up to being envious of – if not envious of the way he generates them. The random gossip and tips about sports media were kind of amusing once, although apparently he isn't going to do so much of that anymore, since Buzz Bissinger inspired him to "clean up his act."

TBL is best-known for its sports-media posts. I guess my biggest problem is that I also think that TBL's sports-media analysis is, 95 percent of the time, functionally retarded. It is like McIntyre doesn't know very much about the business of sports media, which makes his reputation for being the be-all-end-all place for media analysis among sports blogs all the more curious to me. McIntyre's core audience seems to be the self-hating sadness over at SportsJournalists.com, perhaps the bleakest community to be found online.

But let's get back to my point about Jason McIntyre, who I quite expect to leverage this backlash to grab yet another hard-suckling interview with some random mainstream columnist who wants to try to establish blog "cred" by appearing at TBL.

McIntyre has become mainstream media's "token blog friend."

He blogs to mollify the mainstream sports media types he so transparently wants to be. I used to think that the Colin Cowherd incident was one of the era's defining moments of sports-blog unity; now I just recognize that Cowherd knows so little about sports blogs that he actually thought that TBL was a bonafide sports blog worth attacking.

Here's your ultimate data-point: Buzz Bissinger regularly cites him as the blogger he thinks is doing a GREAT job. Really? Seriously?! Cripes on a crutch: Buzz was better off with "All blogs suck." At least then, his ignorance was absolute, rather than selectively pitiful.

It is worth noting that I couldn't care less whether McIntyre continues to blog or not. Hey: Based on his growing audience and his revenue deals (which he conspicuously neglected to include in his survey of sports-media comp packages), he absolutely should keep blogging. And mainstream sports media sure seems to like his schtick. All I ask is that he stop speaking for anyone but himself.

Jason McIntyre doesn't speak for me. Thank god.

But if, alternatively, Jason McIntyre has turned into the face of sports blogging, Will is right: It's time to get out.

-- D.S.

UPDATE: Some very very good comments were submitted, mostly ripping the post. I'm still working through them all, but -- suffice to say -- I appreciated the thought that went into them, even if they strenuously disagreed with me or simply didn't like the way I presented my argument. As someone who appreciates critical analysis, I'm more than happy to take it of my own work. Sometimes I miss the open commenting here, because the conversation that happens AFTER the post is usually more interesting than the post itself.

5 comments:

mrmom61 said...

That may have been one of your finest posts.

Sarah said...

Here's the sad thing. While McIntyre is going to play the wounded deer in all of this, it's not going to change the way he sees himself and they way mainstream treats him. He's the blogger that the main stream goes to for quotes because they know he'll play into their game.

The fact is, McIntyre is a mainstream weasel who used his mainstream connections and sources to fuel his blog from the start. He never was a "real" blogger.

Pedro said...

Dan,

I have to respectfully disagree with you on this post. As a longtime reader of both the Quickie and TBL (as longtime as you can be for a blog), I think TBL does a great job with the blog. He's carved out his niche and it has resonated with a lot of people (which is what most blogs crave). He's clearly wants it to be journalistic, which, since it's clear, I have no problem with. the only bone I have to pick, is that's it's going the way of Deadspin with too many guest posters.

For many of us, TBL is the closest insight we get into the behind-the-scenes of MSM without trudging through the banality of local high school reporters complaining about their ledes on Sports Jounalists.

While I understand the resentment of being spoken for, I'm not sure it's worth getting this worked up. Fact of the matter is that you've consistently said that blogs are a meritocracy and since TBL gets a lot of hits, there's some merit to it.

Matt said...

No, McIntyre doesn't speak for any of us, but here's the rub: the only people blogging (and reading blog posts) about how retarded/useless/riddled-with-douchebagedness McIntyre is are the people who already know it. The anti-McIntyre backlash is just going to become a big circle jerk wherein we all tell each other some version of "hell yeah, F him!"

CJ said...

Damn, I love a good blog…that links to another good blog, and maybe another. Sometimes, they challenge conventional wisdom, or my own thinking. They trade in the marketplace of ideas: they only thrive if they add something to the discourse. Like any market, the knock-offs can get by, but don’t really thrive.

I also think a lot of bloggers play right into the hands of the Buzz Bissingers and other Old Media gatekeepers. A blogger will lay out a great argument, or poke holes in another, and slip in a schoolyard taunt or vulgarity.

I’ve always found these occasional juvenile remarks, by even the good bloggers, to be (usually) gratuitous and totally unnecessary. A way to flaunt a power that mainstream outlets don’t have. Like when a cable show sprinkles the requisite f-bombs into its scripts.

That’s just my impression. The good bloggers obviously think about what they want to say, and edit themselves. So any ‘dickhead’ reference is probably something other than passion-of-the-moment. It’s there because the writer thinks it strengthens the piece, or at least reflects an edgy tone the writer is looking for.

Another easy target for ink-stained writers is the comments section. It’s now an established cheap shot: profile a blog by skipping over the actual blogger text and pulling out comment rants. That is a deliberate and desperate distortion. Of course, one way to prevent it is set the tone. That doesn’t mean full-time policing of comments. Just setting the tone. Comment posters know what’s expected, what pleases the blogger. The regulars will act accordingly, at least on the sites I’m familiar with.

Again, this is the impression of one reader. I blog occasionally, but mainly rely on the hard work of other, more consistent writers to provide me with hours and hours of enjoyment, for free. The Old Guard’s attempts to dismiss blogs have failed. Their only grievance with some credibility is over the level of blog discourse. And that only matters if you think such things matter, and a lot of people do.

I love blogs, and now I found another one.