Monday, June 23, 2008

Deadspin, The Big Lead, Bissinger, The LA Times, and The Three Handled Online Media Gredunza of Doom

Okay, to catch you up.

LA Times does a story on blogging, featuring The Big Lead's Jason McIntyre.

The Big Lead clarifies and stands by its/his position.

Deadspin opens fire on the article and, though respectfully, McIntyre.

Some of these debates we let go by. There are a number of pitches that we don't swing at. But this one we'll weigh in on, because it touches a nerve.

In the article, Jason/The Big (?) mentions a "sketchy middle ground" that sports blogs are being pulled towards. This caught me because HP is smack dab in the middle of that sketchy middle ground.

Every single day I wake up, and pray for many things.

The ability to fly.

A car that transforms into a dinosaur with a flamethrower in its mouth.

Soundgarden to reunite.

But one thing I also tend to pray for is this.

"Dear Lord, giver of Dwight Howard and taker away of Shaun Livingston's internal leg structure, please, give me a job blogging. It's all I want to do. And every second I spend processing reports, moving Excel columns around and fake smiling at pictures of coworkers' kids is another second closer to my inevitable psychotic breakdown. Thanks, Lord. 'Preciate it."

You know, along with every other blogger on the planet.

When I started HP, I really just intended to goof around: "Hey! I can make snarky comments about X player sucking! Whee!" When it took off, or however you would describe it, I had to re-examine the goals. And I slowly pushed them higher, wondering how far I could take it. And now HP is in a really weird place.

First, there's the issue of "should we want access." Will, of course, has always been vehemently against "access, favor, or discretion." After reading the book, it makes a lot of sense. It's essential to his approach, and that of Deadspin. He's also got a real beef against the mainstream media columnists. Like we all do. Jay Mariotti is my personal pet peeve. The man puts pixels to screen in a word processor and my soul dies a little bit. So Will’s got a bent against the journalism thing, and he’s brought a voice to that dissent.

Contrast that with another one of this site's role models. TrueHoop. Henry Abbott's got a strong journalism background and an approach to professionalism that is second to none. He's a blogger, but to him, blogging is just software. It's not an ideology.

So when we started to find out things about how our work was being spread around, we were shocked and confused. We found out that a major blogger had sent one of our pieces about how the NBA programming schedule was moronic to... the people in charge of NBA programming. That took me back a step. It changed a lot of the way I started to look at things, because now, it wasn't just me venting to a bunch of other guys in offices, the people I was writing things to were reading me calling them a bunch of f*ckheads. Now, don't get me wrong. I will still maintain that sticking the Lakers on national television 1 billion times and the Heat 50,000 was a poor policy, popularity of the Lakers be damned. But I also don't want someone out there posting a letter talking about how I suck at my day job. You can write about me sucking at this gig. This is open for such criticism, it calls for it, and honestly, a lot of the time, it makes me do a better job.

Then all of a sudden, doors started to open for us. I asked myself, “If I've got a chance to cover the All-Star game, but I know that people with a traditional media background that are reviewing my credential application are looking at HP, what do I do?” I ended up cleaning it up a little bit, just making sure that the first thing they read wasn’t one of our more, um.. liberal pieces. Because for me, access does actually help. I originally thought of access the wrong way. My only thought was, "Wow, I could get interviews with players, and that will bump my hits." Well, that's kind of true. Unfortunately, player interviews are uniformly and largely boring. I'll still do them if I find I have an interesting approach to it, or if its for a larger article, or you know, if someone pays me (but we'll come back to the issue of payment).

However, getting to see games and practices, and talking to coaches and front office officials? That does help. Because we look at the big picture a lot around here, and to do that we examine small stuff, and those are details that don't get picked up by beat reporters trying to slam out their piece in 40 minutes to make a deadline, or the columnist trying to explain why a coach should be fired, or by watching ESPN. The small stuff helps me with a bigger picture, which helps me be more informative, which means that when I write something, it won't just entertain, but actually provide some inside information on why certain things happen.

So, yeah, there have been days where I'll bump one of Corn's obscene rants to the bottom of the page and keep my bland analysis to the top of the fold. This of course, results in a screaming phone call from Corn later and various insults thrown at me for the better part of a week. Look, if I could get the press media agents to see that just because we have a different tone doesn't mean we don't have an audience or a legitimate insight, I would. But they're not going to. And as long as that's the case, as long as they see expletives and such and decide it lessens our credibility, which affects whether they grant us credentials, I'll continue to manipulate our image. Because I want to be able to write well. And part of that is research.

There was some discussion during the Cuban debacle (you know, the blogger one, not the Bay of Pigs one), about whether I was just after free seats to a game and the food. I've got news for you. I have a wife, a day job, and an addiction to Driving three hours to hang out with journalists in an environment where players are skeptical and defensive towards me and routinely hand out scripted answers doesn't exactly get me jumping for joy. And I don't eat the food. So there's that. I genuinely feel like my site gets a lot out of having access, and think it's good for the work. I respect that Deadspin doesn't need it, but that in itself brings me to another point, and the most important.

We're not all going to be Deadspin.

Deadspin is a phenomenon. It's a movement. It's a juggernaut. It's the Big One (versus The Big Lead). And it's a terrific site. I was totally on Will's side in the Bissinger debate, and think that in all honesty, we do a disservice to ourselves as an artistic/journalistic/blogospheric/whatever-you-want-to-call-it community by giving the old codger the: "Well, if you listen to his points..." No. He screamed at a representative of what sports bloggers do. Bissinger makes broad generalizations that are picked up by other mainstream media outlets as a rallying cry against us, when we have yet to take a gig from them, or show any such interest. In this instance, seeking out the minority voice does us no good, because Bissinger’s viewpoint is representative of a larger, mainstream attitude towards sports bloggers. Bissinger's a great novelist who's out of touch and out of place on this issue. You want to be in on the discussion? Grow up, quit spitting names and screaming, and let's have a discussion.

But in Leitch v. McIntryre I, I have a hard time getting behind Deadspin's declaration of outrage. Why? Because I don't have a book deal. I don't have a magazine gig. I guest spot a lot of places, and enjoy it, but I'm not getting paid, outside of the FanHouse gig, and trust me, there are enough talented writers over there that it's not like I'm top of the charts. I'm in that sketchy middle ground that McIntyre mentioned, because I have to be. Because I will do whatever I have to in order to get where I'm trying to go, as long as I don't completely sell out my integrity, my family's welfare, or my ability to call Vince Carter a douchebag. That's the one exception I'll make. Deadspin can do what it wants to, because it was honestly the first major sports blog on the scene. It’s the flagship. And it sets the rules. And the odds of anything else coming to rival it without a ton of financial support and resources is unlikely. When you're the only game in town, and you get paid more than everyone else, you can make those kinds of decisions. The rest of us can't afford to, as much as we may like to.

What frustrates me most about this situation is how generalized it's become. Journalists can be lumped together. Why? They have codes. And ethics. And formal organizations with membership and I'm sure handshakes and winking and elbow-rubbing and God knows what else. Lord knows that's what one of the best journalism schools in the country was like when I was there. And it was a big reason for why I didn't end up as a part of it, even though I clearly have a thing for writing.

We can't be lumped together. What I'm trying to do with HP and with my career is completely different from Skeets, or KD, or TrueHoop, or BlogABull, or The Dream Shake, or BrewHoop, or, God help me, Friedman. Some of us blog because it's fun, and that's all we want: A place to talk about how much Rafer Alston is the worst point guard of all time, in their flawed little opinions. Some have been given the opportunity to do it professionally, even if it means they can't write elsewhere, and even if they are constrained by editors. Some of us want to get paid and will essentially make their blog an ode to Kobe Bryant in order to somehow cajole a media agent to hire them for the next magazine promo gig. But the point is that none of us have the same goals, the same time to write, the same resources, the same salary. So to say that we all should do one thing or another is ridiculous. Because I'd be totally willing to bar cursing entirely if it meant I could do this professionally, and if I could do this professionally and get away with it, you can be sure I'd curse as much as I do now, if not more. But with the rules the way they are, I choose to bend them. And I think HP’s do a pretty good job. I'm not completely without scruples, and there are definitely things I won't do. If a team hired me, I wouldn't blog about them on HP anymore. It just wouldn't be in the spirit of the site.

So just to review: Bissinger=still an assh*le. HP,=still doing the weak sauce apostrophe thing (which I should note, Corn HATES). Deadspin=still king of the hill, but needs to realize the difference between itself and the rest of the sports blogosphere. The Big Lead= not unreasonable, but I don't agree with all of their opinions on this. Sports blogs= diverse. And Vince Carter still = Douchebag.

However, to the people in the NBA National Television Programming Department, I just wanted to say I'm sorry. Because while athletes and GMs and coaches get paid millions of dollars to be part of an organized game, and therefore have to accept the criticism that comes with it, I wouldn't want someone blasting out about how crappy my work on that Powerpoint presentation is. Sorry about that. You're not f*ckheads. Just put New Orleans and Atlanta on a little more next year, cool?

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