That seems to be the message that I’ve distilled from the saga of H.G. “Buzz” Bissinger, Will Leitch, and the snarkiest sports blog ever, Deadspin.
(By the way, I’ve grown weary of hyperlinking to all of the wikipedia entries of all of these entities. If you want to know more, it’s called Google. Click away.)
If these names don’t mean anything to you, then I quote Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride:
“Let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up.”
Buzz Bissinger is an acclaimed sports writer, who wrote the seminal small-town football chronicle Friday Night Lights, which much later spawned a feature film, and then a hit TV show.
Will Leitch is the former (then current) editor of Deadspin, a sports blog in the Gawker media family, that doesn’t pull any punches in exposing the folly of modern athletes and their sometimes just-as-ridiculous sports media counterparts. Deadspin’s motto is “Sports Without Access, Favor, or Discretion.”
Now recently, both Bissinger and Leitch appeared on an HBO sports panel with Bob Costas, and the topic of internet media came up. During this segment Bissinger blew up at Leitch, making a fool of himself in the process. (R-rated language in the clip… after all, this is HBO.)
Recently, Bissinger had a series of email exchanges with Leitch to clear the air, presumably because Leitch is leaving Deadspin to work for New York Magazine and doesn’t want the legacy of the blog that he built remembered by an HBO segment gone horribly awry.
The whole conversation is a fascinating read. And there are some great lessons to be mined from it, which of course, is why I’m writing about it. These lessons are the tale of the tape, so to speak.
So let the tape roll…
The blogosphere is NOT kind to cranky old men, even if they’re speaking truth.
Ironically, I score this for a point FOR Bissinger and AGAINST Deadspin.
See, this is a classic case of style over substance, of the medium becoming the message. Bissinger later admitted regret over the tenor of his remarks during his HBO appearance, because he was clearly angry and clearly venting all of his frustration on sports blogs in general on Leitch and Deadspin specifically. This made him look out of touch and somewhat senile (see: Cosby, Bill).
But I read a lot of the comments after the initial Deadspin post that covered the controversy, and most of them were exactly as Bissinger described: sophomoric, cheap T&A jokes with the occasional decent point thrown in.
Yet, the only thing most of the commenters took from Bissinger’s appearance was “hey look, some angry old man made an arse of himself on TV,” only they were all much nastier about it.
This, to me, speaks not only about the lack of civility in our public discourse, but specifically to our lack of honor for elders in American sports culture. And that’s jacked, because there’s so much that we can learn from our elders. And Leitch even said so himself, that he felt bad that seemed to be what most of his readers were getting out of the exchange. That’s mostly his fault, in my opinion, even though toward the end he tried to compensate. Too little, too late; the damage was done.
There’s a hilarious Old Testament story that illustrates the inherent danger of mocking your elders. Let that be an object lesson… bloggers, snark at thy own risk.
If you’re going to talk about something, know what you’re talking about.
This is where Deadspin evens the score, because it was immediately clear that Bissinger had not spent any significant amount of time reading any sports blogs, trying to get a feel for the nuance of the genre.
My evidence of this was that neither he nor Costas himself had a clear understanding of the differences between posts and comments. This confusion is partially due to the lack of standardization in terminology across the web, but mostly due to people who haven’t taken the time to figure out what the words mean before they use them.
So allow me to just set the record straight, in case anyone reading this is still confused.
Mixin’ It Up is the name of my blog (short for weblog). The whole thing is the blog. Most websites have blog components to them — as a matter of fact, with the proliferation of Blogger and WordPress and Typepad, I would venture to say that most websites are blogs.
A blog is not the same as a post. A post is a post. This long body of text and links — with maybe a picture for good measure — is a post. (I blame Myspace for this confusion, because they refer to posts as blogs. As in, ‘click here to write a new blog.’) One can choose to “blog” as a verb, but the output of such blogging is blog posts.
Comments are what come after the posts. They are the feedback. The blogger writes the posts (or posts posts, or even blogs posts, or blogs blog-posts) and then random netizens get the option and/or freedom to comment on whatever was said. These are comments.
Blogs, posts, comments.
All separate concepts.
Being a fifty year old man and not being “hip” to all of the latest trends does not absolve Buzz Bissinger of his ignorance. You would think common sense would’ve required that he figure this out before he run his mouth on national television.
But you, like Buzz, would be wrong.
The rise of Deadspin proves that A) impartiality is overrated, and B) access doesn’t ensure good writing.
I loved the clip of Leitch they showed to open the Costas Now segment, because he challenged the assertion that being a good sports journalist requires you to abandon any sense of fandom… isn’t that how you got into sports in the first place?
The few times I’ve read Deadspin, I have been genuinely entertained, by both the posts and the comments. Even if the crass nature of the language gets to me from time to time, there is insight to be mined in the assailing of the establishment that is Deadspin’s essential raison d’être.
And being so anti-establishment would lend itself, certainly, to a healthy amount of distance from the subjects in the crosshairs. This is Leitch’s comeback to the typical sportswriter’s knee-jerk disdain for bloggers — what do you guys know, you don’t get the inside access that we do.
Leitch has said repeatedly that, in his view, the elite sportswriters that get to hang out with famous people all the time tend to write from a perspective that is alien to the average sports fan. Thus, the success of Deadspin frames in stark contrast the insular nature of the unofficial sportswriter’s fraternity.
Leitch and his cronies (well, now former cronies) don’t care that they’re not in the club. They’ve started their own club, and instead of needing a journalism degree and a press pass, you just need a computer, a camera phone, and a willingness to shine a spotlight on bad behavior at any time, for any reason, using any language, so long as it’s entertaining and promotes traffic to the site.
Which is pretty much what the big boys do, anyway. That’s why Leitch is being picked up to write for a “real” magazine.
The difference between a good body of work and a great body of work is accountability.
This, to me, is the fundamental error that many bloggers miss, and it’s part of the point that I think Bissinger was trying — and failing badly — to articulate.
While it’s true that inside access doesn’t automatically make for good writing, the best writers translate the inner sanctum of their sports beat, in an accessible format, to the average guy reading at home. They write with the fan in mind, but with the insight and nuance that you can’t get just by reading box scores and watching highlights. And most importantly, they have the privilege — or, in some cases, the burden — of talking to their subjects face to face about the things that they write.
(Well, except for Jay Mariotti and Ozzie Guillen, but that’s another story altgother.)
This is where Deadspin gets it wrong. Because Will Leitch wants the big boys of media to respect the form of sports blogging, but by avoiding insider access, Leitch avoids the accountability he needs to really sharpen his craft.
Which is ironic, because only a blogger as good and as dedicated as Leitch would warrant enough attention from the big boys in the first place. The imitators (they know who they are) don’t normally incite responses from the likes of Bob Costas, because, well… who the hell are they?
You have to write well to really irritate the likes of Bissinger and Costas. And whether or not he knows it, part of the reason why they’re reaching out (I’m using that term loosely) to Leitch is because they sense that sites like Deadspin are the future of sports journalism, and they’re trying to get Leitch and others to step their game up — by preserving a modicum of respect in the public arena. This is why Buzz kept hammering away at his idea that the comments influence the posts:
We are simply never going to come to common ground on the issue of comments versus posts. I sincerely believe that the comments do guide the posts, and the whole tone of Deadspin sets up [comments] that are with virtually no exception a collection of one-liners that are malicious, stupid, profane, sexually pathetic, and I will agree with you here, about a hundred times nastier than the posts themselves. But still, you and the other commentators set the tone, in effect giving people a license to kill under the cowardly cloak of anonymity. I have said several times that I behaved like the worst kind of blogger on Costas, but with one major difference—I did not hide behind some silly-sounding pseudonym. People knew exactly who I was. And the apology I made to you was sincere—you should never have been treated that way.
I edited his word “posts” to “comments” because it’s clear from the context which he meant. And I agree with him, mostly. The extent to which I disagree is the extent to which I find many of both the posts and the comments to be hilarious. In unquestionably bad taste sometimes, but funny nonetheless. Maybe that’s indicative of my own conformity to the culture, I don’t know.
But I understand where Bissinger is coming from. Which is why, in the title of this epic post, I referenced Jim Rome.
Rome has the same problem that Leitch has with Deadspin. He wants to provide a forum for his fans — many of whom behave like boorish frat boys — to express themselves, but he distances himself from his fans, so as to avoid being accountable for the times when those fans cross the line.
If you listen to the show, you know what I’m talking about… Rome will read an email or text message, or take a call, and then spend all this time detailing just how unfunny or immature or dumb that person’s idea was. But clearly he must have found something good about it — otherwise, it wouldn’t have made it on the air.
Rome wants to have it both ways; he wants to be able to enjoy the sophomoric humor inherent in the many cheap shots that his fans take, but he wants to be able to stand above the fray and adopt a posture of vague disapproval, like a third grade teacher trying to rein in a trio of class clowns.
All of this is, in my opinion, a way of avoiding accountability. Anonymity is the great allure of today’s media age. When people comment on blogs, or when call in to radio shows, they mostly use pseudonyms. You’re Jason in Modesto, or LickMyBalls345. Nobody knows if you’re the guy who is posting on Deadspin on company time while working as a manager for Corporation X, or the guy talking on his cell phone while driving like a maniac on the freeway.
I like to write satire, and my last three fake stories have gotten a little attention from folks. But I also sent links to representatives of my targets, because I want them to feel free to talk to me about it directly. I’m not hiding behind the shield of anonymity. Anything I say on this blog I would say in person.
And I’m hoping that will help me to become a better writer.
More importantly, it’s part of what God requires of me. I can’t talk to people at my church about honesty and dealing with division in the body of Christ (as I just did last Sunday) if I’m sowing division with my blog and hiding behind a low profile.
So for understanding this truth — even though he looked like an idiot trying to communicate it — I give Buzz Bissinger the nod. With two points for the money ball, the final score becomes:
Speaking as someone who always acted like an old person even when I was in my early twenties, it’s nice to chalk one up for the old school.
But the next time some Myspacer asks me when I’m going to write a new “blog” for my site… I’m gonna punch somebody.
I’m Jelani Greenidge, and thanks for mixin’ it up with me.