Meta Bloggy Thoughts: Media Criticism

This is one of those Blogger talking to Bloggers posts. If you're a reader who enjoys this particular brand of conversation, wonderful. Join the fun. If you're not interested, consider this your Fair Warning note.

Not long ago, Orson and I published a series of promises regarding how we intend to write about the upcoming football season. From proposals to use the BlogPoll rankings to vows to avoid getting too caught up in the conference superiority wars, we intended our little manifesto to be a statement on elevated discourse.

In retrospect, we would've been wise to mesh out in greater detail why we even bothered to come up with our semi-ad hoc list of how we intended to cover the '07 season. While each of the points on the list were explained, we didn't spend much time talking about the underlying point.

Read the rest of this entry.

As it was, we didn't so much intend to make a statement about style; I can assure you that Orson will continue to cover college football with the same zany irreverance as before. And I'll continue to blog about the Longhorns from a fan's perspective. We like fun and we are, as the last rule states, fans of the game above all else.

But I was reminded of those rules today when I read this outstanding post from LD at Gunslingers, in which he breaks down Stewart Mandel's controversial column about the elite programs of college football.

In our proposal, Orson and I made a promise to avoid breaking down a Stewart Mandel mailbag. We didn't offer much explanation, other than to note that Michael received a free pass since he does it so well. However, a more robust explanation of our intentions would have noted that the crime we were singling out isn't breaking down a national columnist's mailbag. It's that too many bloggers have come to use national columnist criticism as a crutch of sorts. It's ubiquitous and, unfortunately, a bit tired. More importantly, mostly it's just noting that so-and-so is an idiot. A factual refutation of opinions is one thing - just noting that a writer is an idiot is another.

Orson and I also noted that we wouldn't mention Bill Simmons on our sites unless we were discussing the NBA. The point was the same - bashing Simmons' columns has become a bit of a tired trick. Rare is the Simmons-bashing column which adds something new to the discussion. I think almost everyone understands by now that unless he's talking about the NBA, Simmons is just a blogger with a really big soapbox. He writes columns from the perspective of a rabid sports fan - it's no surprise that he has biased opinions that don't come even close to passing the objective analysis test.

To the larger point, then. I brought this up in SBN's recent interview with BallHype.com, and I'll make note of it here, too:

I sometimes cringe these days at some of the more inflammatory posts in the blogosphere these days - at least the ones which purport to be criticisms of mainstream media.

Mainstream media criticism is an important part of what a lot of sports blogs do these days, but I really do wonder whether it does anyone any good to write that ESPN "licks monkey balls" or something like that. Unfortunately, that’s more the norm than the exception.

I think the next big step for sports bloggers will be to maintain their edge and personalities but to get over the little guy complex that seems to motivate so many to lash out angrily at the big kids in the park.

Tying this all back to our manifesto, I've arrived at a point where I think the entire conversation about bloggers' role in the new media landscape seems off the tracks. There was a time - not long ago (this stuff evolves so fast) - when the Sports Bloggers Taking On Mainstream Media was a useful part of blogging. Sports blogs were fighting for credibility, and one of the most compelling talking points we had was: "Look! Many of the guys we've all been forced to read for our sports conversation fix are doing a lousy job."

Many of those same writers are still doing a lousy job, and I rely on my favorite bloggers for cogent analysis far more than I do the mainstream journalists with big stages. I also think it important that writers with big stages be called to task when they spit out unsound columns. Those columnists do reach a lot of eyeballs, and I like that there exists a contingency of critics who take them to task when they deserve it.

With that in mind, I think it critical that the sports blogosphere as a whole evolve a bit. There can, will, and should remain a place for thoughtful mainstream media criticism, but the more infantile version of this criticism has outlived its usefulness. Generic posts about how stoopid a given columnist may be no longer adds anything useful to the conversation.

More damagingly, it adds fuel to the Blogger vs Mainstream Media fire which, at least to me, also seems outdated and counter-productive. My problem here is twofold:

First, most of us sports bloggers rely entirely on hardworking journalists to gather the information we need to run our blogs. National columnists may be something a blogger can live without, but beat reporters and fact-producing analysts remain critical support structures to much of the sports blogosphere. By creating an antagonistic relationship between journalists and bloggers, we're unfairly biting a hand which feeds us.

Second, the entire idea that there must be a clash between these two entities seems misguided. Not only misguided, but counter-productive. There are so many bloggers doing such amazing work that it's time the lot of us shed the Little Guy Complex altogether. It reeks of petty insecurity. On the flipside, there are dozens of truly superb members of the mainstream media who produce engaging, thoughtful, and unique content. As an example, there exists nowhere in the blogosphere an equal - let alone better - Big 12 column than that of the San Antonio Express-News' Tim Griffin.

It's part of that second criticism, in particular, that I've been thinking about a lot lately. Sports bloggers have busted their collective asses to earn credibility in the new online landscape, and they've succeeded. I simply marvel at the work being done at MGoBlog these days. I'd take a half portion of SMQ over three gravy-smothered heaps of any national writer I can think of. The work done at Blue-Gray Sky is more impressive than just about anything I can find anywhere else on a single team.

Bloggers have worked incredibly hard to produce the best content available for sports fans, and it's been a rousing success. With more and more talented writers and thinkers joining in, the standards and quality of work continue to rise.

In other words: we've arrived. The work speaks for itself and doesn't require any oppositional characteristic to be noticed or worthwhile. It is good because of What It Is.

To conclude (finally), the sports blogosphere has matured. The work produced therein is tremendous and, often times, wholly different than that which we get from many mainstream media outlets. Calling to task the latter group remains a useful, important topic, but only insofar as it is a thoughtful critique. Moreover, it has become counter-productive to add fuel to the blog vs. mainstream media fire. There's no reason for us to have an antagonistic relationship, and we're past the point of needing to differentiate ourselves for the purpose of validation.

--PB--

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