UPDATE 5-5-08: I thought I'd put this at the top because it's important. While it doesn't fully make up for the depths to which he sunk on HBO (more below), Buzz Bissinger's interview on The Big Lead blog goes a long way to make up for it. He is contrite, apologetic, and what's more seems so much more open-minded about blogs, as well as admitting the danger of making sweeping generalizations, that it's almost a relief, especially to those many of us who were fans of his writing in the past. And he makes a good point about the overall dumbing-down of society as well as a general tone of mean-spiritedness and derision in public & media conversations these days (ironic, of course, considering his own behavior). But, still, it's a start.
It's already fairly infamous, and frankly, as I'll point out below, many others have discussed it at length much more satisfyingly than I could at this point. But it ties in with what I've been thinking about for months anyway.
What am I talking about? The latest "attack" on the blogosphere from an Established Journalist™, in this case writer Buzz Bissinger going bananas on sports blogger Will Deitch (Deadspin) and all sports blogs and all bloggers who blog about everything, on Bob Costas Live. In fact, that ten minutes may be the low point of Bob Costas' career. The roundtable consisted of Bissinger, Deitch, and, oh yes, for no reason whatsoever, Browns wide receiver Braylon Edwards, who has no connection to blogging but must have been booked to be on the show that day no matter what. It was all an utter embarrassment, but it's Bissinger, author of a fantastic book on football, "Friday Night Lights," who should be most ashamed of himself.
First, watch the video clip (partial, not the whole sequence).
And for more>>>
DodgerThoughts' always thoughtful Jon Weisman (who, by the way, has written for years for Variety, Sports Illustrated and a number of other established publications):
The fact is, even as the consumption of information migrates online, even as the economics of the business are forever altered, a quorum of readers and writers are still interested in truth. Journalism is not dying. It may be evolving, but it's not dying. It's living and breathing - breathing fire at times, just like it always has. (Or was Charles Foster Kane modeled on a blogger?) What decay there is isn't the bloggers' fault, it's the business model's, as well as that of some of the leadership.
Without a doubt, there's vitriol out there on the Internet. But that's not the medium; that's some of the messengers (especially if you're going to count, as Bissinger did, the most acid commenters as bloggers). You can find hate speech and irresponsibility around every corner of the universe, and it's telling that by far the most hate-filled person in the debate tonight was the man who has spent 40 years "perfecting his craft." What an advertisement for convention he was. Cloaking his venom in the concept of protecting integrity, when he brought so little integrity to the debate himself, was embarrassing if you weren't too snowed to realize it.
Then, it looked to me like Buzz and Costas — who, I have mentioned here before, is one of my heroes — teamed up on Will, who apparently without his knowledge had been named the official representative of “all crazy lunatics who post nasty comments on the Internet.” It reminded me of the time the comedian Bobby Slayton was on a talk show about prejudice — because I guess he makes fun of ethnic groups in his act. He was on there with various professional haters, I mean, the A Team of talk show hate, a Neo Nazi, Mister Klan Guy, a Black Panther (are there still Black Panthers?), Darth Vader, Anton Chigurth, Kramer, whatever. And about halfway through the show, Slayton suddenly realized that he had been penciled into the haters lineup, you know, hitting third behind the guy from the Klan. And he was like, “Whoa! Whoa! I’m on the WRONG TEAM.”
Will was being given the fun task as defender of the nastiest and most absurd comments written by anonymous strangers on the Internet. Buzz did read part of an article about mainstream media vs. blogs that was written on Deadspin — I originally thought the section was from a comment, but I was confusing this with Costas reading a Deadspin comment later. The section read out loud was about Rich Garces’ man-boobs. I’ve since gone back and read it — it was written to make a point about how Bill James did not need to go into the locker room (and see Garces’ chest) to write baseball. It was rude and pretty funny, actually, and there was a point to it, though I’m never really in favor of ripping man boobs for all the obvious reasons. Anyway Buzz hated it so much he read it out loud on national TV so it could reach a larger audience.
I really thought Will went in there to have a real discussion about real things. He really did seem eager to do this. Instead the conversation mostly involved Will covering up while Buzz screamed and swore and screamed and swore and and screamed at him for lowering the level of discourse in America.
For what I hope is the last time, but is clearly not: the level of discourse on Athletics Nation, and Baseball Prospectus, and SoSH, and Joe Posnanski's blog, is every bit as high (if not higher) than what you can read in the best newspapers in the country. Bissinger's hare-brained attempt to prove Leitch an uneducated oaf by asking whether he had read any W.C. Heinz (which failed miserably when Leitch had, in fact, read some W. C. Heinz) was a perfect example of the old guard's attitude toward the new guard: you little shits don't get it. You don't know how to write. You have no gratitude or appreciation for those who came before you. So: fuck you. (P.S. I have never really read your blog.) (P.P.S. Fuck you, though, anyway.)
There are sports bloggers (and message-board posters) who write very well, in my opinion. There are those who love Ring Lardner and David Halberstam and Robert Creamer and Roger Angell. They try to write well, and entertain, and contribute to the universe of sports reporting. Please read them, Buzz. If you find nothing of interest, you can swear all you want. (For the record, FJM is extremely pro-swearing. We just feel you should be funny while doing it.)
This comes on the heels of a recent attack on bloggers from venerable New York Times sports columnist Murray Chass: "I hate bloggers." "Worst development in media business, anyone can be
a blogger." "No credentials required, just spouting off their
opinions." "Our wives could go on and do it if they wanted to." "I know
they're not going away but I wish they did."
Chass has written many excellent things in his long and varied career, but his misconceptions of blogging, alongside Bissinger's, sound like writers who: a) don't spend a lot of time reading a lot of blogs, just a few of the more vitriolic ones, but not enough to see how diverse the levels of quality is; b) are scared for their jobs/futures (in Chass' case, with good reason); c) are outmoded or worry they are and blame blogging for the downfall of newspapers when it is economics, changing business models and reader habits, declining advertising dollars and a hundred other reasons that are more directly connected to that.
What this has to do with my thinking about film blogs, not sports blogs, but film blogs, lately, is that there have been some similar attacks leveled against those who write about film on the web, too. Now when the most reactionary of critics, Armond White, attacks bloggers, it should hardly raise an eyelash let alone an eyebrow, but when more and more newspaper reviewers start openly criticizing film bloggers as degrading the quality of film writing, shouting into the wind, making everything a bunch of noise instead of reasonable discourse, babbling, and just generally ruining everything, it's hard not to start suspecting that the same mentality is behind it. As the people I've quoted above have said better than I here, there is so much good writing -- and yes, bad -- in the blogosphere, that criticizing the whole shebang sounds beyond ignorant.
1) Many of these "suspect" blogs are written by current and former journalists, for one thing, who have years of experience and, yes, Bissinger and Chass, plenty of credentials to back it up. And there are many wonderful blogs -- films, sports, and other topics -- out there that are written by people who do not have a ton of experience but are writing fantastic pieces, some personal, some broader, on these blogs that you would not see in a million years in a newspaper -- most of which are now owned by fewer and fewer corporations and have fewer and fewer interesting viewpoints.
Which brings us to:
2) The idea that there is this Institution Called a Newspaper that is still a bastion of the best writing journalism has to offer is laughable. Yes, there are still thousands of great writers out there working, underpaid, to get the news out, and to express opinions about the arts, about sports, about people, about politics, that are writing for mainstream newspapers. And yes, they have both more access and more editors. But there are, sadly, far too many poorly written, underfact-checked, downright clueless pieces published in newspapers these days by columnists (who I won't name here) who have either been in the business too long and have no perspective at all anymore, or have never had anything interesting to say other than trying to stir up the masses with their poorly researched pieces.
This is one reason they hate bloggers. They call them on their stuff.
That said, bloggers, too, have a responsibility here, to not only rise above it but to try to make the best possible effort in their writing, to work, to strive for excellence. And there is no doubt that a lot of people commenting on blogs (and on newspaper web sites) are not writing thoughtfully; there is a lot of hate coming out on the 'net that does not make any of us look or feel better. This is in certain respects a reflection of these anxious, unhappy times in which we live. But let us rise above it if we can.
If there is anything tangible and helpful to take away from Mr. Bissinger's performance -- and it takes a good deal of chaff-sorting to get anywhere near this little nugget -- I think it's this: a lot of the discourse and sub-discourse (commenting) on the internet is, in fact, pretty shitty. This is not news, though, really. A lot of newspaper writing and editorial writing and every kind of writing is shitty. It's just not as immediate and anonymous and easily-accessed as Internet writing is. Thus, the net has this reputation, now, as being a nihilistic and thoughtless meetingplace for people to spew venom. Partially deserved, partially not, whatever -- point is, the part that is deserved can be altered. We can all probably do a little better in this realm, by making sure that whatever we write has an actual point, and some thought behind it. So, there's that.