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May 5, 2008
Buzz Bissinger vs. the
the divide between big-media journalists and bloggers is a fault line,
what happened on HBO last Tuesday was nothing less than a 7.0
earthquake. The subject was sports, but the lessons gleaned therein
apply all across the media, whether politics, entertainment or whatever
case you missed it: Bob Costas hosted a 90-minute special on HBO about
the state of sports media in America, in which he took in-depth looks at
five aspects of the subject: Sports talk radio, the Internet,
television, athlete/reporter relations and coverage of race in sports.
Each subject got a fascinating, in-depth segment that included both a
produced piece and a live panel discussion moderated by Costas. The
special was outstanding throughout, in keeping with HBO’s tradition of
quality in sports broadcasting. But what has garnered the most attention
was an exchange – or more accurately, a screaming match – during the
special’s second segment.
discussion of sports blogging featured Will Leitch, author of the
popular blog Deadspin.com and the recent book God Save the Fan,
and H.G. “Buzz” Bissinger, a respected journalist and author best known
for writing the book version of Friday Night Lights. Less than
two minutes into the segment, Bissinger unloaded on Leitch, yelling,
cursing liberally and arguing that blogs, as a medium, are worthless,
dedicated to “cruelty” and to “dumbing down.” The segment instantly
became a YouTube hit, especially on the very blogs that Bissinger had
Bissinger is an accomplished journalist whose work I respect immensely.
But on this segment, he came across – for lack of a better description –
as a shrieking, uninformed ass. Much like Bill O’Reilly comparing
Arianna Huffington to Adolf Hitler because some commenter some time
called for Dick Cheney to be killed, Bissinger issued a blanket slamming
of blogs when it’s unclear whether he’s ever read a blog in his life.
There are a lot of people in big media who simply know nothing about
blogs or how they work, yet nonetheless find themselves making strongly
worded denunciations of bloggers as a whole.
Here’s how I see it, as someone who has been both a journalist and a
blogger for several years: If an opinion – about sports, politics or
whatever other subject – is worthwhile, then I’m going to give it
consideration, regardless of where it comes from. Content is content,
and writing is writing, and something stupid posted on a blog doesn’t
suddenly become brilliant if it happens to run in the Washington Post,
or vice versa.
There are great bloggers and stupid ones, just as there are great
newspaper writers and authors and radio hosts – and stupid ones too. It
is better to judge opinions, writing and the people who give them by
their quality, as opposed to the medium in which they happened to
Through the miracle of RSS feeds, I get pretty much all my content in
the same place anyway. Bloggers, much like print journalists, must earn
their credibility, and establish a reputation based on the quality of
their work. If the writing on blogs were as worthless as Bissinger says
it is, then no one would read them.
It’s wrong to argue, as Bissinger does, that blogs provide nothing of
value. There are, after all, millions of them, and they can’t all be
worthless. But at the same time, it’s every bit as wrong to discount the
value of the reporting and analysis conducted by the nation’s
newspapers. Sure, a whole lot of idiots write newspaper sports columns
in this country – but just as many do a great job.
the political realm, some of the most intelligent, nuanced and readable
commentary is the blogosphere. (The Atlantic’s web site, in
particular, has assembled a veritable all-star team of bloggers, some
drawn from established journalism and others straight from blogs.) There
are, of course, many terrible ones too – but luckily, web surfers have
the option of surfing right past them.
There’s no reason in the world why bloggers and journalists can’t
co-exist. Some people, like Joe Posnanski in the sports realm, Andrew
Sullivan and James Fallows in the political, etc., excel at both. But
the Buzz Bissingers of the world would be wise to heed the advice of a
man of their generation, Bob Dylan: “Don’t criticize what you don’t
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