Read Stephen's bio and previous columns


May 5, 2008

Buzz Bissinger vs. the Bloggers


If 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 else.


In 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.


A 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 denounced.


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 appear.


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.


In 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 understand.”


© 2008 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


Click here to talk to our writers and editors about this column and others in our discussion forum.


To e-mail feedback about this column, click here. If you enjoy this writer's work, please contact your local newspapers editors and ask them to carry it.

This is Column # SS096. Request permission to publish here.

Op-Ed Writers
Eric Baerren
Lucia de Vernai
Herman Cain
Dan Calabrese
Alan Hurwitz
Paul Ibrahim
David Karki
Llewellyn King
Gregory D. Lee
David B. Livingstone
Nathaniel Shockey
Stephen Silver
Candace Talmadge
Jamie Weinstein
Feature Writers
Mike Ball
Bob Batz
The Laughing Chef
David J. Pollay
Business Writers
Cindy Droog
D.F. Krause