Friday Fire: Blogs to Broadband: How New Media is Changing Sports Journalism

I’m moderating a panel which is part of the NABJ conference August 11th, in Vegas entitled Blogs to Broadband: How New Media
is Changing Sports Journalism.
 The goal of the panel is to discuss sports journalism in the interactive space, new and upcoming trends and how blogs and online reports are shaping the industry. Members of the panel are as follows: Duane Cross, managing editor Nascar.com, Neal Scarborough GM/editor AOL Sports and J.A. Adande, who has landed at ESPN. I would love to get some informed opinions on this topic TSF style that I will definitely use (by name)  for the panel. Thanks, Michael Tillery

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21 Responses to “Friday Fire: Blogs to Broadband: How New Media is Changing Sports Journalism”

  1. Wow, what a tough subject. On of the biggest problem I see is the tendency to lump all blogs together. Of course, not all blogs are created or run equally. There are some really good team-centric blogs out there that definitely give local newspaper coverage a run for their money. But then that leaves so many other types of blogs, some of which go beyond the headlines and provoke discussion (like TSF) and some that lack even the slightest modicum of seriousness, such as Kissing Suzy Kolber.
    The problem lies in the inexperienced not knowing what is on each blog. Some, such as the more prominent team-centric and other recognized blogs (such as TrueHoop, Deadspin, etc) have a reputation of content. Bloggers learn this after a short time. Journalists who don’t spend much time on blogs and don’t know the difference can unfortunately be misled by misinterpretation.

    Eventually I would like to see more cooperation between the two forms. Just as I can watch SportsCenter for highlights and read the newspaper for the boxscore, I would like to see journalists and bloggers converge, both working together to cover the game. I know it has been said before in other forums, but I think the Washington Post has a good model with Dan Steinberg. I also think mainstream, team-centric, and analytical blogs definitely have a place, filling the gaps in news and links and offering reader participation that lacks in the other two venues. As for the off-the-hip, humor blogs, well, reader beware. If you go to YourQBsSweatSocks.blogspot, well, you should know what to expect.

    Hopefully we get a report on how the forum goes.

  2. Thanks Jordi. I’ll definitely give a detailed report on how the panel discussion goes. There’s also going to be a Q&A session the last twenty minutes. Should be very interesting.

  3. Jordi makes a good point that he has discussed with me on occasion as well. Some bloggers are journalists; others are fans; others are tipsters with inside info; others are salon hosts; etc. There’s no easy category to put all bloggers in. I think that journalists should be careful of using the words “All” and “Bloggers” in the same sentence for any reason.

    Also, there’s a bias towards sensationalism in the bloggosphere that sometimes goes unremarked on by us bloggers. Journalists should definitely try to find out a blogger’s reputation before trusting them; are they known for hard analysis (like truehoop) or just like to play around and make assumptions?

  4. I also think that blogs, some not all, have even influenced the journalist enough to move AWAY from journalism. This may be a product of consumer demands, who want the quick soundbite, the quick highlight, then the opinion, but what happened to investigative reporting in sports? I can’t remember the last time I could see something prominent of that sort in major sports media. Yes, Outside the Lines and other programs exist, but it is dominated by coverage that is based largely on journalists opinions about things (including those that aren’t even experts on the topic). Why don’t journalist strive to FIND stories that are underreported, rather than just opine on stories that are already well reported? I don’t know if this is a good question or not (I am not a journalist) but when I watch programs on CNN and such I see a lot more investigation into things I didnt already know about than I do in sports media. And shouldn’t they be abotu the same in their respective genres?

  5. Mizzo, this is a very interesting and important topic. If I were in the audience, I would be interested in learning about concrete examples where a sports topic that was generated from a blog spread to have a major AND MEANINGFUL impact on either MSM or an important cause despite being ignored by MSM.

    There are so many examples of this outside of sports. I think that a great example is the story of Shaquanda Cotton (14 year old sentenced to 7 years for pushing a hall monitor) who would probably still be in jail if it weren’t for thousands of bloggers and posters http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/specials/chi-070705letter-howardjul05,1,1367.story The story received virtually no mainstream coverage outside of Howard Witt’s Chicago Tribune articles

    Now as I think about the relationship between Shaquanda Cotton, The Chicago Tribune and thousands of bloggers, I think that a potentially relevant story to discuss in this panel might be that of Genarlow Wilson.

    I am wondering how the convergence of how bloggers, mainstream media, and sports coverage coalesced. I first heard about Genarlow’s story via the NY Times last December (below) and in a rare shining moment ESPN picked it up soon after (below). Then it got some play on Mark Cuban’s blog (also below). What I have less knowledge of, but worth some research should you have time is where did the blogging (sports and non-sports)community come into all of this? Did it start BEFORE the NY Times piece? Did it keep the flame going in between sparingly posted mainstream press articles? What I would want to find out is, like the Cotton story, can some reasonable case be made that without the sports blogging community, would Genarlow Wilson still be in jail. I don’t know the answer, but perhaps you may be interested in digging deeper on this before your panel. The story’s media “progression” is something that i had been meaning to look into, but like 1000 other items, I just haven’t gotten round to it. (perhaps I can also dig a little tomorrow) But if a case CAN BE MADE, I think that it would be a wonderful example for your panel.

    NY Times in December: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/12/21/opinion/21thu4.html?ex=1324357200&en=d3a8cf6d030c60b7&ei=5088&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss

    ESPN: http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/eticket/story?page=Wilson

    Cuban: http://www.blogmaverick.com/2007/01/27/genarlow-wilson/

  6. The Genarlow Wilson case was a local case that received national attention through its local television and press coverage…. the thing is, will it continue to be on the minds of people?

    http://thestartingfive.wordpress.com/2007/06/12/the-trials-and-tribulations-of-genarlow-wilson/

  7. HOLY SHIT!!! My head has been completely and embarrassingly in the sand!!!! I thought that Genarlow Wilson was freed in June!!! I obviously didn’t read the fine print of these news stories because I didn’t realize that the state appealed! Completely despicable. maybe even more despicable than the original sentence. Obviously, completely disregard my previous post. I need to digest this one for a minute…

    PS: Excellent article… I should have figured that you were on top of this…

  8. Mike – This is a tough question because as some commenter’s have already stated there are so many different blogs. Some music blogs are popular because they offer MP3′s you can download of popular songs, some sports blogs are popular because they offer quick links to save fans time from surfing around the ‘net while other like TS5 are popular because they offer indepth articles that make readers think and re-examine the stance that the mainstream media presents. In my opinion, blogs are popular because they allow fans to interact with fans (a global version of Cheers) while providing fans with a venue to get their thoughts out to a large audience.

    In regards to upcoming trends, I wouldn’t be surprised to see more athletes start their own blogs where they can bypass traditional media and post their own postgame sound bites for fans. Chris Bosh has started to post podcasts on his site and I can’t wait until more NBA players follow his lead.

    Following in those lines, I won’t be surprised if the mainstream media is slowly phased out of print and finds a home primarily online. I was able to chat with Chris Young from The Toronto Star (and the author of Vince Carter’s biograph) this past winter and he broke down how the cost of printing a daily paper combined with time constraints (ie a paper being based on Toronto can’t always report on West Coast games if they go into overtime) is making their online presence more viable as the cost is much lower, they can add content throughout the day and there’s the opportunity to add multimedia (ie sound clips from Sam Mitchell’s press conferences).

  9. Love this topic, and am glad some smart people are on the case.

    I could probably write 100,000 words on this, but I’ll boil down the big points:
    -Blog software is just a tool. Like the printing press before it, or the fax machine. Of course, Jordi is 1,000% on the money when he says it could be used appropriately or inappropriately. It’s ridiculous to say all bloggers are anything, just as it’s ridiculous to say all journalists, or men, or women, or white people, or black people etc. are all anything. They’re not. They must be judged independently.
    -I hate the idea — forwarded by some bloggers, some journalists, and some readers — that bloggers are essentially columnists without scruples. The worst example of this is newspaper reporters who will take information that can’t get past their editors and into the paper, and instead stick it on their blog because it’s “just a blog.” Look: either it’s a meaningful way you share information with the public, and should be treated with care, or it’s a meaningless waste of time and not something we should all be reading.
    -Sports media has long been a haven of cronyism. I got my first job in sports because I went to high school with a woman who later became the managing editor of HOOP and INSIDE STUFF. People ask me all the time how they can get into sports journalism, and I have always felt dirty telling them not to miss deadlines and stuff, because the truth is that the best way has long been to know someone. But blogs are changing that. Now you have a real shot at getting noticed just by being good. If you’re good, and put the time in, you can actually be read by people that matter without knowing anyone in the business. Hallelujah! This is amazing for fans everywhere and will totally change the whole industry for the better over the next several decades.
    -Some of what we call ethics of journalism really should be thought of more as ethics of public communication. If one sports agent tells you, without letting you use his name, that another agent is a pedophile, do you print that? With one anonymous source with an axe to grind? Journalism ethics say no, and blogging ethics should say no, too. In the end, out of respect for readers and the subjects of the stories, we should be careful not to spread misinformation, to attribute things carefully, not to trash people with shoddy evidence, etc.
    -One big secret: blog software is EXCELLENT for investigative journalism. It gets you a million contacts, it lets you print as many or as few stories as you like without having to find space in the paper. As far as I know I’m the only sports blogger who has done anything investigative at all, which is insane. That tells me serious sports journalists are not yet understanding this new tool and its power.
    -One last thing I love about blogs: the voice of journalism is changing. The stentorian, objective, unimpeachable Dan Rather figure was a nice idea, but stifling beyond belief and in the end never all that realistic. Every human is riddled with biases that affect editorial judgment in myriad ways. My preference is to be as transparent, responsible, and honest as possible, while admitting to relevant biases and letting the people decide. Blogs support that. On a blog, I’m supposed to talk as ME, not objective robot dude. No, I don’t like talking about my family and stuff, but in terms of basketball, my wish is to essentially have no secrets, and no secret agendas. I’m just telling it like I believe it to be, not how AP guidelines tell me to tell it. The AP might have the appearance of objectivity, but the way I am trying to tell it tries to cut deeper, and closer to the bone, and while it might lean more one way or the other, I believe that in the long run that leaves readers better positioned to make their own minds up intelligently.

  10. Ron Glover Says:

    Henry – Your third point was dead on I decided one day that I wanted to become a sports journalist on a whim and a prayer. No journalism courses in college. I knew sports and I knew I could write a little, I just put the two together. I didn’t know anyone in sports media so I grabbed a list of NABJ members and asked for pointers, Thomas George formerly of the N.Y. Times and the Denver Post read my columns, critiqued them and was a great help to me, I came thisclose to landing a job with the Philadelphia Eagles because of him. I’m thankful to have met someone like Mike while writing for BSN, even then he had a plan – and it’s coming into fruition now.

    Blogging trims the fat – you don’t go through the pains of looking through directories, searching for certain people to read your work, it also separates the good from the great and of course there are those that just want something to show their homies. I still don’t have many contacts but certain columns I get alot of feedback from, so I do see the power of blogging.

    For me – I would love to be the guy that comes up w/the big story just from just digging for it, the old school journalist that comes up with the breaking story. Blogging is going to change that, but more importantly it’s going to open the door for writers that just want to get their foot in the door. I would love to speak with The Starting Five crew and others feel free to email me at ronglov1972@hotmail.com

    Mike – keep up the great work!

  11. It’s late, I had to deal with blasted server issues for most of the day, and the Marisa Tomei Seinfeld episode is on. Two pithy comments/observations:

    a) Newspapers, at some point, are going to have to either hire a full-time blogger, or have someone at the paper handle this job. Worker bees at their desk need to be entertained from 9-5, and the answer is posting every hour or so. Otherwise, they’ll just go to the local paper once in the morning, check out the stories that look interesting, and spend the rest of the day on the blogs. Most newspapers don’t continually update … they just link up whatever’s on the wire. That’s not going to cut it. Readers want a voice … and many bloggers have already cultivated a voice and have a small but faithful following.

    b) The over/under for shedding of the blogger label – sitting in the dark of mom’s basement in your underwear – is June 22, 2011. Just a guess.

  12. I’ve written for newspapers, I have a radio show, and I pretend that I write a blog. But I no longer consider myself a journalist. Sure there are many in my business (radio or blog) that do. But the leg work is left for someone else in what I do.

    But I think by equating “new media” to mean “blog” makes the question much different. Same as saying that newspaper = old media. Here are some of the big changes that I’ve witnessed.

    1. Access to question. William Randolph Hurst once said “Give me the photographs and I’ll give you a war.” People were unable to witness for themselves. They were forced to rely on others to reach out and bring the world to them. The television began to change that. Now the internet has given people a greater ability to question the veracity of reports.

    2. Access to answer. Whereas Hurst may have received letters via pony express from the readers of his paper, and then selected the ones he felt were of a certain standard to print. Now it’s just as easy for me to send T.R. Sullivan an email and get him to clarify a point about the Mark Teixeira trade. Or I can call a radio show and question the host for his slant on the Sullivan comment. Or make a blog post, calling it into question. Eventually, I can get a response from him.

    3. Increased culpability. Hurst got his war, and history noted it. It’s now called Yellow Journalism. But now he’d be lit up on blogs, and swamped with email. The present can have an affect on the stories.

    Is Peter Gammons beholden to the Red Sox? Is Len Pascarelli an agent’s mouthpiece? I wouldn’t have thought so much about it because ESPN sure wasn’t going to promote those facts. The integrity of those who DO the legwork is now under greater question. Perhaps it should be.

    4. Explosion of Niches. It wasn’t long ago where many thought that my station which transmits sports to a large audience wasn’t viable. Many still think that.

    But with the internet, every scrimmage at Tennessee is broken down by a variety of on-lookers who have a willing audience. Though it may not be millions, the thousands who thirst for that knowledge and discussion can be quenched.

    In a world where excess is often not enough, people can get lost trying to navigate the mass of information, editorial and insight.

    5. Qualification. Mike Florio at profootballtalk.com has a wide audience, but a JD instead J-School degree . Jamey Newberg is a lawyer, too, yet he is still wide-read and respected. Neither one spends time going into locker rooms, or riding on team flights.

    They said TV would kill radio, yet I still cash my (infrequent) paychecks, so be wary of absolutes in this discussion.

    I also think that “new media” enhances the more traditional things. The effect has been a greater effort by newspapers, tv and radio stations to protect their market share. Why would someone listen to me, when they could read it on the internet. Or why would they put up with my Bonds rants when they could get the College Football discussion on EDSBS radio? I just have to make my Bonds rant more compelling. I have to make my writing better and my points more salient in my (hypothetical) weekly newspaper column.

    It’s forced people to TRY and raise the bar. Regardless if that’s accomplished.

    Yet, I don’t know that without those guys who do go into the locker room, who do inspire the bloggers to critically analyze what’s being said by John Kruk that it would be as wide spread as it is.

    There’s something I like to say to people when we discuss changing our shows, or adding something. 90% of the people are happy with their choices until they get new ones. The blog is the newest choice. Causing the discord and backlash of the masses.

    But next week, if telekenetic discussions with athletes and teleporting as a hologram into the stadium became a possiblity, people would decry that blogs were a thing of the past. But people would still type on the keyboard.

  13. Blogs have come a long way in a short time. As someone who started writing about their favorite team as a way to keep in touch with friends, I didn’t foresee the path it has taken me.

    Once thought of as simply a journal of peoples thoughts or opinions, blogs have become one of the major sources in the media, whether the mainstream want to believe it or not.
    It’s such a reality now that most major newspapers and magazines have blog sections of their own to compete with the independents.

    They jumped the bandwagon once they realized that many people were passing up their own “news” to read it on a blog.

    I do hate the fact that many writers consider sports blogging as some sort of fun game that we play, especially when they pull info and quotes without giving credit. Do they think that it will go unnoticed?

    So much has changed in the past year that I see it taken even further as the days pass. The heavy hitters didn’t want to embrace the new media, but the fact is they were forced to.

    Hail to the interwebs!

  14. The blogosphere has provided an informal, yet often incredibly credible, source of much-needed checks and balances in journalism.

    I hate to make the comparison but some bloggers can be compared to Jose Canseco books — intention and credibility may be questionable (because what do we really know about each blogger?) but many of the stories provided end up with legs to stand on.

    Of course then there are the sites who are simple “Joe Blow Fan 1″ who write about their team and tell us why they’ll win the Super Bowl/World Series/Madden Bowl every year… but those are in their own category.

    The sites who break news and write about stories that go unnoticed in the MSM are the ones who give the blogosphere a good name. TrueHoop broke into the MSM but maintains his ties to the blogosphere world. Steinberg over at the DCSportsBog has been one of the more popular blogs nationally, even though he mainly blogs on DC sports.

    I agree that newspapers need to have at least one foot in the blogosphere realm, because like TBL said, folks are looking for updates during the 9-5 time slot. Online news sites would be best served tabbing a local athlete to blog some on their own (WaPo needs to try and lure Gil’s blog away from NBA.com to gain more readers) because that seems like the next step in this process.

  15. Dan Steinberg Says:

    Wow, these are some tough acts to follow. Especially Henry, who said everything I would have said.

    I do fear that some blog fans might be giving up on the MSM too quickly. The best sports columnists have always been non-objective-robot-dudes, being at times conversational and humorous and thoughtful and prodding and all the other things bloggers are praised for. Ten years from now, a young Michael Wilbon might dream of becoming a blogger instead of a WaPo columnist, but in the here and now, much of the best sports writing is still done in a traditional format.

    Also, not to be a continued downer, but so much of what blogs do is churn up information that was originally reported in the MSM. They often do a better job of packaging it and presenting it than newspapers do, which is bizarre, but in many cases the basic kernels of information are still being dug out by very old-media employees.

    Also also, blogs are not the end-all be-all in interactivity. Non-bloggy stories can be commented on. Message boards will spawn discussions that in many cases dwarf bloggy discussions, at least in length. And message boards also commandeered that whole Cheers vibe thing, way before blogs became big-time. But here are the things blogs can provide better than anything else.

    * Constant, immediate updating.

    * A forum for great writers to emerge without the BS of internships and “paying dues” and all the rest. Chris Needham from the great Washington Nationals blog Capitol Punishment can flat out write. He doesn’t need an internship to prove that.

    * A way to bury the token game stories and notebooks that can feel like monotonous drudgery in newsprint.

    * A way to bypass editors who might not think something is important enough or tasteful enough for newsprint. A drunk Jeff Reed sporting a mohawk demands to be seen.

    * A more powerful way to criticize and shape the media than letters to the editor.

    * A forum for athletes to speak directly to the public. Is Gilbert’s blog a completely accurate portrayal of his soul? Of course not, but neither is a long newspaper feature written by someone who’s known Gilbert for two weeks.

    * A filter to make clarity out of the madness of the interwebs. This is in some ways the least sexy part of blogging, but also the most valuable. True Hoop’s Bullets is without a doubt the best way I know of to stay informed on the NBA. Celtics Blog’s daily roundup is invaluable on the Celts.

    But anyhow, like others have suggested, people who can write and people who can make jokes and people who can report and people who can think deep thoughts will continue to do all of those things; just the medium and the immediacy will change.

  16. It’s not New Media, it’s Now Media. Digital technology has made every journalist a today journalist – someone who must be able to distill the myriad and often monumental events of the day in a manner that is clear, enlightening and engaging. As such it separates the gifted from the ordinary, the literate and thoughtful from the blusterers. All will survive, in some manner, of course. Newspapers and magazines, television and radio will always have their places. But the winners will be those who can think quickly and thoughtfully and provide sports fans with a platform that encourages them to jump and and swim – with their own thoughts and opinions. The age of condescending sports writers is over. It is, instead, the age of Now.

  17. The best thing about the blogosphere is that it can be anything you want it to be. If you want a quick rundown, there are sites that do that. If you want to obsess about your favorite team, there are sites for that. If you want humor? Done. If you want intellect and serious discussion, that’s all there too. The blogosphere is way more than frequent posts and gotcha “journalism”. It’s that and more. Much more.

    What’s funny is that the blogosphere mimics MSM in so many ways and people don’t realize it. There are blogs that are essentially beat writers. There are blogs that are trade journals. There are blogs that are essentially columnists. And it would be wise for the MSM to start culling the blog for talent. Journalism may require a j school degree, but the talent of writing does not. Real talk. Couldn’t Page 2 at ESPN be repopulated with certain bloggers and the quality would skyrocket?

    And a lot of blogs have a volume of readership that essentially qualifies them as niche magazines. And with a valuable demographic. For example, many of my readers (as they reveal themselves to me) are highly educated, well traveled and affluent. I may not be the NFL of media, but I might be golf. Eventually, this demographic is going to be coveted by advertisers and MSM will have no response.

    Yet, sadly, the blogosphere reflects the MSM in so many familiar ways. The blogosphere is not especially diverse. Well, maybe diverse in interests, but not in race or sex or geography, etc. There are blogs that I have to temporarily ignore in the same way that I would turn off ESPN for a few days sometimes. And what exacerbates the alienation is that even the bigger sports blogs are the reflection of a single person who is too busy typing and surfing the RSS to contemplate and incorporate feedback. There is no committee, no ombudsman. No random person in the cubicle a few feet down to put you in check. So sometimes, particular agendas can overwhelm a blog – in good and bad ways. (FYI, I have done a post on the challenges facing Black bloggers http://www.leavethemanalone.com/2007/05/its-hard-enough-being-blogger.html.)

    Regarding my personal online habits, I spend very little time on ESPN, SI, etc. anymore. And I get the sense that other bloggers just surf them for the purpose of bashing their columnists. I mainly surf them just to get an indication of what’s timely. Especially as most of them rely on AP wires. I can get that on my Yahoo! page. Most of my sports analysis comes from blogs.

    And that’s a good thing.

  18. Way late to the discussion here, but I’d like to heartily echo the “screw the internships” point made a couple of folks so far.

    I’m fresh out of J-school, did two soul-crushing summer newspaper feature internships, and decided that I wanted to focus on the web and sports commentary therein. Writing for the FanHouse, under any format, would never have happened for me had I not done this; matter of fact, I’d currently be doing all of my sportswriting covering preps in Muncie, IN, which — despite what David Letterman tells you — is no place to be spending your virile 20′s.

    Are blogs, in my mind, as good as they could be? Absolutely not. Is The Postmen, or InsidetheHall, as good as it could be? No. I’d like to do more reporting, and on ITH we’re getting there. The blogosphere is getting there in general. But the fact that the medium is now available and allows so many more talented voices — and a host of untalented ones, too, no fingers being pointed — to become the cream of the crop is an incredible thing. Scary, but incredible, and ultimately encouraging.

  19. [...] Did you like this brief introduction? Find out about it in full detail here. [...]

  20. [...] done many posts on the subject (what I can find): here, here (digging the snow), here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and last but not least, [...]

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