Buzz Bissinger, author of "Friday Night Lights," is making the rounds in Philadelphia, trying to clear his name after the mess he made by losing his cool on HBO.
The author was on 610-WIP’s morning show this a.m. after appearing on Howard Eskin’s show last week. Although I only caught the tail end of the interview this morning, I listened to the Eskin interview in its entirety; I actually pulled into a mall parking lot to give it my undivided attention. Eskin, of course, considers Bissinger a champion for putting blogs in their place and shares his concern about the future of reporting, and that seems to be the sentiment of many established journalists.
It isn’t often that Beerleaguer breaks Phillies' continuity, but for this I’ll make an exception. Speaking on behalf of one of the city’s most established sports blogs, I felt a small sense of duty to respond, even though the integrity of Beerleaguer is rarely in doubt and the site is often praised for upholding journalistic standards, even inside the public comments thread.
It might surprise some people, but I agree with some of Bissinger’s points, disagree strongly with others, all explained with a cooler head on Eskin’s show.
Like Bissinger has said in these follow-up interviews, there are many blogs worth reading, but many, many more that are not. Some sites do the legwork. Many more, like this one, rely on secondary sources. And many rely on hearsay and throw-away humor, and unfortunately for Bissinger, that’s how he came to take the bait, while the rest of us have dismissed those spaces as the work of amateurs out for kicks. And for the record, there's nothing wrong with getting your kicks, especially in the not-so serious world of sports.
The problem is, Bissinger and others are listening to a vocal minority instead of a silent majority, embodied by vast numbers here who hold traditional reporting and thought-provoking commentary in high regard. Readers take pride in this forum, their forum, which was designed with a journalistic eye. Some have called it the best place to receive Phillies’ information and insight, but I’d bet 9 out of 10 click Philly.com for the real scoop before they check here. This is where they come to debate the issues in a controlled, fun environment.
Of all the points Bissinger made, the most offensive and misguided part is the notion that bloggers would like to see the mainstream media disappear. The fact is, reporting is more valued than ever. It’s more global than ever. It’s also better than ever. We’re bombarded with perspectives from all angles, unbound by geography and circulation. Go back 15 years and the world, in many ways, still existed in relative darkness. Today, everyone is looking and the standards are higher. The same holds true for outrageous speculation and sensationalism. Instead of happening in the neighborhood watering hole, it’s happening in raucous pockets on the Internet.
Bissinger claims to have trouble separating the two. I find it to be quite easy actually. In calling out Deadspin, Bissinger ran into a problem, besides the obvious point that he’s taken the issue too seriously and hasn’t given the average sports fan enough credit for identifying sources they can trust. On Eskin’s show, he said it’s getting hard to separate reality and fantasy in sports, which is ironic, since fantasy is the entire point. We're all fantasy experts, pretend managers and fake GMs. From Howard Eskin to Jason Weitzel, we're all playing a part. Blogs have simply made it easier to reach people, a natural progression in a new, limitless world. Who doesn't glory days of the past? We all do, but step back for a moment and realize this is a great time to be an informed, entertained and connected sports fan. Where newspapers now reach millions, not thousands, the peanut galleries like Beerleaguer reach thousands, not dozens, of passionate fans inside a virtual pub.