Thursday, July 23, 2009

Why Christine Brennan Is Undeserving of Your Attention

I have been a fan of Christine Brennan's writing for as long as I can remember. She and Tony Kornheiser are the first two sports writers that I can recall reading on a regular basis. When The Washington Post would turn up at my house, looking for the latest column by Brennan or Kornheiser was my first order of business.

With that preface, I was very disappointed to hear Brennan's take on bloggers and the internet. Last month, Brennan was on an ESPN podcast called "Play Ball! with Amanda & Melissa". She was asked a general question to her thoughts on sports blogs and sports bloggers (the Raul Ibanez blogger controversy was in the news at the time) and here was her response:

"What I try to do with blogs, is I try to read the ones that come from newspapers, come from legitimate trained journalists and I would encourage anyone who listens to us or anyone who cares about this issue to do that. The guy or woman in their pajamas in a basement in Seattle or Tupelo or Bangor, Maine...they who will never be seen, who will never go to a practice or a game, they will never meet the coach, why should we listen to them? Why, why should we pay any attention to what they're saying about a pro or college team or whatever.

"That's the kind of thing that we need to discern and it's harder and harder for people to figure out what's legit and what isn't, understandably, we've all had this because you click on a website and then you click on a link and you're just clicking on those little blue lines and off you're going to another world and pretty soon you are reading the person who's sitting in their pajamas in their basement, you know, in Omaha, Nebraska. and that person who really has no training and no idea what they are talking about. And when I say that, they certainly can have an opinion but do we want to waste one moment of our time on Earth reading those opinions? I want to read the opinion of people who are there, are trained observers, whether they went to journalism school or whatever, they've invested in this career and they are trained in it and therefore they are worthy of our attention.

"But the problem is, as you've said, you know, I might be able to figure it out, you guys can figure out, OK this person is, you know, a trained working journalist there at the event. The lines blur so much, how do you start to know? and for the average casual reader, someone who's wandering around the internet, just doing what a lot of people do, trying to figure out where they are and what they're doing, those lines are blurred to the point where, you know, when you're holding a newspaper in your hand, you know who's produced it. That is the nice little real estate, the demarcation of the territory that you happen to be looking at. So a newspaper's simple. It was produced by USA Today or The Washington Post or The New York Times, that's who gave us that and it's crystal clear. And the internet, of course is completely blurred, the opposite of crystal clear and it's gonna, I think, create many more issues like this and how does the mainstream media, not that we're always right, not at all, but at least we are trained journalists, by and large, how do we react to these kinds of things?

"Another huge issue about these stories and how they catch fire and do you put out the fire or do you let it keep going? Really something and it certainly, books will be written on this topic so a couple moments don't really give it justice but I just think the best thing is go with the trained journalists who are there, who have to see the coach day in, day out, it's not hit and run kind of reporting or journalism or blogging. It's hit and stay."

A few things here...

First, I was soooo disappointed that Brennan went with the old "blogging from his basement" line. So cliche, so tired and I would expect that if Christine was going for a putdown that she would have something more original and clever than that.

Second, if you live in Seattle, Tupelo, Bangor or Omaha, you should be doubly insulted. The disdain in her voice when those cities rolled off her tongue was glaring. If you live in a small town, you are marginal in Brennan's mind.

Third, your opinion does not matter if you are not working for a newspaper or trained as a journalist. Pro sports writers have the informed opinions and if it doesn't come from them, it means nothing. Now, if Brennan wants to take a shot at a rinky-dink hobby blog like mine, fine. I see the value that blogs like mine hold, at least as a collective, but why put down the good work done by Shysterball, The Hardball Times, FanGraphs, Beyond the Boxscore and such? Those guys are doing fantastic work, covering aspects of baseball that the mainstream media doesn't touch . I once conversed with a "professional journalist" who covered baseball and sent him a player's slash line. He had to ask me what it was. I'm not putting the guy down but if you cover baseball shouldn't you have a rudimentary knowledge of modern baseball stats? But no matter. To Brennan, the work doesn't count unless it comes through official sources.

Fourth, I don't think anyone is going to click on a link at The Baltimore Sun (who has linked to my site) , come to my site and believe that they are still reading something written by a writer in their employ. Look at this place. My layout is amateurish. My writing is certainly not up to snuff. Brennan thinks people who use the internet for their news are bumbling idiots, "wandering" around aimlessly, consuming information without discretion. Brennan seems to think the public is some great unwashed who can't be trusted to read anything that does not come from a newspaper. One they can hold in their hands. That's silly and ridiculously outdated.

But none of this on the surface is a big deal. I toyed with posting about it last month and never did because I find the whole "the big bad journalist is picking on us bloggers" theme kind of tired and I truly don't care that much. But it sets a tone. A tone from Brennan that says, if you don't meet my standards of education, professionalism, geography or living quarters, you don't matter. Period.

This week, Brennan has a tweet about Erin Andrews and the voyeur who spied on her in her hotel room.

There are hundreds of women covering sports in this country who haven’t had this happen to them. I wish it didn’t happen to Erin, but I also would suggest to her if she asked (and she hasn’t) that she rely on her talent and brains and not succumb to the lowest common denominator in sports media by playing to the frat house....

Women sports journalists need to be smart and not play to the frat house. There are tons of nuts out there.

So because Erin Andrews is a very attractive young woman, the kind of reporting she does "succumbs to the lowest common denominator"...what? What does this have to with the subject you're talking about? Nothing...unless you're suggesting she brought this on herself.

Erin Andrews does not meet Christine Brennan's standards of journalism. Thus, she is not worthy of Brennan's empathy.

And with that, there's a sport columnist you never have to read again.

Later, Christine.

(posted from an office where I can see the sun...)


The Marinara said...

yikes.... I was very disappointed in that. I know I am a hack trying to do this, but hell at least we are trying to do something different. There are many reasons that the traditional media is suffering, but new media isn't the only thing to blame. If anything it has forced the traditional media to step up their game.

getting into this blogging thing for the short time that I have, I wish i had been trained to do this because i know I could be doing a better job, but who has the time to stop their lives and start over. I have had a fantastic time doing this as a hobby and look forward to doing it in the future.

anyway heath, i liked your thoughts. You have a great blog here and I'm glad we have been able to collaborate in the past and hope to do so in the future.

Matt Sadler

Dave Mc said...

One day soon all the newspapers Brennen rhapsodizes over will be out of business. I'll still by pecking away at my keyboard, in my uneducated way, and she won't be able to understand how it happened.

I could explain it to her, but she wouldn't listen because I'm not wearing pants right now.