I want to preface this article by saying that I'm a big fan of Bleacher Report.
It is a great forum for people to share their thoughts and meet others who share them. I have spent inordinate amounts of time, like many here have, leaving comments, writing articles of my own, and reading the work of some great wordsmiths.
Ever since I found this site as a journalism student at Marquette University (alumni include former Sports Illustrated columnist Steve Rushin, MLB Network reporter Trenni Kusnierek, and Chicago Cubs broadcaster for WGN Len Kasper), though, I have been pondering the titular question.
After reading this article by jillie jones, in which the author demands Bleacher Report writers to be better journalists, my answer dawned on me. It is impossible for Bleacher Report to be considered journalists if members are not forced to adhere to journalistic basics such as factual accuracy, fairness, and efficient gathering of information?
First, let me reiterate what I said at the outset: I love Bleacher Report. The community is wide-reaching and unlike anything else on the Internet. I can find many things about the Packers and Brewers (my first two priorities), but if something about the NBA or professional wrestling catches my eye, I can read about that too.
Bleacher Report also offers nearly unlimited freedom in what registered members can do on the site.
Those with a mind for analysis and statistics can analyze statistics. Those of us who are more creative can create slideshows and write humorous pieces.
In fact, before the front page change, it was not uncommon for slideshows and humor articles to be featured as the Pick of the Day, which has always been fine by me. After all, it was an act of the community.
And this is part of the reason why I do not think Bleacher Report is journalism and why those who do write exclusively on Bleacher Report are not journalists yet, myself included.
It is true that there are spectacular writers on this site, beginning with the 50 top writers that are listed here, and continuing with the top writers in each community such as MJ Kasprzak, Nino Colla, and TAB BAMFORD, to name just a few.
But, as I'm starting to learn after my first two years of journalism school, there is more to journalism than being a great writer.
The biggest difference is that professional journalists have obligations that simply do not exist on Bleacher Report if people do not think about them. People do not have to be factually accurate here if they do not want to be.
Sure, credibility is important to some on Bleacher Report, but they impose those restrictions on themselves. After all, the worst that will happen is a thorough belittling in a comment thread.
There is also no obligation to present a balanced story.
Do you want to personally attack everyone who cast an All-Star vote for Manny Ramirez? Or maybe an article about why Brett Favre is a traitor if he ends up playing for Minnesota this season?
Well, you can do it here with no negative repercussions. Favre and Manny cannot refuse to grant you interviews if you were not interviewing them in the first place, right?
Also, there is not much information-gathering going on here at Bleacher Report. The vast majority of writers here specialize in the art of interpretation of information already gathered.
I, for one, definitely am not working sources for this article or any article I have written here. Some people here, such as Kristin Hamlin, have interviewed sports figures. That is great for the site, but is the exception and not the rule on Bleacher Report.
With that said, however, I do think that Bleacher Report is a great place for aspiring journalists to practice the craft.
People can find their voice, sharpen their wit, and participate in public sports debate. That is fun, first of all, and also creates a more knowledgeable community.
And, as many NFL writers here know, the site has a partnership with CBS Sports, and CBS is hiring 32 writers, one for each NFL team, to cover the 2009 football season.
Certainly, this is a great opportunity for anyone seriously interested in breaking into true sports journalism. I just think that those lucky few who get selected will have a learning curve that they will have to navigate.
To conclude, Bleacher Report is a great starting point for armchair columnists, but the world of journalism encompasses so much more than opining about this team and that player.
It is about informing the masses and holding those dignified people, whether they are clean-up hitters or Congressmen, accountable for their performances. It is also about holding ourselves accountable for the facts we present and the reputation we build.
Without the stringent guidelines that bind journalists in respect to these obligations, Bleacher Report simply cannot be considered a journalistic venture, no matter how much we want it to be.