Bleacher Report's Chance: The Pursuit of Relevance

Mats EngdahlCorrespondent IJuly 16, 2009

It should be said that I come from a family rooted in old media, so every time I post something on the Internet, it constitutes a small betrayal on my part.

My father was a journalist for 30 years, and when he was hired by his paper to build its Web site from scratch, he had inkling he was contributing to an institution's demise. It is that thought that fills me with trepidation whenever I contribute to new media's growth.

But the other 90 percent of my brain is infatuated with the Internet's singular power to both galvanize and refine the active sports fan. While 10 percent of my brain bemoans the end of the Taleses and Halberstams of the world, the other 90 percent is aware that it was these men, who wrote beautifully and lyrically about sports (among other things), that forced their generation to be passive in their fandom. Those fans had no ability to project themselves, and their knowledge and sports intellect suffered.

I've heard the theory that the Internet is degrading sports by diluting not only the partition between athlete and fan, but also traditional sports journalism. It's true that the Internet has dissolved the barrier between athlete and fan. But this is no crime against sports. If anything, it should reaffirm one positive aspect of sports for players and fans by reminding both parties that the other exists, and that it is these separate existences that serve to enrich each other. 

It is also true that the Internet is eroding sports journalism in its traditional form. The competition for stories has multiplied to the point where journalists without the skill to maintain exclusive relationships with insiders are obsolete, and even these journalists are being threatened by athletes who choose to instead go straight to the Internet with their thoughts. There are thousands of fans who write just as well for free, and often they write better and more entertainingly than their paid counterparts.

But it is this newly discovered influence that has placed new responsibility on bloggers and forum contributors. Too often on Bleacher Report I notice the comment board being used to air petty grievances and as a target ground for crude snipes toward people that disagree with an opinion or an assertion.

It is also the place that the sports site—which at its best should be a meritocracy—morphs into stringent castes. People who consider themselves a superior to their colleagues flex their perceived muscle, castigating those who operate outside of a "community's" contrived dogma or culture. 

What the forum should be—and the majority of Bleacher Reporters understand this—is a place to critique and help writers improve themselves. But for sites such as this to exert the influence it's capable of, such questionable practices have to come to an end.

The other part of this new responsibility is for members to write devoid of cliche and bald hero-worship. To exploit the Internet's full potential is a goal that can be accomplished only by banishing from posts the banality that exists too often in sports commentary.

The voice writers project should be articulate and opinionated, not boring and recycled. Cliches make a product less appealing, and they undermine the opinions behind them.

It also serves to be skeptical of the teams and players a fan roots for. Fans can force change, but they can't do it by ignoring problems endemic to a team. Sometimes a fan questions the intelligence of how teams handle themselves, only to be beaten down for not being a true fan. Such dismissals are always premature and biased, and always harm the community's voice. 

There is also a pervasive humorlessness and pretentiousness that tends to seep into articles. Sports are supposed to enjoyable and, logically, so is sports writing. Having a stuffy attitude (about advertising and different modes of coverage) is what doomed the newspaper.

If Bleacher Report continues to develop positively, it could one day be the type of resource that owners and players come to not only for announcing decisions like trades, advertising changes, and fan deals, but also the origin of these ideas. Owners could set up polls for fans to vote on certain aspects of team management. It could be a place where petitions are circulated to enact change.

It can transform into whatever fans deem it necessary to become. But fans and members should understand that, if this should ever be achieved, the site needs to be crafted and properly nurtured. Then Bleacher Report, and sites like it, can transform into essential tools.


    Iconic Sports Illustrated Writer Deford Dies at Age 78

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    Iconic Sports Illustrated Writer Deford Dies at Age 78

    Tyler Conway
    via Bleacher Report