Yesterday, my BRN colleague Steve weighed in on what he thought were the important points in the current debate raging over the role of blogs in sports media. He and I agree that blogs are an important and emerging part of the way sports are covered (hello...we’re bloggers). But, while his take on the issue centered on the role of media in democracy and the important differences between the roles played by newspapers and bloggers, my contention is born from a belief in free markets and the opinion that bloggers deserve the same access granted to newspapers and television outlets.
The Market Determines Merit
The thing I took away from the Costas Now show the most is that ultimately the public decides what is relevant and what is not. They vote with attention. As Deadspin’s Will Leitch pointed out, if a blog isn’t any good, it won’t be around very long. But, if you put in the work and develop something of value, you will build an audience. That’s the same recipe for any good media outlet – print, television, online or otherwise. As a good friend of mine likes to say sometimes…don’t get bitter, get better.
There have been plenty of members of the media’s “old guard” that seem to be doing just fine in the new media age. The venerable Associated Press is still the world’s leading and most trusted authority on breaking news, due in no small part to their great positioning and partnering with Google News, the Internet’s 800 pound gorilla of a paper boy. The AP still writes it, and Google distributes it. Everybody gets paid.
Elsewhere, you see newspapers putting up blogs as fast as they can. From the Washington Post to the Lincoln Journal Star, the line between bloggers and journalists gets blurrier by the minute. And, as the playing field levels, it will be up to the consumer to decide what topics and descriptions merit reading or not. Personally, I think the nation's craving for sports borders on insatiable, so there is always room for more. Husker fans will always want to read about and discuss the Huskers.
Time for Equal Access
While Buzz Bissinger dropping F bombs and Leitch stuttering replies makes for good TV drama, I was more keenly tuned to a different part of the segment not shown in that clip, one where Washington Post columnist Mike Wilbon bemoans the lack of standards for bloggers to follow (as he sits in his cartoonish PTI studio in his role as a “paid shouter” for ESPN). That brings me to my second point. The key difference between the Lincoln Journal Star’s blog and sites like Big Red Network is one thing – access. When I want to write about recruiting, I rely on my wits and research. Reporters at the Lincoln Journal Star can surf this site, see a debate break out, and start calling coaches for a story on that subject. So what exactly qualifies newspaper journalists for that kind of access any more than Steve or I?
While my colleague Steve may not want credentials and access, I most certainly do. But, when we request press credentials from the University of Nebraska, we are given a form letter response saying that only print, television and radio media are given credentials. Universities need to revisit the standards for press access. Frankly, I think our site absolutely qualifies.
We have developed an audience big enough to have merit. We write reasoned and researched material. For the most part, our content is just about as family friendly as anything you’ll find in newspapers and magazines these days. I don’t understand why we have to have a “dead tree edition” to qualify to ask a few questions of players and coaches. If you must know, Steve, Jason, Renny and I are every bit as qualified as the fine folks at the newspapers and television stations. I’ll spare you our resumes. But, trust me when I say the prospect of covering Big 12 media day is hardly daunting.
The worst part is the double standard that people like Michael Wilbon don't even realize they are spouting. Some contend bloggers aren’t held to the right standards. Well, why should they be? They aren’t given any benefit to merit that sort of obligation. If you want us held to the standard of your profession, then invite us to be a part of it. Let us in the tent. When traditional media acknowledge blogs as some kind of media peer, they then have every right to scrutinize, praise or dismiss our work. But, until the blogs that qualify are given the same access afforded to newspapers, what choice do we have but to stand at the gate, represent the fan, and report about or discuss anything that comes our way? We have to become the party crashers you already perceive us to be.
The futurist in me sees the trends already playing out. As bloggers become more qualified and experienced, and newspapers continue to move toward new media solutions like blogging and podcasts, the lines differentiating the two will become even more blurred. Five years from now, I hope I can look back at this post and laugh about the debate being silly. But it would be better if Universities and sports franchises just embrace the new media reality now and try to at least stay somewhat ahead of the curve.