Real special treat today, kids: We convinced Miami Herald columnist Dan LeBatard – who recently began a one-year hiatus from the paper – to take a whack at a blog post. We told him no topic was out of bounds, and that whatever he wrote, we’d run. Completely unedited. His hiatus from the paper (no more chats, darn!) and ESPN the Magazine (even though he’ll still be hosting his radio show) means that the readers lose, and that’s never a good thing. We have added a few links to some of his topics in the event you have no idea what he’s talking about. Before you dig into this captivating read, a primer: Kanye West, Buzz Bissinger, Ricky Davis changing, blogs, Chris Berman, booze, arrogance, the f-word, ESPN, and Kimbo Slice. LeBatard’s words after the jump.
I walked out on a Kanye West concert the other day. I like Kanye’s music and lyrics and style. I wanted him to be good. I was told he put on the best show in hip-hop. But it was perfectly dreadful. No dancers. No choreography. No hype man. Nothing on stage but Kanye and his ego. Just him jumping around while making mumbling love to a microphone. I would have settled for a sparkler, a pinwheel or that Asian kid in Boogie Nights who threw firecrackers around the living room. Bono and Bruce don’t think they can do it alone. Who does this clown think he is, anyway?
But the swaying kids in a sold-out arena seemed to love Kanye, and he got great reviews. And as I left six songs into a concert I had been rooting for, you know what swept over me?
Holy shit, I’m getting old.
Which brings me to what I see happening in the mainstream media today.
It requires some introspection on our part that doesn’t feel very good.
Older people run the media. Old media. But younger people are starting to crave something different, clearly. Young media. And things like blogs are filling that generation gap — sometimes responsibly, sometimes not, sometimes clumsily and sometimes not. But usually not with journalism’s sensibilities or rules. Sensibilities and rules built by, you know, Old Media.
How do you think we’re going to react when we see you disrespecting what we love? We’re going to react sometimes, as Buzz Bissinger unfortunately did, by opening the front door to our beloved house when you throw the football in our garden and yelling, “Hey, you fucking kids, get the fuck off my property!” We’re going to appear angry, unhinged, unreasonable, irrational and lacking self-awareness when we do it. Or passionate, depending on your perspective. But then we’re going to slam the front door, slump to the ground behind it and start crying. And, later, you are going to laugh at us and pelt our house with rocks and eggs and garbage. Eventually, you will win. We will die.
I don’t dare speak for everyone, and this may not even be true or right, but this is what I keep seeing in the mainstream media from my vantage point: We’re afraid, man. For us and for you. Our beloved little turf — the one where we’ve poured so much of our self-worth — has been invaded by an army of Perez Hiltons with very few journalism rules and ethics and a scrapbook full of secret pictures of beer-bong-wielding, hot-tub-soaking Matt Leinart. Not all of you, obviously. Maybe not even most of you. But enough of you to stain your entire world the same way some sportswriters stain mine. So we tell you that you can’t and shouldn’t put up photos of a football player who might be gay or photos of Charles Barkley’s daughter kissing other girls in a club or Star-Jones-Dwyane-Wade even as you get rewarded for doing it — because the TMZ-ization of journalism is what people, young and old, seem to want these days more than literature.
(I know. I know. You aren’t Shakespeare, LeBatard. What you do isn’t literature. What you do is stand next to the locker of Ricky Davis as he dresses. But you know what I mean.)
Some of us realize that we sound like your parents when we are admonishing you, and some of us don’t. But that’s what Bissinger was yelling about — his message calling for more compassion and less cruelty, a pretty laudable message when it isn’t delivered with cruelty and without compassion. But, rest assured, Bissinger was giving voice — too loud and too angrily — to a lot of people in Old Media. But anger, as it often is, was a mask for his insecurity. And ours. Didn’t help that he was uninformed while generalizing. There are a lot of blogs out there doing a consistently better and more entertaining job than you’ll find in the mainstream.
We should all probably realize that sports have never been healthier — more interest, more money, more eyeballs — and that there is plenty of room for all of us at this trough. Blogs aren’t our ruination. They’re our evolution and revolution. They’re Next, as the kids might say if the kids were talking in the voice of a 39-year-old dorky sporstwriter trying to guess what the kids might say. But the blogs are, for obvious reasons, met with the same uneasiness that greeted the printing press once upon a time. In some ways, The Media has become The Government it was meant to police.
The sports media badly needs a watchdog, and blogs have become it in sports. Sportswriters have always felt very comfortable on our pedestals, judging the athletes, even though there is an inherent unfairness in old, white people applying their sensibilities to games populated by young, black ones. But now the judges are being judged, finally. And we don’t like it so much. It is uncomfortable. We prefer holding the spotlight to being scalded by it, as Chris Berman would tell you after his televised rants went viral. I might like a photo of shirtless Jimmy Johnson dancing with a beer, but I don’t want to see the same kind of photo of myself here. (Neither do you, actually.) It would embarrass me, and you would laugh and mock, and that’s probably some of the cruelty Bissinger was objecting to so loudly. We don’t want you to be the judges. We want to be the judges. Pretty convenient on our part.
And this feeds a fear, too: Old Media is aging, and our beloved newspapers are dying, and we don’t seem to know what is cool any more. Did Kanye stink or am I fossilizing? Do blogs stink or are newspapers antiquated? The answers to those questions can’t be absolute. You can’t generalize about things this subjective and case-by-case specific. But it is certainly easier for us to shout at you angrily than it is to stare at our wrinkles in the mirror and confront our mortality. We are not right, and you are not wrong. But we are not wrong, and you are not right, either. It is just a different set of sensibilities. You can learn from newspapers. And we can learn from you.
I wasn’t wrong for leaving that Kanye concert while 11,000 other people danced and sang and stayed. I’m not wrong for hating American Idol, either. Our tastes are just different. The problems start when I presume that my way is the way, which is an attitude you see too much in a sanctimonious mainstream media. Then I am no different than Kanye — standing alone on a stage built upon my own arrogance and pomposity.
But you know what happens when old people try to figure out what young people want and can’t? “Who’s Now?” happens. Or we just become entrenched and stubborn and resistant to change, the way newspapers have been for years, and we continue to cover hockey and write games stories the way we always have instead of covering the mixed-martial arts and even pro wrestling the way we should. We are older people telling younger people what they should like and then acting surprised when you mock it or rebel against it. Newspapers aren’t giving you what you want. We are telling you what you should want, and you are doing an exceptional job of ignoring us.
The marketplace has spoken, and the marketplace always wins in business. As People Magazine and Us Magazine and In Touch Magazine and In Style and their ilk continue to proliferate and grow gossip at a time when no one is allegedly reading, newspapers don’t evolve and get left behind while sticking stubbornly to principles that today’s readers don’t want or care about. The need to keep up with changing tastes and sensibilities makes The New York Daily News climb into Clemens’ bedroom while The New York Times refuses to write anything about his infidelities. Who is correct there? The newspaper taking the high ground? Or the one sinking into the sewage to sell you what you want? The Times is one of, what, three newspapers in America that can literally afford to live on the high ground while the rest of us drown?
ESPN, run by old newspaper people and trafficking on the credibility of newspapers, ignored the Clemens personal stuff until it couldn’t be ignored anymore. Then the 6 p.m. SportsCenter led with country-music singer speaks for the first time! Leinart photos first appeared on a blog and traveled like a whispered secret on the Internet. Then a newspaper columnist wrote about it, validating the story. Only then were they on ESPN. Jose Canseco-hating-A-Rod was broken by some guy who just happened to see Canseco’s book put out early in a bookstore. Kimbo Slice, headlining on CBS this month, is unlike any athlete ever — a complete and total Internet creation. You see where this is headed, right? The sports fan is starting to cover sports with us, invading our turf without going to journalism school or sweating on a beat. We can embrace that. Or we can fight against it and lose.
Blogs pop out of the ground and get popular all the time now. Newspapers can’t and don’t.
Besides, for all the access we have, Old Media sometimes doesn’t do as much with it as we could. Baseball, as one example, seems to be covered better and more accurately underground, in the mathematical community, than it is anywhere in American newspapers. It is staggering how much more people without access sometimes can know than people with access. So sometimes the guy on his couch is smarter than the guy in the press box, and the fan should have both options and be discerning.
That’s not a bad thing. I don’t get to decide what’s good for you. You get to decide.
But I can still worry about the choices you make.
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