Newspapers vs. Blogs


David Staples over at Cult of Hockey makes reference today to a John MacKinnon article about the differing roles of the mainstream media and that of blogs. Both articles are interesting reads, as is the article that John MacKinnon refers to over at the Globe & Mail. Frankly, though, I think both of them get it a little wrong, despite making excellent points. Let's start with Staples, who, as much as any Edmonton sports writer, has really embraced what blogs have to offer.
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We will play by our own rules, the rules we have always believed in. We will still be mainstream reporters, mainly because most of us truly value the values of mainstream reporting.
We don't just write and report the way to do because our bosses force us to write and report that way. We do what we do, we write what we write, because we believe in responsible journalism, in informing our readers while also being fair to our sources and subjects.
Many folks who post on the Internet may well think it's quaint and fussy that we don't often write curse words, and that our critiques of players, coaches, general managers and fellow writers aren't absolutely blistering. On the Oilogosphere, almost every day we are accused of pulling our punches, sucking up to Oilers management, and not really telling the truth because we're constrained by commercial interests.
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Personally, I've always found the uncontrolled blasting of Edmonton writers to be a little tiresome, particularly when it's guys at the Journal getting blasted. Certainly there are times (at least in my own opinion) where these guys seem to take too much of what the team says at face value, rather than digging and determining if it was a good hockey decision or not- the Souray signing would be one example that was accepted fairly easily by Edmonton media but had a number of negatives that weren't initially pointed to in a terribly thorough way. So that occasional tendency to report one side of the story absolutely needs to be critiqued, and it's something that blogs do.
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As for being "quaint and fussy" for not cursing, regular readers (all 6 of you, and I really like you folks!) will recognize that I don't curse on this site. Looking over at Lowetide, it's a fairly rare occurence on that end too. I don't think it adds anything, and I think it, to some extent, undermines credibility. Still, if a commenter with many valid points (take Dennis, for example) decides to unleash a bunch of them while making a statement, fine. Or if a blogging team (see Covered in Oil) decides to use it, great. It's an individual choice, and it isn't uniform across all blogs.
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I don't see the only future for journalism on the Internet as the discussion boards, or as Eklund, a mysterious guy that nobody knows spreading trade rumours, this kind of unaccountable type. The future is going to have a place -- a major place -- for credibility, for accountability, for named sources and for fair comment, and that place is where the old, conservative but relatively reliable mainstream media is going to be.
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If internet journalism turned into Eklund's site, it would be the end. Journalists would be adding nothing of value; selling themselves out in an attempt to reach a wider audience. I think what journalists add is credibility, but mostly in terms of information, rather than analysis. On the information side, if The Score breaks a trade, I trust it. When, on the other hand, when Steve Ludzik tells me that Rob Schremp would be rookie of the year if only the Oilers would play him, I laugh, because it's manifestly not true.
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This isn't an indictment of all mainstream analysts. Take Bob McKenzie of TSN, for my money the best analyst in the business. He's well-informed, and forms opinions with a strong basis in reality. Other analysts are less so (see Al Strachan, among others) and each forms a base over time.
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On the other hand, to indict all bloggers on the basis of reading the message boards or Eklund's site would be equally bizarre. Frankly, I find it almost insulting when I read about Eklund are HFBoards being talked about as blogs. Eklund's site is a commercial one, he's being paid for it, and he's attracted a host of MSM-employed writers. He's much more mainstream than a traditional blog. HFBoards, on the other hand, is an internet community, a group of fans of all different backgrounds and abilities talking. It's almost a mob, and it's unfair to paint bloggers with the same brush, because bloggers, like journalists are individual and have individual merits.
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Let's move on to MacKinnon.
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This particular argument is key in that the difference between rooting or fandom and journalistic detachment is at the core of the animosity between the two groups.
The bloggers acknowledge they are fans but tend to forget this in their criticism of ink-stained wretches, whose work they routinely slag, even though, as Bissinger noted on the Costas show, they frequently know little about the constraints of the job.
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"Journalistic detachment" is a wonderful idea, and certain MSM writers have an excellent grasp of it and apply it in such a way that you can respect their writings as non-partisan. They are, however (at least in my view) in the minority.
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Of the writers based in Edmonton, how many cheer for the Oilers? I believe it was MacKinnon himself (among others) who pointed to an extremely un-detached relationship between certain writers for the Edmonton Sun and the departing Edmonton ownership group.
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Sports writers who cover a single team are not detached. How could they be? They spend the vast majority of their job talking to the same people, covering the same players, and watching the same team. Sentimentality creeps in. Take Jim Hughson, one of my favorite sportscasters (he's also from my home town). He was the regular Canucks play-by-play man over at Sportsnet. Now he's HNIC's late-night guy. Yet, watching him call Canucks games, you can feel the pro-Canuck mentality. It's natural; he'd be larger than life if it wasn't there.
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Similarly, bloggers are fans. I'm certainly a fan of the Oilers, but I try and stay objective when I write about them. Take the Souray contract. I think it was a bad idea, and I think that from a (mostly) objective viewpoint, because I like Souray the player, I like the team he plays for, hey, I even like Kevin Lowe who signed him. But, when I make myself look at the different sides of the issue (injuries, player versatility, contract length and dollars, etc.) I'm convinced it's a bad signing. That's an opinion based on objective reasoning, not fanboy fervor.
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The crux of my point is that, as with individual journalists, individual bloggers have individual sets of writing ethics. Surely MacKinnon would be embarrased to be tarred by the same brush as Terry Jones, much like I'm embarrased to be thrown in with Eklund and the group over at HFBoards. They're different and they offer value to some people, but I am distinct from them, as MacKinnon is from Jones, or that fellow in Ottawa who called for Ottawa players to deliberately injure Sidney Crosby.
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The bloggers also are inveterate counterpunchers, backseat drivers and Monday morning quarterbacks. Journalists themselves are, of necessity, reactive. But, in many respects, the life's blood of the blogosphere is the very MSM the bloggers are so quick to derogate.
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Absolutely. I wouldn't be able to analyze if the MSM wasn't bringing me information. My opinions would be far less informed (yes, it's possible) if it weren't for the value of listening to articulate, intelligent MSM-types like Bob McKenzie, James Mirtle, and Dave Reid, all of whom offer their verdicts (reactive verdicts, counter-punching verdicts) on the different moves of NHL teams. Without a Jim Matheson reporting behind-the-scenes stuff, I couldn't comment on it. I wouldn't know who Rob Daum was, let alone know what was going on with him.
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Finally, I'll close with one comment on the article MacKinnon references.
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Bissinger despairs of the dumbing down, the poor quality of writing and the coarseness of the conversation on the Internet. But he made no real effort to distinguish between a sleazy blog and the Internet editions of respected news organizations.
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It's nice to see the Globe & Mail acknowledge that not all internet writers are one and the same. Still, that isn't my point here. When Bissinger despairs of the "dumbing down" and "poor quality writing", I'm in his court. It's one of the reasons I love Lowetide's site so much- he's a quality writer. I've always been academically inclined. I wrote 99% on my English 12 provincial exam, and my best marks in college came in academic writing courses. I love reading well-worded writing, and one of the chief purposes of this blog is as a venue for me to improve my own, writing, which can be shaky, rambling, and even flat-out poor. Still, I try to write clearly and well, and hopefully I'll get better at it as I do more of it.
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Internet weblogs that gain credibility, those of Mirtle, or Lowetide, or Battle of Alberta (there's lots of others- I have a blog roll on left because I enjoy reading all of the blogs listed there, and it's by no means exhaustive) are well-written. I certainly prefer their writing to that of indivdual sports writers.


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