Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Blogger Bias and The Curious Case of Deadspin's SportsWriting Fixation

Many bloggers justifiably complain about the way journalists treat us like children stuck in our mother's basement. But bloggers turn around and commit their own crime against sportswriters by insisting that every column sportswriters write must contain nothing but sports content. Heaven help the sportswriter who tries to write about something that doesn't involve a ball. Sportswriters are single-minded idiot-savants who are only capable of game recaps and sports cliches. Don't believe me about this bias? Let's take some Deadspin columns as an example.

Yesterday's debut of Tom Scocca at Deadspin.com contained the usual blogger initiation ritual of painstakingly proving why yet another writer is not bloggerly enough. (Naturally, I intend to follow him through the looking glass. Hypocrisy duly noted.) He dragged out Deadspin's Barbaro, err, favorite dead horse for yet another beating.

Tom decided to lecture us all on the dastardly sin of a writer not writing about sports. He assumes that we are all on Deadspin to read about sports, not his life. Tom clearly underestimates my desire to waste time by any means that won't get me fired, but I appreciate his high estimation of my principles. I'm also totally taking that yoga class just to improve my health. It's strange that as Deadspin contains less and less sports content (and higher and higher pageviews), they still fail to realize the trend elsewhere. Yes, I'll read about a sportswriter's life, if it's interesting and the alternative is a derivative game recap I've read elsewhere. Why wouldn't I?

Tom then asks us "In the week when the Mavericks were putting together the most unexpected Finals triumph since the Billups-Wallace-Wallace Pistons beat the Lakers, who needed an essay telling the story of how Wright Thompson dreamed of growing up to be a Writer and drinking in the Big City?" For Tom, Wright Thompson's major crime appears to be that he has not joined the herd of sportswriters using second-rate psychology and thinly disguised stereotypes to write the 10000th column about the NBA Finals. Wright Thompson is not writing about sports. Thus Wright Thompson must be lectured by Deadspin to be more sports-focused. Why?

I'm not exactly sure when it happened, but at some time Deadspin decided to kindly mentor confused writers and keep them focused on sportswriting. They are not alone in this, but I've noticed it so often that I started keeping track. A brief history of Deadspin's odd fixation with not allowing sportwriters to have any non-sports fun follows. I'll allow much of it to stand alone without commentary, and eagerly await your explanation as to why this tendency exists.

One of my favorite examples is this article by Jack Dickey admonishing writers for mentioning their own Japan experiences in articles. A sportswriter writes about the Japan disaster and mentions that she once lived in Tokyo as the reason for her interest in the story. But the defense of a writer wondering if her friends died isn't enough to dissuade Jack from bringing this non-sports writing monster to justice. He writes "But she is exploiting the disaster for her own ends just as surely as Pondexter was, even if their means of expression differ." Exploiting! As everyone knows, mentioning a hot news story on a low-traffic sports site is the ultimate SEO bait. There's no way such an article would get buried under 126234 CNN news stories. So Dickey's main problem is that a sportswriter writing about a non-sports topic would get more pageviews than usual? Interesting.

"Mitch Albom Is The Greatest Writer Who Occasionally Writes About Sports" (Title)
"He abandoned the art of lyrical game stories and statistical sidebars to write nu-religion feel-good-about-feeling-bad fiction and there's no reason that anyone else shouldn't follow him." --Dashiell Bennett

"Big Ben’s Woman Problems The Result Of Stunted Psychosexual Development, Says Guy Who Writes About Sports" --Tommy Craggs

"You might have noticed that this is more accurately a list of things that distract Bill Plaschke. Distract him, a sports writer, from having to come up with actual sports things to write about. Lamar Odom won't play poorly because he went on TV, and he won't overcome the adversity of said TV show to play well." "Barry Petchesky"

"Yes, Gladwell is an effortless writer who manages to only occasionally sound like a PowerPoint slide. And yes, he clearly knows his sports. But to say he might be our best sportswriter is to suggest he is, in fact, writing about sports, which he most definitely isn't. Sports are incidental to him, just the front end of another in a long series of tedious analogies, as often as not to management culture (basketball is batch processing!). As it is, we're up to our bow ties in slumming dilettantes seeking out tiny epiphanies in sports. The last thing we need is to start anointing another." --Tommy Craggs

So why are bloggers, particularly Deadspin, so angry when sportswriters fail to stick to sports? I thought Barry's words about Page 2 well-described why I like it when sportswriters do not stick to sports. I look forward to your comments as to why bloggers keep insisting sportswriters only talk about sports.
"But to do it with humor, to give talented writers a sandbox where they wouldn't be beholden to typical rules was something new. Remember, at this point, a web site was seen as a newspaper on a computer. It's not a stretch to say Page 2 was a muse for a generation of sports bloggers, unconstrained by the need to write a nutgraph, or even about sports at all. It was a template of irreverence." --Barry Petchesky

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