Thursday, September 27, 2007

Disconnect? More Like Chasm

Yes, it's been a couple days since the Mike Gundy contretemps, and plenty has been said on both sides. One might wonder why it's worth chiming in now.

But this article by Gene Wojciechowski piqued my interest, because not only was was it the first example I've seen of a media creature attempting to address the galactic disconnect that currently exists between sportswriters and the teams they cover and the fans of those teams (although other excellent examples exist like this one from the Fort Dodge Messenger), but it also addresses a pet Internet peeve of mine.

Here's the thrust of GW's jib:

The real work is to fix what's broken. There is a growing disconnect between the sports media and the coaches and players we cover, and the people who read that coverage. There have always been disagreements -- that's a given -- but there also was a common ground and a mutual respect. Now it's something much more polarizing. Mutual distrust.

I agree with him 100 percent. But I'd like to take it a step further and suggest a source for that growing disconnect.

It's been my belief that journalism in general, and sports journalism in particular, has changed its focus drastically in the last few years. It's no longer about the information you're sharing, but rather about how many people are the recipients of that sharing. I talked about this a little here in my comments about people like Pat Forde. The more hair they pull, the more people are talking about them, and the more eyeballs their advertisers get. No such thing as bad publicity, as the old saying goes.

Jenni Carlson's original article fed that beast as much as any other. Setting aside whether or not some of the things in the article actually happened, since when is the alleged mental fortitude or lack thereof of a backup quarterback news? Can you imagine Grantland Rice spending that many inches writing about a quarterback's psyche? Jason Whitlock, in a response in the KC Star, called it a "message-board attack", and he's absolutely right. As a message-board operator, I know this kind of crap when I see it, and if it had appeared on Rock's House written about a Notre Dame player, it would have been deleted as fast as I could move my mouse. That Carlson's editors not only didn't squelch it but featured it prominently betrays their motivations better than anything I could write here.

This is the bed that "real journalists" have made for themselves. When allegedly responsible entities like AOL are affiliating with and giving an imprimatur to people like Brian Cook of MGoBlog, who turned his entire site into pictures of kittens when Michigan lost to AppyState, it tells the reading public the paragons of journalism care a lot more about the entertainment value of the way the news is presented than the news itself. When writers replace research and insight with the daily trolling of message boards for stories, the inherent laziness trickles down and is reflected in their writing, which turns off the fans.

I appreciate GW's willingness to address this problem, but I find it incredibly ironic that this warning comes in an article on a website that is one of the biggest contributors to that problem. Let's face it, the Entertainment and Sports Programming Network elevated Entertainment above Sports a long time ago, to the point they should just change the logo to EsPN. People take positions to get ratings rather than to further a viewpoint. Their idea of giving the audience what they need is a ranting failed football coach putting on mascot heads. I love Lou Holtz to death, but that dog-and-pony-show he and Mark May put on during the week is on the level of Jane Curtin and Dan Aykroyd. I pity the people there who actually try to provide decent acumen like Jay Bilas and Andy Katz, because their efforts are being drowned under Chris Berman's parade of stupid nicknames.

If GW wants coaches and fans to start trusting sports journalists again, he can start by getting his employer to clean their own house.

Now, having said all that, the fans have a job to do as well. I talked about how I feel Carlson's effort was substandard even for a message board. Unfortunately, we see way too much of that on message boards all over the place, and that includes NDN. Carlson may have been wrong to call Reid a wuss, but at least she signed her name to it and has not shied away from the resulting criticism. Some message board patrons hiding behind anonymous handles should think about that next time they rant about how this player sucks or that player isn't trying hard and is a waste of a scholarship.

I sometimes wonder if NDN would be different if we abandoned handles and all made our names public, just as my fellow Ops and I do. It's a lot different when you can be directly taken to task for what you say, because it tends to make you think a lot more before you say it.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Agree totally with your comment about signing your name. I coached High School sports for 30+ yrs. and endured the ignorance of sports writers and " fans" regarding the courage or commitment of our athletes. All the current comments re: ND football have to take into account the experience level etc. of the players. Dick Chapura '59

9/27/2007 11:43:00 AM  
Blogger MarkJacksonShimmey said...

Amen. Another large problem is Carlson's refusal to cite her "sources." This isn't a federal investigation; it's an athlete's attitude. I'm guessing she pulled it off a rivals message board, or something of the like.

9/27/2007 11:47:00 AM  
Anonymous CJC said...

Good luck with that, Michael.

Your points are extremely well taken, but the trend of sports "journalism" toward sensationalism mirrors the same trend in news "journalism."

And while it's an interesting "chicken-or-egg" argument as to whether media agenda or consumer demand started this whole mess, that's pretty irrelevant at this point. Now, both sides of the equation are feeding the beast, and I strongly suspect there's no turning back.

Now, it's not enough to know who won, we fans (consumers) have convinced ourselves we need to know who is going to win. Similarly, it's not enough to know who we recruited, we need to know who we're going to recruit.

As a result, the vast majority of what is published on television, in newspapers and on the internet doesn't meet the traditional definition of "news." Instead, it's conjecture, speculation and what vaguely passes as analysis.

As you note, this mindset is reflected everywhere, including on NDN. The manifestation of this mindset covers a spectrum from the inane yet harmless ("What will be Notre Dame's first play from scrimmage?") to the mean-spirited, ignorant and potentiall harmful ("Rumor has it another prominent sophomore is about to transfer out of Notre Dame.")

As for Carlson's column, I will disagree as to the relevance of the mental toughness of a quarterback. However, if a journalist wants to report on such an explosive topic, integrity ought to dictate publishing only if you can obtain attributable and relevant quotes from the coaching staff, or perhaps teammates. Carlson use of rumor and innuendo to raise that issue was completely reprehensible.

9/27/2007 11:54:00 AM  
Blogger Mike Coffey said...

Your third paragraph is exactly the crux of the heart of the matter. Unfortunately, the speed of the Internet lends itself to fulfilling that exact "need", so it becomes a perfect storm of crapulence.

9/27/2007 11:57:00 AM  
Anonymous Bradley Brol said...

El K. Well put. I think at the end of the day the onus lies on us though. We are the people that turn on ESPN and get enraged when these talking heads sacrifice facts left and right to get a good sound-bite in that will get people's attention. We complain about being fed this garbage (and not just from sports journalists), but then seem to keep opening our mouths for more. I know I am just as guilty as many on this. I made a decision not to read the Jenni Carlson article just because I don't want to give their website another hit...which after all is the only concern of many "news" outlets these days. Thanks for the standards that you guys set on NDNation. I appreciate this site more and more given all of the other mindless/thoughtless junk out there.

9/27/2007 12:02:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Would Rock's House and Cartier Field be different if posters were required to use ther real names rather than handles???
Absolutely, 100% guaranteed in stone.

It would be a fascinating experiment if you guys instituted this.

9/27/2007 12:55:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your point about using one's name rather than a handle to reign in the hyperbole makes sense, however, posting on a private, by invitation only board, one is never truly at risk to be "taken to task". Especially when that person is a mod who has the power to ban any poster on a whim.

scott flaherty

9/27/2007 12:55:00 PM  
Anonymous Ted Eberle said...

I also support the signing of a name if one is going to post a comment. Excellent writing by the Geetar.

9/27/2007 02:36:00 PM  
Anonymous gmw said...

Frankly, there are bloggers that have done way more homework and have more intelligent things to say than most MSM "journalists." Sure, a lot of what Brian Cook posts over at mgoblog is entertainment, but in his more serious posts he actually strings together cogent arguments, some of which are supported by or contain references to things like statistics (ooh), history (aah), or facts (wow). BGS is even better on that front. As a counter-example, name the last time a Jason Whitlock column, demonstrated a logical argument, or for that matter, in-depth knowledge of anything other than whatever nonsense happens to be passing through his head. Don't worry...I'll wait.

Sports journalism used to have guys like David Halberstam who were journalists who wrote about sports. The guys writing now are all opinion and no journalism; they just care about who can say the most outrageous thing to the largest audience.

9/27/2007 02:50:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I propose we refer to ESPN as EPN in all communications from this point forward. It's their mission statement.

9/27/2007 03:57:00 PM  
Anonymous Hedrock said...

Wow, great topic and great thoughts.

I like and second the idea of making identities known. One light touch way to implement it (which would require more work by the board ops) is to provide one warning before making the names public - a 'two strikes and you are exposed' philosophy. I suspect that more than a few of the rational and thoughtful posters would like to maintain their anonymity. That said, anonymity lacks accountability.

To the broader media topic: Over the weekend, I traded emails with a local (Dallas)sportwriter who published a 'rumor mill' article claiming that ND's non release of the D. Jones scholarship would hurt ND recruiting in Chicago. I reminded him that ND had released DJ over 24 hours ago, that it had been well reported and I copied the Chicago Trib article with the very positive quotes from D. Jones. He responded that he knew of the release and the article, but in his opinion he still thought that Chicago recruiting would be hurt by ND's 'heavy handedness'. Geez, if I want gut feel opinions about ND football, I'll go to the message boards. I especially see no value in the opinion of a Dallas-based writer, covering over 100 D1 teams with no information edge into the Chicago or ND community publishing this information.

That raises the issue: What should be the role of Big Newspaper and Big Broadcast media in covering sports? (vs. message boards or sites dedicated to CFB or individual teams - I will call this group 'small media')

Facts and data? We can get these anywhere, including directly from the school

Opinions? Hit or miss, small media is at least as good and many times better. The one thing I feel that the internet has enabled is plenty of broadly published opinions.

Up to the minute news? The small sites on the internet have the edge.

Real Expertise? Increasingly, we can get this from the small media - witness Aaron Taylor's sites and some great analysis in BGS, etc.

Investigative journalism? Maybe big media has an advantage here. They just might be able to invest more resources than a sub scale player in small media can.

Value advantage for now is clearly to 'small media'.

But, look how little the big media approach has stayed the same in the face is this sea change. Wonder why Fox and Yahoo (and not ABC, NBC and CBS) bought Rivals and Scout?

Ever gone to your local pro team's website or the local paper's website on pro game day? Not even close to the experience we can get on ND game day with small media.

I am sure there is a value proposition in there somewhere for traditional big media but it escapes my feeble mind right now.

The economic pressure in these newsrooms must be intense. Unfortunately, for some, the worst comes out under stress. Until they figure out where they can add value over what we can now get in small media, I fear that the escalation of provocative and unsupported dribble will continue.

Keep up the good work and thanks for keeping it interesting!

Tom Hedrick

9/27/2007 05:25:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Almost 15 years ago, on the precipice of the internet explosion, I spoke out at a COSIDA (sports info directors) conference workshop regarding the increasing restrictions being contemplated at the time by several prominent schools. ND grad and tremendous SID at Clemson, Tim Bourret, said that basically, the few are ruining it for the good guys. While an Ivan Maisel, or Wojo, or Malcom Moran would pretty much always be afforded deference, the nature of the beast would necessarily limit overall access.

Sure enough, the limitations have led to the divide that Wojo wrote of in this column.

What's the answer? Well, let me know how we get the Iranians to the table while you are at it. Human nature is to distrust the other. It's a matter of survival on an instinctive level, isn't it?

So, bottom line, there is no way access will be loosened. We may as well allow for the free flow of garbage/analysis, facts/know-nothing opinion.

Just as anything else consumers get to choose, cfb readers need to learn who the straight shooters are and let go of the rest.

Ed Joyce

9/27/2007 06:09:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I read the Rock Report and NDNation everyday........I rarely post, I simply enjoy hearing news and talk about my Fighting Irish. I love this team whether they're up or down. My years at ND are some of my best memories. My handle is NDLyons73, but I'll happily sign my name anytime. I'm Bob Muniz, ND class of '73.

9/27/2007 09:46:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How was Brian Cook putting up kittens on his site relevant to this discussion at all? I don't see anyway that was comparable to Carlson's article or even worth mentioning.

9/28/2007 01:02:00 AM  
Blogger Mike Coffey said...

The kittens are relevant because AOL is giving this guy an audience and an (at least implicit) endorsement as some kind of media expert, and a reasonable person would expect someone given those things to show a level of professionalism. Combined with his unreal levels of self-absorption and the fact he's just as willing to accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative as any other fan, the relationship is inappropriate if the first rule for AOL is to provide news rather than sensationalism.

9/28/2007 07:18:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nobody breaks down a football game or a program like Brian Cook. He is an excellent journalist and I'm not even a Michigan fan. I was suprised to see that included in this article.

Besides that well written

9/28/2007 09:31:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Brian Cook provides more insightful, in-depth analysis on Michigan football than any professional journalist I know of. It isn't even particularly close. In fact, his coverage of Michigan football is better than the coverage any journalist I can think of provides of any college football team. He's a little bit self-absorbed, yes, but if AOL had anyone else with his abilities maybe I'd read their coverage more often.

9/28/2007 09:49:00 AM  
Blogger jim / Redondo Beach said... disconnect with Willingham's team at UW and the Seattle Times Bob Condotta. You'd think from his praise of Ty that he'd lose his press box buffet priviledges if he stated something negative.

9/28/2007 07:04:00 PM  
Blogger Rego said...

"It's a lot different when you can be directly taken to task for what you say, because it tends to make you think a lot more before you say it."

At some point, the Internet was labeled, in part, a "global town square". The only problem with that analogy is that to stand and shout in the town square is to be anything but anonymous. On Internet message boards, anonymity is the rule, a major contributor to the dreck that gets hung out as opinions.

9/30/2007 01:07:00 PM  

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