In the midst of the excellent fanpost discussion on conversational civility highlighted in the sidebar to your right reader Engineering Problem posted an interesting question/request:
Hi Dave. I participate in several online communities and monitor several others related to my job. The quality of postings and the lucidity of the analysis here is second to none. Much of what you do is visible to us in your front page writing and your comments, but is this alone enough to explain the consistently high fanpost and comment quality? How extensively do you moderate?
In the doldrums of summer, should you want to blog about the secret sauce that makes this all work, I’m sure there would be much interest. One of the great things about this blog is that it’s generally not self-referential, but an exception here might be educational to others who are attempting to create unrelated online communities. I’ve been mourning the day where quality of fanposts starts to decline, but it’s been the opposite – some scary good stuff is being posted. Why here and (almost) nowhere else?
Believe it or not, I’m not re-posting this on the main page because it is so complimentary. (Though I will take it gladly, and there is no higher compliment that can be paid than to say the conversation here is excellent.) Rather EP’s question strikes to the root of who we are as a community and what we’re doing here, which is good to revisit from time to time.
I am not going to go through a Philosophy of Blogging here, though if enough people are interested in my thoughts on the medium in general I may do something like that in the future. Rather I’d like us to remember the unique reasons this blog on this subject engenders so much intriguing response.
It’s easy to forget in the feel-good era we’re enjoying at the moment, but my fledgling attempts at blogging began in a much different time. It seems like an eternity experientially, but chronologically it’s only been a few, short years.
Almost everybody sees the contrast between our current team and the one we fielded in the “Jailblazer” era. Comparing Brandon Roy and Travis Outlaw to J.R. Rider and Ruben Patterson is like comparing night to day. To me, though, what happened among the players in those years paled in comparison to the disaster that befell Blazer fandom. To put it in a nutshell, fans weren’t worth a damn back then…or at least that’s how we were treated. We heard glib explanations and soon-to-be-broken promises every time a player got in trouble. We watched Ruben Patterson swing on a chandelier in the team’s own ad campaign. We saw team officials give off aloof, condescending airs. We witnessed a war of attempted assimilation of the local media and then the verbally violent retaliation and mutual mudslinging which followed. We saw the team and city fighting each other. We saw the team and local vendors fighting each other. We saw players and coaches fighting each other. Through all of this we were supposed to follow along, blindly or suspiciously depending on the side we chose, like oxen led to the slaughter. As Bonzi Wells aptly put it, we were fans. Who cared if we booed? We’d be drooling and asking for autographs the next day. This is exactly how we were regarded up and down the line. This is what being a “Blazer fan” had become: a puppet, a pawn, a passive purchaser of season tickets or newspapers.
Stop for a minute and think what a massive loss that was…not only for us who loved the team, but for the community. This was the town that invented Blazermania. This was the place where water-cooler, bus-stop, barstool, lunch-line talk about the team united all of us. Being a Blazer fan used to mean something, if nothing else a lot of great conversation leading to a feeling of community. There was power and pride in that association. Not so much anymore.
Even if you had something to say during this era--something intelligent and meaningful and relevant--what good would it do? What effect was it going to have? All of the things mentioned above involved forces and powers seemingly beyond our control or ability to reach. This wasn’t because of any inherently higher position, but because nobody in charge seemed to be listening or caring…nobody in the team hierarchy, none of the players, nobody in the media, nobody in the business.
Second, even if you wanted to say something, where were you going to say it? We were long past the era of grassroots participation in traditional communal outlets. Nearly every outlet for public expression--radio, TV, newspapers--was run by corporations. The natural place to flee was the semi-subversive internet, but though there were good information-based Blazer sites out there decent forums for conversation were sadly lacking. The most active were also seemingly the most prone to self-absorption, trolling, and flaming among posters. You’d see plenty of sixty-two post arguments between proponents of John Canzano and Steve Patterson. You’d see a hundred comments on Zach Randolph’s off-court behavior, as if this were at the core of the team’s definition. You’d see people getting angry left and right, mirroring the overarching conflict. You’d have to look hard to find conversation that was anything north of careless, let alone substantive. It was a lonely feeling. Once again in the midst of so many words it was hard to find anybody you felt would listen or care.
What we've described so far has only covered people still interested in the team. How many people had abandoned the conversation entirely? In my childhood days all you had to say was “Bill Walton” and you’d get a dozen people conversing. Mention the Blazers during this era and people raised eyebrows, turned up noses, and snorted. “You still believe in that? Haven’t you heard what they are now?” It was like “The Year Without a Santa Claus” with the Blazers starring as a tarnished, broken-down St. Nick and plenty of folks just waiting to Heat Miser and Cold Miser you into oblivion.
But hey, some of us still thought Santa was important. It wasn’t so much for the team’s sake. Things were super-craptastic and everybody with eyes and half a brain knew it. Santa was indeed a drunk, bottom-pinching buffoon lying in the gutter. But Santa wasn’t the point. What Santa meant to people…the importance and value and dignity this conversation gave the community with such ease when it worked right…THAT was the point. And that was the missing element to be mourned.
That was the thesis out of which sprung this blog. We weren’t going to be able to change the team. We weren’t going to be able to change the media. We weren’t going to be able to change the city. But by gum, we believed that fans could be intelligent, thoughtful, insightful, and could say things that made a difference. We deserved to be listened to. We were talking about this Blazer stuff--being good custodians of this legacy--before ANY of the people in these other institutions ever came to town…back in our childhoods, back in our youth, back in our idealistic days.
Santa’s in the gutter again? Fine. This wasn’t just about Santa in the first place. This is about what we do in response to Santa, which is mostly get together and talk about him…celebrating his successes and mourning his shortcomings. So there’s a little more to mourn now than celebrate. That’s fine, as long as we do it honestly and together.
TV commercials and media stories are trying to tell us something different? OK, we’ll take that into account and talk about it. But you know what? Our eyes are pretty good and our minds are semi-keen and we have something to add to the discussion too. If you’re going to give us data, expect a response. If you don’t want a response and you don’t care to take that response into account, don’t bother bringing the data. This is not a one-way conversation anymore.
Everybody else is shrugging and rolling their eyes? That’s fine. We never figured everybody would remember or consider it important. Maybe they’ve found other ways to do the same thing, to connect the same way in their lives. But for some of us, this is the connection. This is deep in our definition of
Guess what? There aren’t just twenty. There are thousands.
In my heart of hearts I believe that the popularity, vivaciousness, and integrity of Blazersedge is not in response to good moderating, nor the success of the team, though both of those things certainly help the process along. You see great conversation here because this site was built around the idea that great conversation is vital to us as individuals and a community. You have something meaningful to say. You have an interpretation of our communal experience that widens our horizons and helps us understand the world in a different way than we would have had you remained silent. Your voice as a fan, as a Blazer fan, matters. We’ve all seen what it’s like when that ideal fades. We know now that what we used to take for granted needs to be treasured, for it can be lost. We have a responsibility to live up to that ideal…to make our words as meaningful and true as we can manage. Whether they realize it consciously or not, people pursuing that here is what makes the conversation good.
In the end, it wasn’t exactly rocket science…for the team or for us. People just wanted to know that their voice still made a difference. Thank goodness we appear to have people in the organization who figured that out. Maybe in some small way sites like this one helped. In any case, both the team and its fans are beyond the need to parse all of this out on a regular basis now and can get about the business of playing hard, rooting hard, and just having fun with it, which is exactly as it should be. It never hurts every once in a while to remember your roots, however. It helps re-frame the significance of all of the things we talk about and all of the ways we talk about them.