A response to Kerry Eggers' Unprovoked Attack on Bloggers
In a recent interview with writer Wendell Maxey, The Portland Tribune's Kerry Eggers was asked for his thoughts regarding blogs. As recently as last week, on this very blog, I commended Eggers for an "insightful" piece on the developing sports radio battle between 95.5FM and 1080AM. Indeed, I have been a long-time reader and fan of Mr. Eggers' work and I consider his behind-the-scenes books about the early 1990s Blazers to be must-reads.
With that said, in the wake of his recent comments regarding bloggers, Mr. Eggers can no longer count me as a member of his readership. Here is the portion of the interview which I found to be so dismaying.
Mr. Maxey: So how do you adjust to the blogs and growing media pool?
Mr. Eggers: I don't like blogs at all, and I'll tell you why. I don't think they have the integrity of a newspaper or a website. Bloggers don't necessarily have the credentials that a real accredited journalist has - some of them do but some of them don't - so you don't know what you're getting. Anyone can sit at home with their computer and write and consider themselves an expert while they are out there in the world having people read their stuff. They lack accountability and credibility as well. But people think they can throw anything out there in a blog, and they aren't accountable. One columnist we both know told me once he likes the blog because "you don't have to be quite as responsible." Say what? Therein lies the problem. It's a lot of opinion and that opinion is not backed by much fact. I would like to think in our business at least we have a pretty good background of facts in what we are writing. So that part discourages me with bloggers.
Mr. Maxey: It's a fine line though because you have many newspapers and beat guys who have their own blog as well....
Mr. Eggers: I think many of them write about their own personal experiences, it becomes "me-me-me". I don't know. As a reader I'm not interested in that. I want to read what they are writing about, not about the troubles with their rental cars.
Mr. Eggers discounts blogs on many fronts so each of his arguments will be taken in turn.
While Eggers, and many sportwriters, argue that their work is different from bloggers because they have "a pretty good background in facts," it is quite clear that Mr. Eggers' understanding of blogs is not grounded in such facts. To wit:
I don't think [blogs] have the integrity of a newspaper or a website.
All blogs, by definition, exist online and are, therefore, websites. If a blog is a website, and websites can have integrity, why can't a blog have integrity?
Apparently, there must be some clear distinction between integrity-having websites (like, perhaps, his website, PortlandTribune.com) and non integrity-having blogs.
To clear up this distinction, I contacted the editor of the Portland Tribune, Dwight Jaynes, who informed me that the Tribune currently employs a blogger, Chris Snethen ("who is extremely good"). He went on to say that "as a paper, we are searching now to add other bloggers to Chris [and] we’ve been close to adding others." The centre cannot hold: either Mr. Eggers' website doesn't have integrity because it has a blog, or blogs are indeed capable of having integrity.
I think most people would lean towards the latter.
Bloggers don't necessarily have the credentials that a real accredited journalist has - some of them do but some of them don't - so you don't know what you're getting.
Here the assertion is that all bloggers, by virtue of sharing a medium, lack authority because some members who employ said medium do not have the credentials of an accredited journalist.
To dismiss an entire group of writers on the merits of its least successful and accomplished members has no precedent in the real world. Try out this line of reasoning: "Freelance graphic designers don't necessarily have the credentials that a real accredited artist has -- some of them do but some of them don't - so you don't know what you're getting."
Like bloggers, you do, in fact, know exactly what you're getting because the end product is staring you in the face. It's either art that you appreciate or art that you don't; it's either writing you enjoy or writing that you don't. Over time, over a career, over dozens of art shows and millions of pageviews, a reputation is developed or it isn't. Your work comes to matter, or it doesn't.
Credentials don't mean jack on the internet or in an art museum. The most important factor is the quality of the work. Bloggers necessarily trust the audience to make the quality-of-work determination for itself; Mr. Eggers would prefer that his credentials allow him to make that determination for everyone.
Anyone can sit at home with their computer and write and consider themselves an expert while they are out there in the world having people read their stuff. They lack accountability and credibility as well. But people think they can throw anything out there in a blog, and they aren't accountable.
Later in the interview, Mr. Eggers states that he enjoys reading the New York Post's Peter Vecsey with the disclaimer that, "I'm not saying I always think his stuff is solid or true." Ironically, in a recent podcast with Bill Simmons that was published on ESPN.com, Mr. Vecsey states that he prefers to write about the NBA from home and watch games on TV because the access to players in stadiums has been restricted in recent years. Mr. Eggers, therefore, lauds a man whose stuff "isn't always solid or true" and who prefers to write from home, yet says bloggers "lack accountability and credibility" for doing exactly the same things.
To make matters worse, Mr. Eggers misfires on the basis of this argument: increasing numbers of bloggers are not, in fact, "sitting at home." Many bloggers are making a concerted effort to "get off the couch" and to obtain press access. Bloggers do so based primarily upon the merits of their writing, not on the reputation that their publication bestows upon them, deserved or not. With some teams, like the Portland Trail Blazers, bloggers are met with open arms. With others, like the Dallas Mavericks, bloggers are literally met by security guards. So why bother?
The best or most ambitious bloggers bother because, like their journalist predecessors, they want to have the best articles and opinions; the best articles and opinions, as journalists have long known, often come from having access to their subjects through press credentials and networking with media/team officials to create reliable sources. To assert that all bloggers wouldn't care about such things, and would prefer to navel-gaze at home on their couches, seriously underestimates the ambition and determination of an entire generation of young writers. Take a look around, Mr. Eggers, and you'll see bloggers who care about the exact same things you do.
One columnist we both know told me once he likes the blog because "you don't have to be quite as responsible." Say what? Therein lies the problem. It's a lot of opinion and that opinion is not backed by much fact.
Here Mr. Eggers' argument turns in upon itself. Without naming a name, Mr. Eggers asserts that classically-trained and credentialed columnists, who presumably have credibility, hold themselves to one standard in print and hold themselves to a different (lower) standard online. If this is true (an important "if"... as presented this story is hearsay), this argument invalidates the credibility of the writer, his credentials and the training that he received, not the blog form. Blaming blogs here is like blaming a concrete wall for having graffiti written on it.
I think many of them write about their own personal experiences, it becomes "me-me-me". I don't know. As a reader I'm not interested in that. I want to read what they are writing about, not about the troubles with their rental cars.
Mr. Eggers states, apparently in all seriousness, that as a reader, he does not like blogs because he is "not interested" in the writer's personal experiences. Presumably, Mr. Eggers is therefore also not interested in reading memoirs, watching documentaries and engaging in conversation.
Whether he realizes it or not, Mr. Eggers reaches a key conclusion about blogs: those written only about one's experiences do not get read. The best blogs, on the contrary, cultivate an active community of readers that add further layers to the discussion, transforming an article from a lecture-like dissertation to a communal conversation. The fan base's shared knowledge, therefore, creates a classic "whole is bigger than the sum of the parts" dynamic. Any reporter who believes his perspective has more value than those of the general public is sorely mistaken. Blogs, through their interactive format, are more accomodating and accessible to their readers than a print newspaper could ever hope to be.
Ironically, a recent column by Mr. Eggers, published in the print edition of the Portland Tribune, consisted entirely of a dream Mr. Eggers had in which he was playing pickup basketball with Tribune Editor Dwight Jaynes and former NBA All-Stars Charles Barkley and Hakeem Olajuwon. It is unclear how a column about a dream is different from a story about a rental car. Writing about one's dream, in which one plays pickup ball with celebrities, is as "me-me-me" as writing gets. So, it seems, Mr. Eggers reserves the right to opine about his own personal experiences but prefers that other "credentialed" writers and all bloggers avoid doing the same.
(It should be noted that Mr. Eggers, with his rental car line, takes a not-subtle-at-all jab at The Oregonian's Paul Buker, without naming him. For a man who demands accountability from bloggers, Mr. Eggers exhibits none in this anonymous attack. I'm sure Mr. Eggers has little time for Hip Hop, but listening to 50 Cent would do him some good; at least Fiddy has the decency to call out his adversaries by name when taking unprovoked jabs and assaulting the quality of their work.)
It is disheartening to find out that a writer whose work I have long enjoyed is dead wrong on a topic that is so near and dear to my heart, the rise of new media and the role of blogs. Upon reading Mr. Eggers' interview, I immediately contacted Mr. Jaynes in hope that he might help provide some context for Mr. Eggers' remarks, as Mr. Jaynes recently published a much more reasonable take on blogging. Ever the stand-up editor, Mr. Jaynes defended his writer, stating that "Kerry is a valued employee and he's entitled to his opinion." Mr. Jaynes also stated, without qualification, "I don't agree with Kerry's comments."
And how could he? As the head of the Portland Tribune, a paper that has been gaining readership by increasing its online presence in the wake of trimming down to a single weekly print edition, Mr. Jaynes cannot possibly endorse Mr. Eggers' lack of understanding and respect for the online world. Doing so would be completely counterproductive to his publication's stated goals and current vision.
What's worse, Mr. Eggers' statements stand directly in the way of good sportswriting. In attempting to delegitimize all bloggers he, in turn, moves to silence them. Recently, I happened across an essay by David Halberstam (writer of arguably the greatest sports book of all time) published in The Best American Sports Writing 1991. Halberstam wrote,
"I think of men like Smith, Cannon and Heinz. They were the writers who we as young boys turned to every day, and they were the ones experimenting with form. They were all very different, they were all very good, and what made reading them exciting for a generation of young men and women wanting to go into reporting was that they were changing the rules, not accepting the bland, rigid, constricting form of journalism."
Unencumbered by word counts, page restrictions and newspaper politics, bloggers (or columnists doubling as bloggers, or reporters doubling as bloggers) are responsible for some of the best sportswriting today and are fighting the same battle against bland, rigid, constricting form that great writers have always fought.
To entirely dismiss the collected work of bloggers, as many sportswriters have done recently, is a tragedy. Blogs are to media what Wilt was to basketball: game-changing. Every writer must change with it, or risk irrelevance.
In the Tribune column mentioned above, in which he imagines himself playing pickup basketball with Charles Barkley, Mr. Eggers writes, "At some point in one’s life, with the toll that basketball takes on your body, it’s time to move on." After reading his recent interview, one is left wondering whether Mr. Eggers (along with any sportswriter who willingly casts off blogs without consideration) is best off taking his own advice.
-- Ben (firstname.lastname@example.org)