So, ESPN likes to maintain a beat writer for every NFL team. That's fine; ESPN should have that kind of coverage. They do, after all, claim to be the worldwide leader in sports. Such a prestigious self-appointed title would lead you to believe they're true professionals, bringing you, the fan, all the information you could want about your favorite teams. Now, ESPN certainly does have a lot of information. What they apparently lack is professionalism.
You don't say.
Last night, ESPN's resident Steelers beat writer, Scott Brown (formerly of the Tribune-Review), went ballistic at people on Twitter because... well to tell you the truth, I'm not really sure. He eschews spelling and grammar and calls everyone else "u" as in "you" like a 12-year-old, and I'm conditioned to ignore anyone who talks like a 12-year-old because 12-year-olds don't have anything good to say. Long story short, Brown tried to get into a fight (sorry, ESPN calls that "debate") over Penn State or something with Chris Dokish. Dokish is a fine Pitt-based personality and I've always seen him keep his cool on Twitter while being constantly surrounded by the maelstrom of idiot fanatics that populate the ranks of college football fans. (I like using words like "ballistic," "eschew," and "maelstrom" because it probably means Scott Brown can't read this article).
Awful Announcing has the story on that whole event, including a shot at somebody's sister by calling her... bald, or something. I'm not sure, it's been a long time since I was in third grade.
AA notes a few of the red flags Brown raised, including a dig at bloggers all living in their parents' basements and berating someone who disagrees with them for having fewer followers on Twitter. Bloggers get this all the time, because it's still 1983 and anyone who knows how to use a computer to post articles about a sports team is an anti-social recluse who never sees the light of day, not an angelic superhuman beat reporter who gets paid (with real money!) to use a computer to post articles about a sports team.
I don't live in my parents' basement. I live in a slum known as South Oakland. If you want to take shots at where I live, start there. There's a ton of potential to make fun of South Oakland. My parents' basement has a pool table and a mini-bar. Insinuating (more words Brown can't handle!) that I spend more time there than in a run-down, 100+ year old house with six people sharing one kitchen, really isn't the most offensive thing you could come up with. But to come up with anything else would require thought and/or research, something most blogger-haters clearly have no time for.
By the way, if you see anyone use the "You don't have enough Twitter followers" prepackaged insult, remind them that Katy Perry has the most Twitter followers at over 49 million. I guess that makes her the ultimate authority on everything, right?
HAIL THE ALL-KNOWING GODDESS
So where does this vitriol (I'm just showing off now) come from in the mainstream guys who put so much energy into belittling bloggers? Aside from not getting enough hugs as children, I have an idea. First, check out this post from Joe at Buffalo Wins about arguing on the internet (it's more interesting than it sounds, I promise). Basically, when you are a professional, you are held to a higher standard of conduct in public. If you get a paycheck from a newspaper for sharing your opinions, you are representing that newspaper. So this debacle is really "insane person insults people's families over college football disagreement," but it's just as easy to spin it as "ESPN uses petty insults about loved ones to silence disagreements."
But like all bad news, this stuff sells. More people will want to watch a dumpster fire (literally or figuratively) than a church service. Guys like Skip Bayless have made a career out of that. Mark Madden has gone a step lower by building a career out of... actually just insulting and belittling people; I'm not sure he actually does anything else. Those guys get paid to be the absolute lowest form of entertainment, just a few notches below being a mime.
Conversely, what do bloggers do? I'll tell you one thing they don't do: rake in the cash. Which, I think, is one of the sources of the problem at hand here. I make peanuts writing for Blitzburgh. Most fan bloggers are in the same boat. So why do we do what we do? Simple: it's because we have a passion for whatever we're blogging about, from football to vegan food to sex toys. (This post is also doubling as an exercise in including as many unrelated links as possible). We write about teams because we care about them. We have opinions and we want to share them. And god bless the dozen of you that actually stop by to read them.
There's next to no pressure in running a fan blog. Granted that often manifests as laziness (guilty as charged), but I think any of us would agree that it's preferable to forcing a storyline into a certain number of words by midnight every night. I think if you caught the mainstream guys in a moment of candor, they might prefer it too. That is, if they're writers because they want to write good articles and not just collect a paycheck.
So imagine you're a curmudgeonly old columnist who writes about how Cam Newton isn't a good leader because he's unhappy when his team loses, or how Colin Kaepernick needs to wear his hat like a professional before you will respect him. You keep recycling tired, vaguely racist narratives because you don't have anything constructive to add, but this is your job and you do it because you have to. Now how pissed off would you be if, in the past 3-4 years or so, hundreds of fans starting doing your job for you, posting long, well-thought-out articles about the team you cover, giving other fans more of what they want, and doing it for free all the while? I would guess you wouldn't be too enthusiastic about it.
The most notorious blogger-haters tend to be the least talented writers (imagine that!) and while I'm quite sure they would never admit it to themselves, they are threatened by the legion of people who can do their job better, cheaper, and with more tact and grace. I'm painting with a broad brush right now; many people in the mainstream media support bloggers and have positive interactions on Twitter, through email, radio call-ins, what have you. On the flip side, plenty of bloggers are actually dickheads who have no insight or ability. The comparison between MSM and blogs isn't vertical, it's horizontal.
There are guys at the top of the class in each category, guys like Dejan Kovacevic, Chris Mueller, Jesse Marshall, and Tim Williams, just as examples. One newspaper writer, one radio host, and two bloggers. All of whom maintain professional interactions with the people they talk to and offer something positive to the local sports community. On the bottom end of the spectrum are your Maddens and Baylesses, the mainstream guys whose only purpose is to incite anger and get negative reactions to sustain their careers. As for the bloggers, well, it's hard to find an example of a really terrible blogger, because they tend to disappear organically if they can't bring anything to the table. That's one point for the alternative sports media, at any rate.
Now, the place the mainstream media should have an advantage would be in the professionalism department. Plenty of bloggers and the like are perfectly rational people who take themselves and others seriously and work hard at what they do. Those ones stand out. That should be a given with writers and reporters. Joe touches on that in his article, and this one right here is another example: Bloggers don't have to have standards. If I want to write an entire article making fun of an ESPN reporter because he's a dickhead, well, here we are. But when a legitimate professional does it, it is absolutely not okay. That's the trade you make to get paid living wages for what you do, you don't get to start Twitter fights and talk about how someone else is just the worst ever because they have a differing opinion on something. I get to do that. Joe gets to do that. The Pensblog used to do that once a week. Then we go to our day jobs and do something else for money to live on. Scott Brown does not get to do that. Scott Brown has a responsibility to represent his employer and take the high road when he sees something he doesn't like on Twitter.
And much like how mainstream guys sometimes don't like it when someone upstages their work with a higher quality piece at a lower (or non-existent) price, those of us doing it for fun don't really like it when one of them resorts to insults and bickering with fans, using their paycheck as their leg to stand on.
What Scott Brown doesn't realize is that being professionally employed as a sports writer doesn't mean you get to belittle your readers and take personal shots at those who disagree with you. It literally means the exact opposite.