Thursday, May 8th, 2008

Zirin on Bissinger v. Leitch, Blogs & The Future of Sportswriting

Costas’s HBO show on sportswriting the other week continues to generate waves of discussion, particularly the segment on new media in which old-school journalista Buzz Bissinger went after sports-blogger Will Leitch like it was a Tapout match and not a, you know, civil discussion.

Yo, great frickin TV, especially for reporter geeks of color like me. (Video is here. Watch the replays on HBO to catch the closing segment on race and sportswriting.)

Bissinger’s vampire weekend attack on Leitch reminded me a lot of the issues Oliver Wang raises in Total Chaos around the future of hip-hop journalism, especially the role of bloggers.

It should be noted that Bissinger is a highly accomplished reporter and journalist–he wrote Friday Night Lights and has scooped mad awards. Leitch is, in fact, an acclaimed author as well, but…well, let’s just say Deadspin–while fun, sometimes, willing to go where it needs going in others, but normally pretty trashy–is not necessarily Exhibit A of his own talents as a writer and editor.

I had a discussion with my editor at about it all. Blogging ain’t going away–Bissinger admitted as much at the end that that was the source of his vitriol. But how is it useful for bloggers to trumpet, as Deadspin’s Leitch does, a lack of “access, favor or discretion”? I was on the fence.

Along comes the brilliant Dave Zirin in this fantastic column that has me thinking, if not yet fully convinced.

I think it’s worth a conversation: Is this the future of hip-hop journalism too? (Or maybe asked another way, can hip-hop journalism really actually get worse?!) Are skilled journalists–and by extension, journalistic skills–an endangered species? Have they become media’s undead? Are outbursts like Bissinger’s a sign of a developing cold war between journalists and bloggers, a just a passing thing on the way to a new opinionscape, or just a sad example of what happens when you forget to take your meds?

Anyway, here’s a teaser from Zirin. Weigh in if you like…

Bissinger’s beef appears to be less with Leitch than with the changing media landscape. Sports blogs have brought younger, more diverse and more creative voices into the discussion of sports. While much mainstream sportswriting obsesses about personalities, scandal and statistics, the blogosphere offers other options. Pining for the past makes Bissinger sound like some 1950s preacher railing against rock ‘n’ roll. In some ways, Internet sports coverage is like rock–there’s bad and there’s good–but overall, it has expanded the confines of the form and content of sports journalism.

Costas fueled the controversy, likening blog commentary to what “a cabdriver” thinks about sports. In the past, he has called bloggers “pathetic, get-a-life losers.” It’s an attitude that’s shared by many A-list columnists and sports personalities, some of whom seethe over the fact that “some guy in his basement” gets to have equal voice–or, in Leitch’s case, even exceed the popularity of those whose once dominated the coverage.

There are sports blogs in every style, for every team, and they have entirely changed the game. Of course, some are repellent, but to swear off all blogs would be like refusing to read the New York Times because you don’t like the National Enquirer.

If anything, legacy sportswriters deserve far more scrutiny than the upstarts on the web. Washington Post and ESPN scribe Tony Kornheiser has said that this not a golden age of sportswriting, but it is a golden age for sportswriters. There is more money and fame for those willing to “play ball.”

Consider what Big Daddy Drew wrote on Deadspin about ESPN’s Rick Reilly. “Reilly is what I like to call a privileged sportswriter. I’m not saying he’s rich, or snooty, or anything like that. What I mean is that, in his position, Reilly has access to privileges that you or I, as normal sports fans, don’t have. He gets to go to the Masters, VIP-style. He gets to go golfing with Bill Clinton. He gets to ride in an Indy 500 race car. He gets to walk up to Sammy Sosa’s locker and dare him to pee in a cup for him. He gets to do all that. And that’s why he sucks…. If you’re a privileged sportswriter, you’re experiencing sports in a completely different way from normal, everyday fans. It’s no coincidence the bulk of ESPN’s programming now involves sportswriters talking to one another. They’re the only people they can identify with. You certainly aren’t part of the conversation.”

What infuriates old-school sportswriters is that people on the web are calling them on their privilege, isolation and celebrity. In sharp contrast, bloggers, with their messy passion and sharp interaction with readers, sometimes sound far more authentic.

Read it all here.

posted by @ 8:46 am | 1 Comment

One Response to “Zirin on Bissinger v. Leitch, Blogs & The Future of Sportswriting”

  1. Yoknapatawpha Kid says:

    Dear zentronix,

    this is a great entry on the Bissinger/Leitch altercation! My name is Peter Ricci, and I am a college student and writer who currently contributes to ‘Too Shy to Stop,’ an upstart online magazine focused on culture and the arts.

    I found you entry, as it would turn out, while doing research for my own essay on the legendary ‘Costas Now’ episode. I focus first on how much I adore Bissinger, but quickly change focus to how wrong he is regarding his stance on blogging and why.

    If you have the time, check it out! I’d love for you to read it and comment.


    Peter Ricci

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