Hard Times For Bloggers

Bloggers are being criticized a lot lately. You could say that blogs and the people who write them are being hit more than the Milwaukee Brewers starting rotation. But I don’t want to say that because it would be: a) cruel, which is a stereotype of blogs and which I’d like to stay away from at least for one column, and b) true, and blogs aren’t supposed to have a shred of truth to them and I’d hate to start now.

Buzz Bissinger, journalist and Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Friday Night Lights, tore into Will Leitch, the founder of sports Web site Deadspin, on a recent HBO special hosted by Bob Costas. Bissinger basically blamed blogs for the dumbing down of this country, telling Leitch he was “full of s***.” Then just a few days later, a blogger with the uninspired handle of “Badger Blogger” wrote that Milwaukee Brewer manager Ned Yost was to be fired last Monday. For some reason, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel picked up on the story — to its credit, they referenced the blog, but certainly the fact that it was in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel gave the report more credibility than it deserved.

Oh, by the way, last I heard, Ned Yost was still the manager of the Brewers. Although by the time you read this, who knows? (Oops, there I go with the cruel thing again. And I thought watching That’s So Raven was a hard habit to break.)

Can bloggers be cruel? Well, what’s horrifying cruel to one person is simply irreverent to another, but I think the safe answer to that question is yes. But cruel discourse is hardly limited to bloggers. Rush Limbaugh, Howard Stern, Ann Coulter, Don Imus, and countless others have made a fine living being cruel without relying solely on a blog to transmit their often hateful or offensive messages.

But let’s go with the assertion that at the very least blogs are by and large not very respectful of their subjects. While certainly lines need to be drawn, is that such a bad thing? Let’s stick with sports blogs for a second. We live in a time where Jimmy Kimmel can be censored on ESPN for simply telling jokes about athletes. Athletes who often make more money in a season than most fans will see in a lifetime. Certainly even outspoken ESPN, FOX, CBS, or ABC analysts and commentators have limits, either real or self-imposed, on what they can and can’t say about players and coaches lest they in any way jeopardize their network’s very profitable affiliations with the major sports leagues and as a result find themselves out of a job. I for one don’t mind hearing some uncensored and unfiltered opinions or learn of an incident that might otherwise have gone unreported, and that’s where blogs can play a valid role.

We’re in tough times financially in this country. Athletes and other entertainers shouldn’t be unfairly criticized just for being successful, but if Matt Leinart and Nick Lachey are dumb enough to use their power and influence to do beer bongs with college co-eds and be photographed doing it, then I have no sympathy for them if those pictures are then published on someone’s blog. Athletes and entertainers are revered — usually far too highly — in this country, and I frankly have little issue with some of their — as long as innocent bystanders like their spouses and children are left alone — embarrassing moments being uploaded to a blog or broadcast on a show like TMZ.

“Badger Blogger”‘s wanna-be scoop on the supposed firing of Ned Yost gets into a different area for which blogs deserve to be heavily criticized. Just because blogging has made it possible to pretty much report anything without fear of reprisals does not make it OK to do so. (Jeez, I sound like my parents . . . “Just because Eric’s parents took him to Porky‘s, doesn’t mean it’s OK and doesn’t mean we will take you.”) Reporting erroneous or unchecked information as fact is as reprehensible on blogs as it would be in any print or broadcast media. I don’t know who “Badger Blogger” is, but his blog is not one that I would visit after this incident.

You might say, eh, so some moron writes something on a blog and some other morons were dumb enough to believe it. Shouldn’t people be smart enough not to believe everything they read, especially on the Internet? Well, I agree with that to a certain extent, but the bigger problem as it relates to journalism is that the instantaneousness of blogs specifically and Internet journalism in general means that journalists are under more pressure than ever to break stories without properly checking their facts. Witness the fallout from The Boston Herald‘s erroneous story on Spygate. I don’t forgive John Tomase for reporting what turned out to be untrue, but I understand the professional pressure that led him to do so. I also don’t forgive the Journal-Sentinel for giving “Badger Blogger” more credibility, but I understand the fear of dropping the bag on a big story.

My simple hope for this blog, which I’ve been writing since January 10, 2006, as well as for my entertainment blog over on mymadisontv.com and for my weekly appearances on C3K Live, is that it be entertaining. And if I do make an error in judgment in one of my posts, that it be a simple lapse of good taste. If I have to succumb to one of the cliches of bloggers, I’d rather be offensive than be a liar.

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