FIRE JOE MORGAN: A Few Words on "The Internet"


Where Bad Sports Journalism Came To Die

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Wednesday, April 30, 2008


A Few Words on "The Internet"

Okay. So. "Costas Now."

Tonight, I was interviewed as part of that program's multi-part investigation of Sports and the Media. What followed the tape piece was a live discussion among Will Leitch of Deadspin, Buzz Bissinger of "Friday Night Lights" and "Being Very Angry," and of course the one guy you go to for any discussion of Sports and the Media: Braylon Edwards of the Cleveland Browns.

If you didn't see it, the discussion went like this:

Bob Costas: There are some criticisms about blogs. How do you respond?

Will Leitch: Well, I think some of them are valid--

Buzz Bissinger: I have to interrupt here. (to Leitch) Fuck you and everything you stand for.

Braylon Edwards: (to himself) I am going to kill my agent.

The argument I had tried to make in the pre-taped segment was: you can't say anything about "blogs," any more than you can say anything about any medium. There are good blogs and bad blogs. There are blogs that cover the personal lives of athletes, ones that cover only the games, ones that offer opinions, and even a few that quixotically and foolishly attempt to metacriticize the media as a whole. What Bissinger did that was so annoying to me was: he lumped all of these into one thing ("Deadspin," essentially), then took one article from one day out of a file that looked suspiciously like it'd come from Joe McCarthy's safe, and read one sentence from it aloud. And furthermore, he seemed to conflate the actual blog and the people who write for it with the silly comments people make at the bottom of every article.

It's a big dumb ignorant mistake to do this. It's a big hot wet mushy smelly bonebrained mistake to (a) use one sentence from anything as a representative sample of the thing, much less as a representative sample of all blogs everywhere, and (b) to mix blog comments and blog articles. It's an even bigger mistake, in my opinion, to disparage the level of discourse on the Internet and use blog comments as an example. (And swear a ton while doing it, while saying that the Internet is "profane.") Picking a random blog comment and wielding it as a club to bash "blogs" is like picking a random romance novel off an airport bookstore shelf and saying, "This book sucks. Fuck you, Tolstoy -- your medium is worthless!"

For what I hope is the last time, but is clearly not: the level of discourse on Athletics Nation, and Baseball Prospectus, and SoSH, and Joe Posnanski's blog, is every bit as high (if not higher) than what you can read in the best newspapers in the country. Bissinger's hare-brained attempt to prove Leitch an uneducated oaf by asking whether he had read any W.C. Heinz (which failed miserably when Leitch had, in fact, read some W. C. Heinz) was a perfect example of the old guard's attitude toward the new guard: you little shits don't get it. You don't know how to write. You have no gratitude or appreciation for those who came before you. So: fuck you. (P.S. I have never really read your blog.) (P.P.S. Fuck you, though, anyway.)

There are sports bloggers (and message-board posters) who write very well, in my opinion. There are those who love Ring Lardner and David Halberstam and Robert Creamer and Roger Angell. They try to write well, and entertain, and contribute to the universe of sports reporting. Please read them, Buzz. If you find nothing of interest, you can swear all you want. (For the record, FJM is extremely pro-swearing. We just feel you should be funny while doing it.)

If there is anything tangible and helpful to take away from Mr. Bissinger's performance -- and it takes a good deal of chaff-sorting to get anywhere near this little nugget -- I think it's this: a lot of the discourse and sub-discourse (commenting) on the internet is, in fact, pretty shitty. This is not news, though, really. A lot of newspaper writing and editorial writing and every kind of writing is shitty. It's just not as immediate and anonymous and easily-accessed as Internet writing is. Thus, the net has this reputation, now, as being a nihilistic and thoughtless meetingplace for people to spew venom. Partially deserved, partially not, whatever -- point is, the part that is deserved can be altered. We can all probably do a little better in this realm, by making sure that whatever we write has an actual point, and some thought behind it. So, there's that.

Okay. I guess that's it. As the kids would say: [/serious and unfunny discussion of Internet journalism standards]. Coming soon: more swearing!

[Just added two clauses to this post at 9:25 AM PST -- the clarification about what Bissinger actually did (taking one sentence and reading it aloud) and the subsequent (a), (b) follow-up in the next paragraph.]

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posted by Unknown  # 1:18 AM
Here's some information on W.C. Heinz, whose memory Buzz Bissinger attempted to use as a club with which to bludgeon Will Leitch:

One of his pieces from around this time - Death of a Racehorse - is famous for its brevity (fewer than 1000 words) and its brilliance. The story centers on a promising young two-year-old horse racing for the first time, and concludes with the horse's death less than two hours later after it broke down in its first race.

Written in double quick time on a manual typewriter as the events unfolded, Death of a Racehorse is generally acknowledged as one of the greatest sports articles ever written.

So this piece, Death of Racehorse, was brief, hastily written, and composed as the event it concerned occurred, yet Bissinger endorses this man? How dare he embrace this human pestilence?

Plus, I totally read this piece and it was accompanied by a picture of the horse drinking from a beer bong with some sexy lady horses right before it died.


Caveat: the quoted block of text comes from Wikipedia, so there is a 60% chance it is 100% false. The internet rules!
From Daniel:

Junior's comment about W.C. Heinz's "Death of a Racehorse" being 1,000 words (and quite good, of course) is funnier when you consider Bissinger's most recent magazine article: A 13,000 (!) word piece on Barbaro that compared him to legendary sports figures and talked about how Barbaro made the world a better place.

I blogged about it last year when the piece ran in Vanity Fair. It is, of course, becoming a movie. The best line from his article was this:

"The University of Pennsylvania itself was having a field day, handling more than 500 interview requests and perhaps the most publicity the university had ever received." Yes, tiny ol' Penn, unknown in the world until a racehorse won one race on TV then got injured in another.

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