12 flavors of stupid?

When I read Down Goes Brown's tweet regarding an MSM column that he characterized as "twelve different flavors of stupid," of course I immediately sought it out. DGB is uniquely hilarious and has earned its stupid-detecting credentials many times over. I think it's a sign of just how much stupid is out there that my expectations for a column sporting the DGB 12FOS designation were through the roof, and bound to be disappointed.

The column in question was written by Globe and Mail's Bruce Dowbiggin. And I don't think it's that stupid. It does have a lot of that "1950s white guy saying some black people aren't so bad" attitude. Substitute female/male for black/white, if you prefer. It's a class thing, in any case; it may well be 12 flavors of stupid; but I think, the flavor is really a mixture of condescension and fear.

I'll go point by point.

The battle over bloggers - The Globe and Mail

[...] Some bloggers have said they deserve equal status with MSM in press boxes and in the dressing room.

p.s. I don't. I don't have sources. If I had a source, I wouldn't use it. I don't break stories either. That's a reporter's job.


The Vancouver Canucks, [...] will grant equal credentials to approved bloggers. But there will be a strict code of conduct that they must follow. Should bloggers - a contrarian, independent lot - breach those conditions, the Canucks [...] will [...] deny access. In short, bloggers will be held to the standards of MSM when it comes to libel, slander, seeking autographs etc. That might be a problem as "blogger" has come to be synonymous for bending the rules on sourcing or taking liberties with research.

But he's not really saying bloggers are "contrarian" or "independent." Those are euphemisms for "badly behaved." The specific bad behavior he's talking about appears to be making **** up. A few points on this:

  • There are (I'm guessing) millions of bloggers in the world. Some are full-time employees of newspapers. Some are reporters joining the 21st century. Some work for giant web-based corporations. Some are gossips. Some are grown-ups with other jobs and a passion for whatever they're blogging about. Some are probably even the cliche of the guy in his parents' basement blogging in his underwear. Some make a lot of money. Most make no money at all. Some make **** up. Most don't.
    When the MSM makes **** up, nobody condemns the entire enterprise. Nobody says, "you see, that mainstream media is a bad idea, let's drown it in the bathtub." The condemnation is reserved for the guy who made the **** up.
  • The only thing any member of the MSM, or any blogger, or for that matter any writer, can take responsibility for is his own actual work.
    If you look at any genre of writing (books, movies, music, journalism, blogs), 99% of it is terrible. So what? We live for, and aspire to, the 1%, the good stuff. You can't condemn blogs by saying most bloggers suck. (Look, you can. But it's not persuasive, unless it appeals directly to a prejudice your audience already has; we call that pandering.)  Most MSM writers suck, too. And most movies suck. And most songs suck. Suck can mean whatever you want it to mean, as long as it means it's not really worth your time. /

Bloggers don't have a corner on the market of "bending the rules on sourcing" or "taking liberties with research." In fact, it's somewhat a cliche now that the MSM does its "a source with knowledge of the situation said" or "the word is" or "conventional wisdom is" "there is talk that" etc. as a euphemism for "something I heard in the bathroom." The MSM, looking for traffic, reports these "stories" and the blogs pick them up, either believing they are facts or not caring if they are facts or not.
When I first starting blogging, I kept making the mistake of posting links to mainstream articles that were reporting x, y or z, only to find out later the story was totally fabricated. I had heard of course that blogs were not to be trusted, but I was continually surprised at how often I was burned by linking to an MSM story that turned out to be fiction.
Since most sports bloggers (or at least most sports bloggers I read; I can't speak for everyone) are offering their opinions on news, not breaking the news, it's my experience that the population of quality blogs is pretty diverse and complementary. When one blog slavishly copies (or steals) another blog's content, retribution is swift and viral. Because everyone reads and links to everyone else.
Meanwhile, if you happen to read a lot of MSM articles on any given topic (as I recently did re the Summer of Kovalchuk), one can't help but notice that most articles on any one topic are just copied from the original source without any value-added. Mistakes or misunderstandings or ambiguities in the original article infect each article down the line, and then the second round of articles appear with the added "multiple sources confirm," when the multiple sources are the original source and several of the folks who parroted the original source. The sense that "everyone is copying each other's homework" is much more prevalent in the top-tier MSM than in the top-tier blogs (I am trying to say, the most trusted of the MSM [ESPN, TSN, SI, the big city papers] and the most trusted of the blogs [Puck Daddy, Spector, Rich Hammond, Russo etc.]).
And there's an obvious reason for that: blogs are, for the most part, interpretive. That's what they're good at. In some cases, they happen to be beat reporters (e.g. Hammond, Russo), but their bread and butter is in dissecting and discussing what is actually happening in the news the MSM is reporting.
Others complain that bloggers hiding behind anonymity don’t reveal their conflicts or connections to either management or players.

It never occurred to me that bloggers might secretly have connections to teams or players. If they did, wouldn't they be flaunting it? And why would getting access be a problem for them? And if they had "conflicts of interest," what exactly would that be for a sports blogger? Sports bloggers are typically fans of the sport they blog about. They are typically not objective and don't pretend to be. In blogging about the Kings, what possible conflict of interest could I have that would compromise the integrity of my blogging? Like maybe...I'm a plant from a different team or a different sport? I'm already a non-objective fan of the Kings. How much more biased could I possibly be?

This isn't news reporting. We're not talking about a supposedly objective expose' of corruption in the "organic foods" business where it turns out the journalist was paid by the pesticide industry. Sports bloggers don't do deep cover and don't need secret sponsorship to be biased.

Things that would never pass muster with an editor go viral on the internet.

As I mentioned earlier, many "viral" falsehoods start in the MSM and go viral on the web after. I don't think the MSM has any special claim to robust fact-checking anymore.

After all, if you sue a blogger for slander and win, what can you get? The person’s computer? The lack of risk and absence of assets as compensation makes pursuing a blogger moot.

Okay, THAT is 12 flavors of stupid. All a blogger or a journalist has is his reputation. Even anonymous bloggers have a reputation attached to that identity. (Actually, the whole anonymity thing is a red-herring. No blogger is anonymous. They might have pseudonym or a pen-name, but so might any writer in any situation, and no-one would ever know it. My own pseudonym happens to obviously be not my name. That's a tradition in blogland. I could have picked Bill Franklin and no-one would say anything. And it doesn't mean the blogger is "hiding" or is cowardly like someone who scrawls mean things in the bathroom stalls and nobody knows who did it. It means the blogger keeps his blogging life and his personal life separate.)

As far as "what you can get" if you sue a blogger... Since most bloggers have other jobs, I would guess they probably have more money than the average hockey-covering journalist. And if they're living in their parents' basement, which is what he's implying, presumably you would sue the parents. And if the blogger is a pro, then you sue the big bad company that employs him or her.

What he's really saying is, "bloggers have nothing to lose so they may as well say whatever they want." I personally like the blogs I like because I enjoy the minds of the writers. I want to know what they think. That's true of the best sports reporters also. As far as that goes, people seek out quality and don't really distinguish between great sports journalism that gets printed on paper and is seen by millions and great sports writing that appears only on-line and is seen by only a few people. The whole newspaper vs. internet thing is over. That ship has sailed. The internet won. Don't most people who read "the paper" read it on-line now anyway?

Hit-and-run has been the tactic of many blogs floating on the edge of respectability.

How would that work exactly? The blog makes something up and then, rather than face the consequences, folds up shop and reopens with a new name and a new identity? I'm sure that there are plenty of examples of idiots doing stupid things on the internet. In my experience, blogs (by virtue of their second-class status) are pretty efficiently self-policing. I'm not talking about random blogs with no readership because that's not the kind of blog that's asking for access. And I don't think I've ever seen a blogger make something up and then flee for the hills never to be seen again. They pretty much always just stay where they are and do what they do, just like the MSM.

Usual Suspects feels that if a blogger wants a place in a press box or dressing room environment there should be something more tangible at stake - say, a bond of $10,000 that a blogger would lose should a court or arbitrator find he or she broke professional standards or libel laws.

Maybe DGB was right.

I personally don't need or desire a place in a press box or dressing room "environment." And I certainly have no interest in paying $10,000 for the privilege. I would say, also, that most MSM reporters don't need those things either. They're not seeing a different game than anyone else. They don't have access to super-secret stats and numbers that gives their reporting that special edge. And those post-game sound-bytes? Does anybody read them? "Take away their time and space." "One game at a time."

Yes, it's "cool" to have access to celebrities. The MSM has it and wants to protect it. Blogs don't and would like some, please. But that's a status thing, a class thing. It's keeping the minorities out of the swimming pool for "health" reasons. When really it's just an exercise of power by one group over another. It has nothing to do with the quality of the writing.

[UPDATE: I can't believe I forgot to mention the other reason it's inappropriate -- and actually illegal -- for a court to require people to pay for the privilege of free speech.]

Such a policy would sort out the valuable from the voluble in short order.

Such a policy is not necessary. Because the work has already been done. It's called traffic. Readers go where they want to go. They seek out good content. If it's valuable, readers tell other readers, link to it, tweet it, post it, blog it, email it, and now there's more traffic. If it's not valuable, or seemed valuable but turned out not to be, people stop reading.

(Ultimately, the reason certain bloggers get invited to the party will be the same reason certain MSM reporters are invited...because the clubs wish to avail themselves of the audience the writer represents. They're not going to do it as a favor. They'll do it because it's in their self-interest to do it.)

Not to mention: it's not your job to sort out who is valuable and who is not. Especially since you have a -- um -- conflict of interest.

So would obliging bloggers to face their subjects from time to time. Taking shots at public figures from the grassy knoll and then sneaking away promotes a Dutch courage among many bloggers.

I don't think that phrase means what you think it means.

It’s a point of honour for most MSM to show up after a tough column and let the subject have his say in person. Having to look Roberto Luongo or Dion Phaneuf in the eye after a critical column about them might produce some sober second thought amongst the bloggos.

Riiiiight. So, bloggers, who you say just want to hang out in the locker room -- and get autographs from -- Roberto Luongo, are actually hiding from that same Roberto Luongo. Being in the room with Luongo will produce a kind of accountability, you say, and the bloggers want it, but you would deny them this accountability due to their...lack of...accountability.

Also, your point cuts both ways. You say having to face Luongo after "telling truth to power" illustrates your courage and integrity. It's just as easy to argue that reporters who depend on access have an incentive not to report the truth for fear of having their access cut off.

If you don't have access, you don't have this problem. I'm lucky that way.

Which should not be seen as an indictment of the blogosphere. Bloggers are the gypsy cabs of journalism. They’ll pick up fares (stories) the mainstream guys won’t touch. They’ll drive to neighbourhoods that MSM avoids [sic].

Your editor ought to have dissuaded you from "gypsy cab." I'm also wondering who these fares "the mainstream guys won't touch" are. I guess they live in the neighborhoods you avoid.

I congratulate you on an impressive tangle of bigoted metaphors.

[...] But the failures of some bloggers need not condemn the entire process. The question is where will it go next in its rivalry with MSM.

I don't really "feel" the rivalry myself. I need the MSM to report what's actually happening in the world. I don't have sources. I don't report. I don't aspire to report. So the whole MSM/blogosphere synergy works for me.

But, as far as "where it will go next," I think there's only one way this plays out.

The distinction between print and web is disappearing and will soon be completely irrelevant. In terms of popularity, blogs have been challenging the MSM for awhile now. Newspapers are dead or dying. There will be no difference between writers who write for big blogs and writers who write for big newspapers. There will still be independents who do their independent thing, just like there are independent papers, mom and pop blogs, indie record labels and movies and so on. Nobody actually cares where the great stuff comes from. Good content will win out and the providers of the good content will get the access that right now the MSM controls. If there's money to be made (and there is, right?), corporations will buy up the big blogs and will have editorial control just like they do or did over newspapers. The "wild west" mentality of the early days of blogging will vanish and be replaced by a new elite (the survivors of the old MSM and the old blogosphere) that will have to answer to a guy in a corner office who can ruin their lives if he wants to, and no-one will care about the old way things used to be.

And then, the kids with the wireless thought-broadcasting implant (who think their "think-streams" are as valid a news source as blogging) will demand access to the virtual interview space after the game and the mainsteam blogging elite will freak the *** out.