Bill Simmons and Grantland -
In a previous post I linked to a Neiman Journalism Lab piece about the future of sportswriting on the web and how its a model case of journalism on the web in general. In it, grantland.com, the about to go live collaboration between ESPN.com and Bill Simmons, was held up as the latter half of a corporate capitalism/journalist-artist dialectic that would be push sportswriting and journalism in general into the future. I didn’t register my issue with Grantland being held up as the example of the artistic half of the relationship at the time because I was more concerned with a Mark Cuban quote in the piece, but this piece that I found via The Big Lead says everything I’ve ever thought about Bill Simmons, Chuck Klosterman, and Malcom Gladwell (the latter two being tagged as freelancers for Grantland) in ways that I probably never could and with more devastating dismissiveness than I can muster. There are incredible quotable passages all over this piece, but here’s one of my favorites:
Allegedly it’s a serious cultural website maintained by a man whose cultural mind looks like one of those spooky MRIs of “ecstasy brains,” with all the black dead spots, and a bit where someone burned “SWEEP THE LEG” into it with a laser scalpel. Its celebrity contributors list reads like a Who’s Who of people whose only metric for understanding the human experience is the singular preciousness of themselves or the nauseating insipidity of corporate-retreat science. Then there’s the preposterousness of the name. Bill Simmons is to Grantland Rice what Tucker Max is to Hunter Thompson.
On the “singular preciousness of themselves” characterization of Klosterman, see also this article that was linked in both the Mr. Destructo piece and the Big Lead piece.
For a while, I thought I only hated Bill Simmons because he was a Boston sports fan, but this piece has shown me that much of my distaste has a basis in the facile nature of his writing and the rather unfortunate face he gives to American sports fandom.
Court of first model tenement house in New York, 72nd Street and First Avenue, Manhattan.. Abbott, Berenice — Photographer. March 16, 1936
via NYPL’s Changing New York collection
Both the short and long of it: How sportswriting is taking over the web through innovation and adaptation -
As someone who’s in the preliminary stages of doctoral dissertation that will in part be focused on the contributions that fans give to the sports entertainment complex via blogging and fan produced websites and as someone who teaches about the role of social media technologies in a constantly changing world of information dissemination, this insightful and thought provoking piece by Tim Carmody for the Nieman Journalism Lab is highly encouraging. The juxtaposition between ex-AOL exec and current SBNation CEO Jim Bankoff’s ideas for creating profit by selling to a tech and sports savvy demographic and Dan Shanoff’s likening of the new sports journalism landscape as a technologically enabled second golden age full of boundary pushing artists is indicative of arguments about the internet’s impact on a variety of practices. Wonderful new place to find new markets or wonderful new place that allows for new artistic expressions? Of course, these two things, while we still live in a society organized around the logic of capital, are not mutually exclusive and are interconnected in deeply structural ways.
I’m particularly interested in Carmody’s important point about Dallas Mavericks owner and tech billionaire Mark Cuban’s recent comments about denying press passes to web journalists:
Now, slamming bloggers (or reporters, period) for trafficking in headline-grabbing gossip is old hat. More significant is Cuban’s argument that between the organization’s PR machine, players’ use of social media, and amateur blogs, sports teams can communicate just as well with their audience, and fans’ desire for information can be just as satisfied, without the need for professional journalists as intermediaries. It’s a provocative claim, but also a signal that sophisticated writing about sports is being produced for digital media by many different organizations with very different interests.
There’s a lot to be said about Cuban’s stance here. I agree with Carmody that it means that good stuff is being written by a variety of different people with different understandings of how that writing should be utilized and what it means to be a writer/journalist/amateur/fan/PR person. But, I think it should be pointed out that Cuban is very nearly explicitly pointing out that the only the only point of journalism is to benefit his brand, and he’d rather have a group of highly controlled individuals (his PR people and his players) and unpaid fans do that. Again, not all that new of an idea, but I think the reliance on content produced by people who the organization itself doesn’t have to respect or fear (ie. the amateur fan bloggers) is something new. Part of what intrigues me the most about the effect of the internet on journalism is this kind of thinking. Cuban seems to be taking fan blogging for granted here, but I suppose if all your concerned about is building interest (negative or positive) in your franchise then it doesn’t really matter what the fans say about you.
Shout out to the almighty Sam Han for alerting me to this article.
The Information Sage -
Data, especially in a culture that is information saturated, can be terribly overwhelming. Seeing it in clear (and colorful) formats that utilize comparisons and simple language is very helpful, especially for someone like me who is tasked with expressing sociological concepts that often require some statistical validation for those who I teach, even if my general philosophical bent is deeply anti-positivist. In other words, I like charts and graphs just as much as the next sociologist but I know that data and information can say nearly anything and any person who claims truth because of the skill with which they can visualize a data set is probably full of it. This hagiography of data visualization pioneer Edward Tufte from the most recent issue of Washington Monthly (here in printable format) argues for a type of technocratic elite of data visualizers who follow the maxims of an oracle of information delivery. How will we understand the world around us? How will we sift through all this data that is so readily at our fingertips? Only by following in the path of man who proclaims to be here “to fight against decoration replacing precious substance!” As if data is substance in and of itself. As if the aggregation of behaviors into numbers isn’t itself a process of decoration. There will always be loss in representation. To pretend otherwise is to mask the intent of that loss.
I ran past the first watchman. Then I was horrified, ran back again and said to the watchman: “I ran through here while you were looking the other way.” The watchman gazed ahead of him and said nothing. “I suppose I really oughtn’t to have done it,” I said. The watchman still said nothing. “Does your silence indicate permission to pass?” — Franz Kafka “The Watchman”
The New York Times Everybody! -
"Baghdad has weathered invasion, occupation, sectarian warfare and suicide bombers. But the latest scourge, tastelessness, may prove the toughest to overcome."
Man, that paywall is really doing wonders for journalism!