It’s an interesting and important question to be asked by someone who has become a part of the new media that has emerged out of the age of the Internet. As I searched for my answer I started with something I know a lot about – me.
I am a blogger.
Yes, I state that with a level of pride and no I don’t live in my parent’s basement. I write in my kitchen and I pay a mortgage too! I started officially in July of 2008 when I answered an ad for Ravens Gab. They were looking for fans who wanted to contribute articles about their favorite team. This seemed right up my alley because I think I know something about sports and I like to write. It would be no different than what I’ve done for years with my friends except I’d share it with – well everyone. I wrote a test piece about the Ravens possible interest in Bret Favre and I was “hired”.
The last part gets quotes because as many bloggers know working and get paid for your efforts are two very different things. Not that I’m complaining too much, it’s part of the gig. Fan-sites and blogs need content and unless those that run it want to provide it themselves they need contributors to produce it for them. Anyone that I’ve ever written for has usually been pretty up front about payment.
There really isn’t any.
What the writer gets is a platform for people to view their posts and since the Internet is such a vast place who knows what other opportunities may loom in the future. And that’s the amazing thing about my story. I still write for and edit the Ravens Gab blog. But from that first opportunity I’ve gotten chances to further my blogging career. I got to argue on video chat that Ray Lewis was the greatest linebacker of All-Time on Fan vs. Fan – another sports fan-site with video debate as its hook. I was invited to create a sports blog at Charm City Current, which is the Sun’s blogging community last summer and most importantly I was asked to contribute right here at 24×7, which was very exciting to me because I feel and still do that it’s the best place for Ravens fans to go to get the most up to date news and to connect with some of the most knowledgeable people about all things purple. That’s not a plug, it’s my opinion and isn’t that what this debate is about – whose opinion means more, a fan’s or a sports writer’s?
Whatever the brand, – The Sun, WNST, 105.7 The Fan, or Ravens24x7, they are all competing for eyes or clicks and it’s up to them to produce the best product possible and let the people decide. Democratic journalism at its finest! Who do you trust? Who do you want to visit on a daily basis? Where do you feel a part of a community who share your interests?
But back to the money…
I mention this not to try and squeeze more out of my “employers” (though I’ll gladly accept any greenbacks anyone wants to toss my way) but because it speaks more to the question of credibility, integrity, and accountability.
Blogging is not my profession, it’s my hobby. I pay the bills teaching teenagers the value of Laissez-Faire Capitalism and Otto Von Bismarck and not the merits of the 3-4 defense. But just because it’s not my job doesn’t mean I can’t represent myself in a honorable way or that my opinions have less value. In front of every article or post I write it has my full name and not some goofy handle. When I cite sources or links I make sure to give proper credit so it can be distinguished from my opinions. I do this because my name is on the byline and my name means something to me. I can only hope that it will mean something to anyone who has read anything I’ve written. I choose personal accountability.
This is where our friends at major media outlets have a problem with fan-sites. Bloggers now have the same reach as they do yet didn’t have to take the coursework, pay the dues, and do all those thankless tasks to meet deadlines and most of all earn a living. The papers would say in their best Brian Billick voice, “You all aren’t qualified.”
But do sportswriters have specialized skills that bloggers don’t possess? I don’t think so. Either you can write and tell a story or you can’t. Most readers are an intelligent bunch and will quickly cry foul if you don’t know what you’re talking about. Even if no one reads you that doesn’t mean you can’t write it just means you’re writing for an audience of one. The major difference and the most popular among the corporate set is access. They can speak directly with the players and staff that they write about while bloggers are generally dismissed as pretenders to “legit” media.
But not so fast my friend. The issue of access is changing and all you need to do is look around the net and you can start with the leader of this website. There are contacts made and inside sources that can be counted on to provide readers with news. Some blogs have even been bought up by corporate search engines and others are even run by the teams themselves. Teams understand that connection with their fans is important and blogs/social media are here to stay.
So back to the question, my simple answer is No but of course I need to explain.
Credibility is something that’s earned over time with viewers. It’s all perception but as we know it becomes reality. As for insight everyone is entitled to an opinion and in today’s landscape you can express it as freely as you like. In fact it may give people with expertise a platform to showcase that knowledge that they otherwise would be unable to do.
So what does that mean for the future of sports reporting?
Will the old print guard continue to die a slow death and if so what replaces it?
That sounds like another question for another time and one that I know I don’t have an answer for right now.