Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Costas "Then": Why Journalists Aren't Much Better Than Bloggers

I'm a little behind on this one, but hell, we just got started on this whole enterprise.

Bob Costas, on his HBO program "Costas Now," aired a live, town hall-type program show on April 29. The theme of this show was "the State of Sports Media." There were several topics explored, including racial coverage in sports media, talk radio, and new media.

I want to address the conversation about blogs. (The link doesn't show the real video from the program, but the audio is intact.)

The panel discussion about new media included Will Leitch of, Buzz Bissinger (the author of Friday Night Lights and other bestsellers), and Braylon Edwards of the Cleveland Browns. In the exchange, Bissinger basically went off on Leitch and other bloggers, saying that blogs have no standards (journalistic or writing in general) and that blogs are responsible for "dumbing down society." In short, Bissinger looked like an idiot, Leitch came off rather well, and Edwards looked like he was thinking, "why the fuck am I here?"

There were some valid (and some not so valid) points raised by Costas and Bissinger on the program concerning bloggers and their ilk. I want to address the issue of journalistic integrity.

(Let me note here that for this exercise, we at are NOT bloggers. Not really. Yes, we're writing a blog on the Internet, so I get it that we are bloggers. But we're not out covering stories and doing "citizen journalism." We may get to that someday, but not now. My point is that I'm not taking Bissinger's point personally--it has nothing to do with us.)

Bissinger made the point that bloggers have no "journalistic integrity." Others have made this same point, including Michael Wilbon of ESPN and the Washington Post, who did so during the same episode of "Costas Now." What they mean is that unlike newspapers and broadcast journalists, there are no "checks and balances" for bloggers. Newspaper writers have to deal with editors; broadcast journalists have producers. Bloggers have...well, no one. In print and broadcast sports, someone else has to okay the story. What Bissinger and others have said is that the lack of accountability in the blogosphere takes away the credibility of blogs. Also, bloggers are less likely to have any formal journalistic training, so bloggers will be less likely to have any journalistic integrity (in regards to fairness, ethics, using sources, etc.).

Here's the problem: the sports media--both newspapers and television--no longer use good journalistic principles themselves. Think about all of the stories you read or see on TV that have "an unnamed source" as the primary (or only) source for the story. It wasn't very long ago that as a reporter, your story wouldn't sniff the newspaper or the broadcast without two sources--and at least one of those a named source. Now, we get unnamed sources for damn near every sports story, no matter how unimportant or trivial the story.

Using unnamed sources means there is no accountability for the source. Sure, the reporter knows who the source is, and presumably the editor/producer does, too. But if the story ends up to be false, like this one, your organization looks dumb.

Also, another basic tenet of journalism is to represent all sides of a story. We've already covered a story where the number one sports columnist for a large newspaper failed to do that.

With the use of unnamed sources and failure to do accurate reporting, the traditional sports media have been "dumbing down" (as Bissinger might say) their journalistic standards to the point that there really is no difference between the media and bloggers. I understand that traditional sports media still have better access and more organization, but they keep breaking their own rules.

Instead of making elitist statements about bloggers, perhaps traditional sports media should go back to practicing good journalism--or, at least, acceptable journalism. Then they wouldn't need to tell us the difference between themselves and bloggers--a difference that is getting smaller all the time.

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