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Knowing the Score

It is my belief that, although beat reporters never will and never should be replaced by webloggers, the law of comparative advantage is producing a division of labor, whereby professional journalists will gather and disseminate factual data and sports bloggers will provide analysis and insight.

The growing degree of specialization in these complementary yet distinct endeavors poses no threat to anyone who is using his press pass legitimately . . . namely, as a means to collect data at the scene of the event, for subsequent distribution in the form of box scores and news reports.

Rather, the members of the mainstream news media who ought to feel threatened---and clearly they do---are the pundits, who offer nothing in the way of new information and must rely upon their intellectual gifts and writing skills, which quite often are quite meager.

This is why the punditocracy is reduced to "shock jock" column-writing in a doomed effort to compete with the blogosphere by confronting in-depth content with cheap Howard Stern-like tactics.

I understand why this trend forces Dennis Dodd and Stewart Mandel to the extremes in an effort to prolong their fading relevance. What I cannot understand, though, is why legitimate journalists are becoming equally sloppy.

As brought to our attention by Sunday Morning Quarterback, an Associated Press pollster has been stripped of his voting privileges after downgrading Oklahoma out of the mistaken belief that the Sooners had lost a game they actually won. The reporter explained that, when he couldn't find the final score in the morning paper, he could come up with no other means for learning the outcome of the contest, so he assumed O.U. had been defeated.

Let that sink in for a second. He couldn't come up with an alternative method of learning the final score of a football game when the newspaper failed to contain that information.

On the right-hand sidebar of this page, you will find links to various news-reporting agencies in the mainstream sports media. Try following one of them and see how few mouse-clicks it will take you to find the box score of any of last Saturday's games. Time yourself and see how few seconds it takes you to do it. Then, having learned the basic factual details from the mainstream news media, come back here to Dawg Sports for the analysis.

This embarrassing error by an inattentive reporter caused Burnt Orange Nation to observe that much of modern print journalism is being rendered irrelevant by the advent of the internet, to the extent that newspapers are being reduced to anachronistic relics of a simpler time, quaint reminders of a bygone era whose continued utility is less practical than aesthetic . . . sort of like an affinity for vinyl records retained even after the rise of the compact disc, based not on a preference for pops and scratches but upon a fondness for holding album-sized liner notes in one's hands while listening to the music.

While I have never been what you would call a professional reporter, newspaper writing is neither foreign to my experience nor far from my heart. While I am not a competitor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, I broke the story of Erk Russell's death here at Dawg Sports before any other media outlet had it and many readers get their information from weblogs as well as their analysis.

Being a reporter is hard work with much drudgery and many deadlines. I respect the men and women who practice the only profession given specific Constitutional protection in the Bill of Rights. (There may be a right to have a lawyer, but there is no right to be a lawyer, whereas the press is given explicit protection in the First Amendment.)

Desperate attempts to defend preposterous theses are the last gasp of the fading punditocracy, but the insistence upon clinging to an archaic medium may likewise sound the death knell of beat reporters like the fellow who was stripped of his A.P. voting privileges because of his inability to fathom the idea that basic facts may be gleaned from media that do not leave ink smudges on your fingers.

I would no more be sad to see Dennis Dodd and Stewart Mandel forced to find other work because of the blogosphere than I would greet with sorrow the notion of requiring employees of the I.R.S. to find gainful employment in the private sector because the replacement of income and payroll taxes with a national sales tax had rendered their positions superfluous.

By contrast, I would be sad to see beat reporters go, because they perform a valuable and important service that can be filled only partially by webloggers. If, however, journalists are no longer able even to fulfill their most basic function---getting the facts straight---then perhaps the hour of the informed amateur has come 'round at last. That would be a real loss, because bloggers are equipped to perform only a portion of the duties required of reporters.

It is time to delegate the functions more cleanly so that all of us can do what we do best. Let the reporters report the facts. Let the bloggers determine what they mean . . . not only in the analyses we provide on-line, but in the ballots we cast in the BlogPoll, which increasingly appears more legitimate than the A.P. poll.

Here in the blogosphere, at least we understand that it is important to get the facts out fast without sacrificing accuracy, then to think through thoroughly the significance to be assigned to those details as we sift those minutiae in search of the truth. If nothing else, though, at least we know which teams lost and which teams won.

Go 'Dawgs!