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Kyle Gets Contrary: Should Bloggers Be More Like Newspaper Columnists?

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Now that I’m starting to get a little attention for getting contrary, it’s time to tackle a question that may get me in trouble with some of my colleagues. SB Nation’s Nebraska blogger corn blight recently wrote in defense of Stampede Blue’s Big Blue Shoe, who was the target of this criticism from the Indianapolis Star’s Bob Kravitz:

We are a culture in hiding. We are scared to death of confrontation. We can't look another person in the eyes and say what needs to be said. We say what we want to say, and then we want to run to a safe place where nobody can tell us we're full of baloney.

E-mail. Blogs. Twitter. Text messaging. Anonymously written Web posts. Message boards.

One-way conversations.

Lots of words.

So little accountability. . . .

My biggest objection is the proliferation of blogs and posts by anonymous weenies -- or pansies, if you will.

Everybody is big and brave behind a pseudonym, but confront them face to face, and next thing you know they're changing underwear. . . .

It's like this: You will be taken seriously, and should be taken seriously and should be given credentials to cover the team, when you stop hiding behind silly names.

Bill Simmons doesn't hide. Will Leitch and the folks at Deadspin don't hide. The thousands of newspaper bloggers out there don't hide. . . .

We hide behind technology that makes one-way conversations possible.

We hide behind technology that provides us with pseudonyms and takes accountability out of the equation.

Journalism, and life, are about true human connections. We lose that, we lose the essence of what it means to truly communicate.

While I by no means endorse Kravitz’s unfair condemnation of the quality of work being done by Big Blue Shoe and the site’s co-authors (or his use of split infinitives, which I will not tolerate in anyone other than William Shatner), Kravitz has a larger point and he puts his money where his mouth is by having this biography next to his column:

Bob Kravitz has been a Star sports columnist since 2000.

He is married, has two young daughters, two cats and too many emotional problems to count. In his spare time, he attempts to play ice hockey and golf.

Bob writes four times a week, with two or three of them being vaguely readable.

Phone: 1-317-444-6643

I have read exactly one of his columns and I have never heard him speak in any forum, but, at least in this piece, Kravitz isn’t unleashing a profanity-laced Buzz Bissinger rant about how weblogs are polluting the minds of his [expletive deleted] children. He isn’t making blanket condemnations of the blogosphere; he is, in fact, endorsing much of the benefit the blogosphere provides. Rather than denounce and deride the guy, we should give serious consideration to the legitimate argument he makes.

Exactly three years ago today, I wrote this:

If the blogosphere is keeping the punditry honest, who will watch the watchers? Can we really hold the mainstream media to account if, as Kirk Bohls observes, we fail to adhere to the very standards we are attempting to impose upon professional journalists?

None of us is a "college football fan" in the sense of being an aficionado of the game without any attachment to a particular team. Even if our affinity for our own favorite squad has blossomed into an affection for the sport as a whole, we all arrived at the enterprise through one team specifically before broadening our interests to the game generally. Any pretense to the contrary is disingenuous in the extreme.

Personally, I would prefer it if every weblogger, like Doug Gillett and Warren St. John, put his full name, his photograph, and his pertinent particulars on his blog, although I understand why many reputable participants in the blogosphere choose to use first names only (like Michael at the Atlanta Sports Blog) or to use pseudonyms (like Paul Westerdawg at the Georgia Sports Blog). . . .

We in the blogosphere want our commentary to be given the same deference and weight with which professional sports reporters' columns are regarded. We also want to be able to hold mainstream journalists accountable for their shortcomings. In order for those things to happen, we must hold ourselves to the same standards.

First and foremost, this requires allowing our readers to know enough---whether we use our real names or not---to allow them to assess for themselves whether we have axes to grind that call our credibility into question.

I still think we all ought to use our real names, although I continue to recognize and respect the reasons many very good bloggers (including my own co-author here at Dawg Sports) have for keeping their secret identities to themselves. There are times when it is exceedingly useful to Batman for his enemies not to know he’s really Bruce Wayne, and not just because it allows him to snipe at them with impunity.

Kravitz is right that this shouldn’t be a one-way street, though. He has correctly identified the beauty of the blogosphere, where on-line communities may carry on civilized conversations in a way they can’t (or won’t) at other outlets. Read the comments that follow a Terence Moore column, then read the comments that follow a Dawg Sports posting, and you’ll see a marked difference, even among people who disagree strongly with one another.

Can we do that anonymously? Some can and many do. On the whole, though, we as a culture tend to be better behaved when we put our reputations on the line whenever we express our thoughts and own up to the positions we take. That doesn’t mean there can’t be honest give-and-take between two contestants using screen names---there can be---but PreserveTheUnion60 and LittleGiantIll are less likely to engage in the Lincoln-Douglas debates on a message board than two men standing before their fellow citizens and speaking their minds with the courage of their convictions.

I’m not going to "out" anyone by revealing the real names of any bloggers who prefer to preserve their anonymity for reasons having nothing to do with the base motives Kravitz ascribes. Many an author has been given greater freedom to speak the truth by using a pseudonym, so I am not going to condemn across the board a practice which has a history of validity that long antedates the advent of the silicon chip.

It seems to me, though, that the better bet is that the blogosphere will be taken more seriously as we continue to augment the openness and accountability of the process. Paul Westerdawg said it best: "Transparency and disclosure is a better policy in everything not involving national security and comments about your wife's butt size."

David Hale’s byline goes on everything he writes, and he hears about it anytime the slightest error happens to slip through the cracks. Heck, he hears about it if he so much as links to someone and someone else thinks the first someone got it wrong. Professional journalists like David treat those of us in "The Dawgosphere" as colleagues; it’s unfair for us to expect to be treated on equal footing if we’re not going to subject ourselves to the same exacting standards and accept the same public criticisms.

Yes, full-time reporters like David Hale do this for a living and webloggers generally have day jobs and maintain their sites in their spare time for little or no money. The fact that he’s a professional and we’re de facto amateurs doesn’t absolve us of responsibility, though. Shelby Foote was a professional novelist and an amateur historian, but that didn’t relieve him of the obligation to get the facts right when writing the definitive account of the War Between the States.

You know and respect such names as Peter Bean, Brian Cook, Spencer Hall, and Matt Hinton. They are the leaders in the field and Bob Kravitz is correct that the course they have charted---up-front honesty as an avenue to attaining credibility---ultimately is the road to success in this increasingly important industry.

We in the blogosphere have an obligation to pay attention to the valid points Bob Kravitz makes. Only then can we expect to be treated as equal, and equally legitimate, contributors to the public discourse on sports in which the lines increasingly are blurred, often for the betterment of all of us. Only then can we expect to be taken seriously when we offer valid constructive criticisms of the traditional media . . . like pointing out the excessive frequency of their paragraph breaks, for instance.

Go ‘Dawgs!