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Wednesday, January 2, 2008

OPINION: Blogger’s Beat

Former Islanders beat writer (NY Post) wrote a great opinion piece on the state of bloggers in last weekend’s edition of Islanders Illustrated. I thought it was too great not to put it on the web so more people can see it. Great stuff, Evan.
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BLOGGERS’S BEAT

By Evan Grossman

Stephen A. Smith generally needs to shut up in general, but the king of all windbags really needs to step off and stop hating on the bloggers.

What’d they ever do to him? What’d they ever do to anyone?

“What’s dangerous about it is that people who are clearly unqualified get to disseminate their piece to the masses,” Smith recently said about bloggers. “Someone with no training should not be allowed to have any kind of format whatsoever to disseminate to the masses to the level which they can. They are not trained. Not experts.”

Smith, clearly an expert on all things having to do with owning a big mouth, goes on to use two-dollar words like “recklessness,” and “sabotaged,” in his soliloquy, but let’s stop right there.

What qualifies someone to write about sports? In the news business, sports are referred to as “the candy store of life,” as compared to hard news. Furthermore, what kind of degree or education or trade school experience does one need to write about something they care about?

None, if you ask me.

Look, bloggers are people, too, and while that may sound like a weak attempt at humor, it’s true. And they have as much right as anyone, whether it’s me or Stephen A., to write about whatever the heck they want. We live in a free-press society and without sounding over-the-top, if Stephen A. or anyone else is looking for a place to live without such liberties, there are plenty of countries you could move. I’m sure there would be a line around the corner of people willing to chip in on a one-way ticket for him to bounce off to China or Cuba or Iran, places where you cannot write about what you believe in.

But enough about Smith and Iran.

Writing a blog is not rocket science. It’s not medicine. You don’t need a certificate on your wall to write one. By definition, a blog is a combination of two words: web and log. In its simplest form, a blog is an Internet journal for public consumption. It’s an electronic conversation, an online diary. There are political blogs, sports blogs, blogs about announcers, blogs about the Islanders, blogs about food and blogs about TV shows. According to research, a new blog is born every second of every day with approximately 106 million registered blogs around the world, and counting.

The first blogs appeared around 1994 and with advances in technology, they’ve become a part of popular culture. Some of you may actually have your own blog. Until I moved over to the TV side of the business, I had one, too, called Gross Misconduct.

This, after almost 10 years in the newspaper business, writing for the official NHL website. . .with no journalism degree!

Nobody seemed to care when I was cutting class to attend Flyers practices back in the day, just like nobody was too outraged when a young Howie Rose would sit up high at the Coliseum and do play-by-play into a portable cassette recorder. During the Virginia Tech shooting, CNN regularly aired amateur video, which was shot by people with no journalism degrees.

Who the heck did I think I was? Who did Howie think he was? Who did those Virginia Tech students think they were???

The fact of the matter is that I know a lot of professional journalists who, just like me, never took a single journalism class in college. We learned on the job. Some of us taught ourselves the craft. Journalistic ethics came with common sense. Speaking from personal experience, I learned what was right and wrong by watching others and following their lead; guys like Tim Panaccio and Les Bowen in Philly, all the way up to trying to keep up with Alan Hahn and Peter Botte on the Isles beat. Imagine that? And I was allowed to disseminate stuff anyway!

When Stephen A. Smith was a guest star on “General Hospital” in February 2007, he did so without a degree in theater. The horror! See where I’m going here?

It seems to me that the people who have the biggest problem with bloggers getting press passes are sportswriters with press passes. People like Stephen A. who seem to think they have some kind of privilege to write about sports that nobody else is allowed. The Islanders allow bloggers to attend games and ask questions. For shame!

Another argument is they may be posting bad scoops and passing it off as breaking news. Guess what? Blogs are not for breaking news. That’s why Logan gets to write a story every day AND a blog, too. They’re for opinions and analysis, and no paper will ever get beat on an opinion. And secondly, no paper should even care what a blogger posts anyway, because, well, it’s a blog for crying out loud! For the same reason that Deadspin.com isn’t the place to go for hard-hitting news like the Mitchell Report’s findings.

And what about mistakes? Like the story about someone thought they saw a player on crutches, posted it, and it turned out to have not even been the right guy. Oops! But mistakes aren’t only made by bloggers.

A year ago, I read on the front and back pages of the Daily News that Joe Torre was going to be fired. It wasn’t the first time a newspaper got it wrong, and it certainly wasn’t the last.

Hell, I remember working at the Post in 2000 and guys were running back to the office to collect as many copies of the GORE WINS! edition as they could fit in the trunks of their cars. Newspapers get it wrong sometimes – some get it wrong more than others – but that hasn’t shut down the print media industry. That never prevented them locker room access.

Television guys get it wrong, too, and let’s be honest, if writers have a problem with bloggers not having a master’s degree in sports or English or even common sense, look no further than some of the fools the TV stations send to cover sports events in New York, supposedly the media capital of the world.

Interns with microphones are regularly milling about the Yankee Stadium clubhouse, armed with no experience, a list of dumb questions and widened, star-struck eyes. Oh, look! Alex Rodriguez! Derek Jeter! Who says you have to be an “expert” to write about sports? I knew as much about baseball as I did about cricket when I was spending summers at the yard, and nobody ever found me out.

Well, until they read my articles, that is.

The point of the matter is that just like when the printing press changed journalism forever, the Internet is changing the news and entertainment industry even more. Blogs are here to stay and so are the people who pen them.

And if you don’t like it: tough. Write a blog about it, if it bothers you that much.

Evan Grossman is currently a staff writer at NHL.com and served as a sports reporter for the New York Post, where he was the Islanders beat writer from 2001-2006.

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