What is a blog? What is a blogger?
At BlogsWithBalls 4.0, hosted this past weekend by Bloomberg Sports in their fabulous digs, those questions seemed prevalent. Though never specifically addressed, the struggle to define the blog and its writer simmered below the surface. Questions of access, funding, and innovation were all debated openly in the mostly excellent panels and yet it often felt like an element was missing.
The awards, in particular, seemed out of place in a conference named after blogs. Perhaps it wasn’t a failing of the conference in general — the awards were run by Dan Levy (Wide Left/Bleacher Report) and the First Annual Untitled Sports Media Awards Project (USMAP) — but there were very few independent bloggers nominated for awards. Yahoo! Sports cleaned house, winning Best Sports Site — Writing Quality, Best Sports Site — News Breaking, and Rising Star in Media (Greg Wyshynski). ESPN and SI personalities won awards. These weren’t the little guys.
Even if the titles of the awards didn’t suggest that these were the independent bloggers making good, they did stand in opposition to the title of the conference. Best Sportswriter went to Joe Posnanski. Is Joe Posnanski a blogger? He writes on a blog, but he has the backing of Sports Illustrated. He’s no longer a struggling artist on the fringe. That seems to be a part of the definition of the blog — queue the mom’s basement jokes — but of course we’re heading to a new place in media.
Is independence no longer a defining factor for blogs? Sports Blog Nation, Bleacher Report, Bloguin and even ESPN and Yahoo have formed platforms that help bloggers participate in the mainstream media environment. Does it make sense to penalize Spencer Hall from EDSBS (on SB Nation, and winner of Best Sportswriter — Humor) for plying his trade on a (suddenly) large platform? If we go by feel rather than definition, we ‘know’ that Hall is a blogger. So perhaps independence is irrelevant in today’s media environment? At least irrelevant to the definition of a blogger.
The Blogging is Dead panel never really got to discuss the subtitle (“Blogging is dead, co-opted by big media and replaced by microblogging”), perhaps because it seemed to focus on the microblogging part and not the first part. They got sidetracked by the question of ‘destination sites’ and the role of platforms in attracting readers. Most bloggers might agree that the method of attracting eyes doesn’t really matter if the eyes make it to the blog, and maybe that’s why so many bloggers are content to ply their trade on a blog network. But a panel with Jimmy Traina (Hot Clicks on Si.com), Matthew Cerrone (Metsblog/SNY) and Mark Pesavanto (Managing editor of Yahoo! Sports blogs) also represented the new face of blogging just by being there.
Perhaps it’s a good thing. On the You Can’t Coach Innovation panel, there was some agreement that innovation seemed to come from larger, more corporate entities as Bill Squadron from Bloomberg Sports suggested. Trei Brundett from SBNation stated that the “leagues’ customers are broadcasters & advertisers that sign deals,” and that their money becomes the big driver for corporate innovation. Another member of the panel felt that access to stats and proprietary images was an expensive and important part of all innovation. Blogs are better off when they have access to these things, but can’t they be innovative without those advantages?
Access, whether it be to statistics, images, or the players themselves, is important. On the Beyond the Big 3 panel, Maggie Hendricks (NBC Chicago and Yahoo! Sports) and Amanda Rykoff (Espnw) began talking about their own personal transition from blogging to journalist, and the role of access in that process. Hendricks joked that it was hard to be brutally honest about an MMA fighter in a column and then see them the next day. Access can help give background and color, but it can also taint your ability to be impartial and analytical.
Access is also the battle ground for the blogger/journalist dichotomy. Some teams offer full access to a few established bloggers with corporate backing, other teams offer limited access to a larger group, and most teams find a way to get a block of bloggers onto the field at least once a year on ‘blogger day.’ There are still a few holdout teams that don’t allow bloggers in the press box — which seems strange considering that most beat writers have blogs as well. Obviously having a blog does not define you as a blogger either. Does eschewing access define you as a blogger? Many established bloggers would be upset to have their credentials as bloggers revoked for accepting credentials and interviewing players.
Are we talking about format? Then it would be silly to deny access to a writer because his news organization chose to publish their content in a flowing, chronological manner. Are we talking about professionalism? Then it would seem ridiculous to call someone as professional, hard-working and original as Sebastian Pruiti (NBA Playbook) a blogger in any derisive way. Are we talking about day jobs and night jobs? Then we are missing the point. As Jonah Keri (Grantland) said, “whatever your second job is can become your first job.” Are we talking about financial and corporate backing? That seems irrelevant if the aim is to promote professionalism and/or good writing.
It’s clear that the definition of a blogger and the blog will continue to gray as we keep up the transition to an internet-based media world. As the best writers ply their trade, they’ll be snapped up by organizations that aggregate the best writers on the web. Whether that publication is a blog, an online newspaper, or somewhere in between (Grantland?), good writing is the point. And an event like BlogsWithBalls is meant to reward the best writers. In that case, they succeeded, even if a few more lesser known writers on smaller platforms may have added some spice.