Politics, Technology, and Language

If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought — George Orwell

Oh, Reilly?

Posted by digglahhh on 11 April 2008

As if we need more tiresome, trite commentary about dead-horse issues from self-oblivious Luddites, Rick Reilly chimed with his opinions on the blogosphere’s contributions to sports journalism. Reilly is a well-known, highly regarded—by many, though not yours truly—sports journalist who left Sport Illustrated in 2007, after 23 years of service, to join the ranks of ESPN. (A move which, it should be noted, did not take him beyond the bounds of the Time Warner mediaplex.)

Normally, I’m not sufficiently motivated to defend the blogosphere from insulting platitudes, but seeing as how this one was deliciously ironic as well, I think it’s worth some keystrokes.

Okay, let’s get the meta-platitude out of the way. As the crew over at FireJoeMorgan phrased it when dissecting Reilly’s comments, “most stuff sucks.” To say that most sports blogging sucks is probably entirely true. But, it would be equally true to say that most sports print journalism sucks. Music, writing, dancing, television movies, everything – statistically, the great majority of it sucks! Thus, when Reilly calls internet sports journalism, “all over the map,” he is describing what he is talking about only as accurately as everything he is not talking about.

Now for the ironies. There are two of them. Reilly, conveniently, gives special recognition to the writers on ESPN.com, as the sort of hard-journalism antithesis of the stereotypical underwear-clad, mom’s-basement-dwelling, sports blogger. Perhaps Reilly is unaware the most popular columnist on ESPN’s website is Bill Simmons. Simmons is one of the pioneers of the sports blogging revolution. His columns are multi-thousand word ramblings packed with pop-culture references, bar stool hypotheses, and obscure tidbits about his friends and family. Reilly’s new home, and self-described beacon of quality journalism, gives its top billing to an ostensible blogger.

The other great irony stems from Reilly’s career itself. Reilly is most well known for his, “Life of Reilly” column that graced the back page of Sports Illustrated for many years. These columns were (at least attempts at) humorous quips. They were casual, side-bar commentaries. Reilly’s defining column was basically an abbreviated blog entry in printed form directed at a slightly older and more square demographic than your average sports blog, with the following week’s Letters to the Editor as the only potential source for commenting. The dichotomy between Reilly and Simmons is one of talent, not of tone!

Here’s another fun fact, in the article above he talks about bloggers not going into locker rooms, and thus being removed from the athletes and dynamics of teams and the game. Reilly writes endlessly about golf, and his favorite athlete is cyclist Lance Armstrong–two sports, in other words, that don’t even have locker rooms.

Reilly is hardly the only old guard journalist to fundamentally misunderstand blogging, the internet, and internet journalism. Many who self-righteously dismiss internet journalism don’t recognize the new generation of sports fans, who get their news primarily from blogs, the internet, and independent media, nor do they understand the dynamics of the modern information age. The fact is many young, savvy readers don’t want their news from staples of the mainstream media. ESPN.com thinks it is competing with Deadspin, et al, but to a large extent it is not (Simmons excluded). In fact, the blogs are competing with each other for those who ESPN lost a long time ago when they chose to abandon their leadership in sports journalism in favor of promoting entertainment, sensationalism, and the lowest common denominator.

The internet is a medium, not a genre. “Internet journalism” is no more descriptive a term than “print journalism.” There seems an inherent disdain for the internet among print journalists, perhaps because the internet can destroy the glass menagerie of journalism as an institution by making it more of a true meritocracy. Regardless, the internet is the most convenient way for many of us to get our news. I work a lot, I can surf the web and read dozens of different sites during the course of my work day, I can read things on my phone on the go, but I can’t bring 20 different magazines and newspapers to work and thumb through them at my leisure. Ironically (a third irony today), while in many ways regular news on the Web is still derivative of print newspapers and magazines, that’s less true of sports than just about any other news category.

Since the boom of the internet, I’ve been able to read more, and hear more voices than I ever have; that’s a good thing. Rick Reilly just doesn’t happen to be one of those voices who’ve earned a piece of my time and mindshare. Sorry, Rick, but don’t blame the supermarket for my opinion that your food product tastes like shit. But then again, shouldn’t that be expected when the producer doesn’t even know which dish he’s actually famous for making?

3 Responses to “Oh, Reilly?”

  1. […] digglahhh added an interesting post today on Oh, Reilly?Here’s a small readingReilly’s defining column was basically an abbreviated blog entry in printed form directed at a slightly older and more square demographic than your average sports blog, with the following week’s Letters to the Editor as the only … […]

  2. Thanks, very interesting.

  3. R.J. Capps said

    One point: old-school journalism tends to fact check.

    ESPN is a part of Time Warner? You might want to take a good hard look at that sentence.

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