There are certain preconceptions that people, especially mainstream media, have about bloggers and those who are heavily engaged in fantasy sports , and well, many of them may be true. They hide behind a computer screen and never face those who they criticize ... they live in their parents basement and use the written word as a cry out to all who have wronged them in the past ... they have little or no knowledge and only exist to grab some fame with outlandish and unsubstantiated rumors and on and on.
However, like the other "media scourges" before them ... radio, then TV, then college students and media, then cable TV, then talk radio, then mainstream internet ... the medium for bloggers is becoming more professional, more thoughtful, more informed and more passionate with each passing season. Witness last Saturday in New York, when Fangraphs, the site founded by Washingtonian David Appelman to dive deep, very deep, into the world of baseball statistics, drew a crowd of close to 200 people of many ages, from a screaming toddler to some in jackets and ties, to a basement (of course) auditorium by Central Park (only a block from the old Copacabana, baseball fans) to hear both bloggers and journalists wax on stats, their craft and the media ... all at the prime time of 9 am.
The conversation was self deprecating, thoughtful, and informative, as panelists ranging from New York magazine (and Deadspin founder) Will Leitch and Bloomberg's Jonah Keri to Mets Blog's Matt Cerrone and the staff of the popular Yankees blog River Avenue Blues, covered topics ranging from the role of media to their thoughts on the teams they write about, for over three hours. There was no screaming and ranting either against the media or the current state of baseball. There were lots of thoughts on where bloggers view their place (as the voice of a fan, not a regular media member) as well as what mainstream media can and can't cover and why.
Questions ranged from the value of NPR as a forum for sports to how the evolution of media coverage is affecting the job market and what opportunities now exist that didn't exist before. Yes there was a good amount of talk about analytics ... after all this was a baseball stats platform ... and the guys from Bloomberg took some time to walk through the media company's updated fantasy sports offering. However a majority of the morning gave those looking for some scoop and a connection to those who they follow online lots of fodder. In a way, the event actually provided a link for the fans and bloggers in attendance to what they crave in following their favorite teams and athletes. It gave them access. In a day and age where access and content is king, even being able to talk to and make a connection with those who write the words and passionately give their opinion for the masses, was a breath of fresh air on another sweltering New York August Saturday. The morning also would have given teams, leagues and traditional media a little more insight into those who follow because of their passion, a look that many times is misconstrued, misunderstood and misrepresented by those who control the access and run the media operations.
Is the blogosphere all warm and fuzzy, with each writer looking to be the next Pulitzer Prize winner? No. As a matter of fact Cerrone, who has grown his blog into one of the largest and most oft-quoted fans sites in baseball, seemed in a quandary at times answering questions about how he should be viewed and what he wanted to accomplish. His exposure points not only make him well-read, they can make him the subject of controversy when those he is covering...the players and teams...take exception with the opinion he voices as a passionate fan. There is also the issue of the blogger, many of whom are young and starting out in the media business, and what they feel their place is amongst the mainstream media. Some have been given access by teams and use it sparingly for one reason or another. Some have never been given access and would like to get a feel for what the beat writers, who sometimes are their most loyal and interested followers, have to deal with on a day to day basis. Some still prefer just to voice their opinion, as informed or uninformed as it may be on any given day. One thing is for sure though. All do believe in the power of the written word, and are passionately tied to their craft, even if in many cases it is just a hobby, albeit an obsessive one.
So in the end what was the takeaway for a Saturday morning? One is that bloggers draw a following, one that mainstream media need to continually monitor. Second is that they like their role in the media mix, although that role is evolving as the skill and professionalism of their take evolves. Third, they are not all basement dwellers and in many cases they do deserve the voice they have been presented with. All of which confirms the fact that in some way shape or form the evolution of the sports blog is continuing on, and may continue to make it from Saturday mornings and late nights to its own select prime time performance spot, sooner rather than later. Just ask people like Leitch, Keri and even Appelman.
They all have voices worthy of hearing, and they certainly are not alone.