To recap, then, here’s the old-media critique: sports bloggers (most of them, anyway) are uncouth brutes laying waste to a proud journalistic tradition.
And here, for the sake of balance, is the new-media riposte: the sports coverage you get on the Web is a bracing corrective to the smug, lazy complacency of what passed for sportswriting (most of it, anyway) in the pre-Internet days.
“Those guys had it easy up until the mid ’90s,” argues ESPN’s Simmons, whose online oeuvre has made him arguably America’s best-known sportswriter. “It was an old-boys network, there was no accountability, nobody was calling them out. And their jobs were protected by the union, so it didn’t even matter.” (Note the inversion of the accountability argument.)
“Once the Internet took off,” Simmons continues, “not only did those guys have to break a sweat creatively — and a lot of them didn’t — but they were being called out for stuff like, ‘Look, this Globe NBA-notes column and this LA Times NBA-notes column had 80 percent of the same material,’ and ‘Isn’t it wrong that this guy keeps writing about a curse on the Red Sox when he has a book about a curse on the Red Sox?’ The free ride was over. And I don’t think they really adjusted. . . . From the standpoints of creativity and immediacy, the Internet has crushed newspapers [sports-coverage-wise], whether they want to admit this or not.”
And the notion that sports bloggers don’t want access? That they’d rather sit in their mother’s basement (to use a favorite old-media slight) than actually report on the athletes they’re covering? Simmons swears it’s bogus, at least in his case. “I wanted to be in the clubhouse,” he recalls. “I couldn’t get a job at a newspaper because nobody ever left, and nobody would give some schmuck writing on the Internet a press pass. So what was I supposed to do, give up? I started writing a column about sports from the only perspective that I had — the voice of a fan — and it worked. I’m not going to apologize for it.”
“The bottom line,” Simmons concludes, “is that these guys never, ever fucking leave. That’s one reason sportswriting took off on the Internet — because you had a whole generation of frustrated wanna-be sportswriters who couldn’t get a chance to do what they wanted.”
A fragile peace?
Okay. Now we know why the Massarottis and Simmonses of the world don’t just grab beers, trade “shugs,” and bond over their shared love of sport. Still, this he said–he said only explains so much. Again, consider the parallels (or lack thereof) in political coverage. Disgraced New York Times reporter Judith Miller has plenty of critics, but the domain name judithmillersucks.com remains unclaimed. And when political journalists criticize Web-based political coverage and commentary — something which, compared with sportswriters, they do fairly infrequently — those critiques are comparatively focused, nuanced, and dispassionate.
All of which brings us back to the original question: why, exactly, is the antipathy between traditional sportswriters and their new-media peers so toxic? Here, in no particular order, are a few factors worth considering: