Jason Whitlock, sort of a thinking man’s Les Bowen-Marcus Hayes hybrid – dusted off the old get off my lawn card in complaining about millennial bloggers. Ironically, Whitlock, who made some genuinely astute and poignant observations in his piece, criticized inexperienced and unqualified web-writing millennials on his Tumblr blog just months after he couldn’t see his own vision for a Black Grantland take shape.
First thing’s first: Whitlock started off strong, comparing Buzzfeed-y-style web writing – now being used by traditional mainstream outlets, too – to Americas’ push for steroid-injected, horomone-infused foods late in the last century. Whereas good journalism is healthy, harder-to-come-by organic fare, online media is processed meat. Fair enough. Had he stopped there, and made his high-level observation and moved on to feuding with yet someone else in the business, he could’ve claimed an easy grammatical victory. But nope. He just couldn’t help himself and laid into basically anything that’s not the New York Times or ESPN and conflated Twitter trolls with genuinely large websites with full-time writers who are probably smarter and more business savvy than Whitlock.
Let’s dig in.
Same process is in play with journalism. We don’t naturally grow journalists anymore. Mean-spirited snark draws clicks, Facebook likes, and retweets. Adults have enough life experience to not want to make a living trafficking in snark. Young people don’t mind.
So now they have a seat at the big-boy table. They turned blogs into media outlets. Untrained, predatory kids are being passed off as the next wave of journalists. They’ve bullied and intimidated their way into a leadership position. And they’re using their platforms to convince the public that anyone over 40 is a dumbass who shouldn’t be listened to and that their select group of approved friends are the smartest people in journalism.
- I’ve always had a problem with sportswriters acting like they’re Woodward or his lesser partner Bernstein. With the exception of perhaps only a handful of journalists – ESPN’s John Barr, a Philly native, comes to mind – few sports media folks are doing any sort of meaningful work in the big picture. From bloggers to SportsCenter hosts, most of us are just actors in this great entertainment medium that is sports. Breaking trade rumors and injury news, the most common type of revered sports journalism, is akin to being a CPA in real world– you just unearth the details of someone else’s profit, but ultimately you’re replaceable.
- I’m not sure who they is that turned blogs into media outlets. But I’d argue that they is someone who managed to figure out a way to start something from scratch, grow an audience, and sell the audience to someone (say, advertisers). That’s how they turned blogs into media outlets, the same way, sometime a long time ago, they turned trees into media outlets.
- Untrained, predatory kids is an interesting way to generalize every blogger. Old-school types have a habit of dismissing anyone who didn’t work as a stringer at a local paper or production assistant at a TV station as inexperienced. It just so happens that, today, experience doesn’t mean having a J-school apprenticeship. Rather, it means knowing enough about journalism to know what is a waste of time (WORKING AS A STRINGER AT A LOCAL PAPER COMES TO MIND) and understanding the multimedia, business, and marketing side of things enough to be successful. It’s real convenient to dismiss online media as inexperienced… yet people like Whitlock, judging by the relatively few comments on his FOX Sports-backed blog, would likely fall flat on their face trying to stand out from the crowd if they were starting off today, regardless of how talented they were as a writer. It just happens that the experience, or skills, required to succeed today are different than the yes-sir skills the Whitlocks, Wilbons and Kornheisers needed to succeed in their day, when they earned their seat at a table that was already set, rather than creating the table from scratch.
- His view is awfully dismissive of genuinely talented writers who don’t deal in clicks and loud headlines. Guys and girls writing about Sabermetrics, advanced stats, sports media, the business of sports, etc. None of those people are the snarky kids Whitlock writes about. If anything, they’re a better version of the journalist Whitlock sees himself as, as they write with purpose and evidence, not just to scorch paper with their words.
That’s how people who have never spent one minute acquiring journalistic chops are becoming the leading opinion-makers in the sports world and people with experience are being pushed out of the business or characterized as idiots.
- No, it’s not. The people who “are becoming the leading opinion-makers in the sports world” are genuinely talented enough to rise above the massive crowd of wannabes who have your average sports take. The very nature of being a “leading opinion-maker” means that, in one way or another, you’ve earned the trust of your audience, not just got a lot of clicks somewhere. There are both in the online world, but they are not the same thing.
- It also seems that when old-timers bitch about online media they confuse media with entertainment. We know the difference between the news and a sitcom on TV, or the front page and the comics in a newspaper. So why is it so hard separate online media from online entertainment? Knocks against the web typically include mentions of cat pictures, GIFs, lists and videos, but those things aren’t online journalism, they’re online entertainment. Whitlock didn’t do this directly, but it feels like he’s beginning to go in that direction.
Last week I told you how Bomani Jones had the D.C. media scrambling to defend some half-baked Twitter hot take that race and racism caused D.C. media to avoid criticizing Kirk Cousins with the same passion the media criticized RG3.
Boots-on-the-ground journalists – black and white – had to combat Twitter ramblings from a guy in Miami.
It used to take someone like Peter King or Mike Wilbon to cause that kind of ruckus. It used to take someone who had typed a block in a journalist’s laptop to stir that kind of shit. Not now.
- Again, conflating some idiot on Twitter with someone who may have built an audience of tens of thousands or millions of readers.
People completely removed from the sports world are making a living ridiculing people with actual skin in the game. This probably sounds like I’m talking about myself. But go read the crap that’s been written about King and Wilbon by people who have never been inside a locker room. It’s crazy.
The work that real sports journalists do is being devalued by kids given platforms meant for adults or truly gifted journalists. King and Wilbon and a bunch of other folks had to learn things, experience things and accomplish things before they were granted the privilege of trying to influence public thought. And after they earned the privilege, they had to get their thoughts through experienced editors who pushed their thinking to a higher level.
- I’m pretty sure the people influential enough to do damage to those with “actual skin in the game” themselves have skin the game. Skin in the way of a salary or income derived from ownership of said platform, which they created. Again, Whitlock is conflating commenters and Twitter opiners with people who have actual influence in the online sports media world. There’s a difference.
- The never been in the locker room take is a bad one. There’s certainly an argument to be made that not knowing your subject is harmful. No doubt. But sportswriters treat the locker room as though it’s some inner-sanctum where they feeling-share with athletes. Bullshit. It’s a place where they’re often the last line of defense between a lathered up lineman and the field, or a tired pitcher and his soft bed. The media is a necessary evil to athletes, coaches and execs, there to either feed the beast that is sports entertainment or be used to convey a specific message to the public (or other teams, agents, etc.). Take what Joe Banner said about Les Bowen being the guy they felt they could best manipulate as a real-life example of this dynamic. Leagues mandate access not because they want the truth being told, but because the endless, brainless bites are enjoyed by the masses until the next kickoff. If you’re just the guy in the locker room, writing quotes and asking the predictable questions about play calls and coaching decisions, I’m not so sure you’re a journalist worthy of all the grandiose language Whitlock bestows upon you. That’s fine, too. Some are better than others, and there are far worse careers. But please, spare me the nonsense about needing to be fed canned quotes in the locker room to be considered an intelligent journalist, observer or commentator. The real stuff lies far beyond the walls separating the changing area from the shower stalls.
- Kids given platforms. This is like the bizarro argument. If anything, the Whitlocks, Wilbons and Kornheisers of the world were “given” platforms. Sure, they earned positions. But somewhere along the line, a boss hired them and they leveled up to a platform– like a newspaper, radio station or ESPN. Speaking from experience, the platform I have was created from scratch, required a leap of faith in quitting a job and constant reinvention of the wheel to keep successful. I would love, love to see Whitlock try to be given that sort of platform. I’m sure his experience and accomplishments will allow him to set up and maintain his own site, write the content, do the editing, handle the images, feed, SEO, and then monetize by selling ads, products, and telling you about the great, affordable living accommodations – for both sale and rent – at Darley Green, just 25 minutes from Philadelphia. Go ahead, Jason. You’re learned. You can do this.
Change is inevitable but it’s not always good. Our greed-inspired neglect handed millennials freedoms that used to be passed on with proper training, freedoms that used to be earned. Our parental, familial, make-as-much-money-as-possible neglect cost us the respect of millennials, and now our employers have figured out we can’t reach them. We have less value in an industry focused on trying to connect with young people.
Because of paragraphs like that.