Thursday, July 31, 2014
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'Well-written content shows itself pretty clearly'

My interview with Hugging Harold Reynolds' Chris Lucas at Blogs With Balls.

'Well-written content shows itself pretty clearly'

Here's the second of the three interviews I did at Blogs With Balls. This one is with Chris Lucas, who co-authors Hugging Harold Reynolds with Don Povia. It's pretty long, but it's worth reading all the way through.

You can read my interview with Povia here, and my original post from the conference here.

Question: For you, what are the goals of this event?

Answer: We had goals going into it and our goals sort of changed over time. Initially we thought, let’s just get folks together. Because we have these networks and these names, but we don’t put faces to them. We all are in the same circles, but we know there are ways we could be doing this better. So it’s just a question of getting people in the same room. And then it became a question of getting people in the same larger room, and then we made the room larger and larger.

Then we realized how many people were out there who wanted the same thing, and they were just people we didn’t know. So one of the major goals was, okay, how do get everybody in the same place? And can we do it, and what would it take to do it? We want people to network obviously, but we also want people to come away with an idea of what they want to do next, and not a rehash of what happened. Because people are changing on the internet while people are here now.

So we want to let some great best practices percolate up, and we’re hoping we’re accomplishing that. I’ve talked to a couple people who have ideas now of what they want to do next. Are they trying to find new ways of distributing their content, new people to network with, [or] are they going to scrap what they’re doing and start over. We’ve really got diverse takeaways here.

Q. Is an event like this a means or an end in and of itself?

A. I think you’d have to ask the people who are here. We want it to be a means. But some folks, they just want to see some of these people, and that’s it, mission accomplished. But this is really a means. The Internet is constantly evolving, so what we do here today could be obscure in a month or a year.

We want to do this to promote the networking opportunities, but [also] to promote the quality of what we’re doing. Because there is a lot of quality content out there, and we want to support that. So I consider it a means in that sense because it’s a means of support. People who are discouraged because they aren’t getting the traffic they deserve or want, let’s show you how to do that because you’re putting out great stuff.

Q. What does it say to you when two ESPN SportsCenter anchors (David Amber and Josh Elliott) and a camera crew show up to this thing?

(I was told by Amber that there will be a feature about Blogs With Balls on “Outside the Lines,” though he didn’t give me a specific date.)

A. It’s about time. But at the same time, they’re welcome. Just because you’re late to something doesn’t mean you’re not welcome. The fact is that ESPN’s a huge company, and a lot like the Internet. It used to be, as long as you’re on it - but that was a mistake to begin with.

You need to be involved, and I think you’re seeing that with the blogs. You can’t just have a blog, you need to be involved with the communities that exist and that are developing. And whether you or not try to create those communities, that’s great too, but you need to acknowledge - and in some ways, ESPN provides legitimacy that another blog network couldn’t.

So I think part of the fact that ESPN is here should boost the people who are saying, “Oh, I get that stupid blogger stereotype of just a lonely person.” No, everyone deserves respect for what they do.

Q. One of the panelists in the discussion on the future of sports media talked about how a sports consulting firm does aggregation and research work for SportsCenter’s Blog Buzz segment in addition to working with athletes and coaches. What was your reaction to hearing that?

A. I can’t say I’m surprised or shocked. But at the same time, do I care about how they get it in there initially? Probably not. Again, be here, be involved, and realize how you can fix the way you’re doing it.

At the same time, is the company that’s working with them an objective intermediary? Who knows. But that’s why we’re doing this. The present situation is murky, it’s messy and that can be okay, but at the same time, maybe some folks will come out of this [asking] that same question and maybe that will lead to a change. Hopefully a change for the better.

Q. Given the ability for something to go viral, and given the numbers of people who maybe don't read that blog every day but who might read that one blog post, should bloggers have the license to say whatever they want?

A. Of course. And here’s the thing. You have newspapers that are saying that the reason why blogs aren’t reliable is because of that. It’s speculation, it’s liability, it’s people just mouthing off. That [mainstream media outlets] have whole research departments, we have the resources and education and knowledge and historical perspective to be arbiters of what people are saying.

Is it any different from anybody saying it in a crowded bar? No. The reporter could have heard it in a crowded bar and written it. But because it’s a blogger, we fear that this person has an audience, [and] what if it gets out? That’s not even realistic. The blogger is allowed to ask questions.

And to be perfectly frank, the questioning of [Raul] Ibanez in general - the environment exists. [Albert] Pujols acknowleged it in a Sports Illustrated piece not that long ago. So I didn’t see [the Midwest Sports Fans blog post] as being that controversial, but I think it illustrates the need for this [conference], for sure.

Q. The flip side: Should the mainstream media be employing people who report on what is said on the blogs, knowing that whether or not it is intentionally so, that reporting gives a certain legitimacy to what is being said?

A. I think that’s an interesting question, but I think it goes to a larger issue in reporting. Do you report on what someone says, and that’s it, or do you report what someone says and then debunk it, support it, or criticize, find the validity there or why it’s completely wrong?

We trust newspaper reporters and other mainstream media to judge. That goes for whether it’s a city beat, a sports beat or international affairs. We’ve gotten to this place where everyone reports on what is said, without context. This situation deserves context just as much as a G-8 summit. A lot of people say, let’s call [out] people when they’re off, but if somebody echoes a sentiment that has some truth, that’s worthy of repeating as well. But provide some context.

Q. I guess a follow-up to that would be: A lot of people say the act of making a statement has now become news in and of itself. So the reporting on what is said is considered an act of journalism.

A. And does that sound right to you? It doesn’t have to be that way. That’s something that’s easily corrected by saying, “Somebody said this, here’s why it’s wrong.” And that’s why people go to either your mainstream website or another mainstream website, because they like the objectivity of the reporting that’s done.

It’s reporting, not transcribing. I feel like we’re getting to a point where there seems to be a gray line where there shouldn’t be.

Q. Can the different standards of blogging and “mainstream journalism” be reconciled? I’ve even heard some bloggers say that mainstream reporting is a different kind of act from blogging.

A. That’s probably true. But look at Yahoo! and SBNation. You have an AP article about the Boston Red Sox, and right under it you have a link to OvertheMonster.com, which is a blog. And maybe Yahoo! took a look at SBNation and said their standards are good enough for us, so we can put these next to each other.

But the fact is that you will always have bloggers who decide that whatever the mainstream media does, I’m just going to be opposite. They relish that they can do anything. Then you have some legitimate news organizations who say they want to be more like blogs.

Q. I think I can fairly say that a lot of people in the mainstream media fear that the relationship with blogs is, or at least could become, one of substitution instead of being complementary.

A. I think any relationship that has the word fear in it is never going to be healthy. Give me an example where something based out of fear turns out to be a good situation for both parties. So if that’s the truth, then we’re all in trouble.

Bloggers need mainstream media. They need something to link to. They need content just as much as they need to create it. But at the same time, blogging remains a huge missed opportunity - still. Yahoo! the first to really try this in earnest. But if you incorporate [blogs’] content, especially well-written content, why deny people that?

Q. Who should be the judge of what’s well-written content?

A. I think well-written content shows itself pretty clearly. Now the question is, is it well-written content with foul language in there? Then it becomes an editorial issue for whoever’s writing. If you say, “We want to work with you, but we can’t,” then [the blogger] can make the decision as to either tone it down or to just stay how they are and say, “See you later.”

That just means that a conversation needs to take place, and that’s a healthy thing. Once people start talking, that element of fear that you mentions begins to diminish, I believe. That can’t be 100 percent of the time, but once people start talking, you find that there are real humans on the other side of the phone or e-mail.

But who decides well-written content in the end? Your readership, based on whether they keep coming back.

Jonathan Tannenwald Philly.com
About this blog
Soft Pretzel Logic is Philly.com's college sports blog, with a primary focus on the University of Pennsylvania. You'll also see coverage of the Big 5, other major college sports events in the region, and the annual Penn Relays track and field meet.

Reach Jonathan at jtannenwald@phillynews.com or 215-854-2330.

Jonathan Tannenwald Philly.com
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