Monday, April 11, 2011

Sports Blogging Panel: New Media means "the Renaissance of Journalism"

Back on Thursday, March 10, the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland held an event entitled "New Wave Meets Old School", a panel of leading sports bloggers who discussed changes in sports journalism and the blogosphere.

The night's main goal was to surface and discuss the challenges facing sports journalists in the face of new media (the focus was squarely on blogging and Twitter). Below, I'll pull out some of the more revealing or insightful comments by the panel, a group that included:

  • Moderator Kevin Blackstone, columnist for AOL FanHouse/The Sporting News; panelist on ESPN's "Around the Horn," and the Shirley Povich professor at Merrill College.
  • Kevin Lockland, vice president of editorial operations for SBNation, a fancentric online sports site offering 274 team and sports specific blogs that attract about 40 million page views each month.
  • Cindy Boren, Washington Post deputy sports editor, social media editor and blogger for "The Early Lead".
  • Kurt Kehl, vice president of corporate communications for Monumental Sports and Entertainment, the umbrella organization of the Washington Capitals, Washington Wizards, Washington Mystics and Verizon Center and a forerunner in recognizing sports bloggers.
  • Jonas Shaffer, sports editor of The Diamondback.
  • Dan Steinberg, creator and writer of the Washington Post's "The Sports Bog;"
  • Mike Tillery, writer of the NBA blog, "The Starting Five".
  • George Solomon, professor of the practice at Merrill College and former sports editor of The Washington Post and ESPN ombudsman.
Major Themes
  1. Blogs and social media are valuable, and the idea that digital media is not mainstream media is two or three years gone. 
  2. Game summary writing and game stories are waning in favor of analysis, opinions or specific angles. Journalists need to be immediate, meaning less exhaustive fact-checking in favor of getting it out the door...but accuracy must still rule.
  3. The ability to serve a niche is much greater now. For example, cycling articles don't get much play in newspapers, but blogs make it possible and successful.
  4. Web traffic and analytics drive and influence a writer's topics online. It's much harder to understand what's being read in print.
(For the sake of being concise, the quotes are paraphrased.)

Kevin Lockland, VP Editorial Operations, SBNation: Blogging is changing sports journalism rather than replacing it. Consumers are looking for immediacy.


Dan Steinberg, Creator/Writer of the Washington Post's "The Sports Blog":  There are so many logistics in covering a live event. Blogging [by watching] TV is easier. I don't have to waste 10 hours traveling. I can see the game better on TV, and it's okay not to be at the event. My blog has grown more popular since I stopped leaving the couch.


Kevin Blackistone, Moderator: Is it important for pro teams to credential reporters?
Kevin Kehl: VP, corporate communications, Monumental Sports: You don't always have to be there to cover things well or drive traffic. To promote NHL coverage, the NHL turned to the internet. It's important to reach out to that cyber group.


Mike Tillery, "The Starting Five": We're in the renaissance of journalism.


Cindy Boren, Washington Post: Everyone wants to be in the conversation, and everyone has an opinion. Having readers in the conversation makes journalism more vibrant!


Kehl: There's a negative connotation with blogs. But that's not fair. Bloggers have called in to verify info, and we've had mainstream reporters file incorrect stories. Who says bloggers don't work under the same standards?

Steinberg: This is a 2008 debate: blogs vs. mainstream media. If you are going to be a media member, you are going to write online [today]…whether you are writing on a blog site or not. We're all bloggers. […] Does having a printing press make you a part of mainstream media journalism?


Boren: Checking your Twitter feed is the first thing you check in the morning and the last thing you check at night.


Solomon: Comments from readers are often obscene. It's true: take a look at most newspaper website comment sections.

Boren: I spent a lot of my time editing comments.

Lockland: There are people out there who are there just to stir the pot. Sometimes we did have to step in and filter our blogs and social media outlets. Community is part and parcel of what we do.

Tillery: Commenters nowadays are cracking down on fellow commenters. I let comments be. I like to see where the conversation goes organically. I have a very intelligent readership.

Boren: Most sites have a disclaimer about offensive comments (racist, misogynistic, etc.)


Solomon: People want to get news from respected journalists, not some yokel sitting on his couch.


Audience Q&A
Is differentiation between blogger and sports writer disappearing?
Lockland: I have a hard time with the term blogger. It covers way too much territory. There may be some blurring of the lines. (Lockland recently hired Rob Neyer, MLB reporter formerly with ESPN.)

Is there a growing trend of established print writers turning to online outlets and careers?
Solomon: I was said that Mike Wilbon left the Post. I read him less on, but there are a lot of columnists who would jump at the money offered by ESPN.

Do people not want analysis, fact checking or in-depth articles? In short, do people not want journalism?
Tillery: People don't care.
Blackistone: There is still a desire. Bill Simmons proves that people will still read long, in-depth journalism. Simmons is successful because he's so good at what he does.
Boren: There are places for young journalists. You can't be bound by anything. Can't put yourself in a box. You can't just check the blogger box.

Are you frustrated with the immediacy requirement in today's journalism?
Tillery: I make the extra call. I want to be right, not necessarily first.
Steinberg: I feel that pressure. Sometimes I do publish an article too soon, but it reveals the bones behind the story. And you can update later. But we're much more accurate in quoting people now. It's 100 percent word-for-word accurate. Technology makes that possible.
Kehl: Any journalist goes to a trusted source to verify. Sometimes you don't go three, four sources deep [today].

For more, please visit the panel live chat, posted here. Thank you to the Philip Merrill College of Journalism for sharing this information publicly.

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