blogs with balls
Apologies to the locals: this is pure meta.
I attended the third(!) Blogs With Balls this weekend in Chicago, where I talked to a great number of people, had a great number of drinks, and was on a panel. The five minutes which seemed the most relevant to people I talked to and were the most-discussed on the twitters afterward consisted of an interrogation of the ethics panel launched by Orson Swindle that I, like a member of Flipmode Squizzod,—which is the squad—popped up in the midst of to deliver a verse. This post is just a document of what everyone said and will avoid any opining, though my opinion is kind of obvious because it's part of the transcript.
Video here, with the relevant section at about the 21 minute mark.
We fade in as the ethics panel opens it up to questions:
JASON MCINTYRE (The Big Lead): Let's start with everyone's favorite blog… let's go with Spencer Hall first.
SPENCER HALL (Every Day Should Be Saturday): I just want to be clear—I'm taking notes for future reference—it's okay to use whatever you want as long as you get pageviews, right, regardless of ethics? [Aside: this sounds like a ridiculous strawman, but it was essentially what Josh Zerkle, Alana G, and McIntyre had argued throughout the panel, with the academic from Minnesota mostly concerned with how funny rape was or was not (her vote: not) and Jonah Keri being way too nice.] We're all clear on that? Right, okay. Anyone horrified?
The other thing I wanted to do is I wanted to ask about sourcing. That wasn't really a question, that was just a statement. I just wanted to have it and I have the microphone.
What do you do to source a rumor? What is a source for you? Do you advance faster than the standard three source or trusted source [garbled] in the media. What do you do, and what have you done in the past? This is two part question so you have to come back to me, and then I'll give the mic to someone else.
JOSH ZERKLE (With Leather): I personally don't like breaking stories. It's not something that's part of our format; it's not something I'm really interested in doing. It sounds like work. I'm not big on doing the research and following up and calling people on the phone… I'm not a phone guy.
To answer your question, it's something I try to stay away from. It's not really my bag; so many people do it better than me that I just try to stay away from it.
ALANA G (Yardbarker): Yardbarker really isn't in the business of making much original content except sponsored blog content and our athlete blogs. On behalf of bloggers in general, I think the three sources thing was a rule that came out of old journalism—they probably teach it in journalism school right?
JONAH KERI (Bloomberg, WSJ, many things): …And it might not be wrong.
ALANA: It's an arbitrary rule for what it is and if you want to have the kind of blog that just runs off one rumor that your cousin's person who works at the Q told you about Delonte [bangin' Lebron's mom] and you want to print that and you continually do stuff like that and you're able to make a successful blog out of that, then hey that works for you. And half your rumors are going to end up being false because you only rely on one source and in that case your credibility will be duly affected. Maybe if you're only half-credible you'll still get a lot of traffic because it's an interesting site. So I think it depends on… I think it will bear out in your credibility at the end of the day from your readers.
ZERKLE: Spencer, let me give you an example. This is something I found out about but never ran; I guess I can share it with everybody. [Laughter.] Not exactly breaking news here, but I was at a wedding in Cincinnati a couple years ago and I ran into a woman who had dated Shayne Graham, and she told me that every time Shayne Graham meets a woman he asks her if she's willing to sign a prenup.
KERI: The vast fortune of Shayne Graham! [Laughter]
ZERKLE: 970,000 dollars a year really goes quick. That by itself is really thin for a story, and I'm not going to be on the phone asking "did Shayne Graham ask you to sign a prenup?" It's more legwork and it's tough to put together a body of work, and then if you don't have enough to get a story… it's not a great use of my time, especially when I'm trying to do nine, ten posts a day.
ALANA: That would have been a funny nugget though, if you had just posted "hey, I have no idea if this is true, but my friend told me this story… could be totally false but I thought it was pretty funny, they might have made it up, but I thought it was funny." And then people have the comments, the jokes… that might not be your bag but…
ZERKLE: Yeah, but as I said I couldn't confirm it so I try to shy away from that stuff.
HALL: Yeah, but what would you [McIntyre] do? I mean, you break stuff. How do you verify a source?
MCINTYRE: Uh… it depends on the story.
HALL: Take the Mark Sanchez model story. [Laughter, including from McIntyre. Note: at this point Hall and McIntyre start talking over each other, so it gets a little confusing.] What did you do—
MCINTYRE: I did absolutely nothing. There are plenty of cases where I will do nothing and run with something and I'm wrong.
HALL: So you did nothing because…
MCINTYRE: I have made plenty of mistakes.
HALL: …I planted that rumor…
MCINTYRE: I wouldn't be shocked. I wouldn't be shocked.
HALL: …and you just ran it…
MCINTYRE: That's not… a few weeks earlier Deadspin had a story where—
HALL: That's true. On April First. On April Fool's Day. We just slipped that by the gate! We were like "maybe we can do this"!
MCINTYRE: Right. A few weeks earlier Deadspin ran a story about the Arizona State coach getting in a fight with Mohammed Ali and they basically got—
HALL: Right right right, but this is what you did. We're not talking about what Deadspin did.
MCINTYRE: But everybody makes mistakes on their blogs. Yes, that was a bad mistake. That's not even—
HALL: But it got you pageviews, right?
MCINTYRE: No it didn't. It didn't generate any pageviews.
HALL: It didn't? Then why did you post it?
MCINTYRE: It was the middle of a Tuesday. That's why I ran it.
HALL: That's why you ran it? Okay.
ALANA: But Spencer, people are still reading The Big Lead because they like the site and they think that it's worthwhile, and they know that Jason makes mistakes every once in a while.
BRIAN COOK (MGoBlog): I think the thing that Spencer seems irritated about and I'm honestly irritated about is that the ethics that are being presented by this panel are like "just do it." And that sucks for somebody like me who does break real news about Michigan sports and I have to contend with the idea that I'm a blog. And that's because of you. [McIntyre]
ADAM JACOBI (Black Heart Gold Pants): [claps feverishly]
EVERYONE ELSE: [crickets]
ALANA: Why do you have to be lumping yourself in with everybody else when you are doing stuff that's of a different quality or of a different…
HALL: [paraphrase, I was there but this is too quiet to make out.] But we're talking about advertisers here [referring to earlier panel] who don't see individual blogs.
ALANA: Right, but if you guys don't like what's happening with other blogs there's not much you can do to stop what I'm going to do on my blog. But you can promote what you're doing on your blog and better market to people what you're doing.
HALL: [inaudible, but given the response to this probably about the Sanchez thing again.]
ZERKLE: Was there any kind of follow-up to that? I mean, you're calling him out now but did you personally write anything after the fact saying "yeah I totally fooled the shit out of McIntyre." I mean, did you call that at all.
ZERKLE: Well, that might have been something to do, if you were concerned about the credibility.
NICOLE LAVOI (U of Minnesota): That's not ethical either.
HALL: What do you think I'm doing now?
ZERKLE: Well, it's two and a half months after the fact. So… good job, I guess.
HALL: This is in front of an audience.
SARAH SPAIN (ESPN 1000 Chicago, WGN, various other things): So is the answer basically that if your decision is to be a blog that isn't as ethical and does the funny stuff and that misses every once in a while, that's you're decision? That if your decision is to be a reputable blog that stands behind its sources and writes from a perspective that is all fact, then that is your decision? And the better man wins?
ALANA: Well, yeah. There's newspapers like the New York Times that are very reputable and very rarely make mistakes, and there are newspapers like the National Enquirer that tell you people are getting abducted by UFOs. And so those are two different markets I think by now, and the market has borne out that these have different levels of reputation, of credibility, and readers and advertisers know that.
KERI: I'm going to disagree with you on that. The New York Times is notorious for running stories with anonymous sources. And they're interviewing "high level government operatives" about whatever, the War In Iraq and they're saying "oh yeah, well, you know, there are Al Qaeda and so we're going to go to war and blah blah blah." We were basically led into something that was not justified because of anonymous sources. There are all kinds of mainstream media outlets—the biggest of the big, Washington Post, New York Times—I mean, I've written for a bunch of them and they make the same mistakes that bloggers do. Everybody lacks credibility.
ALANA: What I'm saying is that with blogs—I understand you guys' [Spencer/yrs truly] frustration because right now we are all blocked in together and people at Proctor and Gamble don't necessarily know who Deadspin is versus the Big Lead versus whatever, MGoBlog, so you know right now it seems like we're all being lumped together and you guys are feeling hurt by things that other blogs are doing. But if we do our jobs right it will all eventually bear out so that everyone has their own reputation, just like the National Enquirer has a different reputation from the Washington Post.
At this point the mic has worked its way across the room to yet another of the infuriatingly-thick-on-the-ground Ohio State fans, this one from Cleveland Frowns, and the throwdown ends.
I am out today, though Tim will drop a post or two in my absence and that Mathlete Diary will hit the front page if you're too lazy to click through. I have a Very Serious Professional Reason for this: I will be at Blogs With Balls in Chicago this weekend. There are tickets; if you are interested in getting a beer your best bet is crashing one of the official parties, which I do not endorse at all and shame you for even thinking of.
Via the miracle of technology, this is going to be streamed live(!) by Justin TV, including my panel, which is the first after lunch and will probably go on at like 1 or 1:30 or something. Orson is moderating, so it will be alcoholically entertaining. I cannot vouch for the other panels' sheer quantity of drunken magnificence, but Orson brings the wood.
Our panel is entitled "Democratizing Sports Media: How Blogging Players, Fans & Leagues Are Changing the Game," but these things tend to wander a bit from the chosen topic and various other things will probably pop up. I plan on pimping the Mathlete, Misopogon, MCalibur, Jamiemac, Six Zero, Tom, FA, Tim, and others as an example of how a popular blog sits on top of this vast community that can do amazing things if given space in which their effort can be appreciated.
As long as we're meta-ing it up in here, here's my Ignite talk from earlier in the year (click the first bookmark to go directly to my five minutes):
And here's this article by the Stack Overflow guy about what motivates people, how money isn't always helpful, and what makes communities go. If your model is hoping people do things for small amounts of money you're probably not going to be very successful and if you are it will be depressing. If your model is organizing it such that people will do things for free, you could be very successful and it will probably be pretty nice. The whole reason this site moved to Drupal is that I would get emails on a regular basis saying "hey here's my new blog!" and they'd post a couple times and then they'd go dead because it's hard out there for a blog. So: put 'em around here and you'll probably get a couple thousand views and a couple dozen comments and you'll be motivated to continue. Along the way we might get a definitive accounting of how much attrition Michigan has suffered relative to its peers or a post on fourth downs that gets linked a dozen places.
My plan for the site has been focused on making it as convenient, attractive, and easy to use as possible*—so no pagination, full feeds, content in and pipe that will take it, jumps only when they're warranted by a desire to cut down on clutter, increasingly high hurdles to clear for user-generated content, post-Illinois caterwauling lockdown. Doing so has increased the audience to the point where "Democratizing" sports media means that this place sits on top of grass roots instead of being a single shoot.
I'm back Monday.
*(With the single exception of the ads that provide enough revenue for the thing to be a job, which is kind of a requirement.)
Where the great plains begin. It will not be news to anyone that Ernie Harwell died yesterday. I'm sure most have youtubed a tribute or three in the aftermath; there are plenty. A year-long bout with cancer gives people time to prepare. I think the best, tribute, though, was an improptu one: Dan Dickerson relaying the news on the radio. Clearly heartbroken, Dickerson provides a few seconds of dead air, then gets out a few tear-stained words before managing to interject "Hudson takes a pitch high." Jim Price hops in at this point and the two talk about Harwell as Hudson takes a five-pitch walk. That's baseball.
Here's some of Harwell in his own words:
Chicago, my nemesis, we meet again. After standing outside Hugging Harold Reynold's room with a boombox for months they've finally relented and allowed me to be on one of the panels at Blogs With Balls 3.0. The title of our panel is "Democratizing Sports Media: How Blogging Players, Fans & Leagues Are Changing the Game," and like a good engineer I'll be frantically attempting to make that less vague over email in the next month. Joining me will be Henry Abbott of True Hoop fame, Kevin Kaduk of Yahoo's Big League Stew, Valli Hilaire of The Fast and The Fabulous, which is not New York's gay and lesbian bike club even if Google thinks it is but rather a NASCAR blog, and Robert Littal of Black Sports Online.
Some cursory googling reveals that Littal is an Ohio State grad and Kaduk went to Wisconsin and roots for Notre Dame, so if things get boring I we'll just have a triple threat match for bragging rights. If you want to witness rough country justice firsthand, you can get tickets. They're 50 bucks off until May 15th.
Zoltan, one last time. I read a lot of other college football blogs, so I state this with authority: we are living through a golden age in Michigan-football-related bizarre Youtube projects. There is not a school on the planet that can compete with Mike Cox getting it YGM style, Coner 2000 dropping mad rhymes (THAT'S FEBREZE PEOPLE) or killing some rich guy, Jack Kennedy auditioning for American Idol, O'Neill Depriest Swanson III pumping Vitamin Water, and Zoltan Mesko burning Meijer so hard:
Yea, truly we are the leaders and best.
JT Floyd would like to make cliches. Sometimes I feel deeply for beatwriters. This is one of those times:
J.T. Floyd’s motto as cornerback is simple.
“Make plays,” Floyd said last month after the Michigan football team's spring game. “That’s all you got to do to be successful out here.”
It's May. Football isn't until August. And you've got to publish something, so you grab an old quote in which a football player says "making plays" is the key to success. That article does have a couple encouraging quotes from teammates and coaches on Floyd, but… man. It's rough out there in May.
“It wasn’t my best year, obviously,” Ezeh said after the Wolverines’ April 17 spring game. “That’s in the past and try to move on and build a better future. I got to prove to people that last year was kind of a fluke and this is the (real) Obi.”
So there's that. Good luck in June, everyone.
Fightin' with facts. I don't believe I've mentioned the strange entity that is College Hockey, Inc. in this space, so here goes: USA Hockey finally got the same sort of giant developmental payment that the NHL has been forking over to the CHL for years. They spend some on the NTDP, some on the USHL, and some forming what can only be described as a propaganda organization called College Hockey, Inc. Its head is Paul Kelly and he's spent the year wandering around the country, advocating college hockey and pointing out that unless you're Patrick Kane the CHL is a rube's game. Kelly:
Our most important mission is to be an education and information resource to elite young players and their families on the many benefits of playing college hockey and why, if they're good enough and faced with the option to play for one of the junior teams in Canada or an NCAA Division I program, the option to play NCAA hockey is in most instances, the smarter and better course of action.
I love that there is an organization that causes CHL teams to complain about being "unfairly targeted" for pointing out relative graduation rates. Targeted, yes. Unfair… not so much.
Kelly also talks about future expansion of the USHL to a whopping 24 teams—Muskegon's picking one up this fall—and possible new markets for the college game. The great white sasquatch of the Big Ten is broached:
FTR: Penn State has been kicking that arena idea around for awhile now, and they also have a very good club program. Could they be next?
Kelly: They have been talking about the arena project and if you could ever get one other school from the Big Ten, you could create a Big Ten Hockey Conference. We'd have to shuffle the deck a bit, and reconfigure the WCHA and CCHA a bit.
I don't know how realistic any of these candidates are but if Penn State adds hockey I can't imagine it won't be at least revenue-neutral, especially if the Big Ten Network gets involved. Unfortunately, Title IX means a revenue-neutral men's sport can't be added without a women's sport that will be a money pit, and the economy and etc.
Kelly also suggests an Alaska-like exemption to keep Huntsville viable, something that I support.
Politics exception. There is one exception I will make to the otherwise iron-clad no politics law: copyright law is broken and stupid. Latest example is Google allowing the Downfall parodies to get yanked off Youtube when they could not be clearer instances of fair use. The precedent is worrying to me since I regularly post small snippets of a larger product I do not own for transformative purposes—ie, I employ fair use extensively. Here Google has failed to not be evil.
Etc.: I showed up on a podcast at Bucknuts. Warning: it looks like you have to register (but not subscribe) to get access to it. Also they make me state my opinion of Tressel, which I regret to inform you is respectful. Thus you are warned doubly. The hockey media's treatment of Alexander Ovechkin in the aftermath of the Caps' unceremonious first-round ouster is laughably inaccurate and totally predictable.