November 25, 2004
John Bonnes is one of the first bloggers I can remember reading, and though perhaps not directly, his blog, TwinsGeek.com, is one of the reasons why this blog exists. John's blog moved to the Minneapolis Star Tribune's website in April, where he provided the same great daily Twins content that he provided before that, but for a much bigger audience. It was, I think, a very important step for the local mainstream media to take, as well as a very good addition to the paper's online baseball coverage.
Sadly, John's final column at StarTribune.com was posted Monday, and his blog has moved back to its old address. I've had the pleasure of hanging out with John several times and I've also spoken to a few other people involved with the Star Tribune, and I always got the sense that the relationship between the paper's "traditional" journalists and John wasn't great. As John said in his "goodbye" column: "The most serious criticism was from journalists who felt that the weblog was an end-around of their union, providing additional sports coverage without paying the dictated wage to a member of the writer's guild."
John is trying to be civil and respectful, of course, but I think what it boils down to is the fact that many journalists, just like people from all sorts of other walks of life, don't take kindly to an "outsider" invading their turf. Unlike some bloggers I know, John was rarely critical of the local media and was never disrespectful to anyone, but the problem goes beyond that. Quite simply, John is just some guy.
He didn't go to journalism school, he didn't spend years covering high school football for a small-town paper so he could work his way up the ranks, he didn't break any big news stories or use any inside sources, and he didn't rely on a paycheck from the newspaper to pay his bills. He is just some guy who likes to write about the Twins and, for whatever reason, there are a lot of people who enjoy reading what he has to say.
The same is true about myself and hundreds of other people out there writing blogs, whether about sports or politics or just random events in life. Just people with voices and keyboards, nothing else. And while there are many members of the mainstream media who react well to this relatively new writing phenomenon, the overwhelming majority have, at the very least, some resentment.
As a 21-year-old who grew up reading things online and rarely looks at an actual newspaper, I love the fact that there are now an incredible amount of outlets for content on just about any subject you can think of. Rather than rely on my local newspaper to fulfill my Twins-related reading needs, I can head to any number of websites devoted to the team. However, I can certainly see how a 50-year-old journalism veteran with 25 years of reporting experience might not be so excited about the change in the landscape.
You can look throughout history and find countless examples of one group feeling threatened by another group who, whether through technology or something else, appeared to be challenging their livelihood. Just as a network executive probably ridiculed the idea of people actually paying for television back when cable was born, I think it is natural for someone who has been reading newspapers all their life and writing hard news stories for decades to say, essentially, "Who the hell is this blogger guy and why the hell are we taking him seriously?"
The mainstream media members who don't react that way -- and there are some, though not as many as there should be -- are the ones who realize that bloggers are not trying to replace them. I didn't start this blog because I thought I could do a better job covering Twins games than the guys at the Star Tribune or the Pioneer Press. In fact, I don't think I've ever written something that fits the description of a "game story" that appears in newspapers after each game. You can get that every day in the newspaper, from trained, skilled writers with unique access to players and coaches, so why in the world would you want to read the same thing from "some guy" with a computer?
No, I started this blog because I wanted more. I watch nearly every Twins game, from start to finish, and because of that I don't feel as though I need to be told what happened the next day. I have no interest in reading a recap of the game, because I saw it with my own eyes, but what I do want, and what I wasn't getting, was information about how things happened, why things happened, and what might happen in the future.
If the Twins make a trade, the newspaper will have an article telling you who was traded away and who the Twins got, and they'll have thoughts from players, coaches and front office members. But that's not enough for me. After reading a story like that, I want to know who got the better end of the deal, why the deal was made, what the deal means for the future, what deals might still be made, and on and on and on. In other words, I want some opinion and analysis along with my news. And sometimes I want some opinion and analysis without any news at all.
That is what bloggers provide. John Bonnes' value is not from recapping what happened in last night's game, because he assumes you watched it, just like he did, or at least read the game story in the paper. His value is the next step beyond that -- like an editorial, but with a little more personality, a little more freedom.
Journalism is, in my opinion, an incredibly important and honorable field. There is value in knowing someone is reporting the facts and only the facts, and there is value in knowing their sources are trustworthy and their reporting is in-depth and accurate. There is value in the inverted pyramid and the nut graph, and there is value in the game story. But that doesn't mean there isn't value in other things too.
This is, to use a tired cliche that is nonetheless true, the information age. If you want to know what happened in the Twins game, there are a million different places for you to get that information. Along with that comes a desire for more information and for different types of information, and for the most part newspapers do not provide that. The Star Tribune bringing John Bonnes aboard was a step in that direction, a move to expand their baseball coverage beyond who, what, when, where and how. At the same time, letting him go after a season in which I'm sure he had to face undeserved hostility from people who make their living writing for paper is just as clearly a step back.
John will no doubt keep plugging along, whether he's at StarTribune.com, TwinsGeek.com or just sending e-mails to his buddies, because that's what he's interested in doing. And people will continue to read him, but not because he went to a good journalism school or spent 15 years climbing the ladder at papers across the country or is affiliated with the Star Tribune. People will continue to read him because he's good at what he does -- he is interesting and unique and he fills a void that the newspaper does not.
When the Twins begin their 2005 season against the Mariners on April 4, there are two things I am certain of. One is that I'll be watching, as always. The other is that the first Twins-related thing I read the next morning sure as hell won't be a newspaper recap of the game I just watched, it'll be a blog.