February 17, 2006

Welcome to the Blogosphere, Boys

I remember a time not so long ago when my dream was to become a national sports columnist. The respect, the audience, the opportunities, the money -- it has always seemed to me like the perfect job for someone who loves sports and writing. Actually, it still does. On the way there -- in August of 2002, to be exact -- I became a blogger.

I suppose they're technically the same thing -- writing about sports for audience, sharing your opinions and analysis rather than reporting -- but that's sort of like saying Jessica Alba and Janet Reno are technically both women. It's true and they each have their strong suits, but in reality they're far enough apart that they don't even seem to be in the same species. Well, no longer. We've officially entered into some kind of a bizarro world, where suddenly Alba actually wants to be Reno.

As of yesterday, ESPN.com now hosts blogs written by Peter Gammons and Jayson Stark, in addition to Buster Olney. It used to be that people within the mainstream media would focus on the negative aspects of blogging, like not having an editor and not having a code of standards in place. These days the focus of those same people seems to have shifted to the positive aspects of blogging, like being able to speak to an audience in a much more informal manner and being able to publish immediately.

I used to become annoyed reading Olney's columns, in part because I felt his analysis was often lacking. However, since he began blogging last season I see him in a somewhat different light, as his personality is able to come across more and his strengths as a writer are more apparent. Blogging allows him to show a side to his audience that being an old-school columnist kept hidden away. (Olney told a story on his blog about Deion Sanders earlier this week that's a perfect example of this.)

The main reason I enjoy reading blogs is not just that the writing is good, it's that the writing is good and it comes along with a personal touch. I quickly grow tired of cookie-cutter articles that you can get in the average newspaper, and my favorite bloggers are the ones who are able to go well beyond that. They are able to speak to their audience like human beings, rather than like writers or columnists or reporters or whatever label you want to slap on them.

I'm glad ESPN.com sees the value in that as well, and I'm glad they're willing to take what is a pretty large leap for a major media outlet. Of course, I do have a major criticism, which is that as far as I can tell none of the dozen or so blogs ESPN.com hosts actually link to other blogs. For instance, Olney's blog is made up primarily of links to outside stories and his brief comments on them, but in nearly a year I can't remember a single link that wasn't to a mainstream newspaper.

I know from personal experience that ESPN.com has always had a somewhat stringent policy against linking to outside sites, but embracing the blogosphere is an essential step if they're going to call what Gammons, Stark, and Olney are doing "blogs." The value of blogs is in not always having to be like everything else, and while ESPN.com is going along with some of that concept they are still holding back on a crucial element.

Right now ESPN.com is like a high-school jock who has the guts to join the drama club because he truly loves acting, but still makes jokes about the "losers" in the club to his buddies on the football team. You're either in or you're out, and if you're in then you can't be too good for the club when it suits your needs. I'm proud of ESPN.com, but it'll be even better when they really make the jump.

Gammons' "reading" page includes a link to The Hardball Times (which was quite a thrill for me), but what I'm talking about is linking to a good Dodger Thoughts entry when Jon Weisman has something interesting to say about Ned Colletti or turning readers on to USS Mariner when David Cameron breaks down the greatness of Felix Hernandez after King Felix puts together a string of brilliant starts.

The line between old-school and new-school is blurring all the time and I commend ESPN.com for accepting a relatively new medium when many of their fellow mainstream outlets have been amazingly resistant to do so. We're not quite "there" yet, but for now being able to call myself a "blogger" and have Peter Gammons and Jayson Stark be included in that same club is pretty cool. Even if they probably still call us losers behind our backs.

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