Forgive me for moment while I devote more than a few words to you and me instead of IndyCars, because we just got called out.
There are lots of people who cover open-wheel racing as a career, people we respect (although that group may not necessarily include the same individuals) who can write so eloquently as to better express a shared enthusiasm for the sport. People like Jeff Olson, who recently suffered a momentary lapse of reason in publishing an incredibly ironic piece of writing.
His article is called “Us vs Them”, and it starts off talking about how “we” need to stop this “us vs them” mentality with regard to IndyCar drivers who have raced in different series last year. Naturally I was totally in agreement with that idea, because goodness knows I’ve done my part to try to get everyone excited about all of the participants in this newly-born unification.
But then somewhere in the middle of the article Olson decides a different kind of “Us vs Them” is completely acceptable.
Sportswriters are people who couldn’t play sports but want to write about it, yet they aren’t worth a damm at that, either. Ask anyone who’s ever been in the newsroom of a daily newspaper: Sports is the Toy Department. It’s where the worst of the talentless hacks in the newsroom are sent to live out their careers. It’s where bad journalists go to die. And, yes, “bad journalists” is redundant.And so it is that a big bucket of digital ice water has been dumped upon you and me and our little thing here. Oh, I realize he’s probably speaking about bloggers who were at that race in Florida, but the distinction is not clearly expressed. Now you’re probably expecting me to vivisect the above with snarky comments like another blogger has, but just this once I’d rather instead take this as an opportunity to educate. This very same issue was addressed recently by Ken Arneson, a tremendously gifted guy who covers the Oakland A’s for his own Catfish Stew blog, so I’m going to try to summarize (read: plagiarize) the point that he so eloquently made elsewhere in the comments section of yet another site.
Add the growing number of untrained and unprofessional word butchers to the clutter, and objectivity goes the way of the front-engine roadster. Apparently this occupation is now open to anyone who can type with his or her knuckles, no education or experience required. No need for a degree or employment, just crown yourself a bloggist, start typing and apply for that credential.
Amazing how that works. If I tried to be a plumber with no experience or training, I’d get stomped by guys with pipe wrenches and exposed butt cracks. But any fool with a computer and a MySpace page can play journalist, and the rules of the business are no longer acknowledged (or even known). So much for those endless semesters of libel law. Anybody can do this, and anybody does. No training or aptitude required.
The problem here isn’t that “journalists” are hating “bloggers” because we’re lazy or partisan or doing for free that on which they stake their careers. No, the real problem here is that blogging is a new medium and as such people tend to look at it and evaluate it using the same measures as the old one. And given the tenets of journalism people like yours truly are most certainly lazy and partisan, and we produce an incredible amount of garbage compared to the works of Olson or Gordon Kirby or John Oreovicz.
But as you and I know this equivalency is completely wrong, because even though Olson and your humble host are in the same business of spreading the word about the happenings of open-wheel racing he and I aren’t doing anywhere near the same thing.
Published articles are intended to be snapshots in time that you can hang on the wall and gaze upon but never touch. Conversely, blog entries are a chain of shared thoughts that are passionate and emotive and yes, even factually inaccurate because above all other rules they invite participation. Arneson’s key point was this: “The unit of measurement in blogging is not the article, the unit of measurement is the conversation.”
That’s the real beauty of this medium that facilitates something other than a one-way transfer of ideas. The truth is this post and pretty much every other one only take on any semblance of meaning when they get shared. The comments start coming in, another site links the post, the authors elsewhere add their thoughts, then they start getting comments, and before you know it there’s a lively discussion happening in real time that engages any number of people all over the world.
(As an aside, this proves that Robin Miller is in fact a blogger and not a journalist – he just doesn’t know it yet.)
So while Olson and Olson alone is responsible for creating every last letter of his articles, I as a blogger have all of you here to help fill in the blanks. This isn’t about me – it’s about WE. As a consequence necessary evils like fact checking get taken to an entirely new level because not only will all of you add your own information that you ascertain but you’ll also definitely let me know if I’ve got something wrong. I’m accountable for what I write, but in the process we’re all accountable to each other for what we contribute to the discussion, factual or otherwise. Together we have the power to not just to record an event but to register the impact more accurately than any single article can.
Even though this new medium of sharing may seem to be applying pressure on the old newspaper model, the reality is probably the opposite. Now more than ever we NEED writers like Olson to produce well-written articles to help facilitate our discussions. The ironic “Exhibit A” in this case would be Olson’s most recent work.
I wanted to put this all down in a single post as a point of reference for guys like Olson who think I or anyone else with a blog is “playing journalist”. Hopefully everyone can now clearly see this isn’t the case, that we aren’t trying to run them out of business, and that we are in effect all in the same proverbial boat by serving as unofficial promoters of the Indy Racing League. And of course, there are going to be good bloggers and bad ones just as there are good and bad journalists, so please refrain from painting the entire bunch of us “unprofessional word butchers”.
And because we all care so much about IndyCars, rest assured this is the first and last post I ever want to write about blogging.