As you probably know by now, Philadelphia Daily News sports columnist Bill Conlin went off on bloggers quite recently. Crashburn Alley sent him some relatively benign emails, and Conlin responded in a tactless way - multiple times. He even managed to bring genocide and Hitler into an email. The easy thing to do is to rip Conlin and make fun of him. But since Conlin's already accomplished that for us with his ridiculous emails, there's really no point.
The more important thing to do is to look at what Conlin represents, and where we'll be going from here.
The fact of the matter is that Conlin is an old-time classic sports journalist. He learned sports journalism the way it's been taught for years. Game-wrapups, feature stories, and 800-word columns for traditional papers. And that's it. The paper is your vehicle, end of story. There's nothing wrong with this, it's the way sports journalism has worked for years and there is still excellent work produced in traditional papers by a number of sports writers. But where this system has failed miserably is in its ability to let people voice their criticism, or even just their opinion, to said writers.
Speaking as someone who's been on both sides of the wall - traditional journalism school and "new media" (i.e. blogging) - there's a vast difference between the two. Blogging allows readers to instantly voice their disapproval or opinions on subject matters that the author has written. Papers don't do this, or at their best they do it terribly inconsistently.
Even though there's a quaint notion that papers can act as the voice of the people, like the Op-Ed page, there's very little participation when it comes to papers. Should I - as a reader - voice my displeasure with a sports article, odds are it will never even make the paper, let alone reach the original author it's intended for. And even if I notice something wrong in the paper and manage to get them to correct it, that correction won't appear until a few days later and it'll be in a tiny box marked "Corrections" on Page C7. And I will get no credit for it.
This system creates a wall between newspaper writers and readers that blogging doesn't have. As a result, writers for papers - in our case sports writers - don't get criticized. They don't take any heat from anyone. They can essentially operate of their own accord. And that can sometimes be dangerous when we get to columnists.
Some columnists start to believe that everything they say is infallible, since they're never called out on it. And that's what has happened to Conlin. When he's ultimately called out by someone, he doesn't respond well. It's his belief that since he went the traditional route, and has written columns for years without being challenged, that he's untouchable. But that isn't the case.
We all make mistakes. We all need to be called out sometimes. And hopefully in the end, it will make us better writers.
Even though blogs are prone to ridiculous rants and off color words in the comments section at the end of posts, that's not always the case. In fact it's not even the norm. There are a number of times I've corrected posts because of mistakes I've been alerted to by readers. And plenty have made better arguments in the comments than I have in my posts.
But Conlin wants none of that, and quite frankly, that's to his detriment. Ironically his system isolates him from readers, which after all, are who he is dependent upon for his job.
But perhaps even scarier is Conlin's Hitler comment on bloggers, which is printed again here: The only positive thing I can think of about Hitler’s time on earth–I’m sure he would have eliminated all bloggers.
This is a journalist, mind you, who is essentially saying he's against free speech. He doesn't want criticism, and he wants people to fall in line and take what he's giving them.
Luckily though, this attitude is starting to become the way of the past. Even though very few newspapers are starting to divert from Conlin's decrepit model, some are. Dan Steinberg at the DC Sports Bog should be given a ton of credit for his ability to make the Washington Post relevant in the sports blogging world where readers have a vehicle to make their opinions and thoughts known. Same as well to Michael Rand at Randball. And truthfully, newspapers may soon be left in the dust by the online world. Thanks to the FanHouse, Yahoo! Sports, Deadspin, With Leather, The Big Lead, Dan Shanoff, Mr. Irrelevant, SPORTSbyBROOKS, etc., etc., sports blogging is beginning to change how we write about sports. There are even team specific blogs, like Viva El Birdos, Mets Blog, and Bleed Cubbie Blue, that cover their respective teams in more detail than newspapers. And, most importantly, the blogging model allows readers to write about sports and share their opinions. This movement is in its infancy, but it's headed in the right direction.
What isn't moving in the right direction is Conlin's model. And that should make us all happy.