June 8, 2008

Buzz Bissinger Revisited

A few weeks back, the Internet was abuzz over a panel discussion on Costas Now between Will Leitch of Deadspin and Buzz Bissinger, a mainstream media journalist and author of Friday Night Lights. Braylon Edwards also participated.

You can watch the segment on Deadspin.

I was at Daedalus Books in Columbia, Maryland, this afternoon. Daedalus resells "remainders", or books that publishers print, but do not sell in their initial offering. My girlfriend brought me a book entitled The Best American Sports Writing - 2003, thinking I might be interested in it. I noticed that it was edited by Buzz Bissinger.

The book is part of an annual series. Other year's versions have been edited by Mike Lupica, Bud Collins, Richard Ben Cramer, Dick Schaap and Michael Lewis.

I flipped through the book and realized it was a collection of columns. I did not spend enough time with it to verify that none of the entries were "sports writing" as we thought of it in the days before ESPN and Sports Illustrated - a recap of a sporting event to describe it to those who weren't present to see it - but it appeared to be comprised mostly of commentary. Interestingly, I did not recognize many of the names of the authors of the selected pieces. A review on Amazon.com notes that many of the writers are not widely known, which is a testament to Bissinger's devotion to his craft and knowledge of his industry. You can see the table of contents here.

It struck me that Bissinger himself was once one of the 15-year-olds embracing a new form of journalism, like those Will Leitch referenced as part of his argument. Sports Illustrated debuted (in its current form, the only successful form) in 1954, the year Bissinger was born. Surely, Bissinger still got most of his news from the newspaper, but he also grew up in the era in which sports became increasingly televised. The new exposure in the growing medium required a different style of coverage, one in which the writer was required to provide more information about what was not on the screen, as the reader might have seen the same game. The writing itself had to be a big part of the draw, because the facts no longer were.
East Coast Bias

I feel we're one level of abstraction farther removed from the popular sportswriters like Michael Lewis, Mike Lupica, Michael Wilbon and Buzz Bissinger. Now everyone has seen the game, or TiVoed it, or followed the GameCast, or at the very least read about the outcome on the internet. People still turn to sports writers to provide perspective on those events, only now we read print journalists like Michael Wilbon online, and we also read Bill Simmons, Pat Forde, Peter King, and others who are now primarily online writers.

The bloggers fit in to not just analyze the sports world, but to also analyze the sports media that presents it. The mainstream media dislikes us for the same reasons the players of the 1960's disliked the mainstream media. We are shining a light on the mainstream media as much as we are shining light on the world of sports, if not more. Just look at the titles of some blogs: East Coast Bias, Kissing Suzy Kolber, Tirico Suave, Scott Van Pelt Style, etc.

Returning to Buzz: if the sports blogging world launched in earnest around 1998, who is to say what a ten-year-old now will be in a decade or two? Will they perhaps be winning a Pulitzer Prize using the styles and themes popular in the blogging world today? It's impossible to say, but Mr. Bissinger needs to realize that we're not so different from him, really.

We write out of a need to comment on the sports world, as it is presented to us through the eyes of ESPN, CNNSI, Fox and various other outlets for the mainstream media. We want to be noticed and appreciated for what we do, just like the little-known writers upon whom Buzz Bissinger bestowed the honor of inclusion in his collection. In fact, I asked Mr. Bissinger if he'd like to respond to this post, and he said that he liked to recognize unknown talent because so many people never get a chance. I would argue that Deadspin also does an excellent job directing readers to good content on little-read blogs, like, well, this one. Mostly, we want to feel as though we have added something to the games we love.

There are bad apples in the blogosphere just like there are bad apples in sports writing. (Woody Paige's attack on Baltimore just prior to the Ravens destroying the Broncos in the 2001 Wild Card Round comes to mind. Okay, Woody Paige just comes to mind.) There are bad apples everywhere, and no industry deserves to be measured by them. I don't speak for all of us, but I only ask that Buzz look at the blogosphere for what it is, and keep faith that the cream will rise. Just like salary doesn't denote the best sports writer, traffic doesn't measure the best blogs. Still, in terms of impact there are great contributions being made, and those contributions should be embraced by the mainstream media instead of ridiculed as sensationalistic pornography.

7 Responses:

Brien said...

Bissinger may be trying to recognize good sports writing in blogs, but he's either not trying very hard or he's not a very good judge of talent.

In his rant he specifically called out Big Daddy Drew, who is rightly recognized as the best writer on any sports blog. Maybe Bissinger was just turned off by the dick jokes, but if he can't recognize the fact that Drew is an amazingly talented writer, then maybe he's just too old to be relevant.

J-Red said...

Buzz never said that. He's trying to recognize good sports writing in the print media. I'm sure he appreciates good writing online though.

If he doesn't like dick jokes he had better have taken his name off of the television version of Friday Night Lights. That devolved into "The O.C." with a football backdrop pretty quickly.

"ben" said...

This series has never (or rarely) included game covers. It mostly includes feature stories and essays. I'd be surprised if this edition had nothing but columns.

"ben" said...

"A review on Amazon.com notes that many of the writers are not widely known, which is a testament to Bissinger's devotion to his craft and knowledge of his industry."

Also, it's not like Bissinger scoured the wire for stories. People submit their entries for review.

J-Red said...

I'll find out who is editing the 2009 version and submit some of our posts, even though they're guaranteed to be laughed off the table. At least it would prove a point.

JC said...

SVP Style will never die....

I can't figure out for the life of me why the vile against bloggers is so concentrated in the sports section. It's not like you hear fashion or entertainment writers criticizing Perez Hilton, or news bloggers going berserk on Media Bistro.

Maybe that whole athlete envy thing stretches a little further than we first imagined.

J-Red said...

Honestly I think it's because the audience for sports writing is primarily young and male, just like the bloggers.

Also, I think sports writers are the most insecure because of the intense competition for their jobs.

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