This morning closes the deal on a decade of handwringing over the FCC's mandated national transition to digital television. After years of speculation that all but the most tech-laden homes would go dark today--prompting our government to spend over a billion dollars on converter-box vouchers--it sounds like the biggest transitional hurdle has been explaining to seniors that hooking up the new HDTV they bought to their cable or satellite service doesn't require the converter box you and I paid $40 for.
It's a part of human nature to fear change. We are creatures of habit--we love routine, we love the familiar, we cherish the nostalgic. When we see change on the horizon, we get flustered and frazzled. We blog and Tweet, we rant and rave, we chat over water coolers and dinner tables alike. We cling desperately to what has been, finding any available option to slow or stop the inevitable. We take sides--arguing over how to accept this brave new world, how to deal with the irrevocably butchered life we now must lead, how to cope with the agony and suffering sure to result from whatever's going to be different from now on.
Frequently, it ends up being no big deal.
You see, change is happening all the time. It's happening in the world around us, whether we want it or not; whether we notice it or not. Bit by bit, byte by byte, the way things "always have been" are decaying while "the way things are" are under construction.
In the sports blogging world this week, that natural evoultion manifested itself in the latest skirmish on the "MSM-Blog War" front lines. At this point the story is old news to most anyone reading this, but to recap: a blogger, Jerod Morris of Midwest Sports Fans, wrote an article exploring Raul Ibanez's curiously fast start--and what might be fueling that unusual performance. After a more widely-read blog, Hugging Harold Reynolds, linked to the story, Philadelphia Inquirer columnist John Gonzalez found it and absolutely savaged Morris for his "cheap shot". ESPN's Outside the Lines took the surprising step of putting Morris, Gonzalez, and FoxSports.com's senior MLB writer, Ken Rosenthal on the air for a three-way panel discussion.
What transpired on the air that day has stoked great debate. From Seattle Times columnist Geoff Baker's passionate testimony of the power of journalism--and condemnation of those who wield it irresponsibly--to Phillies blogger David S. Cohen's sober observation that Ibanez has hit for streaks like this many times before, to Deadspin's AJD's even-handed (and hilarious) assessment of all parties involved.
I'm not going to give "my take on it", since I'd be not only the last to the party, but probably the least eloquent. This battle is as old as the digital TV handwringing; quality sports blogging has been around for a long, long time, as has the established media's distrust of it. It took several years for most sportswriters to notice that their readership was going elsewhere for the non-double-sourced, non-vetted-by-the-legal-department, possibly-offensive-to-primary-sources information they craved. Grudgingly acknolwedging this market, the TV and print giants were harvesting scoops garnered by bloggers, and sending them to everyone with the credit "according to internet reports . . ." The tables continued to turn as established journalists began blogging, and were often really bad at it. From whiffing on basic Web conventions like linking to sources, to blatantly making stuff up to round out their 'rumor mill' section, many professional journalists blogged as they percieved "the bloggers" did: with a total lack of responsibility, and a total lack of professionalism. And you know what? Bloggers torched them for it.
This latest Ibanez dust-up is a tempest in a teapot. The lines between "journalist" and "blogger" and "fan with a computer" started blurring a long, long time ago. The best credentialed writers straddle all mediums with equal aplomb--knowing where and when to file raw rumor, hard news, idle thoughts, Q&A, and rampant speculation (e.g., Bill Simmons from ESPN writes both in print and online, blogs, chats, Tweets, and podcasts, all compellingly). And the rest of the lot, be they J-school laureates or bloggers in their mother's basement, will be judged not by the color of their banner, but by the character of their content. We don't need to wait for a world where bloggers can be quality reporters and analysts, and nationally syndicated columnists can personally interact with their fans on a direct and instant basis--that day is already here.
However . . . what about the readers? Sometimes I fear that those who read sports media have been conditioned to the morning paper, the beat writer and the columnist, the pure hard news and the unfettered opinion, the idea that anything they see in print is either double-checked fact or purely philosophical musing. Time and again, I see re-posting or re-Tweeting that misconstrues the original report, like a worldwide game of "Telephone". Thousand-word blog posts with stats, graphs, and analysis are shorn of their evenhandedness, boiled down to 140 characters or less, and blasted all over the Interweb in seconds. I can't tell you how many times I've seen blogs cite a local radio show or insider team source and go, "We can't believe this is true, but [source] said [story], and we just heard an independent whisper backing it up, so we're going to let you all know what we've been hearing, but please take it with a grain of salt" only to see that report touted across forums everywhere as "[Blog] reported [story] as fact, what muckrakers they are!"
New rules and new conventions about how to consume and redistribute information must, and will, pop up to prevent things like Morris' inconclusive exoneration attempt being twisted (by a "real journalist") into "HEY RAUL, SOME BLOGGER SAID YOU'RE JUICING, WHADDYA THINK?" Yes, bloggers are going to have to be more careful about the impact of their words on the ever-bigger audience they're addressing--but that audience must be more thoughtful about how they consume their information, too. The old ways of passively accepting everything they see on their doostep in the morning are dying; they must learn to parse information online with critical thought.
Too bad they don't make a digital converter box for that.