Thursday, January 15, 2009

what makes a blog a blog

Today's post was either going to be one of "the recruit" series, which would have been Cody Wallace, or a gushing paean to the decidedly good fortunes and NBA exploits of two of our basketball team's most recent alums: Roger Mason, Jr., who's having a terrific year with the Spurs, and Sean Singletary, recently earning his second NBA start with the Bobcats.

Then I ran across this Big Lead post regarding the ESPN blog network thingy, specifically the college football bloggers. I won't spoil the article for you - oh, just click, it'll take you like fifteen seconds to read - but the words "complete disaster" are used in conjunction. And I got to thinking thoughts, and then there were enough thoughts for a blog post, so here we are. Cody Wallace gets his turn tomorrow.

So what happened? Well, the Worldwide Leader isn't stupid. Like CBS Sports, which brought the Blogpoll to a wider audience, they know that a pretty sizable percentage of the most obsessed college football fans get their fix from some combination of blogs, message boards, and/or other noncorporate sources. To these people, ESPN is not the source; they essentially fill a niche. ESPN will have none of this filling a niche - they're the Worldwide Leader, dammit. So they go find some intelligent people with journalism degrees working at newspapers, hire 'em, and tell them to get busy blogging.

Only the end result is not so much a blog, as it is several small columns churned out over the course of a day. Successful college football blogs tend to offer you things that, for various reasons, you just won't get at a corporate giga-monster like ESPN:

- Unbelievably in-depth analysis.
- Insight to the workings of the game from football people with extra time on their hands.
- Snark, and lots of it.
- Bold-faced criticism.
- News before it hits the news.

And lots more. ESPN has quite a lot of good content, but they can't bring you blogs. Why not? Because bloggers are fans that bleed the same colors you do, and bloggers don't have to protect their press passes from confiscation and their sponsors from embarrassment.

That's because I have no press pass and I have no sponsor. So if I think Mike Groh called a shitty game, I can say so. (Can use naughty words, too.) If I think the sign ban policy is fascist, I can say so. At some point, I will probably call for Al Groh to be fired, because all coaches reach that point, and I won't have to worry about whether he'll answer my questions next time I try to interview him.

And because I love my 'Hoos (and have spare time) I can obsess over them, and live and die with them. I can get all emo when they lose and vomit stupid shit onto the page while I bounce up and down when they win. I can capture the memories in the form of video highlights, simply because I think it should be done, and I can distill the information about our team into formats that they don't have anywhere else, without having to do it for 119 other teams as well. I say "I" but that goes for all of us who really really really really really really like our respective teams and can't keep our mouth shut about them.

Meanwhile at ESPN's blogs, you get journalism school, in short clips. You get editors. And you get one person having to cover 12 teams. Heather, bless her heart, decided to do a rundown of all 12 ACC teams' recruiting needs. (Here's ours.) In the past, that would have been published all at once and called a "column." Now, they break it up into little "posts" and call it a "blog." And look, I don't exactly have the world's most important UVA site here, nor am I read by millions across the world each day (or even thousands), but honestly, I'd like to think I bring you much better recruiting content than "Virginia needs linebackers and wide receivers," especially since most of the class is already verballed in.

Put another way, C.J. Spiller is returning to Clemson for his senior year. Both Heather and Block-C have their takes. Heather's post reads like a news article and uses the word "reportedly", which reportedly is not a popular word with UVA fans right now. Block-C has two YouTube videos, a link to a hilarious message board post, and this phrase: "It took every ounce of my being not to write this entire post in all caps." Which is the random devoted Clemson fan more likely to share with other devoted Clemson fans?

So if it's true that ESPN thinks their blog network for college football has been a, quote, complete disaster, they're probably right. It's not the journalists' fault, though. (Warning - this next part could sound extremely corporate-whorish, because CBS has in fact sent a few hits my way by publishing the Blogpoll, but I'm not actively trying to be that way.) ESPN and CBS both tried to tap into the large-ish and growing segment of the college football population that is blogdom - CBS did it by letting bloggers be bloggers and linking to them in exchange for some measure of increased traffic for themselves. (Part of the idea being that you're supposed to click on the team links when I post a ballot, because they take you to the team sites on CBS.) ESPN did it by trying to corner the blog market for their own damn selves the same way they cornered the TV market. I don't know how CBS feels about the Blogpoll experiment, but at ESPN, it's not working. Their model and our model don't mix.

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