Recently a number of sports writers have expressed their disdain for bloggers culminating with Buzz Bissinger's expletive filled tirade on Bob Costas' HBO show. The arguments, which are not confined to the realm of sports blogs are familiar: blogs are filled with lies, bloggers are mean-spirited, there's no fact checking on blogs, blogs value speed over accuracy.
What old guard journalists like Bissinger don't seem to understand is that the reason blogs even exist is because they fill a vacuum. Whether it's a more humorous take on the world of sports or a more serious look at what's going on in Cuba, bloggers fill the vacuum.
What Bissinger and even Costas himself say is true, of course, to some degree about some blogs. There are unscrupulous and inaccurate bloggers. But there are also unscrupulous and inaccurate newspaper reporters, columnists and editors. Jayson Blair had credentials, fact checkers and editors and still he managed to have plagiarized and fictional stories published as news in the New York Times.
There are literally millions of blogs out there. Most are read by only a handful of people, but a precious few have readerships larger than some newspapers. As the target of Bissinger's wrath, Will Leitch of Deadspin said, the blogosphere is a meritocracy. If a blog is widely read it's purely a reflection of a connection the blog's writers have made with their audience. In Miami, if I want to read a newspaper I only have one choice. But if I go on the web I can find opinions and reporting from a variety of sources including blogs.
I was drawn to blogging because I realized in this wild frontier was an opportunity to draw attention to something the mainstream media in America had ignored for far too long, the dictatorship in Cuba. Not only that, the very same media had a hand in the establishment of that dictatorship.
Last year, NBC News produced a two-hour Today Show special, live from Cuba. During 120 minutes Matt Lauer did not name a single political prisoner despite the fact that there are well over 200 of them on the island. In fact, by my count, he only uttered 12 sentences that could be considered mildly critical of the regime. If Buzz Bissinger and his colleagues don't like the influence that blogs have in this day and age of declining newspaper readerships then they should do their jobs.
Blogs are a venue in which individuals can express views that may not be the most popular and share them with others that hold the same views. What is happening on the internet is no different than what is happening on your TV dial. In my business it's called fragmentation. There's a vast amount of content being developed that appeals to many narrow audiences. If you like classic cars, there are collector car auctions, if you like interior design there are home improvement shows.
Bissinger's criticism rings as hollow as a network executive in the 1980s might have sounded if he complained that ESPN was ruining sports.
Recently, the courageous Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez wrote about being denied an "exit visa" to leave Cuba and accept a journalism award in Spain:
They forget that in cyberspace my voice can travel without limits, leaving and returning without asking for permission… It does not matter if they have kept my passport. Since one year ago I have another, on which, in the section for nationality, appears a short word: “blogger”.Whether Buzz Bissinger gets it or not, I'm proud to be a member of the same blogging nation as Yoani Sanchez and others who cover unpopular and politically incorrect topics.