It takes a village

Yesterday I threw out a quick jab at ESPN’s “report” of Barry Bonds saying he was still not retiring, taking issue at the fact that the story wasn’t really reporting as much as it was regurgitating a paparazzi encounter and passing it off as news. I received the following comment in response to the article from a reader named Floyd:

I am surprised, actually. To begin with, I think we can agree that Barry Bonds’ assertion that he is not retired is of interest (to some), and is newsworthy. Thus, your complaint largely rests on the source of that information. And it surprises me that, as a user/advocate of one newly-emerging medium, you would be snobbish about another newly-emerging medium. Frankly, this post kind of sounds like the BBWAA members who sniff and turn their noses at blogs.

It was a fair comment given my brief and rather flip post. I responded to Floyd in the comments, but I want to reiterate it here. Not to pick on Floyd, but because as is often the case when I blog on the fly, a fuller, more satisfying take formed in my head later, and I think it’s worth sharing with the rest of the class. WARNING: this is meta-bloggy-media stuff, and I realize many of you don’t care for that sort of thing. If so, please click referesh for a while, and I’m sure some baseball will happen along eventually.

Actually, I won’t grant Floyd’s first point about Bonds’ assertion being newsworthy, partially because of the second point (i.e. the source of that information). Barry Bonds has long said he is not retired. Said it all last season, in fact, and much was written about grievances and feelers to teams and all of that. As such, unless and until Bonds says something different, a reiteration of his unretiredness is not terribly newsworthy. Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead.

The context matters, though. Here, a Paparazzo stuck a camera in someone’s face and they said something. That’s fine. It’s a free country. But how much weight should we give that? What if Barry is seriously thinking of filing his retirement papers tomorrow. Is he going to decide to just jump the gun and announce it to a guy with a camcorder in the valet line? Even if he does, how do we know he’s not messing with the guy on the spur of the moment? We don’t know, really, and part of the reason we don’t know is because it’s not a setting in which a followup question can be asked or the subject’s answers challenged. On that basis, I’m fine with criticizing the report as non-news.

But I also take issue with the accusation of snobbery on my part for not taking the side of my fellow travelers in new media, the video journalist. Yes, I’m a blogger, and not surprisingly, I think the medium of blogging is great. But I also think the medium of traditional reporting is great. I also think citizen photo journalists armed with cameras and no fear is great. In other words, it’s all good. The thing is, however, each medium has its strengths and weaknesses.

  • Traditional reporting, for all of its excesses and inefficiencies, is still pretty damn good at getting the story. As I mentioned last week when Dugout Central jumped the gun on the Veterans Committee vote, the MSM checks and double checks, and while that sometimes makes them slow, it usually makes them accurate.
  • Blogging lends itself best to opinion writing. I don’t have any primary news sources and I wouldn’t know if someone feeding me a tip was feeding me baloney if it came on a loaf of rye bread, but I’ll definitely tell you how I feel about a given story or development better than some balance-obsessed reporter will.
  • As for video journalists, paparazzi, TMZ, etc., a picture tells a thousand words and a video may tell 100,000. Immediacy is the calling card of this medium. Sometimes the images are the whole story. Sometimes they’re not, however, and we therefore have to be somewhat skeptical of things we see in video reports lest we be misled or be shown only a partial truth. In other words, pictures can and often do lie.
  • How does this work in practice? To see, we’ll need more bullet points!

  • If the story is that Bonds got into a fistfight outside of a restaurant, I would hope and expect that the TMZs of the world would be on the scene and have the best story, because in that case, the best story would be video of the fight. As a blogger, I’d definitely credit and link that video way before some reporter’s take.
  • Let’s say, however, the story is about how Bonds’ legal team issued a 10,000 word defense of his career in an attempt to refute accusations of PED use. In that case I would hope and expect a blogger with both time and critical thinking on his side would tear that that thing to pieces. I’d certainly find that more valuable than a wire report summarizing the release or a video of Bonds’ lawyers making a canned statement about the document.
  • Finally, if we’re talking about an assertion of fact floating out there in the ether—Bonds has retained the great grandson of Clarence Darrow; Bonds is pleading guilty tomorrow; Bonds is announcing his retirement—I would expect that a reporter or at least someone who exercises the level of care a reporter typically does would be the person I’d turn to, because checking facts and sorting it from the bull is what a reporter does best.
  • The point here is that it’s not us against them. It’s not bloggers vs. the MSM. It’s not even words against video. They’re all tools in the media’s toolkit, and they’re all essential to giving the fans and the public the full picture of what’s going on in the world. Anyone who talks about blogging being an inherently better medium than reporting, or vice-versa, or vice-versa-with-video, is someone more interested in turf wars than they are in learning about anything. Hell, I am a blogger, and if you told me that I could only read blogs going forward, I’d probably kill myself.

    Back to the toolkit: in this case, I think ESPN relied on the flat side of a crescent wrench to pound in a nail. Rather than run a transcript of a TMZ video like they did, they should have used it as the basis to ask Barry or his representatives a couple of questions: is it true you’re still wanting to play? Have you talked to any front offices about 2009? Have you been working out? Something that would render Barry’s assertion more or less believable depending on his answers. ESPN didn’t do that, however, and I found that rather lazy, which is why I posted what I posted. Fidelity to the “new media” or whatever didn’t enter into it, and it won’t as long as I’m writing this blog.

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    Comments

    1. RoyceTheBaseballHack said...

      You know, we never even found out if Bonds ever got his car from the valet – THAT’s what bothers me the most.  Did they return the seat to the original position..? Was it scratched…? Did they take the quarters from the console..?  Where’s the REAL investigative summary? Anyone….??

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