Apr 5, 2011

Mark Cuban's War On Bloggers & Internet Writers

Mark Cuban, the owner of the NBA's Dallas Mavericks, has never been shy of voicing his opinions.   The Texas Billionaire, who made his money by founding Broadcast.com and then selling that to Yahoo, bought the Dallas Mavericks team ten years ago when they were utterly pathetic, routinely finishing in the bottom of the standings.   Since he took over the Mavericks have been perennial contenders (if not underachievers), winning 50+ games every season for the last decade.

In 2008, Cuban tried to ban bloggers from the Mavs locker rooms, saying, "I am of the opinion that a blogger for one of the local newspapers is no better or worse than the blogger from the local high school, from the local huge Mavs fan, from an out of town blogger." 

David Stern, the commissioner of the NBA, eventually stepped in and told Cuban that he couldn't prevent the local internet reporters/bloggers from accessing the locker rooms, and so everything went back to normal.

Now Cuban is back at it with his latest salvo against the internet reporters and bloggers.   He posted at his BlogMaverick site his thoughts on the internet media, and how it relates to sports and in particular his team.

Reporters whose primary job is to write for an internet site typically fall into two categories. Paid and unpaid. Unpaid writers typically do it as a labor of love and IMHO far exceed the influence and impact of their paid counterparts.  Sure there are many who just rant and rave, but enough realize that if they work hard and provide support for their writing, they may just get noticed by a big website who will pay them to write . If you can back up what you say with well thought out and in depth analysis, you know the things that some people used to call journalism, you are welcome in the locker room

The internet reporters who get paid , IMHO , are to the Mavs and any sports team, the least valuable of all media . I’m a firm believer that their interests are not only not aligned with sports teams like the Mavs, but in fact are diametrically opposed.  They tend to look at the number of page views they get for any article as ‘their ratings”. More is better. Which in turn leads them to gear their work towards generating more pageviews.

Now at this point traditional wisdom might say ” well if its about the Mavs and its generating pageviews, then it must be something that Mavs fans are interested in, so it must be a good thing. Its the equivalent of one of the dumbest sayings of all time “all press is good press”. All press is not good press for a sports team.

Internet writers will tell you, transaction rumors generate the most traffic.  From a sports team perspective, this is not good. Why ? Because internet writers have so little creativity and originality.  Any idiot can start a rumor, at which point the writer says (and to be fair, its not just internet writers who ask, but its 99pct internet writers who publish), “I hate to ask this but the rumor is out there that you are being traded to the pismo beach panthers. Can you comment”.  

From that point until the trade deadline, the same question in some form is asked over and over and over again of everyone in the organization.  The hope isn’t that someone will say “yes its true”. The hope is that it will elicit a comment that is headline worthy. “George Mikan said he would happily consider a trade to Pismo” And on it goes and goes and goes. The result is that the team is often negatively impacted. Players get distracted. Team personnel get distracted and spend too much time dealing with the rumors.  Its a negative for any team.

Cuban went on to point out that just because the writer doesn't have access doesn't make the rumors go away, however it will limit it.  And it allows the teams to have a better control over it.

I'm not sure I buy that, but I understand where he's coming from.

And for the most part I agree with Cuban on this, and not just because he's the owner of my favorite NBA team.  The majority of internet "reporters" or Bloggers aren't actual journalists.   That may rub some of them the wrong way, but it's just the truth.   There ARE those out there who are doing solid journalism on internet sites, whether it's news or sports or whatever.

Simply being an internet reporter does not mean you are immediately disqualified from having anything to say. In the year 2011 I would say there's going to be more stories broken by "internet reporters" than print or TV reporters.   With most news moving to the online sector anyway, I think that might just be a situation of the odds playing out.

So I think Cuban, while having a point on what he's saying about the rumor mongering taking effect on his team, he perhaps goes about it the wrong way.  He has a very extroverted air about him and can be a bit over the top at times in making his point.  Doesn't make him wrong, just makes him a bit out there, so to speak.

But let's not mince words here folks, he does have a point here.  The majority of these so-called reporters out there are nothing even close to being actual reporters or journalists.  There are many sites out there such as The Examiner and Bleacher Report which essentially seems to allow ANYONE to post ANYTHING there, as long as you have an account.   Anytime I read anything on those sites, I immediately am dismissive.  There are a handful of solid writers on those places, but for the most part it's like digging through a mountain of shit to find a diamond.   Often not worth the time.

Then you have these aggregator websites who mostly get traffic by collecting ACTUAL reporting from other websites, and putting it on their own, with a link to the original post.  That's nice and all, but most people I know don't bother clicking that link.  They just read whatever snippet (or paragraphs) on the aggregator site and then move on.

These sites are not "news" they're not "journalists", they are, as the Ex Washington Post Editor referred to them, parasites.   They feed off of real journalism and essentially steal traffic from them.  For all their talk about how much traffic they get, The Huffington Post, for example,  derives most of their traffic from the bullshit celebrity gossip stuff.  Sure they have serious posts on there, but the amount of clicks THOSE get compares to how much the latest Kim Kardashian, Justin Bieber or Charlie Sheen posts get, I would wager, are not even comparable.

That's what Cuban is driving at.  These people who are not in the business for actual news reporting or sports reporting, they're there to get web hits.  And the best way it seems to get web hits is controversy and sensationalism.   Can't get news on your own?  I know, I'll go ask NBA Player X what he thinks about his contract being up in 2013 and where he'll go."   Knowing that it doesn't matter anything NOW, but it's a way to get internet clicks, while abusing the privilege you have of getting access to the NBA players locker rooms.

I applaud Mark Cuban on this, and even though David Stern will probably never let it happen, much like he stepped in back in '08, I think that it's a valid attempt.  However he needs to perhaps draw up a list of who he views as valuable and who he does not in the internet reporting community.

There are many, such as Kelly Dwyer of Yahoo Sports (who has a very thorough breakdown of Cuban's thoughts on Yahoo, which I encourage everyone to check out) who are respectable and who bring a lot to the table aside from the mindless rumors that will never come to fruition.  Who have something to say and can back it up with coherent thoughts.   Those should never be kept out of the locker rooms or denied access to the players and teams.

The bullshit internet rumor people, who don't actually create any of their own material, and only steal others for their own web traffic?   Forget them.  Let them keep making up rumors and reporting rumors based on nothing but the thinnest of sources.   No need to further enable their hackery though.

My final point on this though, needs to be said.   This idea that online journalism is an oxymoron, or that internet reporting is non-existent or simply "bloggers in their mother's basement" is pretty offensive to those doing real journalism, and it's just flat out untrue.

In fact, there have been many SERIOUS important stories broken by those online journalists that many are quick to dismiss.

In 2005 the Pulitzer Prize was awarded for a story that was broken by an online reporter.

The Willamette Week’s Nigel Jaquiss won the Pulitzer Prize this week for investigative reporting for his work exposing a sexual relationship between former Gov. Neil Goldschmidt and a 14-year-old girl.

In 2007, TechNewsWorld listed the Top 10 News Stories, broken by Bloggers.

In 2010, True/Slant listed 5 stories that it's own writers had broken, including Stephen C. Webster's fascinating and thoroughly engrossing series about Barry Cooper's persecution and prosecution by Texas Police over his exposing their corruptness.

These are only a small handful of examples of the actual reporting that some internet writers have done.  To dismiss those out of hand, is I think, unfortunate.

Cuban should know better than that.  As I said, he has a lot of good points and I agree with him for the most part.  And to his credit he DOES differentiate between real reporting done by bloggers and the rumor mongers.  I think that point gets lost though in his overall diatribe.

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