From April of 2005 until November of 2008 there existed a blog called Fire Joe Morgan. The writers at FJM were funny (some would eventually write for NBC’s The Office and Parks and Recreation), insightful, and statistically inclined. They were progressive baseball fans.
The title of their blog was a reference to the eponymous Hall of Fame 2nd baseman whose retirement consisted of a career as a play-by-play analyst for ESPN. Joe Morgan drew the ire of FJM’s writers because of his outdated thinking and refusal to accept that there were new, exciting, and transformative ways to view the game of baseball. He also thought Billy Beane wrote the book Moneyball. And if nothing else, Joe Morgan hated Moneyball. Even though he had never read Moneyball. Which, again, Billy Beane did not write. FJM wasn’t just about Joe Morgan though. It was about all crappy efforts put forth by those who cover baseball.
When I critique what I consider poor efforts by the media it is often the FJM style that I emulate: quote or excerpt followed by critique. Sometimes it’s a small segment of a column and other times it’s the whole damn thing. But is this fair? I don’t know. So I asked a few civil, fair minded writers from Padres Public to sit down and have a discussion. But since we did it on-line these guys may very well have been standing as they responded.
Avenging Jack Murphy: Since we’re discussing media criticism let’s start with a word association. Your thoughts on the following: Fire Joe Morgan/ FJM’s / FJM’d / FJM‘ing?
Padres Tail: Fabulous blog. Miss it, and loved their periodic posts at Deadspin.
Vocal Minority (David): Necessary, in ways. Most media outlets employ their own media critics now, though they’ll certainly never address their own guys. I think it’s a good concept, but one that requires finding a balance between humorous critique and mean-spirited bashing.
Ghost of Ray Kroc: Genius. I’m just sorry that the Fire Joe Morgan site went away. At least we have Awful Announcing to take up some of the slack.
AJM: So, we’re all human beings. At what point does the criticism go too far? What is off limits, if anything?
PT: It definitely should be the ideas that get taken to task, never the writer. I don’t believe in attacking the writer personally just because he made an outdated or uninformed argument. That is over the line.
GofRAK: Depends on what you’re criticizing. If Hacksaw writes a tweet that reads like it was written by a 2nd grader, I consider that fair game. If he writes a blog, I’m more selective, because he’s not a writer. And, if he says something moronic on the radio, I let it go. Mostly because I don’t listen.
YOU READING THIS HACKSAW! I! DON’T! LISTEN! STOP THANKING ME FOR LISTENING!
Now, if Canepa or Acee or Center writes something that reads like it was written by a 2nd grader (or an ancient Aztec god), it’s fair game. They get paid to write.
VM (David): Personal comments are what I’d consider over the line. As an example: in the comments section of your recent Canepa post, someone asked what would be a performance enhancer for Canepa. My response was “retirement”. I deleted it because, while amusing, I was being a shithead.
As you proved with that post, you can say “you’re out of touch and your opinion is awful” without being a jackass.
AJM: OK. So let’s go back to Hacksaw for a minute. He has a huge platform with his radio program: from Baja to the Canadian Rockies! With such a vast platform why should anything he writes be exempt from criticism? If Josh Byrnes started a blog (similar to Paul Depodesta) and he provided disinformation would he be exempt on account of not being a writer?
GofRAK: You and I have talked about this before. I believe you were reluctant to go after him for what he writes because he’s not a writer. He’s a radio “personality.” You said you’d much rather FJM Canepa or Center because they are writers.
[Editor’s Note: The Ghost is confusing me with some other internet lunatic. I’ve had some fun with columns/articles written by Kevin Acee, Nick Canepa, and Don Norcross. I’ve never written anything about a Bill Center piece. If someone is a part of the media and they put pen to paper (knuckles to keys) they’re open to criticism. So I would NEVER give Hacksaw a pass.]
But, given the fact that radio and TV are now going on to the interwebs, and reporters & radio hosts are writing blogs for their stations/networks websites, it’s getting to a point where whatever they DO write can get blasted for being ridiculous. Or, on the other side of the coin, praised for being good. Ben Higgins and Craig Elsten are good examples of that other side of the coin.
VM (David): Falls under the category of going after ideas, not people. He’s writing what he would say on the radio, so it’s fair game. It’s not like you’re going after his grammar. And he’s won awards, damn it.
PT: I think there’s a need to point out the fallacies of certain arguments. In the current world the lines between written copy and social media have blurred significantly. Paid reporters report the news via print media, but also blogs, twitter, facebook, and so on. In this world I don’t think any medium is off limits. You say something dumb on twitter you’re going to get called on it. It may not be a 5000 world post but someone’s going to say something. So I agree with GofRAK’s position; I’ve just reached the point where any comment by a paid reporter on any forum is fair game to criticize.
AJM: So anyone with a platform (small or large) deserves criticism if their ideas are unsound or if their facts are incorrect and it should always be the ideas not the person? Sound about right?
VM (David): It’s a bit unfair to go after something that isn’t from a professional, but I suppose I can agree with what you’re saying. As an example, if someone felt the need to FJM “Padres: The Sad Truth”, it’s received enough attention to be justified.
GofRAK: Oh, you mean us, don’t you? Mostly, I believe inaccurate or misleading information is fair game. No matter if the writer got paid to say it or not. Or how many awards they’ve won.
And now I can say I’ve won an award. Sort of. I received my first ever Ben Higgins’ Tweet of the Day today (Friday, Feb 15).
AJM: If we put our opinions or analysis out there then we can’t really complain if it gets dissected. Having said that, we’re not professionals. We don’t get paid. So why do we engage in the process? What can be achieved by FJMing a column or a piece of analysis?
G0fRAK: I like to think I’m expressing the opposing viewpoint in a debate. But, if it gets to a point where my only response is “Yeah? Well, F**K you!” I’m done.
Vocal Minority (Nathan): The best thing about FJM was that their biggest pet peeves were outdated or unsound ideas and processes. If you’re advocating for an idea that’s proven unsound or unwise, you’re eligible to be criticized. It’s not personal. It’s about advocating for the greater truth and educating the reader, and that’s always righteous.
PT: Because they may not know there’s a counter-point to the argument. Or, their audience may not know it and should have the opportunity to hear a different side. Or if it is willful misinformation, well, let the attacking begin because that line of reason needs to be torn down.
AJM: Presenting the opposing viewpoint in a debate is always good. Nick Canepa thinks that the Padres should release Yasmani Grandal because he’s a cheater who essentially “ripped the head off of the team”. It’s a moralist position, and while I believe it to be a minority opinion, it is not without warrant.
I believe the Padres should keep Grandal because I’m not opposed to giving someone a second chance, especially when they’re young. My practical side also thinks it would be foolish for a team like the Padres to give away valuable resources. I think most Padres fans are in this camp (although I could be wrong).
So criticism based on providing an opposing view is important. But it’s also important to criticize those who use outdated modes of thinking, as VM Nate suggests.In the interest of fairness which writers are doing these things well? Who consistently gives a viewpoint founded in reason rather than attempting to incite their audience with rhetoric? Who has accepted that the evaluation of baseball players extends much further than the bubble gum card stats we once memorized as kids? In short, who among us is writing like it’s 2013 and not 1983?
G0fRAK: Well, Craig Elsten does a good job on his 1090 blogs. Andy Masur, when he does write, is a good read. As far as people who actually get paid for writing, I didn’t necessarily agree with everything he wrote when he worked here, but Tim Sullivan. I loved reading Jay Posner’s media columns when I actually had a subscription to the UT.
PT: Who’s doing it right? Corey Brock among Padres beat writers. I think Bill Center is at least open to new ideas, even if most of his writing is grounded in ‘traditional’ stats. Frankly Geoff Young [Son of Duck] does it right, using advanced stats to back up his arguments. Sadly for the Padres fans, that’s about it.
Son of a Duck: I don’t have much to add to the larger discussion, but just want to second the mention of Corey Brock and also note that Tom Krasovic has done a great job covering the Padres over the years. Dan Hayes, when he was here, did excellent work as well.
AJM: Alright guys, last question. If you have any final thoughts throw them in to this response.
Because there is such a wide range of writing on the internet by credible people, has the newspaper columnist become a relic of the past or does the columnist still have a place in this new age of media?
VM (Nathan): Columnists make themselves relics by not keeping up with the times. What’s the average age of a newspaper columnist? It’s gotta be somewhere in the late-50’s. There’s a lot of old white men with old outdated opinions, who either can’t afford to retire or wouldn’t know what to do with themselves if they did. That’s not to say that every columnist is like that, but too many are. People in their 20’s, 30’s, and even 40’s are drawn to Internet media for the simple fact that the journalists online are more modern in opinion and more likely to share a younger person’s world view.
GofRAK: The columnist as a separate entity is pretty much dead. Because of blogs, Twitter, etc, everyone’s a columnist now. A feature reporter can do, and pretty much already does, the same job.
SOAD: A good columnist still provides value. A good columnist is also hard to find. Of greater concern to me is when a city’s main newspaper absorbs its only competition, thus limiting the options of consumers who might otherwise exert influence by choosing (or at least having the opportunity to choose) an alternative publication should the main paper fail them in some way.
PT: The beat writer has a place. Good beat writers can assist and further the debate, and I agree with SOAD that they are hard to find. I sometimes wonder if the lack of originality and/or vision we see in some newspapers is due to the direction set down by the sports editor.
Writing game summaries (ex: In the fourth, Venable led off with a double…) are extinct. I can get the highlights on ESPN or multiple other places, so why would I read a game summary in the paper the next day following a formula perfected in the 30s and 40s? I already know what happened; point out something that happened during the game I might not have noticed.
So yes, I think the newspaper reporters have a place even in this new age of media. They and their editorial staff have to open their eyes to what’s driving traffic elsewhere, however, and adapt; the ways of presenting information even 10 years ago don’t work today.
AJM: These are my take-aways from the media discussion:
- It’s 2013. Think and be like water my friend.
- Be fair: Attack ideas not people.
- Discourse leads to a more informed fan base and an informed fan base is something that can hold not only the media accountable but also the Padres organization.
- Nobody’s perfect but we can all work towards perfection.
I want to thank both David and Nate of the Vocal Minority, the Ghost of Ray Kroc, Met of Padres Trail, and Geoff from Son of a Duck for indulging me on this topic. I feel better.
I contribute to Padres Public on Thursday mornings and when I’m feeling particularly inspired. I can also be found on twitter at @AvengingJM where I offer bite size chunks of stupidity 7 days a week.
I would also recommend following @KenTremendous on twitter. He is writer Michael Schur of Parks and Rec. But follow me first.