Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Buzz Bissinger caused quite a stir in the blogosphere last week. Appearing on the HBO's “Costas Now” with Deadspin editor Will Leitch, he unleashed what might be best described as a screed against New Media. Leitch, perhaps the most successful purveyor of newfangled sports coverage, looked jarred as the middle-aged Bissinger told him that he and his fellow bloggers were simply “full of shit.”
Fogeyism is nothing new, but the viciousness of Bissinger's attack took the world by surprise. If the lauded author of “Friday Night Lights” couldn't be expected to approach the issue with a modicum of decorum, we've reached a whole new threshold in the Pixelated Revolution.
(Bissinger has been apologizing all week. He's clearly embarrassed at the incident, but these are heady times.)
The same anxieties have pervaded Old Media for the last several years, as audiences turn ever more toward unsanctioned sources. Worse, these sources produce essentially free content. Print journalists see the future of media as the Wild West, not that of the stoic and principled John Wayne, but more like “Deadwood” in tone: profane, unprincipled and unpredictable. Gone are the halcyon days of Roger Angell and W.C. Heinz. Hello, Swearingen. I've seen the same discussions rage in the film and literary blogosphere, and everyone comes to pretty much the same conclusion. The future is now, and it is weird.
I must admit a degree of sympathy for this position. Not only do I worship Old School journalists like Bissinger, but I have my own anxieties about making a living. Blogs rarely pay off. Only the most dedicated bloggers even approach the capacity to make a living off of their writing, and most are hired by Old Media stalwarts to set up preliminary outposts on the web. For someone who gets paid by the word, blogging can feel like pouring money down the drain.
But I also have a deep affinity for the bloggers. I get most of my news online. My RSS feed is ridiculous. I believe we're in a new age of democratic outlets and accountability. Though I write for print, I have about the same access and curry about the same favor as your average blogger. You won't see me in a press box. The University of Arkansas doesn't give passes to weeklies. I have to glean what I can where I can.
I don't feel like I have to choose sides. The Boy Named Sooie blog goes live this weekend, and though it's a big step for me, it's certainly not without precedent. Max Brantley runs what is easily the best blog out of Arkansas. But what I hope will be a nice addition to the Arkansas Times' already stellar online presence will also be a symbol of my faith — faith that all those words won't disappear into the ether, that I'll have an audience, that somehow I'll find a way to put food in my mouth. For my forebears, that symbol was a covered wagon.
P.S.: One of the complaints Bissinger leveled against Leitch and co. was that they lack of a sense of history, dropping W.C. Heinz's name. But Leitch had actually read the man's writing. The Kentucky Derby last weekend gives all of us another reason to do so. Go to the nearest computer, sit down, and Google “Heinz Death Racehorse.” You'll be in tears. God bless the Internet.