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In which I am accused of being part of the problem in modern sports writing

Feb 10, 2011, 8:15 AM EDT

comic computer.bmp

Remember that stuff I wrote the other day about the future of sports writing?  Well, not everyone’s buying it.  Particularly not Andrew Humphries of the Let’s Go Tribe blog, who argues that the sort of blogging I do here at HBT is not in keeping with the “meaning-building pieces” that Jason Fry described in his excellent column that launched this conversation. Rather, I’m accused of trafficking in the “me-too tweets and blog bits” that Fry identified as the problem with modern sports writing.


While I obviously don’t agree that I’m part of the problem, Humphries’ piece is worth a read if you care about the subject because it covers a lot of territory and adds depth to the discussion even as it criticizes me. And it should also be noted that Humphries was good enough to send me a copy of his post before he published it to ask me for my thoughts.  That’s both admirable and gutsy. Would that everyone who went after someone be so damn decent about it.

My defense, to the extent I have one, is that I think Humphries is focused too much on the “long-form features are what’s important” part of Fry’s original analysis and less on the “readers want someone to tell them what the news means” part Fry mentioned.  I don’t profess — at all — to be a long form feature writer or to get into the kinds of in-depth feature reporting that Humphries cites.  But I do endeavor to do more than merely link-and-snark the bloggy bits, as it were.

I’m obviously not an objective viewer of my own work, but the goal is that, if you read my stuff most days, you’ll come away with an understanding of the topics I cover and  my take on how I feel about them. The idea: that no matter where you get the news item, you’ll still want to come to HBT to see what I have to say about it. It is my hope — as it is the hope of any opinion writer — that my opinions will help influence general opinion.   In this, I fancy my function as being roughly similar to that of a traditional sports columnist. Except I’m hitting more subjects and, rather than doing it in one or two 750 word columns a week, I’m doing it with 90+ blog posts a week.

I shot that defense to Humphries in an email last night.  His response in the addendum to his piece is that “a writer covering a dozen topics a day is writing too much” to be really adding meaning to anything.  I don’t know that I agree with that, but he may have a point. The signal-to-noise ratio of a machine gun blogger like me is probably a worthy offshoot of this discussion, actually, and it’s one I haven’t seriously considered before he mentioned it. Consider me to be considering it now.

However you come down on all of this, Humphries’ piece is food for thought in a broader discussion that I find quite important.  I know media stuff isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I hope you find it somewhat important too, if for no other reason than because the kind of discussion Fry, Humphries and I are having is what is going to shape the sports writing you read going forward.

  1. Joe - Feb 10, 2011 at 8:30 AM

    Obviously you bring a great deal of value-added analysis to the legal issues, whether they be the McCourts and the Wilpons, the latest Milton Bradley arrest, or the various PED matters. Most stories are “so-and-so made a court appearance today.” You write about what was said, what motions were filed, and what is likely to happen. This is great stuff that I don’t get elsewhere.

    Sure, there’s some snark (and I love that, too), but not so much that you can’t easily identify the good stuff.

    And I love that picture.

  2. thelucasjj - Feb 10, 2011 at 8:31 AM

    I don’t want to sound like a fanboy for HBT but the main thing I like about it is the “machine gun” posting. This site serves as an aggregate of baseball news with pointed and humorous commentary. I have to pretend I am working at work (go figure) so this site keeps me up to date on the baseball world all in one area. I still visit other sites and twitter, but since the posts here link to the original stories I read many pieces I would have never even known about. Finally many days baseball news isn’t all that exciting, and HBT’s ability to spit shine a story is where it really stands out.

  3. spergler - Feb 10, 2011 at 8:32 AM

    I will say that when I first heard of Shysterball years ago, I added it to my RSS feed, only to quickly remove it when I found out how many posts per day you wrote. It was overwhelming. You still have that problem, though the site has done a lot to cope with it by adding the “Top Posts” feature, but I think there are gains to be made in site design that would allow for further improvements.

    But in case you want to feel good about yourself: Neyer has a similar problem of having too many posts, but I try to click through to every one simply because the value added is very high. You’re the only other high-volume blogger who makes that cut for me; I check in daily and try to click through to all the posts with a Calcaterra byline.

    • Craig Calcaterra - Feb 10, 2011 at 8:43 AM

      Believe me, formatting is a difficult nut to crack. Seriously: if you or anyone else has ideas on better ways to feature and present the many, many posts we do here, we’re all ears. Deadspin just did a redesign many people are hating on, but I do think such a format may be useful for keeping older content “above the fold” as it were.

      • umrguy42 - Feb 10, 2011 at 3:19 PM

        Craig, as a Gawker (well, Kotaku, technically) user, lemme just say, I find their redesign to be terrible. Explore new methods if you must, but don’t go that route…

  4. TomTom - Feb 10, 2011 at 8:33 AM

    Because I don’t have time to read all of the team-specific blogs, I come here for quick snippits of what’s happening in the world of baseball and I truly enjoy your snarky-yet-honest style of writing. So whether or not you’re part of the problem or part of the solution, I don’t care. I enjoy reading this blog and will continue to do so.

    Isn’t only real newspaper writers and current hack/non bloggers like Murray Chass supposed to go after bloggers? Now bloggers are turning on themselves? What’s the world coming to?

    • Craig Calcaterra - Feb 10, 2011 at 8:42 AM

      I think it’s great when bloggers thoughtfully criticize one-another. It helps everyone get better. The worst thing in the world is when people are thin-skinned about such things or when people engage in groupthink. It’s easy to do, but it’s an impulse we must strive to avoid.

      • trevorb06 - Feb 10, 2011 at 12:44 PM

        You know it isn’t a shot against you, either, if the guy sends you his posting BEFORE he even posts it. If it was something truly offensive to you and you had a reasonable arguement as to why he probably would have revised it before posting.

    • newpairofsox - Feb 10, 2011 at 12:30 PM

      Well put.

  5. fuggles7 - Feb 10, 2011 at 8:44 AM

    And for the record, does Andrew Humphries have any minions??

  6. largebill - Feb 10, 2011 at 9:17 AM

    Maybe it’s just me, but why isn’t there room for all styles. Bloggers can be in depth thoughtful analysts and they can be news aggregaters. Just as I never understood the fight between some beat writers and bloggers I don’t get this either. To paraphrase a great philosopher, “Can’t we just get along?”

    • Craig Calcaterra - Feb 10, 2011 at 9:21 AM

      Oh, I don’t think anyone is saying that there can’t be all sorts of styles out there. I think Fry’s original point is about the sort of style that may prove valuable for media companies trying to turn a profit in the new world without selling their soul and integrity to do so.

      Some blogging that I totally love is just never going to be commercial like that and of course I hope it continues. Some blogging that is utterly commercial (Bleacher Report) is awful and I hope it doesn’t come to dominate the field. Fry is trying to identify a sweet spot that will both provide insight and value for its own sake while simultaneously attracting enough readers to make the model viable for media companies, newspapers and the like.

      • Jonny 5 - Feb 10, 2011 at 2:31 PM

        “Some blogging that is utterly commercial (Bleacher Report) is awful and I hope it doesn’t come to dominate the field.”

        I must admit, from time to time I eat up some BR crap and love it. Although for the most part it tastes like what it is.

    • woodenulykteneau - Feb 10, 2011 at 10:41 AM

      Unfortunately, lost on Humphries is that the Fry piece was directed towards the paid, mainstream media working a specific beat for a specific market. Never mind that Fry made that clear in the lede (which I strongly suspect Humphries does not spell that way, much less understand what one is).

      Fry was asking the pros to stop running with the pack, which has grown in quantity by the proliferation of technology, and use their skills to differentiate themselves from the amateurs by focusing by not on what happened, but what it means.

      The first commenter in Craig’s original post about the future of writing about sports, nailed it: Newspapers and magazines have had this problem for a very long time. What’s changed is that as they’ve migrated online, they’ve given into the temptation to use that technology in the same way. Like the mythical John Henry, they’re competing against the steam engine instead of sifting for gold.

      The irony (thanks, I’m here all week), is that Craig is doing what Fry is advocating, but on a meta basis. He’s filtering the opinions of others who are telling us what they think it means, and then telling *us* what he thinks it means. Humphries confuses the volume of Craig’s output without considering (or acknowledging) the volume of the input. Perhaps he’s unaware that there are some businesses that charge a pretty penny for that service?

  7. Jonny 5 - Feb 10, 2011 at 9:23 AM

    There’s a market for everyone. I wouldn’t say any are a “problem”. Just different. Different formats appeal to different people. I enjoy absorbing as much info as I can in any given day. I read multiple baseball related blogs, Hockey related as well. Honestly this is one of the few where I actually comment. I guess it’s the level of civility that remains even with the higher traffic. I’m a sort of sponge who multitasks I guess, so Craig, with his machine gun style approach of blogging, with the additional help of Drew, Bob, and Aaron fill my desire for info without jumping all over the place to find it. I’ve said it before, Craig, I don’t know how you do it and still manage to write very well thought out posts. Granted I see Andrew’s meaning. Craig most of the time uses other journalists work as sort of a springboard, pointing out things he agrees with or disagrees with. He does not by any means claim this work as his own. This hugely benefits the Journalists in question as well, I read 10 x more pieces than I normally would have. It’s a niche I’ve found to enjoy. Craig also does write his own pieces as well, which are very good, and maybe Andrew is missing this. I see Craig as doing both, journalistic type of posts, and the directing of readers to other Journalistic pieces he may or may not agree with. And damn, even really cool goofy internet happenings as well. I appreciate the broad range of content, and see it as not only good, but helpful to other people out there writing as well, even if he’s bashing, he’s ramping up their traffic. That = $$$

  8. soleman50 - Feb 10, 2011 at 9:47 AM

    See thats the problem with you so called reporters today. You write about how you feel & not report the facts. Always throwing in your opinion does not make you a reporter it makes you blowhard like the backseat driver or the QB in the recliner!!! You give yourself to much credit. Todays writers can’t hold a candle to the writers of yesterday. It’s a lost art!!! yesterday.

    • Utley's Hair - Feb 10, 2011 at 1:13 PM

      When has Craig referred to himself as a reporter? He’s a blogger…a cellar-dwelling, booger(-and-chum)-eating blogger, and a proud one at that.

      And it appears that you just threw in your opinion. So does that make you a backseat driver or a recliner QB? Or are you an angry writer of yesterday (…yesterday)?

  9. Elwood Larf - Feb 10, 2011 at 10:05 AM

    I like your style of writing. I agree that news in general has been clouded by opinion-based reporting to the point that it’s literally impossible to get objective news on important issues, but sports writing is the perfect outlet for opinion and news to be intertwined beautifully. And it’s just baseball. As much as we love talking, writing and reading about it, no layman’s opinion is going to compromise the integrity of the game. It’s a nonissue. Thanks.

  10. BC - Feb 10, 2011 at 10:14 AM

    Humphries is a chipwich.
    Craig, keep doing that voodoo that you do.

  11. yankeesfanlen - Feb 10, 2011 at 10:36 AM

    This place is kind of like “The Office” You never know what’s going to turn up. Last week you responded to a commentor that things were as slow as a teutonic plate shift. Next hour, Mr. Fiddley-Fart retired and we had a dozen posts and 14,000 comments in a day and a half.
    And they were all good. People like the style and rarely get into it with each other as they do on the lesser blogs. They’re focused and thoughtful, wiity, snarky, playful, ironic, neighborly, concerned.Even when we get off topic and turn into the Food Network about horsemeat and Velveeta, best bratwurst cities, and cake v. pie.
    Guess I’ll hang around for the Univere’s 28th World Championship this year.

    • Utley's Hair - Feb 10, 2011 at 12:05 PM


      Or a cheesesteak…or, now stay with me here—a cheesesteak pie…? Mmmm…damn…what is this pain in my chest?

  12. sknut - Feb 10, 2011 at 10:44 AM

    I like what NBC has done with covering the major sports, it makes it a clearinghouse of sorts and I find that I don’t really need to use other resources as I feel the depth is here. I also have to agree with the other commenters that Craig being a law guy, much like Florio at PFT helps clarify legal mumbo jumbo to the layman and I suspect that this skill has never been as needed as it is now, with how much the law affects sports and vice versa.

  13. Old Gator - Feb 10, 2011 at 11:41 AM

    I have a rich, complex, sophisticated response to the whole subject, but due to jet lag it’s just kind formed a puddle of transmitter and inhibitor precipitates and sloughed brain cells at the bottom of one of my ventricles. After I sleep this off, I’ll roll up my sleeve and feel around in there to see if any bits off thought are hardening again. Meanwhile, don’t worry, Craig. I’ve identified the real problems, and they have hair.

  14. chrisny3 - Feb 10, 2011 at 12:04 PM

    Your “snark, ” bias, and spin are inevitable. As a blogger you are entitled to it, and I can distinguish the subjective part from the factual information. What I would just hope in the future is that you take more care to accurately portray a story and avoid mistakes.

    For example —
    1) the Wilpon piece where you inaccurately quoted Frank Cashen, implying wrongly that Cashen was accusing Wilpon of acting in unison with Madoff. This is not a minor mistake, and, yes, I know you corrected it, but the harm had already been done.

    2) the piece you did yesterday were you incorrectly opined that none of the options the banks had concerning loans to the Wilpons and which were outlined in a NY Times article were good, when in fact the person quoted in that article said one of the options was that banks would lend the Wilpons more money to pay the judgment and essentially bail them out as they are adverse to seeing the assets upon which the loans are based devalued. Your interpretation of the article was factually incorrect. I understand it was your spin, but it was also incorrect.

    I understand your zeal at hammering the Wilpons may be hindering your ability to look at things objectively, but mistakes should be avoided at all costs. (And I’m not talking about minor mistakes akin to typos or relating to minor tangential issues which we all make.)

    • The Rabbit - Feb 10, 2011 at 12:54 PM

      “the piece you did yesterday were you incorrectly opined that none of the options the banks had concerning loans to the Wilpons and which were outlined in a NY Times article were good, when in fact the person quoted in that article said one of the options was that banks would lend the Wilpons more money to pay the judgment and essentially bail them out as they are adverse to seeing the assets upon which the loans are based devalued. Your interpretation of the article was factually incorrect.”

      The Wilpons not withstanding…whenever a lender has to lend more money to avoid devaluation of assets, the lender never perceives it as a “good thing”. It wouldn’t even be considered if the borrower weren’t rich and/or high profile.The person who approves it hopes and prays that it’s a short-term situation and that the bank will recoup; therefore, I would say that the interpretation is factually correct. BTW-I grew up a Mets fan and have no bias regarding the Wilpons other than my opinions regarding the team it puts on the field.

      • chrisny3 - Feb 10, 2011 at 1:48 PM

        I would buy into this excuse if Craig had in fact reported that option in his article. He only talked about the banks calling back the loans. Further, his pronouncement was clearly from the perspective of the Wilpons/Katz. He said “… none of which are good for the Wilpons and Katz.” He wasn’t talking about the banks’ perspective. He was talking about the Wilpons/Katz.

        So, Craig’s interpretation of the NYT’s article was in error. From the banks perspective, yeah, further loans may not be great. But from the Wilpons/Katz perspective, it would be a very good thing and could be just the thing to tide them over and save their ownership position.

      • The Rabbit - Feb 10, 2011 at 3:51 PM

        “none of the options the banks had concerning loans to the Wilpons and which were outlined in a NY Times article were good”

        This is your quote and the one to which I responded. It is factually correct.
        Certainly, if the Wilpons can find a lender who are willing to gamble on repayment, good for them. However, another consideration for any lender should be the conditions that allowed the Wilpons to end up in their current situation.
        Whenever anyone promises long term yields far above the normal market, it’s either high risk (that pesky risk vs reward thing) or BS. Madoff and parasites like him manage to hook those who are totally ignorant of how the investment markets work or the excessively greedy. I find it hard to believe that the Wilpons are that dumb; therefore, I’ll vote for greed.
        Unless the Wilpons have acquired new values, they are still easy marks.
        If I were a lending officer, I’d be thinking hard about throwing more money at them.
        (You can take the Wilpons name out and substitute any one of the market savvy “victims” and I’d make the same comments.)

  15. The Rabbit - Feb 10, 2011 at 12:33 PM

    I’m a Calcaterra fangirl who followed Craig from Shysterball to HBT. I’ve even designed a feed that informs me when Craig has a new post.
    I’m also old; therefore, I predate computers and the net and once relied on the traditional sport writers from the city newspaper for analysis and info. The quality of writing from the mainstream is like any other profession, i.e., on a bell shaped curve from excellent to awful….and just as today, some writers and bloggers were/are tools of owners or some other entity so the “thoughtful in-depth analysis” is skewed. The “good old days” weren’t always as good as some might have you believe.
    I don’t follow this site for the daily AP news recap of trades nor do I need 5000 words on why the Royals traded Greinke or the status of the Yankee rotation. There are plenty of writers and sites for that level of analysis…and contrary to Humphries stance that fewer, more wordy articles are preferable, many are not well written or insightful.
    Craig brings something to the table that I haven’t found anywhere else: Commentary with keen insight (and a nice dose of snark) that doesn’t need a million words to make the point.
    In addition, he does something better than any other blog I’ve read….Craig encourages intelligent dialogue. Many sites just attract the kneejerk, incomprehensible fan. Here, I’ve been able to gain thoughtful opinions from Gator, yankeesfanlen, Jonny, APBA Guy, among others which encourages me to read the comments and ignore the chipwiches. (Do I owe you a royalty, BC?)
    IMHO, The net has provided unlimited outlets for different styles of writers and commentators. @Craig, what BC said.

    • Jonny 5 - Feb 10, 2011 at 12:54 PM

      “thoughtful” is the perfect way to put it rabbit. I’m so glad you chose that over “intelligent” or “meaningful”. Or I’d have to debate that in regards to myself anyway… BTW,Tell me your sisters name is not Patty.

      • The Rabbit - Feb 10, 2011 at 12:58 PM

        My sis is not Patty…She does live in Red Lion, is a nurse at one of the Virtua hospitals, and is a diehard Phillies fan.

      • Jonny 5 - Feb 10, 2011 at 2:28 PM

        Just wondering if she was my dad’s latest Girlfriend or not. Wouldn’t that be grand?? lol!!

      • The Rabbit - Feb 10, 2011 at 3:20 PM

        ROFL…That would be priceless; however, my sis is long-time married to the ultimate baseball fanatic. He has a room in the house dedicated to all things baseball and is in the process of visiting every major league park. They have several of the season packages to the Phillies and are heading to spring training next month.

      • Jonny 5 - Feb 10, 2011 at 3:30 PM

        Yeah, that’s definately not my pops. He’s a tried and true Motorhead with a stable of hotrods in the garage. I guess I am too, but I love baseball. He could care less. he brought me to car shows and swap meets. The first game we went to I brought him.

      • The Rabbit - Feb 10, 2011 at 4:06 PM

        Jonny, I envy your dad. I can’t afford to be a Motorhead. It cost thousands to rebuild the street rod in the garage. I paid $600 just for headers. It’s cheaper to customize my motorcycles.
        Baseball is my first love, anyway.
        BTW I swear I really am female.

      • Jonny 5 - Feb 10, 2011 at 4:17 PM

        Yeah it’s costly. We do most of the work ourselves which saves money. I have a 64 mustang, that’s my next project. He’s got too many to list, i think it’s an illness.

    • Utley's Hair - Feb 10, 2011 at 1:07 PM

      I think you only owe BC a chipwich…unless you know Drew Barrymore, that is.

  16. andrewhumphries - Feb 10, 2011 at 2:33 PM

    Craig, and everyone else who’s engaged, thanks for the dialogue. For woodenulykteneau, I can spell lede properly but, hey, whatever helps you feel superior.

    • woodenulykteneau - Feb 10, 2011 at 2:44 PM

      Spelling it properly and knowing what it means are two very different things, as you’ve amply demonstrated.

  17. Brian Murphy - Feb 10, 2011 at 5:02 PM

    “My defense, to the extent I have one, is that I think Humphries is focused too much on the ”long-form features are what’s important” part of Fry’s original analysis and less on the “readers want someone to tell them what the news means” part Fry mentioned.”

    Both of you are right. Long-form features have their place and should be more prevalent. But personal analysis of a topic is also important for the opinions of others. I think this is just a disagreement over which is more important in the business. There’s no right answer, but both serve a higher purpose than your simple game story or lineup tweet.

    Also, that’s the best picture ever.

  18. Chris K - Feb 10, 2011 at 5:59 PM

    Everybody wants to be a DJ

  19. kiwicricket - Feb 10, 2011 at 7:50 PM

    I can’t tell you how many times I have read articles or travel bits on an airplane magazine and pondered to myself….This person gets paid to write this crap??? I’m only literate when I drink but could spew out something of similar ‘value’ without taking myself half as seriously as lower-percentile ‘writers’ out there. Like someone mentioned earlier, do we need 2000 words on someone signing Frenchie? In saying this, there is a clear and utter distinction between ‘blogs’ or ‘bloggers’ out there. Look no further than PFT across the hallway

  20. macjacmccoy - Feb 12, 2011 at 12:41 AM

    “if for no other reason than because the kind of discussion Fry, Humphries and I are having is what is going to shape the sports writing you read going forward.”

    10 years ago know one would have thought blogging, or knew what it was for that matter, would have such an impact on how people read about sports. So I think its a little presumptuous that you think you guys know all the angles and can predict the way we are going to be getting our sports news in the future. The way techinology is growing a year from now there could be a totally new way we get our news that makes blogging obsolete. Kinda of like what the internet and blogging did to newspaper. Actually its less of a chance then a certainity that it will happen.

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