Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Writer Go Round - Writers Making News

This post is not about baseball. It's about those who cover baseball. Usually the players are the ones making the news, but for one flashy week, the baseball writers are the ones making the news. The biggest shock, of course, was Rob Neyer's sudden departure from ESPN.com to SB Nation, where he is now the national baseball editor (and he still writes). That was such a bomb on the market that for a short while, Rob Neyer was the number one trending story on Twitter. Now that's amazing. But Neyer isn't the only one. The highly popular and much lauded Wezen-ball writer, Larry Granillo, is taking his keyboard over to Baseball Prospectus. In fact, BP made a flurry of additions. Fangraphs, not to be outdone, has added the dynamic Jonah Keri. What does all this mean?

For this observer, it means that some of the power is moving away from the traditional powerhouses in sports media and shifting to upstart sites that have become just as big as those former monoliths. It also means that these upstarts like BP, BR and Fangraphs are gobbling up talent. Such a talent grab has always been the way of American business. New industries arise and a few companies do it better or get luckier and get bigger than everyone else. Soon, there are less and less competitors and those large success stories swallow up the rest. There is one difference though. The Internet.

The new industry in this case is sports blogging. This Internet phenomenon has in many ways supplanted the old style media world and spun them around on their hind corners. Some have gracefully entered the new world and others have been dragged into it kicking and swinging. Former stars for newspapers and big print services are now Internet blogging stars. Some, like Joe Posnanski, have gracefully started in the old world, joined the new one and now have feet planted in both worlds. But while Fangraphs, Baseball Prospectus, Baseball-reference and SB Nation continue to grow and expand, they won't be able to stop what the Internet does better than anything else. New writers and new blogs will continue to appear and talent will rise to the top. It wasn't long ago that Big League Stew was just a lowly blogger with big talent and now is in the big time. There will be others.

One thing that has to shake out is the definition of good writing. Currently, those proficient with sabermetrics have a greater edge. The spreadsheet and those able to unscramble the math have carried the day. Numbers don't lie and discoveries in the numbers carry huge weight with readers around the country and rightly so. But after a while, entertaining writing will always be desirable and writing can be entertaining without a spreadsheet. For every Yin there is a Yang and writers who do the math will be rivaled by writers who are simply great at turning a phrase.

There are already too many generalities in this post and the Fan doesn't mean there to be. It isn't like there is this polar shift or something. Probably the most beloved of writers is Joe Posnanski, and though he has trained himself in the fine art of crunching numbers, his popularity is in his prose. No one does it better. In this writer's mind, he inherits Peter Gammons' crown as the king of writers. Let's just hope that he doesn't get sucked into the visual media like Peter Gammons did and thus lose something along the way.

The Rob Neyer story has been the most fascinating. He was such an institution over at ESPN.com. He was there for fifteen years! He really was the bridge between the early guys like Bill James to the new guys like Dave Cameron. What Neyer did best was discover talent. He was sort of like Johnny Carson. If a comic made Carson laugh, he became big. If Rob Neyer thought you had the writing and numbers savvy, he would promote these small bloggers in his links columns and careers were made.

The Fan thinks this move will be good for Neyer. We've already seen some of his best writing in years this past week with his last couple of posts on ESPN.com and his first couple of posts on SB Nation. In this Fan's view, Rob Neyer got a little stale in his last two or three years at ESPN.com. He became less of a writer and more of a commenter on other people's writing (good or bad). Everyone, no matter how good they are, needs a change of pace once in a while. This should be a new breath for Rob Neyer.

It's unfortunate that in the wake he left behind at ESPN.com, that site's readers are not being kind to the writing being performed in Neyer's old house. ESPN.com has had a couple of revolving writers add posts in the Sweet Spot and the comments haven't been kind. And that's unfair. This writer happened to think both pieces were quite good. Look, nobody is going to replace the original. Nobody could replace Johnny Carson. But the shows that followed found their own voice and gained a good following. Give it time. ESPN.com has too much at stake.

After all this is said and done, how does the old Fan feel about all this? It's EXCITING! Yeah, it is. Many of these writers have sat in the basement like this Fan does and cranked away and built followings and created careers. There is certainly room for more. There's no reason to not try and chase the old American Dream. The Internet does provide a level playing field. And this writer is leveling his best shot. And if this is as good as it ever gets, so be it. As long as the experience is enjoyable, the Fan will keep typing. The success stories like Jonah Keri, Dave Cameron, "Duk" and so many others gives hope that if we keep on plugging, good things can happen. Best of luck to all those who found new jobs and new homes this week. Thanks for the inspiration.

1 comment:

Aaron S. said...

Nice post William. Definitely have to agree with a lot of your points.