Mark Cuban, Buzz Bissinger, and blog backlash whiplash 

It’s no great secret that there’s a blog backlash going on right now. Case in point: Buzz Bissinger ranting and raving about sports blogs. If you haven’t seen the clip of him lashing out at Deadspin’s Will Leitch, check it out — if only to glean just how rabid the anti-blog sentiment has become.

Now, I’m a huge Bissinger fan. From “A Prayer for the City” to “Friday Night Lights,” he’s one of the nonfiction authors I most look up to. But his take on blogs — “blogs are dedicated to cruelty, blogs are dedicated to journalistic dishonesty, they’re dedicated to speed” — was one of the most poorly informed thought that has come out of his otherwise brilliant noggin.


It’s not really worth delving into all the distortions Bissinger made on “Costas Now” — besides, he apologized and all but retracted his comments in a subsequent interview with Philly Mag (“Blog Battler Buzz Bissinger”) — but the incident only served to remind me of another blog crank, Mark Cuban, who sounded off about sports blogs back in March.

The difference between the two, though, is that Cuban took on not just NBA bloggers, but also attacked larger phenomenon of newspaper blogs. Unlike the profanity-lace Bissinger belch, he had a well thought out argument, which he set forth, ironically enough, in his own blog, Blog Maverick.

First, I should explain: I came upon Cuban’s rant while attending the “2008 Nieman Conference on Narrative Journalism.” Like just about every other writer there, I wanted to mill about and network. In reality, though, this meant reading through brochures and reading blog feeds on my iPhone. Right before a seminar with the gurus about their innovations in “new media,” I stumbled upon Cuban’s post. The title: “Blogging and Newspapers, a Lesson in How Not to Brand and Market.” It was effectively a rant against blogs in general — and the NY Times ones in particular.


Same as with Bissinger, I have a huge degree of admiration for Cuban, who, cliched as it sounds, is a kind of Internet era renaissance man. 225px-mark_cuban_web_20_conference.jpgMicroSolutions, HDNet,, Dallas Mavs — all that. I had the good fortune to hear him give the keynote address at BlogWorld Expo last November — as well as the less gratifying experience of watching him on “Dancing with the Stars” — and I think his blog is one of the best executive-authored ones out there. Plus, his own attempt to bankroll investigative business blogging, in the form of ShareSleuth, is truly innovative. (Read the Wired story about the venture if you haven’t already.) Obviously, the profit model for that site — i.e. Cuban trading on whatever dirt reporter Chris Carey digs up, before his investigations are officially made public — poses ethical dilemmas about as sketchy as the 1919 World Series, but it’s still an interesting experiment.

OK, so all that said, Cuban’s assault on newspaper blogging was one of the most wrongheaded things I’ve read in the entire anti-blog backlash. Yes, it’s so idiotic that I’m still miffed about it months later. Needless to say, given that I’m posting about it to TurkeyMonkey — on a Sunday, no less — I can’t quite let the topic go.

Now, you may wonder, hey, Ted, don’t you write a newspaper blog yourself? Yes. And aren’t you partly responsible for a network of 60+ blogs at The Journal News? Yes, on that count, too. And while being a kind of blog czar for a mid-sized newspaper in suburban New York obviously gives me a completely biased position, it’s also given me more than enough time to ruminate on the subject.


My problem with Cuban — who briefly tried to ban all sports bloggers from the Dallas Mavs locker rooms, until the NBA overruled him — is that he misunderstands a few fundamental functions of newspaper blogs. Namely:

1. Blogs are a secondary content management system, which is, almost inevitably, superior to the newspaper’s main CMS.

2. Blogs come in all shapes and sizes — including reporter notebooks, analysis, commentary, link fests, and, yes, snarky cespools

3. Thanks to truly robust mechanisms for comments, categories, tags, podcasts and RSS feeds, blogs represent one of the last, best ways for newspapers to elevate the overall funtionality of their sites.

Which brings me to my other beef: It’s not just Mark Cuban (or Buzz Bissinger) who doesn’t get these things; indeed, most newspapers (present company included) fail to see them, too. Remarkably, the NY Times may be one of the only papers that appreciates (a) that blogs can be seen as a CMS, (b) that they can house all kinds of different content, and (c) that they should be integrating them into their website more, not less.

After the break, I’ll explain more about how Cuban’s assertion that “a blog is a blog is a blog is a blog” is dead wrong, and that, likewise, publishers (newspaper, magazine or otherwise) who see them this way risk ignoring what may be the single greatest publishing innovation of the past 20 years.

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