Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Miss a little, miss a lot

One of the downsides to not being a very big ESPN fan is you miss donnybrooks like the post I've linked in the title above. It's very much worth viewing the posts and responses on the blog itself, but I'll give a quick synopsis:

Last Thursday, Colin Cowherd, who hosts ESPN radio's late morning show, talked about denial of service attacks -- planned attacks on websites where so many people overwhelm the site's servers with requests that the server crashes or is otherwise made unavailable. He rhetorically asked if it would be a good thing if he could send all his listeners to a site and effectively carry out such an attack. Then he mentioned a specific blog, The Big Lead, telling his listeners go to there. I can't tell if it was just the audience overload or someone in his listening crowd actually executed a DoS script/program, but the result was The Big Lead was out of commission for a while.

According to a number of blogs covering the situation, Cowherd got his hand slapped by ESPN's media ombudsman for the toolish behavior and issued an on-air apology. The Big Lead guys are considering a lawsuit (the merits or lack thereof for which are very well summarized here), and once again, the cold-war-like conflict between traditional and electronic media erupts into an actual battle before subsiding into the current tension.

I'm fortunate to know a number of guys (and girls) in the print media, most of whom work for major metropolitan newspapers (and none of whom are named Kent). Some are assholes, but the majority of them are good people. I also know a number of guys (and girls) on the electronic side of the aisle at places like Scout, Rivals, and some independent blogs. Some are assholes, but the majority of them are good people.

And for the most part, at least below the surface, they all hate each other.

The print folks don't respect (or, in some cases, even like) the electronic folks, thinking the bitmasters didn't have to pay their dues like the inksters did. The electronic folks chalk it up to jealousy over money and viewership and give back as good as they get, citing the number of blogs written by newspaper columnists that have popped up in the last year.

Both sides, I think, have a point.

Barriers to entry tends to create a de facto quality in any marketplace. If it costs you to get something started, you're not going to do it unless you truly have a gift or can make it worth your effort. But when there aren't any costs, people who shouldn't be doing it end up doing it anyway. After all, if I can put together a blog, any schmuck can do it.

But I also feel the electronic marketplace is the ultimate in efficiency. The Chicago Sun Times, for example, can hire a talentless douchebag to write columns for it, and that douchebag will gain a following thanks to the imprimatur of the paper and the access and other perks that job entails (along, perhaps, with access to the lowest common denominator of readership, but that's a conversation for another day). A web site operator or blog writer, on the other hand, must earn whatever influence they gain on public opinion via their writing or their coding or their reporting, often without assistance from any large group. It truly is capitalism at its finest.

The Internet, of course, is still feeling itself out as a medium, trying to find the proper balance between speed and accuracy. This represents a paradigm shift in media, which has always valued speed but never imagined the speed at which the Internet can move information. The true shelf life of information has never been defined so precisely as it has in the Internet Age, where a verbal agreement of 10 minutes ago might no longer be in effect, but there's still a blog entry about it hanging around in the electronic ether to give it an air of permanency. Who-what-where-when-and-why, in computer parlance, has gone from a semi-static state to a multi-dimensional array whose values are not only all known but also dependent on what the clock says.

This is a tough time for traditional media, as the Chicago Tribune buyout saga illustrated. They're trying to battle a speed they can't match, as not even the ESPN's of the world can get info out as fast as Joe Blogger in some cases. But none of it is an excuse for what Cowherd did (which was wrong and should go beyond the bullshit apology he offered on the air recently), and it's also not an excuse for the disrespect a lot of print mavens show their electronic counterparts.

It's also a tough time for electronic media. It's still the Wild Wild West era, for the most part, and the wheat is trying to separate itself from the chaff without getting choked by it. But that's no excuse for sites looking to make names for themselves trampling all over people, figuring it's easier to apologize later than show maturity now. The Big Lead didn't do this to Cowherd, but there are other sites out there that have no compunction for the practice.

Both sides of this debate need to get together. The market is changing, like it or not, and those changes can either go roughly or smoothly. It's all up to the participants. Traditional folks need to stop looking down their noses at websites. SiteOps need to adopt the requisite level of professionalism.

Ben Franklin once said something about hanging together or hanging separately. It fits.

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Anonymous ndtim2005 said...

Well written, nice article

4/10/2007 07:07:00 PM  

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