I just watched the entirety of the Costas NOW show where they discussed sports blogging. (the author of Deadspin), (the author of Friday Night Lights), and Braylon Edwards of the Cleveland Browns were the panelists.
Putting aside the rant of ???, this show was interesting to me, if for no other reason than it shows very clearly the general views of each of the constituencies in this debate.
Here is how I would characterize each of these positions:
Mainstream media: Bloggers have no accountability, no morals, and no integrity in what they write, and they are by and large idiots and losers. The writing is bad ("despicable"). We hate you because you steal our readers.
Athletes: We get a microscope on us wherever we go, and the bloggers exploit us by posting whatever they want on their blogs, without any respect for our privacy.
Bloggers: Don't come after us with the rantings of commenters on our blogs - comments are a free forum where anyone can post whatever they want. Blogging is a meritocracy, where you have to work hard and be a good and consistent writer to develop a readership in a more competitive world than mainstream media.
There is some merit to each of these views, however Bob Costas fails to moderate the agreement on his show to clearly get at the truth of blogging.
Blogging IS the mainstream media, without the influence of corporations and sports leagues and owners. Bloggers are not bound by worries such as accuracy, accountability, and revenue generation. This allows sports bloggers to provide much deeper and more accurate penetration into the news of the day. This also allows bloggers to abuse the lack of accountability by exploiting athletes and inserting their bias, negative or positive, into the discussion.
In defense of the lack of accountability of bloggers, however, is the current state of the so-called mainstream media. The explosion of sports media, especially the ring-leader ESPN, has diluted the media's old school commitment to things like accuracy and objectivity. In fact, my experiences with ESPN and their ilk has shown them to be little more than a blog with money. They regularly report opinion and speculation as news. The only difference between the sports blogger's opinion (often based on actual inside information that is completely unverifiable) and a mainstream media opinion (often based on actual inside information that is completely unverifiable) is the formality of the access.
I have friends that have either been on or involved with the Notre Dame football team in the past, are involved with the football team in some manner right now, or have access and insight to the administration of the University and/or athletic department. However, I do not use these friends to further my blog. I use them for perspective on the rumors and news I often report, or for unofficial confirmation of a story that is unconfirmed. But I don't go after them for stories or report on my personal interactions with them. In that manner, I may be the exception when it comes to bloggers. There are many stories I've heard from highly credible sources that I'm itching to write about, but that I refuse to report because they were told me as a friend, and not as a reporter.
And that is really the difference between mainstream media and the bloggers. Bloggers are simply reporters that are always on the record, and are not identifiable as reporters. Reporters have better access by and large, but are also restrained by the rules of their profession. And I am familiar with the rules of the profession.
I worked as the Ombudsman for the Indiana Daily Student in my undergraduate years. I was responsible for independently reporting on and criticizing the newspaper in its own pages, promoting journalistic integrity. When I was the Ombudsman, I clearly recall a conversation with the administrator at the University who dressed me down over the phone because he heard me typing when he was speaking to me "off the record." And I can tell you, the story I heard "off the record" was nothing like the story I was allowed to report on the record. And it was a very frustrating experience for me, as I was restrained by the rules of that organization.
As a blogger, I have only my own moral compass to guide me on what I do or do not choose to report.
As a consumer of both the mainstream media and the blogosphere, the reality of the situation is that there is a hierarchy of reliability in sports reporting. I would rate something like this (from least reliable to most reliable):
1. word of mouth
2. commenters on blogs
3. general message board posters
4. new, infrequently updated, or unprofessional blogs
5. frequent message board posters
6. message board moderators
7. national TV news media
8. established and regularly updated blogs (I would place myself in this category)
9. small market mainstream newspapers
10. national or very large market newspapers
11. word of mouth
From my experience, that hierarchy above has correlated to the most accurate and truthful information. And yes, I know that word of mouth is at both ends of the spectrum. That was by design.