Friday, December 18, 2009

An Interview with Jay Busbee from Jan 2008

Like many artists, writers, and creative geniuses, I have tons of unpublished material. I have several binders of ideas, notions, poems, and half-written stories. Every once in a while, I'm going to dust one off and publish it here.

Here is an interview I did with blogger, author, and longtime e-migo Jay Busbee. Jay now writes regularly for Yahoo! at their NASCAR blog, From The Marbles, and their golf blog, Devil Ball Golf.  Before blogging at Yahoo!, he was one of the many sports bloggers plugging away at independent sites throughout the web.

Back in early 2008, I sent Jay a bunch of questions about independent sports blogging, the mainstream media, and the voice of the common fan. He was kind enough to answer, and now, nearly two years later, I've decided to publish his answers. Sorry about that, Jay.

When did you start blogging? Why?

I started throwing some thoughts up on my own personal site around the end of 2004. Nothing special there, just a bit of ranting, reviewing, and pimping whatever I'd published at the moment. I didn't start a sports blog until October 2006, when I launched Sports Gone South. It was the confluence of multiple events, I was at something of a career crossroads, looking for a new angle on sportswriting; I'd just discovered Deadspin; and my agent and I were discussing how I should start raising my profile and creating more of a "brand name" for myself. I'd written the same way I write now on sports blogs for years; I used to do a game-picking column in college that was the same sort of riffing, using sports as a jumping-off point for whatever I felt like ranting about. So, part of starting blogging was for fun, and part was a (theoretically) canny career move. So far, so good; Sports Gone South led to a paying gig writing Right Down Peachtree, Atlanta magazine's Atlanta-only sports blog. (RIP RDP, ed.)

Did you have any goals going into starting a blog, or was it primarily self-serving?

The goals at the beginning were pretty amorphous - get my name out there isn't exactly a coherent business plan, you know? But once I got rolling on it, I started seeing what was possible out there. There's no major sports blog devoted exclusively to Southern sports, so that's what I'm working toward. What I think we're seeing now is more of a niche, narrowcasting sort of approach. Blogs are taking a single mission - a single sport, a single team, a single aspect of the sporting universe - and becoming the established new-media expert on that sector. I think that's going to be the best way to distinguish yourself going for ward; generalists can just get lost in the mix.

How would describe the mainstream media's coverage of sports prior to you starting a blog?

Top-down. Not that it has anything whatsoever to do with my blog, but the mainstream sports media, like the political media, is realizing that fans/readers aren't idiots, and in many cases possess more expertise than the often self-proclaimed "experts". It's not enough to give the scores alone, but if you want to go blathering on about some topic, you'd best be sure you've got something to say. I think the anonymity of the Internet gives bloggers an inherent distaste for the mindless self-promotion of certain media types. It's the logical, though nauseating, outgrowth of New Journalism, where the journalist himself affects (and, in some cases, becomes) the story. The problem is, when the journalist in question isn't particularly interesting, or doesn't have much to say, you're going to see readers clamoring for a return to the story itself - which is what blogs do.

Did MSM sports coverage have any effect on your idea to start a blog?

Indirectly. I think I started it right after one of the massively overhyped Red Sox-Yankees series - it was a regular-season one, not even a playoff - and I, like most of the rest of America west of the Hudson, was saying, "Enough of this crap. It's a good rivalry, but it's not the ONLY rivalry." So my initial blog tagline was, "Really, haven't we heard enough about the Yankees and Red Sox?" The problem with MSM, as with any powerful medium, is that the medium dictates the message. A bloop single in Yankee Stadium gets infused with more drama than a game-winning three-run homer in Tropicana Field. And that's wrong, friends, wrong on so many levels.

What do you think made sports blogging popular?

It's the old "sports bar" motif - when you're at a sports bar, you want to talk, you don't want to sit and listen to someone talk AT you. You want to rant, rave, joke, whine, laugh, the whole range of emotions. Blogs let you do that, and the best of 'em allow readers to find like-minded folks and form a mini-community that assesses sports and life without having to be told THIS IS AN IMPORTANT GAME by some outside entity. Fight the power, man!

Are you surprised at all with the growth of the sports blogging community?

Not a bit. I think it'll only grow as non-blogger-types start to realize, hey, there's some cool stuff on this here Internet! I'm always amazed at how few people, relatively speaking, actually read sports blogs. I get links from Deadspin or whatever, and it's a couple thousand hits at best. Then I get a link from Sports Illustrated, and it's SEVENTY THOUSAND hits. And even that doesn't encompass the entire fanbase, much of which is content to watch the games alone. Once blogging becomes more of a mainstream medium, not just in sports but in all media, you'll see even more exponential growth.

What is more important to a blogger's success: ease of technology (publishing, voice, etc) or quality of content?

I'd actually add "voice" as a third category to that question. It's not enough to have something good to say, it has to be stated effectively in a blogging format: fast and funny/sharp/witty. But yes, you've got to have a quality presentation - courier font on a white background doesn't cut it anymore. You need the mix of pictures, video, and content to keep the attention of the masses.

In the end, though, I think you have to have quality content to go the farthest. People will call you out if you screw up stats or mischaracterize their team - try talking trash about the Kentucky Wildcats and see what happens, for instance - so you'd better know your stuff.

How important is it to capture the voice of the "common" sports fan?

Not very. Matter of fact, I don't think there is such a thing as the "common" sports fan. Some are interested in stats, others in stories, others in rumors. I don't think there's this amorphous mass of fans out there with one common voice or perspective. As with any creative endeavor, it's essential you tell your own story in your own words. Write what you like, and the money (and readers) will follow. That's an oversimplification, of course; you could write all day long about Mesopotamian kickball if you wanted and you probably still wont get many readers. But if you try to follow trends "hey, let's talk about how the Patriots are like Britney Spears!?" your posts are going to be dead on arrival.

Do you think blogging has changed the presentation of sports coverage by the MSM in the last 5 years? If so, how?

Absolutely. We've knocked athletes off their pedestals, and that's a good thing. Take a look at the way Fox Sports presents games now - you practically want to douse yourself in holy water and bow before the icons of Favre and Jeter. But these guys are idiots just like the rest of us - probably more so than the rest of us. Of course, the end result of this idol-knocking is paparazzi, so maybe that's not a good thing. But I don't think as many people WORSHIP athletes anymore, and that's a good thing.

Could you call sports blogging a "revolution"? If so, has it succeeded? What needs to be done?

Absolutely, it's a revolution. Real-time reaction to events, the elevation of the fan, it's all useful. The problem is that there's still an ingrained distrust of blogging in general - some from MSM journalists who perceive a threat or don't want to deal with the added competition, some from readers who just don't realize the level of talent that's out there in the blogosphere. But what you'll see in coming years is columnists and editors who grew up reading Deadspin and blogs, and don't see it as "the new thing" but as just another element of the sports landscape. Bloggers will get credentials to games, and other fans will realize that blogging isn't just pajama'd freaks in their mom's basements.