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About Jon
Thank You For Not ...

1) using profanity or any euphemisms for profanity
2) personally attacking other commenters
3) baiting other commenters
4) arguing for the sake of arguing
5) discussing politics
6) using hyperbole when something less will suffice
7) using sarcasm in a way that can be misinterpreted negatively
8) making the same point over and over again
9) typing "no-hitter" or "perfect game" to describe either in progress
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11) commenting under the obvious influence
12) claiming your opinion isn't allowed when it's just being disagreed with

Newspapers and Blogging: The Inside Looks at the Outside
2004-12-06 14:30
by Jon Weisman
Note: The Dodger Thoughts blog has moved to the Los Angeles Times.

Times reporter Bill Shaikin was among those who agreed to participate in interviews last month for my article, "The Disposable Baseball Blogger." Unfortunately, circumstances prevented him from responding in time for publication, but he still took a great deal of time to pass along detailed thoughts about baseball blogging, and baseball coverage in general, from his perspective as a member of the working media. Here's what Shakin wrote, only slightly abridged:

To me, blogs fill a niche, serving an audience in a way that general interest newspapers cannot. The baseball writers at the Times have argued to editors that baseball coverage (notes in particular) deserves more space in the newspaper. The editors don't disagree, but our section probably won't be adding pages any time soon, so space becomes a zero-sum game. Baseball fans might argue that the Times could add space for Dodger coverage by cutting some Laker coverage, for instance, but the basketball fans would disagree.

The strength of baseball blogging, then, is that it expands a fan's options beyond moaning about the newspaper coverage or calling a talk show and waiting on hold to deliver a 30-second opinion. Write your own analysis. Use the blessing of unlimited space. I might get four paragraphs to discuss which free-agent pitchers the Dodgers or Angels are pursuing, with room for nothing beyond names and stats, certainly not for the analysis that the best blogs provide.

As I recall, Dodger Thoughts (actually, it was all of us at All-Baseball.com - Jon) invited numerous bloggers to write stories about the last Dodgers vs. Yankees game (June 20). I covered the game for the Times and visited Dodger Thoughts the next day to find some well-written stories as well as comments critical of my game story. The comments were fair - trying to convey the excitement in the stadium, the details of the game, the long-term implications for the Dodger rotation and the player reaction all in one story (and all written on deadline) made for somewhat of a mish-mash.

I bring this up to address a larger issue: What makes for a good newspaper game story? Newspapers today tend to start with the assumption that most fans will know who won the game - from radio, local TV, ESPN, FSN or the Internet - before they read the story. So we try to provide a story that tells who won and includes pertinent game details but also offers analysis and clubhouse reaction. We also try to put the daily result into the context of a 162-game season. (Have the Dodgers found a new fifth starter? How might the Angels replace their latest injured player? Is this loss tolerable because the team has juggled its rotation for the more important series that follows?)

The Dodger-Yankee game stories that appeared on Dodger Thoughts tended to be at least twice as long as the Times game story. They also tended to offer extensive detail about the game, often chronological, with some context and analysis. Understandably, there was no clubhouse reaction. Sometimes, that reaction is essential to a story - a manager explaining his strategy, for instance, or a player displaying genuine emotion. Sometimes, it's all drivel, Crash Davis come to life.

As I understand it - and I am not an expert here - soccer coverage in British newspapers tends to be more blog-like: No need to talk to the players, we saw the match, and so we write away - and rip away. Would this be a better model for a game story? What would? And how could you satisfy those readers who follow a team intensely (a blog audience) as well as the majority in the larger newspaper audience who might get the score from Fred Roggin and can't name anyone on the Dodgers besides Shawn Green and Adrian Beltre?

On another issue regarding strengths and weaknesses: In the world of politics, there has been recent commentary from some observers who believe political blogs might never fulfill their promise so long as they focus on reaction to the news and on media criticism. It's the old Saturday Night Live line: If you don't like the news, go out and make some of your own.

I'm in no position to discuss the validity of the commentary with regard to political blogs, but there might be a parallel to baseball blogs. While some bloggers can be content providing links to various media stories and offering a few comments - and those blogs can be invaluable to baseball writers, myself included - others provide detailed analysis and debate.

Those blogs can be invaluable to baseball writers too. No one writer can think of everything, and if someone else spots a trend before I do, more power to them. The seed planted by a blog can lead a writer to use his access and ask questions of the appropriate parties. I agree with the Dodger Thoughts perspective that the blogs that stand out offer original reporting - not just a "take" and not necessarily comments from players, agents or general managers - but insight and commentary not found elsewhere. I also agree that the site of the late Doug Pappas represented blogs at their best - "baseball news you can't get anywhere else," to borrow the motto of Baseball America.

While many blogs tend to use sabermetric tools in analysis and commentary - and often make compelling points in doing so - the best bloggers understand that decisions are not made in a statistical vacuum. After the Dodgers-Marlins trade July 30, I read blogs in which DePodesta was crowned as the winner of the trade on the basis of VORP alone. But there are many other factors that even DePodesta would tell you he would consider - salaries in current and future seasons, eligibility for salary arbitration, minor league depth at various positions, the upcoming class of free agents, etc. that statistics alone do not tell the story.

Another example: When the Angels signed Darin Erstad to a four-year, $32-million contract extension in 2002 (in annual salary, a slight raise), several bloggers ripped the deal on the basis that Erstad's offensive statistics did not warrant the contract. True then, true now. But there was little to no analysis of other factors - and not just defense and intangibles, which are notoriously difficult to quantify. Those factors included the lack of minor league outfielders the Angels had to replace him, the interest of other teams in bidding for him as a free agent and the likelihood that he would reject a severe pay cut. At the time the deal was signed - in August 2002 - the Angels had no idea they would win the World Series, no idea Disney would grant a huge payroll increase for 2003 and no idea who could replace Erstad if he left. It was too simplistic to conclude the Angels should have either (A) offered him $3 million per year or (B) sign a replacement-level center fielder, when the Angels had determined they needed to retain him and toward that end the more than 50 percent pay cut in (A) was not a feasible option.

There was an argument to be made, of course, that if (A) was not a feasible option, then the Angels should have let Erstad walk. In this case, the bloggers argued in a bubble - $32 million too much, OPS too low - without a discussion of the external factors that compelled the Angels to pay what they did in order to sign him at that time.

But these discussions always are more sophisticated - and more enjoyable - than the usual message board/talk show rants of how the Dodgers or Angels should trade three crummy players to Team X for one really good player, with no understanding of why Team X would possibly be interested and no second thought other than: Well, if three crummy players won't get the deal done, how about four crummy players?

I do enjoy reading Dodger Thoughts and some of the blogs linked from the site and look forward to more reading during the 2005 season.

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