Tuesday, August 23, 2011

OMG! Those Deadspin Guys Are TOTES Jelly

Nothing, it seems, about Deadspin or Grantland can be discussed without amateur dramatics. A refrain that grew in intensity over the last month reached a kind of crescendo on message boards and Twitter yesterday when Deadspin printed three pieces about Grantland: "The editors and contributors of Deadspin must be consumed with a mindless, soul-eating jealousy of Bill Simmons, working for ESPN and having footnotes." Or something.

Increasingly, blog and board posters seem to assume that, in sports journalism, Grantland is The One True Gig, and all who do not hold it within their grasp wither to sightless wraiths screaming in the void.

Now, if you're the sort of person who enjoys dismissing an entire argument because you can detect a shred of partiality ("Anthropogenic Climate Change can't be real — scientists are just making stuff up for that biiiiiiiig state school tenure money!"), you might want to bail out here. After all, I wrote a bilious screed about Bill Simmons, Chuck Klosterman and Malcolm Gladwell, and I did that out of consuming jealousy. Worse, that piece resulted in people from Deadspin noticing me and dropping the occasional link to this site on their "Good Morning, Deadspin" roundups. Bottom line, I can't be trusted.

However, if you're willing to look past my Iago-like malice, let's look instead at the three Deadspin articles that allegedly demonstrated a critical mass of jealousy:


1. A link to Katie Baker's mailbag column, which promotes something written by a former Deadspin writer that everyone there ostensibly still likes. It also features content from another Deadspin contributor. Under normal circumstances, I'm pretty sure that driving pageload traffic (and ad revenue) to your mortal enemies is sort of a bad way to go about their destruction. That said, it's a cool thing to do if you're trying to give a shout-out to your friends. And as far as consuming fixations go, that postful of pimping included 26 whole words.


2. Word counts are fun. For instance, if you include the headline, the second Deadspin piece about Grantland features a whopping 20 words. This doesn't even constitute enough to meet the standards for a jealous text. Your high-school-aged niece can crank out more words than this, sight unseen, left-handed, just about some dumb bimbo classmate's white poplin shirt from Banana Republic.

Second, the piece links to a ludicrous commercial airing on the #1 sports media broadcasting brand about arguably the #1 most talked-about sports media website. Coincidentally, Deadspin is a sports media blog. The presence of three posts about the world's largest sports media company on any website with a "sports media" brief represents a staggering non-event. It's not like opening Cat Fancy to scope out the purrrfect young Brazilian Shorthair hotties and finding that some jackass has vomited a 4,000-word essay about "Operation Barbarossa" in the middle of it.

What Deadspin's doing seems an awful lot like their fucking job. Ascribing some deeply personal motive to their doing it is like sitting in the backseat of a pizza delivery guy's car and going, "Driving, huh? Good Lord. What is it with you and driving? Why don't you spend all your time waiting for pizza to cook or walking up people's front walkways? You must reeeeeeaaaaaally have it in for roads to run thousands of pounds of vehicle across them all the time, asshole."

Further, the presence of a link to that video makes practical sense. Watch it, please — just watch it. On one hand, they'd be fools not to post something about it, since such a silly ad drives traffic, making it a good business decision for Deadspin. Two, it's just so goddamn bad. For just a moment, put aside that somewhere during the pitch phase, someone obviously made a strong bid for authenticity, demanding that everything from scene, to casting to filmic tone must scream, "100% Eastman VISION Premiere Color Print Douchebag." Forget, too, the preening self-indulgence that, yes, you know who this Simmons guy is; you recognize the word-count reference, and, yes, you care about this in the sort of significant way that would involve your potentially losing money.

What really stands out is the sensation that you're watching people with so much money at this point that even the misbegotten has no expense limit. Beyond the repugnance that makes you want to punch the bettor in the face so hard that he drops out of his MBA program, rediscovers books not written by the as-yet unindicted, and decides to put his Vegas money toward a trip to Florence, the commercial is wreathed in waste. It would actually be less offensive just to watch waste — actual waste — like someone recreating John Lennon's deranged scene from Magical Mystery Tour. Only this time, instead of shoveling mud in front of a fat woman until she starts weeping for mercy, he twitchily and ecstatically dumps spadefuls of money into a device that's half-toilet, half-shredder. Maybe something adorable could starve next to it.


3. Last but not least, Deadspin ran a corrections piece, which, combined with the two other Grantland links might have signified a truly embittered fit of pique. But they've been running the corrections pieces for weeks now, and they too have have a salient point, which is that Grantland articles often suffer major grammatical and usage errors, as well as errors of basic fact that send readers screaming for a TinyUrl link from LetMeGoogleThatForYou.com.

Plus, a lot of the comments are tremendous. I'll only quote it in part, so you should click the link and do a "FIND" on page for his name, but reader Patrick takes on Klosterman's abysmal Edgar Winter piece thus (more disclosure: I probably like this because it shares some of my quibbles with Klosterman):
This type of writing is talk-radio level discourse glossed in middle-brow pretension. Klosterman invents not one but two straw men, the philosopher behind his imaginary concept for OGWT and the "aesthetic fascist" who thinks that showing this performance on TV takes away from its "realness" (scare quotes his, even though he is not quoting anyone but himself) and then gleefully tears these imaginary philosophers and aesthetes down by proving to the poor reader why this argument he is having with no one is completely pointless.
It goes on, providing readers with their very own Chuck Klosterman Fallacy Generator to play with.

Here's the thing: readers' willingness to pick through the entrails of bad arguments probably would seem petty and jealous if Grantland hadn't been pitched with a lot of aspirational rhetoric about being a haven for high-quality longform journalism, promoting and mainstreaming the most lauded form of sports writing for the online world. Simmons took off his Daniel LaRusso helmet and said, "I'm Bill Simmons, and I'm here to rescue you! I'm here with Malcolm Gladwell!" That's fine, but if you're going to bill yourself as a repository for that kind of high-quality product, people are going to take you at your word and hold you to it.

None of this would have happened if Grantland had been sold to the readership as:
A homer bro, his dickhead lab partner who's in a band and looks like Gay Brian Posehn, the nerd from the AV Club who got a job selling PCBs for Dow, and their art chick friend who's into movies and writing in her diary gather in America's living room to smoke a lot of weed and say stupid shit while giving each other massages. Start the countdown—May, 2011!
But they didn't, and other journalists are willing to play by Grantland's rules. Failing so regularly, unconcernedly and dumbfoundingly on a basic, mechanistic "they teach AP-style usage in high school journalism programs" level will make pros take notice under almost any circumstance, not just because you've claimed to be the all-stars of the pro circuit. When even the "amateurs" reading at home and at work notice, it brings up another problem that fuels the existence of those Deadspin corrections columns: if you're going to set those standards for yourself, have courage enough to let your readership submit feedback to address errors and shortcomings.

Grantland doesn't. Murky figures behind the scenes disappear errors without notice while leaving others up for days at a time — denying readers the means to engage the text at all on a peer level. It's sealed off, immutable, beyond the filthy grasp of actual people. But that doesn't "work" on the internet, not as a standing policy, and certainly not coming from an everyman Editor-in-chief type. You don't get to pull the man-of-the-people routine while moving paper sports teams across the field from deep inside the bunker. You can only regularly fail to do basic things correctly while walling yourself off from all outside criticism and trumpeting a commitment to "excellence" if you're one guy, and at this point I wouldn't be surprised if someday I look at the list of Consulting Editors and see the name Al Davis.

Or maybe none of that is valid. Maybe Deadspin and everyone else are just pissed they couldn't get Al Davis on the phone. Maybe the Grantland fans and Deadspin critics decided to join up with Simmons' lip and Klosterman's usual bearded look and threw out Occam's razor, too, just to be on the safe side.

23 comments:

  1. Good read, I'm glad I did my morning routine of checking out Deadspin first before getting to your post as the three posts you cite were still fresh in my memory.

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  2. you make very good points, as always, but i have to say that aside from a few gems, most of the corrections post was really unnecessary crap, including the dude who completely misunderstood carles's posts.

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  3. In general, good criticism should enhance or make you appreciate a work in ways that you wouldn't otherwise. Barring that, it should highlight problems in genre so that new tropes can be written. Think Harold Rosenberg and Jackson Pollock - you might think his painting is crap but I bet if you read the criticisms you at least thought for a moment of what really makes something good.
    None of that describes the criticism of Grantland. Is 'it sucks' really the Occum's razor answer? If so, where is the Deadspin pile-on of TMZ? Plenty of sites have subscription locked comments (NY Times) or no comments (Pitchfork). Is it good? Not always. But is it the single worst thing to grace the web? I don't think that even you believe that.
    The fair question to ask of any criticism is "what is the critic trying to achieve?" What is Deadspin trying to do - are they so offended by typos and hanging participles that they'll all high five when Simmons gets William Safire out of retirement? Or should no one start a sports/pop culture website lest it sully both genres? Or will they not rest until the demon of Klosterman has been banished for good? The fact that none of these makes much sense is what leads people to say 'they're just mad Simmons hired Katie Baker'. They only want comments so Drew Margary can write 'Simmons sux!' on every article like a spurned middle school crush.

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  4. You had me at "Anthropogenic." Or, not.

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  5. @Greg. Your comparisons to other sites' comment policies are apt. Of the two sites you mention, to which one do you think Grantland would compare itself? I'd say the Times. And although the Times may lock comments, it welcomes requests for corrections. And it also prints corrections to its stories. (I'd also say it holds itself to a far higher standard in editing and fact-checking.) You know, like real journalists. And that is, I think, the point made above. If you are going to aspire to being a real journalism site, you might want to think about bringing some notion of transparency along for the ride.

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  6. @Greg: TMZ, the Times, and Pitchfork don't have anything to do with sports. (Well, I suppose the Times does, but reporting the news of sports vs. writing think pieces about sports are drastically different.) Grantland is a sports website. Deadspin is a sports and sports media site. It is well within Deadspin's purview to discuss Grantland, and the criticisms are generally along the lines of, "This site claims pretensions of high-minded sports writing and frequently fails miserably at that task."

    Your definition of criticism isn't the only definition; there's a variety of criticism that is good in that it takes apart bad works in an entertaining and edifying way. Look at Christopher Hitchens' NYT review of David Mamet's recent book for a recent example. Sometimes criticism means taking out the knives and carving up foolishness. Deadspin is trying, sometimes successfully, sometimes less so, to occupy this role for Grantland. Framing it (yet again, for the 8 millionth time) as "They're just jealous!" is simply inaccurate.

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  7. @JC,

    Good point, assuredly. But I don't think that Grantland is per se a journalism site, or that the NY Times is a comparison that anyone would make. I always thought of it billing itself as commentary, after all no one reads it to find the score of last night's game. Of the two above, I would actually say Pitchfork. The journalistic transparency you are speaking about applies to bias - an issue in journalism, not in commentary. Bias is anathema to reporting but inherent to commentary; most would argue you can't have commentary without bias. The Pitchfork comparison is more apt, they claim nothing but bias and express what they want to express.

    @Mike,

    It takes apart bad works by first declaring what makes them bad, part of which is having a criterion on which to judge. Not all criticism does this, good criticism does. I disagree with calling Hitchens' review good (I think it's the same all-smarm no-substance toss off that Hitchens is guilty of at times) but the fact that your comment was good criticism of my comment makes it possible to have this argument. Which makes it far more enlightening on any topic than Deadspin was on Grantland.

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  8. I don't think it's personal or Deadspin is bitter or anything like that, I've just all along assumed that Deadspin thinks of Grantland as long term competition for dedicated readers. In that light, harping on Grantland's weaknesses to the extent that they do makes sense, otherwise I don't really understand it.

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  9. Greg said...
    In general, good criticism should enhance or make you appreciate a work in ways that you wouldn't otherwise.

    This statement is doing an awful lot of heavy lifting here, Greg. Criticism should be fair, logically consistent and based in fact, with the aim of evaluating the quality of the subject. Presupposing that its task is to enhance the subject of its focus is absurd. Some work is bad work, and a second party attempting to enhance poor work is complicit in compounding that badness. To take an example from Grantland itself: what if a work is one of opinion commenting on objectively measurable facts? Say, an opinion about statistical baseball performance? What, then, if the facts used are wrong? Why should criticism enhance or increase appreciation for something that's literally incorrect? The critic is under no obligation to do more than point out that the rhetorical edifice lies on a broken foundation. This statement describes Grantland writers' inability to look shit up germane to their point — cf. Chris Jones on the AL East.


    None of that describes the criticism of Grantland. Is 'it sucks' really the Occum's razor answer?
    That's an unfair misreading of both Deadspin and what I wrote above. Nothing in either deserves "it sucks" as a full summary. Is "it sucks" the Occam's razor answer? No, but that also wasn't given as one.

    However, "This is a website that makes substantial factual errors and employs logical fallacies on a thorough weekly basis that belie their vocal commitment to great journalism," is a much better candidate for an Occam's razor answer than, "I know for a fact that these journalists must have wanted a job at Grantland or at least a job that pays as well, with as high a profile, and since they've been spurned, they're going to enact a tortured and silly vengeance."

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  10. If so, where is the Deadspin pile-on of TMZ?
    TMZ is not a sports website.

    Plenty of sites have subscription locked comments (NY Times) or no comments (Pitchfork).
    You can comment on the NYT with a valid email address after about 90 seconds of free registration process. Pitchfork is also not a sports website.

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  11. What is Deadspin trying to do - are they so offended by typos and hanging participles that they'll all high five when Simmons gets William Safire out of retirement? Or should no one start a sports/pop culture website lest it sully both genres? Or will they not rest until the demon of Klosterman has been banished for good? The fact that none of these makes much sense is what leads people to say 'they're just mad Simmons hired Katie Baker'.
    I agree. None of the straw men you've just propped up here makes much sense.

    They only want comments so Drew Margary can write 'Simmons sux!' on every article like a spurned middle school crush.
    And now we're back to jealousy.

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  12. But I don't think that Grantland is per se a journalism site
    Yes, but Deadspin and critics aren't operating off your estimation of what Grantland is. They're operating off what Grantland sold itself as and the approach many of their pieces take.

    no one reads it to find the score of last night's game.
    No one reads Sports Illustrated magazine for this purpose either. That's not a reasonable basis to determine that something is not journalism, especially when that something claims that it is (and that's assuming that you're pushing aside the oral histories, long-form character profiles or Katie Baker's excellent daily-paper-installment-quality coverage of the Islanders' arena — all of which fall easily within the bounds of journalism).

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  13. Bias is anathema to reporting but inherent to commentary
    Seriously? People haven't used bias to disqualify pieces from the "journalism" label since the mid-1960s, with the "new journalism." Look at the second word in the name.

    I disagree with calling Hitchens' review good (I think it's the same all-smarm no-substance toss off that Hitchens is guilty of at times)
    In the span of about 1,000 words, he enumerates several errors of fact, errors of omission and logical fallacies that underpin Mamet's philosophy. It tonally summarizes the book while giving you an idea of its origins. Hitchens is a bloated prick who should be waterboarded every day without the security of a safe word, but that's a very reasonable, efficient critical review that delivers a lot of ideas for the space available.

    At this point, I and others could probably be forgiven for assuming that your criteria for what constitutes bad criticism is "any criticism made by people I don't like or made against something I do," because gauging your sympathies isn't particularly difficult, while the other reasons given for your argument simply don't scan.

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  14. Sorry for the slew of comments, there. Blogger has a character limit on replies and for some reason wasn't letting shorter replies go through, so I had to break everything up and keep hitting "POST" to see what it accepted.

    Also, sorry if I'm a bit short toward the end, there. I don't mean to be rude, but I'm sure it'll read that way, to some extent.

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  15. It is your site. Given your fairly bombastic (which I mean as a compliment) writing style you were (surprisingly) gentle. Are you going to do a bit on the Republican candidates for president, or are they just doing an effective enough job lampooning themselves?

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  16. At this point, I and others could probably be forgiven for assuming that your criteria for what constitutes bad criticism is "any criticism made by people I don't like or made against something I do,"

    I disagree, or at least if it is I didn't make my point. Substitute anything you want for TMZ because if "but Deadspin is a sports website" is the only reason you can give, why are they publishing "great moments in hookup failure"? Or Drew Margary's (and I really like this article personally) advice for transfer students? Obviously they'll publish things outside their ostensible area of interest if they think the piece has merit. Obviously they think pointing out grammatical errors in professional writers has merit.
    My other contention is that I am creating a straw man by saying that grammatical/typo errors are the main concern of the Deadspin articles. From the 'Dear Grantland stories' article up as I'm typing this:
    Al reads Simmons mind, complains he is somehow a d-bag for saying Giants-Eagles is a better rivalry than Sox-Yanks. He's mad Simmons didn't homer up.
    Chase found an omitted word.
    Patrick (incorrectly) found a misused idiom.
    Dan complains a word was transposed in a quote.
    Lee doesn't like Carles use of quotation marks.
    I didn't cherry pick those; I went down from the top of the list in order omitting none. I don't think it's a stretch to say that these articles have shown Deadspin to be VERY concerned with grammer/typos. The rest are illustrations of the only other reasons I can think of that Deadspin is so very offended by the existance of Grantland. I don't think it's a stretch to say that to most readers it's not that big of a deal, we deal with less than perfect writing on the web every day and still enjoy ourselves. This is my point about saying 'if this is the best that Deadspin's got that's a pretty weak complaint. By beating this particular drum for like 2 months now you could forgive a person for thinking that they may not be up front with why they are doing it'.
    Lastly, you're accepting as a given that 'New Journalism' was just invented and accepted in the journalism field and placed on equal footing. I disagree. So does much of actual journalism (most newspapers and broadcast news, Fox excepted). Fox is actually a good example of why bias is anathema to journalism.
    You could be forgiven for assuming what you do, but I don't think you support it. I give a definition of good criticism (you call it 'heavy lifting') and then say how Deadspin isn't doing it (which is more than they've done with Grantland). If you're saying that I do a bad job of saying how Deadspin isn't living up to that standard than fine. But your argument about 'gauging my sympathies' doesn't hold water. Obviously I like Grantland, who cares? You respond to what I wrote on its own merit just the same. Are you suggesting that failing these arguments against me that you can just say 'well he likes Grantland so ignore him'. Isn't that the same as the haters saying 'well they're just jealous of Simmons so ignore them'?
    I don't want this to be a debate in the comments, I find it fun but your readers probably find it boring. It's no secret that I like this site (I check it for new articles daily, that's how I found your comments) and Grantland both, so I guess it's like watching your friends fight. Either are better than actual work, so there you go. I'll stop replying now just the same.

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  17. From one of Simmons' mailbags:

    "Q: Honestly, you are the WORST person I have ever watched on ESPN. You, as a person, are completely non-descript. Your even worse than your uncle and my friends & I can hardly believe that we've found someone who's more boring than him. Honest to God, your terrible. Do us a favor and pick a good trade school and get out of sport's media business. Geez.
    — Ron Cromer, Pubelo, Colorado

    SG: Why don't you do us a favor and get out of a city named after pubes?"

    That joke was written by a man in his forties who has tried to sell his ability to run an intelligent, ground-breaking site on sports and pop culture. Look at this hack. He's not even being ironic; he actually thought a pube joke was funny. Making it even worse, he obviously failed to realize that Pubelo was supposed to be Pueblo, and is likely such a bad editor he didn't notice "your" being used in place of "you're". Yet deep in the bowels of Grantland headquarters, Simmons probably chest-bumped with Klosterman about his sick burn on poor Ron Cromer from Pueblo.

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  18. Greg:
    There's really no way to keep pushing a stone uphill against against your argument when you're still predicating it on a begged-question value definition; you don't seem to know what straw men are—except to object to my mentioning them—and you seem almost determined to misread analogy and comparisons. It's one thing to look at apples and oranges, but this feels like electron microsopy of an orange to say, "This apple looks like shit." If you're done, that's fine by me. The only thing separating this from work is the lack of money.


    Loretta:
    I honestly think that that's a deliberately stupid joke. I think Simmons knew that was a misspelling and decided to tweak a critic who thinks he's horrible by playing goofily down to the critic's worst expectations. Like, "You think I suck? Well, I'm going to write the most juvenile idiot joke possible about an obvious spelling mistake!" I think that's a very deliberate choice.

    In fact, if you want to be critical about something, what I'd focus on is how this appears to be another case where Simmons cherry-picks an obvious jerk to respond to. I haven't read one in a while, but I noticed that most criticism that appeared in the mailbag was usually of the lunatic, deranged-crank kind. Basically, it was a cheap way of trying to ward off accusations of having a "thin skin"—or avoiding direct criticism—by running these straw-men criticisms so unreasonable and so unsympathetic that you couldn't help but side with him. In my experience, he doesn't directly engage criticism very well and only does it rarely. Those engagements usually involve weaker opponents (no platform, crazy), and the peer engagements are evasive and disingenuous—e.g. FreeDarko gets "disappeared" from his book; Charles P. Pierce suddenly becomes a weirdo who was creepily trying to force a mentor relationship on him; the terms of value get switched to sales and salaries and into the realm of More Money=Better Than, etc. Anything but dealing fairly with a critic.

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  19. yeah that's a good point about not challenging his critics. you're probably right that he knew that sucked, but he had another mailbag question recently where he was under the impression that the carat on the keyboard (this thing ^) was only used in typing something that looked like a vagina, so I'm not 100% willing to give him credit here.

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  20. you are freaking cool and i love u mubuto

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Et tu, Mr. Destructo? is a politics, sports and media blog whose purpose is to tell jokes or be really right about things. All of us have real jobs and don't need the hassle that telling jokes here might occasion, which is why some contributors find it more tasteful to pretend to be dead mass murderers.