Image via SportsGrid
One of the greatest challenges facing early critics of cable news was the medium itself.
If television was the most popular and digestible medium for content consumption, could a critic’s voice be heard without going on television? If he did choose to make TV appearances, using the medium as a platform for anti-television rhetoric, was he a hypocrite?
In 1985, before the rise of the Daily Show, Neil Postman in Amusing Ourselves to Death posed a kind of hypothetical television experience to his readers. This experience would exist as a means of demystifying television of the hold it has on us by, somehow, demonstrating to its viewers the ways in which TV, specifically cable news, degrades news, politics, and culture into a reductive, manufactured, minute-long product for consumption.
Postman’s problem with his own hypothetical solution was that it was, in his words, “non-sensical”: The program would either have to be serious, intelligent discussion that also broke away from TV’s typical format of brevity, which he stated could never work because it would never achieve successful ratings, or it would have to co-opt elements of entertainment and amusement used by its targets of criticism, thereby defeating itself.
Postman’s prophecy, a testament to how sagacious a media critic he was during his time, came to fruition with the creation of The Daily Show in the late 90’s.
Jon Stewart’s success is due, in part, to him having been consistent in his philosophy on and off the air in a way Postman thought impossible. Stewart is anti-television with an optimistic Postmanesque view. He believes that television can actually be reformed into something more useful, and more specifically, he believes that it can be reformed from within. Thus, when Stewart has made appearances on FOX, MSNBC, or CNN, he has never allowed himself to be swallowed by the medium nor has he pandered to it. The conversation, in all of his interviews, always breaks down the fourth wall, because for him, being anti-television is not a shtick. He lives it.
While the Daily Show has not taken down FOX News, and cable news continues to do what cable news has done since its humble beginnings, television has been forced to be at least slightly more introspective when preparing and presenting its content. Further, those who do produce content worthy of praise from critics within and outside of television are often propelled to great success.
Today, quality can be enough. Debasing oneself is not a prerequisite.
For Internet web properties, who deftly criticize television and newspapers without concern because such mediums are outside of their own, history is repeating itself.
Take, for example, Awful Announcing, whose editor, Matt Yoder, is slowly embracing his role as critic turned Bleacher Report mouthpiece.
AA, to begin with, has never been the most vocal critic of B/R, even when doing so was popular. Sure, it’s odd that AA has always had different standards of criticism for its medium’s comrades than, say, for ESPN, who exist outside of the medium, but whatever.
Last week, Yoder hosted a podcast with Matt Miller of Bleacher Report. AA’s success in recent years has provided a means for the site to yuk it up with its subjects of reporting and criticism. At best, this is counterproductive and, at worst, probably harmful to their own objectivity, but again, whatever. Because this is still a sports media podcast, Yoder was obligated to discuss Bleacher Report as a media outlet within a media ecosystem before the two could just talk about SPORTS.
When he wasn’t treating it like a chore to even remotely recognize the legitimate criticisms that Bleacher Report has never actually addressed (i.e. labor, SEO gaming, oversaturating the market with opinions disguised as news, etc.), he was actively assisting in Bleacher Report’s PR with Matt Miller.
Yoder - “Do you feel prouder to work for Bleacher Report now? Do you feel prouder in knowing that people aren’t going to think of the slideshows anymore? They’re not going to think of the criticisms of Deadspin or whatever. They’re going to think, ‘Hey, yeah, that’s a mainstream site. That’s a site that has legit stuff and deserves to have Marv Albert and Jim Nantz read ads during the NCAA tournament.”
Miller - “Yeah, I mean, I’m sure a lot of people feel that way... I am blissfully naive about media workings. When I came in, [B/R] was like ‘Hey, we really like this slideshow format,” and because of the slideshow, I was able to write, like 3 and 4 paragraphs [about each prospect]. The slideshow actually appeals to me, and I never understood the criticism of it... But I was so proud to work at Bleacher Report because I was just so proud to say that I got a full-time job writing about football.”
The first 10 minutes of the podcast are this, exactly. And it’s a little surreal, especially when taking into account the fact that before Deadspin decided to take on “The Top 200 Ways Bleacher Report Screwed Me Over,” Awful Announcing was going to publish it. Yet here, with the opportunity to discuss one of the main criticisms of a piece that Yoder would have published on his website just a year ago, he acts as though it either never existed or was already addressed and taken care of. He treats these criticisms “or whatever” as a nuisance.
Today, Matt Yoder allowed for Awful Announcing to serve as an apparent recruiting ground for ESPN’s most recent ex-ESPNer, Bill Simmons. Just a few hours before hopping on to B/R radio for some fun talk about the media, AA published a piece from a guest (?) writer - Dan Levy, who writes for Bleacher Report.
It was, no less, a ranked list of who would be the best fit for Bill Simmons, and *shocker* the list has Turner (Bleacher Report) ranked #1. With a native ad for B/R Radio to boot!
The most irritating part about such a conflict of interest is that one can only assume the editor is not even aware of its egregiousness, and he covers media for a living. If Turner wants to recruit Simmons, do it on Bleacher Report. But to do it through what is supposed to be a criticism site is gross on the part of Awful Announcing and a bizarrely underhanded low for Bleacher Report.
But perhaps this is a sign of the times. Generally, new media goes to bat for new media, and TV criticism is more digestible than web media criticism for readers, who can only consume anti-Internet content while on the Internet. Particularly in the case of Matt Yoder, whose website is still further establishing itself, peers within the medium, especially at B/R, are good friends to keep. Fuel their success. Attack their current main competitor (ESPN) while pumping them up, and everyone can rise together.
When Gawker has criticized BuzzFeed or Deadspin has criticized Bleacher Report, not only are they making enemies, but it’s easy for some readers to dismiss the criticisms because it can be misconstrued as “competitors” attacking competitors. Really, they are just attacking a medium from within a medium. It’s a difficult undertaking and imperfect in its current form, but unlike the evolution of television criticism, there is no other place to criticize the Internet except from within.
It’s a multi-level problem, which is why Awful Announcing is choosing an easier, safer route when it comes to discussing new media’s biggest sports outlet.
Having Stephen A. Smith or Skip Bayless as friends is practically worthless, and they make for easy, safe, entertaining targets for the site’s readers. To criticize - or even address - Matt Miller and Dan Levy establishing themselves through the manipulation of thousands of aspiring writers...
Well, that’s just one criticism or whatever.