An Open Letter to Bob Kravitz from a Reader

One of our readers, Lucas, sent us this.  I thought it bears posting.

Here’s a letter I wrote to Bob. I felt it was too long to post on SB. I’m relatively new to your guys’s sites, but I wanted to show my support, and wanted to let you know how fortunate I feel I am to have access to such talented blog writers. BBS, you’re clearly the best blogger at SB, and DZ, from what I’ve read of your stuff, I think you’re one of the better amateur sports writers I’ve ever read. Nothing’s perfect, but don’t lose your swag over this one, and let me know what you think of the letter I sent Bob. Keep up the good work.

Dear Bob:

I’d like to share my thoughts on the recent local “war” that’s started between you and StampedeBlue/18to88. Let me preface this with a few things:
1. I graduated from U of I with a journalism degree four years ago, was the editor-in-chief of our paper (The Reflector), and also a columnist. My specialty and passion was sports columns. I don’t mean to brag on myself, but one of the columns I’m most proud of (and one which won an SPJ 1st place award) was about Ron Artest when he decided briefly to start a record label instead of play basketball. To some extent, I’ve done a little more than dabble in this field. I’m not a journalist anymore; I’m an English teacher. But I said all of that not to put myself on the same level as you, or any other professional columnist, but to empathize with you. I know the rules of journalism, and I know what you have to go through daily. I know about accountability. I know about taking your time to come up with reliable source information. I understand all of these things completely.

2. I AM a poster at StampedeBlue and I AM a reader of Deshawn Zombie at 18to88. I just wanted to throw that out there. Does this liken me to a poor Republican or a gay Evangelical Christian? I don’t think so, and this letter is to explain why I can be both an avid blog supporter AND an educated, trained (former) journalist.

First off, I’d like to say that I listened to your radio conversations with Deshawn Zombie and BigBlueShoe (I didn’t catch KingRichard, but I don’t like his stuff anyway, so I was afraid he’d get hot headed and give us a bad name). Here are some recurring themes I heard coming from your camp:

1. A writer should have accountability. This equates to a writer sharing his ACTUAL name with his readership
2. A writer should have credibility. What’s the point of reading a story if it doesn’t contain real source information? You’re not going to get access to real source information until you provide your ACTUAL name
3. “I (Bob Kravitz) am accountable, credible and can obtain real source information, while you (bloggers) cannot.”

What I’m going to say may sound offensive, but I want you to understand that it is not my intent to upset you. Given your profession, I’m sure you’re quite thick-skinned (despite how unapparent it has been today, from how I’ve heard you behave on the radio, when at one point you even swore at Deshawn Zombie, saying “…get the damn name right…”).

Print media is losing relevance, and in some circles, is no longer socially important at all. This is a particularly prevalent concern in the world of sports editorial writing. There are several reasons for this, and I won’t get into the economical ones. But let’s just get to the nitty-gritty. The mainstream media have lost the ability to “keep up with” the growing demand for instantaneous content. Like it or not, we are living in an age when at the click of a button a reader can, within seconds, begin to digest thousands of words of copy. Unless you’re an extremely creative, unusually fast writer like Bill Simmons, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to divulge constant, salient points at the rate at which we, the audience, demands them. You spoke to this on the radio when you told Deshawn Zombie that your speed was limited by the fact that you are held accountable to come up with reliable source information. But I call B-S on this. Simmons, maybe the most gifted columnist of my generation, NEVER uses source information. Unless he’s writing a feature piece for his magazine (ESPN the Magazine), his 2000-3000 word dissertations are completely devoid of quotes, stats or figures. He relies on sheer talent and his own, witty conjecture to come up with effective columns. Now, of course his is an unorthodox style. But this is the point I’m getting at. To reach today’s readers, it’s time traditional mainstream columnists adopted an unorthodox style. Be creative. Be funny. Don’t ignore facts. Research them and dissect them for the readers, so we don’t have to (like what Deshawn Zombie does at 18to88, very effectively I might add). The quotes that you included at the end of your controversial Ed Johnson piece did nothing to enhance the readability of the column. All they did was prove that you have access to Jim Caldwell. Yes, this validates your accountability as a journalist, but it doesn’t make you seem any more credible to today’s reader. What readers want now is fast, funny, smart writing that they can not only relate to, but respond to. You can’t be fast because your idea of “credibility” (quotes that don’t add anything to a column) strangle any hope at Simmons-like potential. BigBlueShoe writes 12-15 columns a week, and he responds to readers in every one of them. You write two. For a fanbase, rabidly obsessed with football and bored by the offseason, which writer do you think will get more hits? Which writer has more loyal young readers (and don’t deny that young people are your target audience, because they’re EVERYONE’S target audience, especially in your industry)? Which writer has more longevity? What you provide twice a week, I can get from BigBlueShoe and Deshawn Zombie every day, sometimes twice a day, for free, but without the quotes. The thing is, as much as the journalist in me hates to admit it, the quotes just don’t matter anymore; at least not the way you use them. And don’t get me wrong, I don’t expect you to be a beat writer. I know the difference.

This brings me to my next point. Do you actually read what Deshawn Zombie writes? He’s a very talented writer. I’m qualified to say this. I have a journalism degree. I read Malcolm Gladwell (I’ve read “Blink” twice, and am planning on reading “Outliers” soon). I read Simmons. I read Rick Reilly. I read Matt Taibbi. I know what I like, and I know what’s good (if you don’t believe me, compare the Google hits on the writers I mentioned with your Google hits). In short, I have good taste. And Deshawn Zombie is very good. You think it sounds ridiculous to say “Deshawn Zombie is a good writer,” whether he is or not, because his name isn’t actually “Deshawn Zombie.” Well, we young people don’t care anymore about what your “real” name is. You’re out of touch if you think we do, or that we should. 

Further, I find it a little troubling that you didn’t even notice the front page story on StampedeBlue today, before news of your column started dominating the site. It was a very well-done interview with Colts hopeful 3rd string RB, Lance Ball. It didn’t take BigBlueShoe any special press credentials to obtain this interview, as far as I know. Maybe he had to reveal his real name, as he told you on the radio he was willing to do. But in the end, it was the product that mattered. It was a nice piece that the Star would never think to give us. And we, the readers, really enjoy those types of angles. There’s going to be more and more of this type of thing happening, as NFL teams start to realize the marketing potential that these blogs have. You
said on the air today to BigBlue Shoe that you aren’t threatened. Well, to review the facts, you’re out of touch, you’re apparently not talented enough to produce an insightful column that spurs mass readership more than twice a week, you antagonize the competition and you alienate young readers. There will come a time soon when people in general start giving up on you. On top of the scary prospect that, sometime in the near future there may not be a print version of the Indianapolis Star and you’ll have to rely on talent alone to churn out columns more quickly that are clever (kind of like SB and 18to88 do…), I’d say you have plenty of reasons to feel threatened, especially given the talent that comes out of these blogs. 

I urge you to read Deshawn Zombie’s “full rebuttal.” I urge you to look at the numbers that flock to these sites. I’m no expert, but once upon a time I wanted a job like yours. Now, I just feel sorry for you.

Sincerely,
Lucas

Thanks man.  I deeply appreciate it.

UPDATE:  Here’s a link to Lucas’s thoughts after corresponding with Bob.

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