Trash journalism

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A few minutes ago I read a piece on Jason Whitlock’s new blog. I actually didn’t know Whitlock has a new blog, or that he’s back with Fox Sports. But the New York Times ran an article about the whole ESPN.com-The Undefeated thing and, well, now I know.

And there’s something—after giving this some quick thought—that I want to say, and I direct it toward young, aspiring journalists.

OK, throat clear. Mind at ease. Here I go: Jason Whitlock is bullshit.

When I write the word “bullshit,” I mean, well, bullshit. Nonsense. Crap. He is an attention seeker and a carnival barker, just as Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith are attention seekers and carnival barkers. The difference, though, is Skip and Stephen A. would likely admit that they are, first and foremost, entertainers. Certainly, neither man would argue for his own importance. They’re print-turned-TV guys who are lucky enough to make good money to squabble, then walk off to enjoy the rest of the day. No problem.

Whitlock, though, seems to believe his own self-generated mental headlines. He is important. He is vital. He dares to discuss the subjects the rest of us are too cowardly to broach. Hell, several years ago Whitlock argued that he, Jason Whitlock, deserved a Pulitzer—and there was nary a hint of wink-wink, nudge-nudge. He truly thought he deserved a Pulitzer, and then made the case on his own behalf. That is, at the bare minimum, warped.

But it’s also bullshit. Which makes sense, because—again—Jason Whitlock is bullshit.

Here’s what I can tell you, from 20 years in the business: Real journalism is about reporting and writing and digging and investigating and determining and uncovering. It’s about nuance and detail and craftsmanship. It’s about learning stuff nobody else knows, and then presenting it artfully. It’s about educating, without slamming someone over the head with the proclamation, “I’M EDUCATING YOU! LISTEN TO ME! I’M SMART! I’M EDUCATING YOU!” The best journalists I’ve been around (from Tom Verducci and Michael Farber to Phil Taylor and Steve Cannella to Jon Wertheim and Grant Wahl to Larry Taft and Catherine Mayhew and Mike Freeman) do this job because—more than anything—they have an unquenchable desire to learn. Not to tell or to boast or to show off their intelligence. But to learn, and ultimately share what they learned.

Do most of us have egos? Sure. We love our bylines. It’s a rush seeing someone read your work. Twitter followers matter (They shouldn’t, but they often do). I want my books to sell, both because they allow my family to eat and because, well, it’s my blood and sweat. That’s certainly ego. No doubt.

But there’s a difference between having an ego and being consumed by your ego. And Jason Whitlock is clearly consumed. I mean, read the first two paragraphs of the blog post. Here: “This blog and the coming explanation are dedicated to the preservation of my dream, an aspiration I still believe lives within most of us, a goal so spectacular in its promise that cynicism, corruption and political partisanship cannot destroy it. The dream is a more perfect American union. The tool to get us there is journalism, a continuous search and exposing of empathetic truth.”

Seriously, who writes this stuff? About himself?

Answer: The same type of person who lobbies for a Pulitzer.

Here’s the truth about journalism, and I’m 100-percent convinced it’s right: The absolute best in the business (and I’m certainly not counting myself among the ranks) don’t need to remind you how wonderful they are, or explain how they desire to take you to amazing heights, or offer manifestos of self.

No, you know what they do? They write, reload, write again.

And, in between articles, they take a nap or watch a movie. Without once thinking about how otherworldly they are.

11 thoughts on “Trash journalism”

  1. The media industry isn’t very supportive to people of color, and the stats bear that out. According to the Pew Research Center, African American journalists made up only 4.8 percent of newsroom jobs in 2013, down from 5.4 percent in 2003. I’m not going to comment on this specific case, because individual cases vary, but sometimes journalists of color may find they have to be their own publicists because nobody else is promoting them or their work. Also, Muhammad Ali, Kanye West, and Norman Mailer were blatant self-promoters and they’re pretty talented. You’re welcome. Now give me my Pulitzer.

    1. Chris, there are tons of talented minority journalists to whom your point applies. Whitlock isn’t one of them. He’s been heavily promoted, has worked at the biggest outlets around, is a look-at-me! quasi-celebrity. When he was criticized by Greg Howard of Deadspin, he called Howard “Deadspin’s black mascot” and “a clever, updated Jayson Blair.” He’s just a bad guy. A really bad guy.

      1. Thank you for this. My main problem with Whitlock is that he’s a scold who holds others-chiefly black folks-to a standard he himself doesn’t meet.

        When I called him on something, I took his Twitter block as a badge of honor; here’s hoping you take him to task again in the future.

  2. Jeff, you probably will not recognize me but we have exchanged emails and tweets as far back as John Rocker regarding a variety of subjects. Since you moved to Dana Point you have big timed me (that is a joke). I don’t always agree with you, and I actually have liked some of Whitlocks blatant boasts as its sports and fun. But also agree he is a huge self promoter.

    I do appreciate the true journalist, and while I do write a blog, I do not consider myself a writer a recognize the large difference between some who writes better than his friends, me, and someone who writes well in general.

    Anyway, this was more of a way to say I appreciate your posts and tweets in more than 140 characters. And to say to make sure that you also have some fun out there. From one jaded 40+ year old Jewish father to another, its easy to go all “Get off my lawn.”

    To Mr. Farley below, I respect your point about color. Interestingly, I never thought of it as I have read Whitlock, Trotter, Wiley, etc. along with others and color hardly matters. I just look to be entertained. PS – I love Muhammed because he made points with style, while I find Kanye talented but classless. However, that is not race based. I find all the Kardashians worse. #Respect

  3. Excellent post Jeff. I’ve copied and pasted your paragraph on what real journalism is and will probably memorize it and pass it on to many others. Thanks.

  4. I’ve also had issues with Whitlock and don’t exactly miss him in my Kansas City Star sports section, but I have to disagree on Skip Bayless. I don’t believe for even a moment that Skip sees himself, first and foremost, as an entertainer. I think he’s a little worm who has taken himself far too seriously for a very long time.

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