"When you called yourself a journalist I laughed and puked at the same time."
Wednesday, Dan Bridges of the Indianapolis Recorder sent me an email. He was displeased with comments I had made on JMV's radio show last week. He went on to call my performance "embarrassingly inept", telling me, "your posing as a journalist offends me", while wishing me "good luck with the fan club blog".
I don't know Dan Bridges, though I do know his paper and its long, proud history. It is perfectly natural if he would experience tension because of my claim that I am an 'internet journalist' instead of a 'blogger'. I feel that same tension as well.
There was a time when I was emphatic that 18to88 was not journalism. In the early days of the site, we were exclusively devoted to fan commentary, but it did not take long before we branched out from pure opinion into the realm of original research and analysis. While that's not journalism, per sae, it moved 18to88.com into the realm of fact finding.
Since those early conflicts with Mr. Kravitz, who is a good person and has been otherwise more supportive of us than we deserve, things changed. Colts related websites began getting more opportunities, beginning with credentials for Stampede Blue to the Super Bowl. Around the same time, I permanently dropped the "Deshawn Zombie" pseudonym, and while the vets around here still call me DZ (a title I cherish, by the way), I've written all my work under my real name for more than a year.
With that change came a new focus to 18to88.com. This site has crossed the line into actual journalism. We get interviews. I have sources (no one that would impress most of you, but I get pointed in the right direction from time to time). I fact check. A few weeks ago, I was tipped off to the Gene Huey firing. I had only one source, and it was anonymous. The Colts refused to confirm the story, so I sat on it. It broke a few hours later as one of the news stations got an interview with him. I don't know if I had the story first, but I know I called the Colts before anyone else did. In the end, it wasn't any kind of career making tip, and no one really cares who breaks stories first, but we followed our editorial policy to the letter, and I'm proud of that.
This past week I was the story, or at least part of it. Perhaps that's what upset Mr. Bridges. There is no debate that 18to88.com is not journalism in the traditional sense. We are definitely gonzo. I make no claims of impartiality. Our editorial policy makes our aims clear: we support the Colts. Now, my idea of 'their best interests' and their idea of their best interests may not be the same thing, but I have no desire to profit at the expense of the team. I know why people come here. I know I have few readers who are fans of me and my writing, and that encourages me and inspires me. The vast majority of you, however, are here to read about the Indianapolis Colts. Traffic numbers don't lie. The first round of the draft got more traffic than my conversation with the Commissioner. When the team is playing well, people show. When they aren't, numbers are down. The Colts are the story, not Nate Dunlevy.
I make no apologies that my brand of journalism is biased. Everyone has bias. Even a solid reporter like Phil B. Wilson has people he likes and doesn't like. While his articles are good, what makes him so popular with Colts fans is his blog. People want to know what Phil B. really thinks, bias and all. Readers don't mind if that blog is a breach of some ancient form of journalism protocol. They want his honest opinion, and he gives it well.
I no longer believe people want 'unbiased'. I think they want accurate. I think they want insightful. I think they want honest. Once upon a time, 'unbiased' and 'honest' meant the same thing. Now, most of us no longer believe 'unbiased' exists. Writers like me have merely dropped the pretense entirely.
Will 18to88.com ever get the kind of access other media organizations get to the Colts? I can't answer that. I hope so. I feel we deserve it. I can tell you I've been approved as an accredited member of the media for the 2011 Copa America, one of the top level international soccer tournaments. A few months ago, I was accepted into the PFWA. I'm proud of that association, though Mr. Bridges found it less impressive ("That card doesn't mean squat."). I applied as a conscious choice to identify 18to88.com as a journalistic endeavor. My membership in that group is a pledge from me that the reader is getting the honest truth and represents a commitment to follow rules.
This week forced me once again to confront my identity and role in world of sports media. Am I 'an angry blogger' as was asserted by many? The tag 'blogger' has become so pejorative that I don't think it's fair. I'm currently going with 'internet journalist'.
Do I feel weird about it?
Do I think it's the right designation?