Thursday, January 12, 2012

You Guys Stink

Jon Kurian read yesterday's TigerBlog, which asked the question about what it is that people like to read and not read and gave his feedback to TB, which sort of validated the premise.

Kurian, who works in the business office (and rarely answers his phone), said that he skipped the part that had the reproduced postgame recap and went straight to the rest.

On the other hand, TB did hear from others who said that they will always value a well-written postgame story. Or that to not write one would be considered being somewhat lazy.

So, where's the answer?

TigerBlog left out one point from yesterday's discussion though, and it was a rather big one.

Actually, it's two points rolled into one.

It strikes TB that more than simply reading about a game, sports fans would rather read something that falls under the heading of "commentary." That's Point 1 that TB forgot yesterday.

Point 2, then, asks this question: Is there a place for commentary on a college website? Can a site whose very existence is built on a simple premise - "root, root, root for the home team" - balance that charge with some critical thinking, even if that requires the institution to come under scrutiny from within?

The answer is a resounding no. Just like a professional team's website isn't going to start ripping its quarterback, a college website is never going to be internally critical.

It's all about protecting the brand, controlling the message. Even when games are ridiculous blowouts or teams are struggling through terrible seasons, college websites are at least going to be objective reporters of scores and stats and more likely going to be spinning it somehow.

And as unlikely is the ability to be critical of opponents, officials, the league office - basically anyone else. It's not the purpose.

TigerBlog - the blog, not the person - is a bit unusual in college circles in that it's more like a newspaper column than it is a college website offering.

It started out as a way of doing in-game blogging for Princeton games, except that wasn't really practical, given a whole bunch of factors.

After that, it became a supplement to the website, a place for really small announcements or schedule changes or out-of-season competition notices.

The problem was that nobody read it, and it was deadly dull stuff.

Eventually, the blog drifted into what it's become, something in the way of storytelling.

In many ways, it violates much of what TB used to believe were the top rules of writing. The motto used to be "the news is the news; your reporting the news is not news."

Over time, that motto ceased to exist all across journalism, to the point where there are media members who are way more famous than the athletes they cover. And the line between the two has been ridiculously blurred.

Like most people, TB has seen the ESPN commercials, the ones with athletes pretending to be ESPN employees, mingling with the ESPN on-air types.

The one with Dwyane Wade is, like many of them, very clever. Wade sits in the editing room making his own highlights, while the SportsCenter announcer anxiously informs him that he's missed two deadlines already.

Yes, it's funny. But hey, how is ESPN supposed to objectively cover Wade now?

TigerBlog hasn't quite reached that point, but much of the blog is a first-person (okay, third-person) account of TB's experiences with Princeton Athletics, athletes, coaches, games and such - as well as his favorite movies, music, etc.

Much of it is about what he's seen and learned and heard away from the games themselves. Some of it touches up against issues of on-the-record and off-the-record.

The other side of TB is commentary (of sorts) on events - in the department, the league, nationally.

TB often will rip teams, refs even athletes and coaches, but he'll never do it where it's too close to home, as it were. Never within the league. Definitely never within the University.

He can take a stand on an issue, even if it's contrary to an established policy, but he has to be very, very careful when he does.

And that's a huge problem. The audience really wants to hear opinion, controversial and well thought out. And the audience definitely wants to have its voice heard as well, in the form of comments on the bottom of stories (something TB often skips directly to when he reads newspapers online) or from sites like the Ivy League sports board.

TB has a policy of allowing all user comments to be posted here, unless they cross the line into inappropriate language. If they are critical to the University, so be it, because Princeton has to be able to handle that if it takes all of the positive press it gets.

Still, there's no way - at least not right now - that a college website can allow itself to get too far down any road that takes it away from what its core mission is.

In other words, the words "you guys stink" can make for a nice tongue-in-cheek headline on a blog - but don't expect it to show up too many other places.

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