The thing about jokes is that they are rarely funny if nobody but you is in on it. That’s why the “it was a joke” defense always comes across so lame. Far too often these days we see talking heads and media members use inflammatory statements and personal attacks to draw attention and traffic their way, and then when called out on it, they proclaim “oh, I was only joking”. It’s a disturbing trend in journalism and it magnifies the extent to which mainstream media is struggling to understand how to adapt to the blogging culture.
If you haven’t heard about or read yet, the New York Daily News’ Frank Isola is the latest to pull off this stunt, and this time it was shot directed straight at one of our own. Over the weekend, the Plain Dealer’s Brian Windhorst wrote that the feel coming out of the LeBron James camp is that the superstar is leaning toward staying in Cleveland as of now. The article wasn’t authoritative in tone to the point of saying this thing is over or anything like that. Rather, it was an even keeled report of what Brian’s sources were telling him.
Well, Mr Isola sure didn’t like what he heard, and so rather than do any “reporting” of his own, Isola seemingly lashed out inexplicably at Windhorst and took some rather low blows. In a piece on his Knicks Nation blog titled “Sorry buddy, but if LeBron stays put, so do you”, he did a number on Windhorst, proclaiming, amongst other things, that Windy wants to leave Cleveland more than LeBron does and that he’s already openly maneuvering for Knicks beat jobs in case LeBron goes there:
First things first. The writer of the article, Brian Windhorst, has now known LeBron since the self proclaimed King was a high school sensation in Akron. (Brian thinks of himself as a sensation as well.)
I’ve got Jerome James on my speed dial and Windhorst has LeBron. Okay, so life isn’t fair. I also know that Brian has his resume sitting in the sports office of every New York newspaper and is ready to pounce on one of our jobs should LeBron sign with the Knicks.
I sometimes think that Brian wants to come to New York more than LeBron. He’s a huge “Sopranos” fan and fancies himself as LeBron’s underboss.
I’m guessing it absolutely killed Brian to write that LeBron is leaning toward staying. It must be true because Brian desperately wants to get out of Ohio and is essentially the best thing the Knicks have going for them: a spy on the inside working on their behalf.
But it appears that LeBron’s next move will be to re-sign with Cleveland for the next three years. As for Brian, it essentially means the parole board has rejected his early release from Cleveland. Three more years for you as well, buddy.
First thing first. I have no idea if it’s true that Windhorst wants out of Cleveland. It could very well be true he will follow LeBron wherever he goes. In responding to Isola’s article (more on that in a minute), Windhorst didn’t deny any of it. While on a personal level I would hate to lose Windhorst as a Cavs writer (as if losing LeBron wouldn’t be bad enough on its own), how could I possibly blame someone with close ties to LeBron for wanting to cover them their entire career. What I take issue with in Isola’s article is the premise and motivation of the whole thing to begin with.
Suppose everything Isola wrote is true. If that’s the case, it is unacceptable on a professional level to call out and expose a colleague like this just because you have a case of sour grapes and don’t like the implications of the facts being reported. Rather than lashing out at LeBron for possibly considering spurning the Knicks, Mr. Isola instead decides to shoot the messenger with a bunch of low blows.
On the other hand, let’s suppose that what he wrote about Brian isn’t true. In that case, it’s an even more reprehensible act to write a hack story like this in the name of “fun”. With no context to base this on whatsoever, there’s nobody else in on the “joke”. How did Isola intend for everyone to take this piece? We were to just assume that he was having some fun with the situation? I don’t buy that one bit.
For his part, of course Windhorst took the high road. As we’ve seen by now, Brian always stays above the fray and never gets personal or political in his writings. So when Vince Grzegorek reached out to him for comment on the piece, Brian’s measured response was hardly shocking, in part saying:
Frank is a good guy and has been one of the best NBA writers for years. He’s well known in New York for his strong reporting and I consider him a friend in the business. He likes to have fun in his blog and I’ve certainly had fun at the New York media’s expense for years.
Brian later put up this on his Twitter account:
Let’s put this to rest. Frank Isola is a friend. He was having some fun on his blog. LeBron/2010 is a demanding complex monster in NY & CLE
So fine. No harm, no foul? I guess you could say that. For his part, Frank Isola was on the Dugout Sports Show yesterday afternoon and addressed this issue. He says the whole thing was tongue in cheek, and he thought everyone would realize it based on the Jerome James line. If you listen to the whole interview, Isola certainly comes across as a pretty likeable guy and an extremely reasonable individual. It makes it easier to believe that this whole thing was one big joke. However, this takes us back to the original point and the question of whether a joke is really funny if nobody else is in on it.
In the interview with Glenn Moore, Isola essentially writes it off as being obviously lighthearted because it was “just a blog”. I’m not sure why it’s so difficult for members of the mainstream media to understand what a blog is and what it’s role in society today is, but these guys continue to miss the mark. Perhaps it’s unfortunate that Deadspin remains the most noticeable sports blog in existence. Not because Deadspin isn’t good at what they do, but because it seems to create a disconnect in perception among those in the mainstream who refuse to dig any deeper than the surface, and thus assume that the entire blogging medium is a bunch of jokers who revel in nothing but sarcasm and being snarky.
Speaking for this site as a whole, we take what we do pretty seriously. Sure, sometimes we even probably take ourselves a little too seriously, but for us, this is a labor of love and passion, and we strive to excel at what we do. We’re not above the occasional humorous piece and attempts at jamming our tongue into our cheek, but it’s all about maintaining context. When you look at Isola’s piece, where is the motivation for it? What purpose does writing something as ridiculous as that even serve? It’s not humorous and it’s so easily misinterpreted. But because Isola seems to think that blogs are all just a joke anyway, we would all get it.
Even in his interview he makes the point that newspaper writers aren’t paid much to begin with, and now are being “forced” to write blogs and have Twitter accounts. Any time someone feels forced into doing something, it’s going to promote a climate of laziness. If you don’t feel inspired to do something, the proper level of thought and planning is never going to be there. Because he views blogs as pretty much a throw away extra level of content, I don’t think he ever considered for one second how his post would be perceived by anyone other than himself. One of the first lessons I ever learned about writing is to always consider who your audience is and why you are telling them whatever it is you’re trying to convey. When you lose sight of those 2 principles, you create a schism between yourself and your readers, and that’s when you have misunderstandings such as this one.
Isola lost sight of who he was writing to and why he was writing it in the first place. Even though he explained that it was all a joke, he never addressed why he was making this joke in the first place. In his interview he claimed he was actually just reporting that Windhorst was saying that there’s some belief that LeBron is leaning toward staying. That point is lost in a mangled mess of cheap shots and inside jokes.
I harbor no ill will toward Frank Isola, nor do I think he’s a talentless hack. I just think he’s misguided when it comes to the blogging medium and social media in general. Brian Windhorst is a big boy and he’ll be just fine. That’s why none of this bothers him and he’s so willing to roll with it. At the end of the day, a blog post like Isola’s isn’t going to affect Windhorst’s job with the Plain Dealer or the freelance contributing work he does for places like ESPN.com. It’s not offensive to Windhorst, but it is offensive to bloggers who care about this medium.
Perhaps now I’m the one being too serious and worrying too much about this stuff, but it’s frustrating when people aren’t held accountable for losing track of the scope of the words they are being paid to write. I would expect no different of anyone who reads any of my work. When we miss the mark here, our readers tend to put us back on track in the comments section, and we are reactive to that because our readers are the only reason we do this in the first place. It’s all about accountability, learning from our mistakes, and always striving to be better at what we do. So for that, we can thank Mr. Isola, because today he made me realize that we all still have a lot of work to do to become better understood as people who are serious about what we do.