A few streaming words about advertising, social networking and Mark Cuban

This poor woman just cannot get a date.

When I was 24, my Facebook profile would often display ads on the side, asking me, “24 and single?” (I wasn’t) and encouraging me to CLICK HERE for “hot, Christian singles,” in order to solve my (nonexistent) problem. On the link was a photo of three women who belonged in Playboy.

On my 25th birthday, that same ad appeared. Only this time it asked me, “25 and single?” (I still wasn’t) and displayed the three Playboy girls. Such is modern life.

By clicking on all my tabs, I can tell that Facebook believes:

  • I drink coffee (yes)
  • I am attending this year’s Kentucky Derby (yes)
  • I am an environmentalist (no)
  • I would like a job in the technology field (yes, but also no)
  • I would derive ironic pleasure from owning Sex Panther cologne (yes)
  • I am interested in how smart I am compared to celebrities (yes, but also no)*

*One day it displayed an ad suggesting that Barack Obama’s IQ was 125. That’s a good IQ, I suppose (the average is 100). But, unless you live in Missouri, you probably know a lot of people with a higher IQ than 125. And I’m guessing that if you happen to know Barack Obama, he is one of them. I doubt his IQ is within 10 points of Akon’s (117, according to the ad).

And now, a terrible seque, or, not a seque at all:

Mark Cuban.

Cuban.

Cuban, baby.

Cuban is the owner of the Dallas Mavericks and is generally awesome by almost any definition other than that of NBA Commissioner David Stern. Today on Twitter, Cuban argues the following: “The lessons of twitter, facebook and social networks..The Medium is No Longer the Message. The Network defines the message.”

I see what he’s saying, here, and I’m not sure if I agree or not. I think he’s saying that Marshall McLuhan’s assertion that “the medium is the message” (1964) is not specific enough anymore, i.e. that while Twitter, Facebook and other networks share the same medium (the Internet), they don’t share the same effect on the experience of the user.

I agree that the Internet is too versatile to be viewed as just one medium. That would be like saying paper is its own medium, only even more ridiculous than that. The way a user experiences a newspaper’s Web site is totally different than the way a user experiences Facebook or Twitter, for example. But the differences in the way users experience Facebook and Twitter are, in my opinion, negligible. So, if he’s breaking down each network as its own medium (I can’t tell if he is), I disagree.

Anyway, I think the difference (speaking only of the Internet, here) lies primarily in the difference between broadcasting and narrowcasting. Newspapers are broadcasters. They construct a product for everybody within a certain geographical area and put it out there for all of those people, which, by itself, has not proven to be a particularly profitable way for specific content to reach the people who would most likely be interested in it. That’s  where the narrowcasters — Twitter, Facebook, message boards, etc. — come in, albeit with one important disconnect: The narrowcasters are the ones who know your age, religion, how you entertain yourself and what kind of girls you like (Playmates, who happen to be Christian/Muslim/Secular Humanist/whatever you are), and they’re the ones selling corresponding advertisements.

The content producers (broadcasters) are the farmers. The narrowcasters are the grocery stores, and they’re making all the money selling tabloids and Toblerone in the checkout isle.  I have no idea how to change this or even, philosophically, if it should change, although for self-serving reasons I wish it would.

And that only speaks to the advertising. What people tweet and post on your Facebook wall is an even more effective narrowcast. These are people who know you intimately. That relationship, and the medium by which it is expressed, absolutely affects the message. The message is secondary*.

*Which is part of the reason you should not form, develop or end relationships via text message. Modern man has no less effective medium for conveying feelings than the text message.

So I’m going to end this stream of consciousness with two thoughts:

1) I did not sit down planning to write about Marshall McLuhan or Mark Cuban or anything of the kind. I’m sorry. It just kind of happened.

2) By all means, post this blog on somebody’s Facebook wall.

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Being a sportswriter: Todd Reesing’s press conference

One of my friends learned a hard lesson about sportswriting recently. He’s a young guy, worked for the University Daily Kansan last year, when the Kansas football team went to the Insight Bowl.

After the Insight Bowl, Kansas quarterback Todd Reesing was in a terrible mood. It’s hard to say why. He played well and Kansas won the game. But on the way to the postgame press conference, he loudly wondered why he had to go talk to the media*.

*Answer: Because you’re the quarterback. If you don’t want to be a star, don’t be a quarterback.

So he comes into the press conference in a bad mood. Somebody — I don’t know who it was — asked him a question about how he completed 14 passes to Dezmon Briscoe. Now, maybe you and Todd Reesing don’t find it remarkable that one guy caught 14 passes, but I think most people do. It was an Insight Bowl record, actually, and a career-high for Briscoe.

This was the exact exchange:

Todd and Dezmon, you guys — Todd, you have obviously really zeroed in on Dezmon and Kerry today. Did you have that in mind coming in? Just talk about the way you guys were able to hook up. After the first few series, you guys really were hooking up.
TODD REESING: Here’s what happened: Is they call a play and Briscoe gets open. If I can throw it to him, then it works out. And it seemed to work out a whole lot of times. And the same thing to Kerry. So we just kept doing it you know? If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right? Things were going pretty well and we just kept with it.

For some reason, people seem to have a hard time understanding what happened there, but Reesing was trying to belittle the guy. It was obvious to everybody in the room. There are a hundred decent ways to answer that question, one of them being to actually answer the question, “Did you have that in mind coming in?”

For example:

“Yeah, we knew they would be playing a lot of man coverage, and we feel like Dezmon is going to beat man coverage almost every time. I don’t know that we expected him to catch 14 passes. That’s a huge day, but we thought he’d be open quite a bit.”

Or

“No, we didn’t expect this. We usually like to spread the ball around a lot, but there’s no reason to do that when one guy is open all the time.”

Or

“Man, what a game by Dezmon today. He’s had some huge games this year, so I guess you can’t be totally surprised, but after the first quarter, I pretty much expected he’d be open on every play.”

Instead, he chose to take a story about a teammate’s big day and make it about him and his irritation with having to speak. Maybe the question could have been more concise, or more precise, but I’ve been doing this for eight years, now, and I’ve seen athletes who’ve been treated a lot worse by the media than Todd Reesing answer questions much worse than that one with a lot more decorum than that. You don’t have to like talking to reporters — I don’t think I would, either — but you should at least offer some level of respect for another person who’s never wronged you.

I tell you all that to tell you this: Nobody, and I mean nobody who wasn’t there, sees it that way. Coach Mark Mangino made a vague allusion to the Insight Bowl thing at a press conference recently, when without solicitation, he mentioned that Reesing isn’t a big press conference guy. Again, it was pretty clear to everybody in the room what Mangino was referring to. He realized that Reesing had been a little distasteful. So one of the beat writers did a note about this, and brought up the Insight Bowl exchange.

You can imagine what happened next. KU fans started insulting the writer, and bashing sportswriting as a profession. Virtually none of them, of course, had any problem with Reesing’s answer. They all ripped the question, and started making generalized statements about the state of American journalism, and insulting the writer some more, and defending Reesing, and insulting the writer some more.

Then my friend, in a risk, pretty much outed himself on the message board. He wrote that he was there working for the UDK, and he tried to explain why Reesing was out of line. My friend, and the media in general, got whacked pretty good.

Some highlights:

  • “Let’s cut right to the quick here people: the media are one rung below lawyers on the totem sh*t pole.”
  • “I guess that 20-23 year old kids can’t be immature anymore?”
  • “My wife’s cousin is a sports reporter and a good and decent guy, but honestly, I’ve never really read any of his work and don’t want to talk to him about it either because deep down I don’t want to lose respect for him.”

Things like this are the reason guys like Reesing sometimes act like this. They know that their legion of fans will defend anything they do. It’s religion.

The lesson my friend (hopefully) learned is that it’s pointless to try to convince a fan of anything he doesn’t want to believe, especially in matters of athlete vs. reporter. These athletes are their heroes. There are grown men who walk around wearing the jerseys of 20-year-old football players. That should be totally humiliating — a grown man whose heroes are football players? — but for some reason it isn’t. Reporters, on the other hand, aren’t even human. We’re some kind of slime that occasionally makes these heroes uncomfortable, and we all suck*.

*Sportswriters, local government, stop lights, the other side of the fence and the girls at your school are all things that nobody is ever satisfied with. Everybody always thinks the ones in their location are clearly worse than the ones next door.

Have you ever heard a parent of a high school kid say, “You know, I think the local paper covers our school adequately” or heard a high school kid say, “I think there are an acceptable number of hot girls at our school,” or “I think our stop lights change at the right time compared to other towns”?

Everybody thinks their sportswriters stink, and that all the other schools get so much better coverage. This will never change.

All of this is why I never wrote anything in the paper or on our Web site about Reesing’s Insight Bowl press conference. The public response was all too predictable. I knew nobody who wasn’t there would understand what had really happened, or even want to understand what had really happened.

A lot of the people who bash the sports media make good points. Most of the postgame press conferences are pretty banal. A lot of the question are the same. A lot of the responses are the same. I mean, there is nothing new under the sun, but we don’t get to write that. We have to write about relatively boring 42-21 wins in low-level bowl games. That’s (a small part of) the job. The irony is that we get the most public criticism when we do our greatest work. The real reporting that explores real issues, the stuff that afflicts the comfortable and comforts the afflicted, is the stuff that makes people the most angry.

  • Talk to everybody in Florida and find out that Frank Martin’s story isn’t as cut-and-dried as everyone wanted it to be, and people are Photoshopping your face into elephant poop (that actually happened).
  • Expose a program, like the Seattle Times did with the Washington football program, as a place where local judges are sweeping rapes under the rug, and watch the vitriol spew.
  • I’ve been called a racist, and that’s just for reporting that Brandon Rush got arrested, something I didn’t even have to work that hard to get.

Ultimately, you just have to know all this, and not care. I used to be easily irritated by reader comments and responses. I’d fire back. But then I figured out that’s like arguing with an automated recording. You’ve got to just be glad they’re reading.

90s Week: Michael Jordan

This is going to be problematic, because I think the mere act of writing about Michael Jordan is plagiarism. What can possibly be written about MJ that hasn’t been written before?

This is the challenge.

There will never be another Michael Jordan. And by that I don’t mean that there will never be another player as great at Michael Jordan. Kobe Bryant might be as great. LeBron James might be, too. But I don’t even care to argue about that. What difference does it make?

What I mean is this: Jordan was the last superstar athlete to enjoy a reverent, genteel media environment. His career largely predated the Internet, camera phones and even, to a some degree, sports talk radio.

Michael Jordan, as we know him, is a myth.


Whether this is good or bad depends on whether or not sports are important. If they are, then it’s important that we have myths like Jordan. If our professional athletes are hosers just like us, then who cares? If these are just tall men making widgets, then does anybody really care that Karl Malone missed and Jordan hit? Of course not.

This should have been the last shot of his career.

But if these people are something more than hosers just like us, if we can believe that there is some manner of good and evil at play, or that there is something inherent in certain athletes that allows them to do heroic things, and if we can believe that this is metaphorical to life, then we can believe that we, too, might have something inherent within us that would allow us to do heroic things. Perhaps not on the basketball court, but maybe in a courtroom or a singles bar or in World of Warcraft.


If sports are important, this is the reason why. They aren’t important the way that government is important. We don’t need our politicians to be mythical, because there is too much at stake. We need them to be real and accountable. We need them to be dispensable.

With athletes, it’s different. We need the generational Babe Ruth, Vince Lombardi and Michael Jordan to cling to. We need them to endure. We need a superhero.

I don’t know that it matters to me, now. But as a kid, I needed the Michael Jordan myth. I needed to believe that he was super. I needed him to be a hero. Because if Michael Jordan wasn’t heroic, then who really was? And what was the point of life? If Michael Jordan wasn’t good and right and true, then basketball wasn’t good and right and true, and I was a fool for liking it.

I’m not sure if the Jordan Myth would have happened if his career had begun 20 years later. It might be possible to avoid the New Media pitfalls, but it’s unlikely. Tom Brady is about as protected as a professional athlete can be, playing for the most tight-lipped organization in professional sports and enjoying a level of hero worship that is rare anymore, but even the details of his historic run with the supermodels easily became a matter of public consumption.

Rape charge notwithstanding, Kobe Bryant’s image has been well-crafted, too, but other NBA players have been quoted (albeit anonymously) as saying he’s a “douchebag.” Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t think this would have happened in 1995. I don’t think any NBA writer would have felt compelled to find out whether Michael Jordan was a douchebag, and even if he did, I don’t think he would have used an anonymous quote saying as much in some kind of slash piece. What would be the benefit? What difference did it make? He was still awesome. Even Jordan’s gambling problem went down historically as an anecdote for his competitiveness. The worst thing anybody ever really said about Jordan was that he was hyper-competitive. See, even his flaws were awesome.

As recently as the late 90s, beat writers were still routinely traveling with the teams they covered, on the team plane. These guys all have great stories from these trips, but there was a mutual understanding that what happened in private stayed in private. And since in those days there were really only  one or two or four writers, they effectively policed themselves.

But in the decade since, the proliferation of new media outlets has turned every little morsel of information into a story as they grapple for original content. Most newspapers still don’t bother with things like Tom Brady’s mistresses, but the bloggers and the celebrity TV shows and talk radio guys have a heyday with it. Worse, this kind of information is more often available than ever because, as Michael Phelps, Matt Leinart, Ben Roethlisberger and countless others have found out, anybody with a cell phone camera is a papparazzo.

The shirt is priceless.

The shirt is priceless.

There is something sad about this, even though as a journalist, I always root for the humanization of athletes. There is entirely too much hero worship of them, especially, I think, at the college level, where fans always believe their guys are the good guys. This causes a lot of problems. When a running back sexually assaults a girl at a party, sometimes it’s because he knows he can. In the back of his mind, he knows there will be 100,000 voices calling the girl a gold digger and cheering his name on Saturday.

But Jordan was different. He wasn’t a running back at State U. He was bigger than that, he was unreal, which was what we needed him to be.