20 Second Timeout is the place to find the best analysis and commentary about the NBA.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

What is the Purpose of a Basketball Blog?

Information is easy to find but thoughtful analysis is very rare. As I suggested in one of my recent Kevin Garnett posts, the purpose of 20 Second Timeout is not to "break" stories but to break them down and explain their implications.

A comment about my initial post concerning the Tim Donaghy situation brings to mind some larger questions about the nature and purpose of the blogosphere. On Friday July 20, I saw a headline on ESPN.com that mentioned that Donaghy was under investigation. I quickly realized that it was in fact the New York Post that actually broke the story, not ESPN.com, so I went to the Post's site to read Murray Weiss' article. Weiss gave a broad outline of some of the allegations but did not mention Donaghy by name. Clearly, this was a big story and something that any NBA fan would want to know about, so I knew that I should post something on the subject but at that point the story consisted largely of speculation and it was not definitively known that Donaghy was in fact the referee in question. I hate speculation and have no interest in publishing a "breaking" story if I don't have a solid factual basis to say something. So I decided to simply post what I knew and let my readers evaluate the information for themselves. Clearly, if a referee fixed games this would be the darkest day in NBA history--a sentiment that Commissioner Stern himself essentially reaffirmed several days later during his press conference--so I began my post with that thought. Weiss is the person who actually investigated the story, so I cited his Post article first, noting that Weiss did not mention the referee by name but that ESPN.com reported that it was Tim Donaghy. Honestly, I am still not sure that I did the right thing and at the time I wondered if I should wait to post anything until Donaghy's name was confirmed or else leave his name out of the post. By making it clear that ESPN.com had "outed" Donaghy, I felt that I placed the responsibility on their shoulders if that information turned out to be incorrect.

In the remainder of that brief post, I tried to put the story into some historical context by referencing some previous gambling scandals and reminding readers how adamant Commissioner Stern has been about not placing a team in Las Vegas as long as that city's casinos post betting lines for NBA games. On Saturday morning, I followed up that post by listing five questions that I would like to see answered about this case (none of which have been answered to this point). I understand why everyone is going back and looking at film to try to find something suspicious that Donaghy may have done but, frankly, until the questions that I asked in my second post are answered that whole process may just be a waste of time (for the general public, not for the FBI or NBA of course); we don't know what exactly Donaghy is accused of doing or how he evaded detection while he did it, so we don't know which games to look at or what to look for in those games.

Anyway, when my initial Donaghy post went up on Yardbarker, the first (and only) comment it received was "A little late here bud. But it does not shock me. Officials are corrupt. From the airline scan a few years ago to this." The latter reference is to the scandal when some NBA referees exchanged first class tickets for coach tickets, pocketed the money and did not report this on their income taxes. The thing that struck me was the "A little late" remark. My post was up within hours of the story breaking, included links to the original New York Post article and ESPN.com's subsequent report containing Donaghy's name and provided some historical context for the situation. What value is there to posting something earlier that would possibly be incomplete or, much worse, inaccurate? That is why I never waste space here with gossip or trade rumors. When Kevin Garnett was actually traded, then I made a post explaining exactly what the deal means for Boston, Minnesota and KG himself, followed by another post putting the seven for one swap in historical context.

The funny thing to me is that on Yardbarker and Ballhype, some people do nothing more than make brief posts with links to news stories on ESPN.com or other big mainstream sites. They provide no original analysis and often they don't even add one or two sentences expressing their own opinion--but these posts receive many "thumbs ups." Is it really that hard to find a story on ESPN.com and post a link to it? Does this provide some essential service to readers that they could not do for themselves? Generally, the only reason that I cite a story from ESPN.com (or anywhere else) is to post some analysis about it. I don't see the point of just mentioning that there is an article at ESPN.com. Does the "Worldwide Leader" really need the advertising? Do sports fans not know that the site exists and frequently posts articles, each of which is conveniently categorized by author and sport?

Even funnier to me is that ESPN's in house basketball blog spends a substantial amount of time linking to ESPN stories. Hey, maybe that is part of the job description, but I don't think that it is particularly hard to find the basketball articles at ESPN.com; by all means, cite an article once in a while if you have something unique to say about it or if it is really, really interesting but otherwise it seems like needless duplication to have staff writers producing original work and a blogger who is essentially advertising the writers' work.

What about when I place links in a post to earlier 20 Second Timeout posts or when I place links to a new article that I wrote for a different site? Isn't that the same thing? The difference is that 20 Second Timeout is newer than ESPN.com and not nearly as big. A new reader here might have no idea that a certain player or team has been extensively discussed in a previous post, so sometimes it is relevant to indicate that. Similarly, if I don't mention that I have written an article for another site, readers may not be aware of it--but anyone visiting ESPN's basketball blog presumably can very easily find the articles written by the site's various staff writers.

So why did I wait until nearly two weeks after my initial Donaghy post to make this post? My initial thought was that people who are posting nothing but links to ESPN.com and other big websites are not harming anyone, so why antagonize them. Also, sometimes I wonder if it would improve 20 Second Timeout's traffic even more to do the same thing; hey, posting nothing but a few links is a lot easier and faster than actually coming up with original commentary. I finally concluded that while doing nothing but posting such links does no harm I really, honestly do not understand what good it does, so maybe in response to this post someone will write a comment that will help me to understand why such posts are so popular. As for making such posts myself, I don't see that ever happening. I enjoy analyzing players, teams and events and would not be interested in just putting up some links to redirect people to stuff that they can easily find on their own.

posted by David Friedman @ 5:50 PM

19 comments

links to this post

19 Comments:

At Thursday, August 02, 2007 5:49:00 PM, Blogger Dennis_D said...

I come here looking for long analysis pieces. Please keep it up.

 
At Thursday, August 02, 2007 6:03:00 PM, Anonymous Pradamaster said...

"I finally concluded that while doing nothing but posting such links does no harm I really, honestly do not understand what good it does, so maybe in response to this post someone will write a comment that will help me to understand why such posts are so popular. As for making such posts myself, I don't see that ever happening. I enjoy analyzing players, teams and events and would not be interested in just putting up some links to redirect people to stuff that they can easily find on their own."

Umm...because blogging, by nature, is a collaborative medium, while all others are not. You can't immediately have readers click from idea to idea in a print article.

Links don't dumb down the experience; they enhance it. It's hardly an expression of laziness, but rather, a way to increase the knowledge out there. Think about it -- the ability to go to myriad other resources with just one click is something you can't do anywhere else. You certainly can't do it in print or radio, and it's a near impossibility in television. Such links increase the knowledge of your readership, and I'm assuming that's your ultimate objective with running this site.

I mean, if that's not how you roll, fair enough, but don't assume that people can find those links on their own. Besides, why would you want to make it difficult for them? There's plenty of space for your own analysis between the cracks.

 
At Thursday, August 02, 2007 6:55:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Dennis:

Thank you. I certainly intend to do so and appreciate that I have many devoted readers who follow what I write and frequently offer very thoughtful responses to it.

 
At Thursday, August 02, 2007 7:14:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Pradamaster:

Thank you for posting this response.

I certainly don't want to make anything more difficult for anyone else; I am just trying to understand something that does not make sense to me.

I agree that links can enhance the reading experience and realize that the blogosphere is a unique development in the media community precisely because of how easily and quickly information can be conveyed. There are a lot of interesting items out there that people might not find if someone did not link to them, so it is very cool when bloggers promote each other's work.

What I don't get is someone simply making a post that consists of nothing more than one link to an article by a big name writer for a large corporate website. I mean, isn't that what the "bookmark" function is for on one's browser? If I want to find Bill Simmons' newest article, it is already one click away without any blogger posting the link. Now, if someone read a Simmons' article and thinks that it is great--or terrible--and gives his take on it, that is interesting and it would make sense to provide a link straight to the Simmons article that is being discussed.

As an example of the best kind of linking, consider what Golden State of Mind did during the playoffs, making posts that contained tons of links to articles about Golden State games, ranging from mainstream media accounts to bloggers' posts and so forth. That was very useful, because it brought together in one place a lot of thematically linked material. GSoM added its own commentary regarding several of the links, too, which was great.

Is it really faster to go to Yardbarker or Ballhype, click on someone's blog post, click on that person's link to ESPN.com and then read an article then to simply bookmark one's favorite writers and click on those links directly? Granted, sometimes there is breaking news of overwhelmingly high interest--like the Donaghy story--or an exceptionally well written piece that one might think that everyone should check out, but it just seems like a lot of small, independent bloggers are wittingly or unwittingly doing promotional work for big corporate websites that hardly need the help.

 
At Friday, August 03, 2007 7:25:00 AM, Blogger Jerusalem Joe said...

I think such link-only posts make sense if you assume that part of your function as a blog is to alert people to what is going on.
I hate visiting ESPN. Their layout really annoys me and so do most of their writers and their coverage.so i do rely on other bloggers to inform me if something important is going on.that way i can go directly to the relevant pages.
That said. I completely agree with the way you run things here. I wish the majority of the media would have your attitude:
"I hate speculation and have no interest in publishing a "breaking" story if I don't have a solid factual basis to say something."

 
At Friday, August 03, 2007 8:48:00 AM, Anonymous Sean said...

This blog's information is very rich.i very like it

 
At Friday, August 03, 2007 11:07:00 AM, Anonymous Tom said...

At Ballhype, most one-link posts don't get very high -- the link those posts are all pointing to does. Clicking on that headline takes you to the story. For instace, right now on Ballhype's NBA page, the Navarro story out of the Memphis C-A is one of the top stories. A couple blogs have linked to it, but those aren't stories at the top of Ballhype -- the story they're linking to is. It's another way for people to get the important NBA news of the day.

 
At Friday, August 03, 2007 11:13:00 AM, Anonymous Henry Abbott said...

David-

Glad you're reading TrueHoop! And I also appreciate that you don't play games to get ratings on social networking sites, nor engage in rumor mongering etc. More power to you.

Let me address your criticism of TrueHoop.

To my mind, one of the sharpest minds in the world of Web 2.0 is John Battelle. I saw him speak a couple of years ago and it kind of blew my mind. One of his insights was that in an age of information overload, there is great value to parsing. Newspapers work on the notion that people want MORE information. Blogs, in some respects, operate on the assumption that we need LESS.

As in: don't go all over the web to read every friggin' bit of NBA news out there. I'll do that for you, and share the couple of dozen things a day that are really interesting.

That's why I link to some ESPN stories: because I link to everything. And I'm telling you, ESPN.com's NBA coverage is extremely good.

There is no pressure on me to promote ESPN, and wary of this kind of criticism, I frankly sometimes do it less than I might.

(Have you also noticed that my blog, on ESPN.com, links to every single ESPN.com competitor all the time? No one did that before. Most of the others still don't.)

But the truth is that just like before TrueHoop was part of ESPN, I am reading every good bit of NBA journalism I can get my hands every day and linking to all that strikes me as gold.

Sure, I certainly read more ESPN.com now, because I know the people involved. But by no means does that mean I ever link to anything that I don't think is well worth the read.

 
At Friday, August 03, 2007 4:29:00 PM, Blogger Ty Keenan said...

Excellent article.

It hasn't been said explicitly that there's a big difference between linking to smaller stories and bigger ones. For instance, I find that Henry often links to things on ESPN that people might not have seen otherwise, like the Andray Blatche story from today. However, you also get instances like the Ric Bucher referre article today, for which there's currently a full post on True Hoop as the article rests as the featured story on the ESPN.com front page. I can't speak to the article's quality--I assume it's good enough and will read it soon.

Yet I also don't find myself bothered by the front page/True Hoop convergence. Henry builds up enough good will throughout the day with his links to smaller blogs and excellent analysis that I can handle reading a post like that one. He's also proven himself to be an intelligent reader, so a link to something functions as a seal of approval. (I also take Henry at his word when he says that he links to bigger articles in the same way he did when True Hoop was its own thing, with little attention to corporate synergy.)

In the end, I think you have to keep a balance if you're going to link to the bigger articles. For instance, your longer analysis pieces are very good, so I don't think anyone would mind too much if you did an occasional link dump.

I generally agree with you, but I think there's more of a gray area than you suggest in your article.

 
At Friday, August 03, 2007 4:32:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Jerusalem Joe and Sean:

I'm glad that both of you like the way that I do things around here and I appreciate having you as readers.

Tom:

I see what you are saying about the Navarro article and the same thing is also true of the recent N.Y Post article about Marbury. I suppose it is possible that someone might have overlooked these things if a link had not been posted to them. On the other hand, if you are a basketball fan who is interested in Marbury, don't you already have the N.Y. Post bookmarked? The Navarro article basically informs us that there may be a news story here at some point--but nothing has actually happened. I'm not trying to rain on anybody's parade, either in terms of the people who post these links or the people who obviously appreciate them, based on the rankings that these posts get. My point is that I had thought/assumed that the reason that most people create basketball blogs--whether they are fans of a particular team, working journalists or fans of the sport in general--is to broadcast their take on the news of the day. I've bookmarked what I consider to be the best, most reliable news sources, so those are the places that I go to get information (in addition, of course, to my own interviews and research). So to me, if I see a link that just goes to a news article from a mainstream source or to someone's blog who has linked to a news article without providing his/her views I feel like I could have found that on my own. Nevertheless, your feedback and Pradamaster's comment have given me a clearer understanding of why such posts are popular; for people who have not bookmarked a bunch of sites and who are not interested (or don't have the time) to check out a number of sources each day this is a shortcut to finding out what stories are "hot."

Henry:

I've actually read True Hoop for a while and even posted a few comments there a while ago; I found your site when I was checking up on sites that had placed links to 20 Second Timeout.

I did not express an opinion on whether ESPN's overall NBA coverage is good. When I have agreed or disagreed with specific things that ESPN analysts have said, in print or on air, I have made posts about those subjects. My point is that it seems superfluous for you to frequently link to easily found ESPN stories (by the "big guys," like Simmons, Stein, Hollinger, etc.) because those stories are very prominently featured and easy to find. Anyone who goes to the main ESPN NBA page will immediately know if one of the "big guys" has just written a new article. As a reader, I don't feel like you are providing me a service if all you tell me is that one of the "big guys" just wrote an article. If you tell me that and then add why you agree or disagree with it, that would be interesting. Otherwise, I feel like I--and anybody else--can find such articles on my own and the space could be more profitably filled with original content by you or links to something more obscure that I otherwise might not know about.

I realize that you link to ESPN.com competitors and that is certainly a good thing. On the other hand, you and I both know that if you ceased to do that after ESPN.com bought your site that you would lose a lot of credibility in the eyes of other bloggers and I'm sure that you explained that to your bosses if they did not already understand that.

I did not suggest that you are linking to articles that are of lesser quality simply because they are from ESPN. Again, I stayed away from addressing the issue of the quality of ESPN's coverage. My critique regarding your site is that I don't see the point of frequently linking to things from your parent company that are easily found.

As I'm sure that you are well aware, ESPN bashing is a full time pursuit for a lot of people nowadays and you can see from some of my readers' comments, both here and to other posts, that not everyone is enamored of ESPN's coverage of the NBA or sports in general. I have no interest in bashing ESPN--or anyone else--just for the sake of doing it or to get attention. If I see something that I agree or disagree with strongly--whether it is at a small blog or a big website--then I write about it. This post reflects my observations about the linking practices of certain blogs, including yours, and the responses that readers have to those linking practices (i.e., one link posts seem to be very popular).

The acquisition of your site by ESPN is a watershed moment in blogging--and media--history and will one day be looked upon as a seminal moment in how sports are covered. ESPN itself and the other big corporate websites probably do not fully understand this yet.

 
At Friday, August 03, 2007 7:21:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

anymous 2

even though we disagreed on some things you give good analysis all the time. yeah this is not like a sports columnist or sports network, you totally break everything down.

 
At Saturday, August 04, 2007 1:36:00 AM, Blogger madnice said...

ive always loved the blog. i used to be illest but for some reason i cant use that name anymore. you talk about bryant a lot but its your blog. i also won some dvds from this site so thats always good. keep doin good work. even though im tired of the NBA.

 
At Saturday, August 04, 2007 3:40:00 AM, Blogger vednam said...

Your blog is good the way it is. Don't change it. I find lists of links annoying more than anything else. I'm with all the other people who like this blog for the long analysis and lack of junk.

 
At Saturday, August 04, 2007 3:56:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Ty:

Maybe I didn't say it "explicitly" but I certainly indicated that it makes more sense to me for blogs to link to stories from smaller sites as opposed to linking to stories from big, mainstream media conglomerates whose sites are easy to find and navigate. It makes even less sense to me for True Hoop to frequently link to ESPN stories that are literally one or two clicks away from True Hoop. If Henry thinks that a certain ESPN story is really worthy of special attention or if he has an additional take on what is in that story then I can understand him linking to it. However, it is my opinion that the frequency with which he links to other ESPN content makes him an advertiser of sorts for ESPN.com; I am not so naive that I can't comprehend why he would do this but that doesn't mean that I agree with it either.

Regarding the basketball blogosphere as a whole, the two things that struck me and caused me to write this post were the offhand comment that my Donaghy post was "late" and the popularity at Yardbarker and Ballhype of posts that consist of little more than a link to a news article at a big mainstream site. It may seem that I am reading more into the "late" comment than was intended but that is not really the point. It's not that I am offended by the comment but rather that the comment reflects an expectation that everything that is known or thought to be known must be posted immediately. As I mentioned, I wrestled with whether or not to include Donaghy's name in my post, which caused part of the "delay." It wouldn't feel right to me to "out" an innocent person. It is much more important to me to get it right than to get it first. My niche in covering the Donaghy story is to place it in the context of previous gambling/fixing scandals and allegations and to question what the exact logistics are of what Donaghy allegedly did, so that is what each of my posts on this subject have done. Very little was known at the time of my first post but I thought that I did a good job of providing context. In that situation, providing the links to ESPN.com and the New York Post was essential because those were the organizations that actually broke the story, while I was simply commenting on it. If all I had to say at the time was that the story could be found at the N.Y. Post and ESPN.com then I would not have made a post at all, because I assume that anyone who is interested can find ESPN.com and the N.Y. Post on their own.

In terms of "gray area," I agree that there is a lot it regarding the issues that I brought up. I'm not interested in reading or posting "link dumps" but a lot of people obviously are interested in reading and posting them, so it is important for me to better understand that part of the blogosphere. I could not figure out why such posts get so many "thumbs ups" but the comments of Pradamaster and others give me some insight into other people's internet browsing habits. For instance, if this kind of link gathering is considered that useful, then perhaps once a week I should do a post consisting of the five or ten most interesting NBA articles that I have read in the past seven days, accompanied by my comments about each one. I tend to focus more on doing in depth, single topic posts but if there is that big of an audience for something else then perhaps I can do it in a way that fits in with the tone and style of this site.

 
At Saturday, August 04, 2007 4:02:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Madnice:

I had wondered what happened to "illest."

It's been a pretty "Kobe-free" summer here at 20 Second Timeout, other than his performance in the State Farm Challenge--mainly because I don't cover trade rumors, trade requests followed by withdrawal of said requests and quotations that are gathered in parking lots and hawked on Ebay :)

 
At Saturday, August 04, 2007 4:14:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Vednam:

I appreciate your compliment and suggestion. The more I think about it, I come to the conclusion that if I did a post with several links that I would add so much commentary that the result would be a bit lengthy even for me. I guess at some level it still surprises me that--based on the rankings that certain posts receive--so many people feel better served by a post that links to an easily found article than a post that attempts to provide unique, in depth analysis. It still seems to me that there are so many news sources--ESPN, SI, Fox Sports, AP wire, etc.--that it is almost impossible to miss any significant sports story, while thoughtful analysis is much harder to find. During the course of my internet browsing I more often feel like I am seeing the same news stories over and over than that I am in danger of missing something important.

 
At Saturday, August 04, 2007 6:30:00 AM, Blogger Ty Keenan said...

Thanks for your thorough response, David. Just to clarify, when I differentiated between smaller and bigger stories I wasn't referring to the size of the blog. By small, I mean something like Casey Jacobsen recently signing with the Grizzlies. That's the kind of thing that a group of people (ok, just Pac-10 junkies like myself) might be interested in, but it's also not a huge news story, so it might be worth linking to a bigger site hosting the AP article. Of course, Casey Jacobsen doesn't light up the boards at Ballhype, so your point is well taken.

I definitely respect that you think blogs should be places for people to give their opinions--I feel the same way--but the community of bloggers is a huge part of what makes them so great.

That community usually manifests itself in the form of link dumps, but linking doesn't have to take the form of bullet points or an initial link followed by a full-length reaction. For example, one thing I like to do is to acknowledge other takes on a subject in my longer articles. That can take the form of a paragraph-length rebuttal or even just a hypertext link without naming names (although that's weaker, obviously). When writing about the Garnett trade, why not mention some other takes on the deal in your breakdown (not the historical context bit, that's something I hadn't seen anywhere else)? I suspect there were a few you liked that were relevant to your points.

I don't mean to try to tell you how to write your blog; I just think there are less schematic ways of reacting to other writers.

Anyway, it's late and I'm rambling a bit. Keep up the great work.

 
At Saturday, August 04, 2007 5:46:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Ty:

Looking back at your first comment, it's clear that I misunderstood what you were saying regarding big stories versus small stories. I was focusing more on the size of the site that carried the story (i.e., ESPN versus an obscure blog or local newspaper) while you were talking about the size of the story itself (KG vs. Blatche or Jacobsen).

As for mentioning other takes in my post evaluating the KG deal, the only thing that I read prior to making that post was a straight news article that listed who had been traded for whom (and I didn't link to that article because I figured it is easy to find and the same factual information has been published in countless articles). I tend to offer my take on an issue first and then look around to see what others have said; if I strongly agree or disagree, then I write subsequent posts about those issues. For instance, I've offered my take here a few times on J.J. Redick. When I saw an ESPN article by David Thorpe that I disagreed with then I made a post addressing what he said.

In other words, I prefer to offer my analysis off the top of my head first, without being influenced consciously or subconsciously by others. That way, I really am providing something unique. I certainly am willing to modify or reconsider things after I read what others say but the nature of the way that I do things here generally precludes including other people's analysis in my initial take. There are some exceptions; for instance, the NBA Draft show includes analysis by several talking heads, so by the time I make a post about the draft I have already heard Bilas, Vitale, etc., so if I strongly agree or disagree with something that they said then I mention it.

 
At Thursday, August 09, 2007 7:06:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

At Ballhype now, there is a post that consists of nothing more than a link to ESPN.com's story about Reggie Miller's potential comeback: over 40 thumbs up! I suppose someone might have missed this story, since it was "only" mentioned on Around the Horn, PTI, Sportscenter and, probably, ESPN2, ESPN News and ESPN Deportes.

I suspect that nothing will actually come of Miller's comeback but since the Celtics and Miller's camp have confirmed that they have indeed spoken I decided to make a post assessing what his signing would mean for Boston and for Miller's legacy. Whether someone agrees or disagrees with my take, it would seem like that is the kind of post that the blogosphere would want to promote. I'd be more interested to see 10 links at Ballhype to other people's take on this subject than one link to ESPN.com, which hardly needs anyone's help to promote it.

Do people think that if they post enough links to ESPN.com then they will get a job there? ESPN.com has already hired a blogger and he is doing an excellent job promoting their other writers so I seriously doubt that they plan to bring in more bloggers to do the same thing.

 

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