Dear Denny Burkholder

Over at CBSSportsline, one Denny Burkholder has an astoundingly tendentious piece masquerading as insight-infused candor. Translation: a member of the MSM tries to bash upstart blogs and guerrilla journalists for their lack of preeminent status. It's the typical fare from overpaid, under qualified mainstream MMA journalists who are threatened when they realize bloggers who work for little to no compensation not only know more about the sport they are paid to cover, those bloggers actually do a significantly better job covering it, both as a news source and analyst depot. Trust me when I say this, Denny: anyone familiar with the MMA Internet landscape checks CBSSportsline (and throw in Yahoo! as well) as a last resort. You know that. We know that. Eventually, everyone else learns that, too.

So what did Burkholder say? Quite a bit actually, which means we need to Fisk his piece to see where and why he goes so deeply wrong.

The entire piece is broken into two parts. The first part runs through a series of facts that were true about the sport when 2007 began, yet each of those facts - representing conventional wisdom at the time - turn out to be wildly off the mark given the realities that we saw in 2007. Those "realities" are articulated in the second half of the piece.

Denny begins:

Popular MMA message boards loved mainstream coverage and pined for more of it. It was viewed as a positive, healthy sign that the sport was gaining respect. (Before I continue, let me mention that I bring up MMA websites and blogs because -- as others have correctly observed -- MMA is a sport that is seriously intertwined with the web like no other sport.)

His point about the intertwining of the web and MMA is correct, but for our purposes is neither here nor there. What I'm concerned with is the first comment: that "popular MMA message boards" loved/pined for mainstream coverage of the sport. This is only true to an extent. Before our hearts were broken with the abysmally mediocre coverage the MSM threw our way, it's safe to say many of us did want the mainstream to cover the sport. We assumed they'd take it as seriously as it should be taken. Alas, we were all wrong. Aside from fluff piece and infrequent updates, not much more can be said for the MSM coverage. Sports Illustrated's coverage is laughable, ESPN essentially farms out their responsibility to Sherdog, NBC has a site almost no one checks, and while CBSSportsline has a few bright spots (Sam Caplan and Todd Martin) can anyone tell me what the value-added quality is of their work? Anyone? No takers? Didn't think so. The fact of the matter is that the mainstream outlets only engage in the equivalent of mental masturbation. It might be fun for the author and a few clueless voyeurs, but the rest of us have better issues to grapple with.

The river of inane fluff pieces from the MSM that tell me about Gilbert Melendez's favorite style of pizza or why Sokoudjou hates ATM fees aren't exactly penetrating pieces of work. Sadly, that's about all the MSM can offer. Burkholder professes to have been a fan of the sport before The Ultimate Fighter, but if you've got muscle to flex when it comes to talking about this sport, no one's seen it, Denny. I've yet to read an article of your's where the analysis wasn't either plain vanilla or plain wrong.



Let's continue:

No MMA website or blog had a relationship -- formal or informal -- with any mainstream company. Bloggers used to write about MMA just for fun.

Um, we still blog "just for fun." If there are bloggers making money hand over fist from MMA blogging, I'd love to see it. This site is one of the top MMA blogs and I can tell I wasn't able to purchase a home this year because BloodyElbow.com funded the operation. It is now and always has been a labor of love. With the exception of MMA Junkie, almost no one makes anything resembling a livable income from their website. A little extra pocket change? For sure. The chance to do other media appearances based on recognition from work on the site? Absolutely. Blogging for other reasons than fun? Not a chance in Hell.

Let's continue with his ever-so-lovely premises, which apparently have shattered all that he held dear about bloggers and MMA websites. Burkholder states:

Every major sports website covers MMA. In many cases (including ours), MMA even has a section to itself.

On first glance this seems true, but again, is neither here nor there for our purposes. Instead, let's take a look at this transparently juvenile jab:

Popular MMA message boards tend to hate mainstream MMA coverage, with posters wondering aloud "why don't they just hire people like us?" (Which draws various far-reaching assumptions such as that mainstream writers didn't know about MMA until The Ultimate Fighter, never posted on an MMA message board, and are not, therefore, "people like us." Which is wrong on all counts. Believe it or not, some of us were following the sport before today's major MMA websites and message boards existed. *Raises hand.*)

Once again, if you were watching a lot of MMA before The Ultimate Fighter is certainly hasn't shown through in your work or the work of many of your colleagues. I'm guessing virtually none of you train, which makes your fight analysis perfunctory. And I'm also betting if you watched MMA prior to 2005, it was casual viewing at best. Again, aside from Caplan and Martin (or Yahoo!'s Meltzer), there isn't one among the lot of you who I'd hire to blog on my site, much less anything within the "prestigious" MSM. I need writers whose competency extends beyond the confines of Zuffa and Gary Shaw. That appears to be in short supply over at CBSSportsline.

So that, in the mind of Burkholder, was 2006. Now let's get to the 2007 wake-up call that apparently Burkholder sees as his responsibility to share. To wit:

Virtually every major MMA-specific website has a partnership with a mainstream sports site. Many blogs do also.

Fair enough. What else? This:

Bloggers that used to write about MMA for fun now seem more concerned with scoring a big partnership, selling ads, and "cashing in." Others have shifted their focus from covering the sport of MMA (for fun) to skewering the media's coverage of MMA (for sport).

Oh, massa! I'm so sorry, massa! I didn't mean to make a few bucks playing around with my hobby, massa! I forgot only those people with a grossly-inflated sense of self-importance and the façade of legitimacy could hope to collect a check, massa.

Denny, allow me lay it to you straight since no one else will: MMA blogs kick the living shit out of anything you or Yahoo! or NBC produce. Period. Signed, sealed, delivered. The reason why MMA blogs are putting up a few paltry ads is because - from scratch - we've built our own sites into destination points for MMA fans seeking out news and analysis. And we're doing it the hard way: with a little luck and a ton of elbow grease. The MMA blogging world is a meritocracy; a place where your success is by and large a product of your efforts. Let me be the first to tell you if your work were evaluated under anything approximating criteria that stringent, you'd still be one of the bloggers whose site had no ads because your hobby would be "just for fun."

We earn our way to the top spots. Because of the site I've helped to create, all sorts of doors have opened for me. My own hard work - and those who've helped me along the way - is the reason for any success I've achieved. I get to do radio spots on Sirius and ESPN not because someone with a name hired me; it's because I've created my own name. Other like me - Zach Arnold, Sam Caplan, Ryan Harkness - stood on their own two feet to reign in the viewers and readers. They found a value-added way to contribute to the market. With literally ZERO funding and ZERO name they've developed into something recognizable and coveted. That's why the "big partnership" ultimately matters: it's recognition of effort and talent cultivated solely by the engine of personal desire.

And yes, we do skewer the MSM, but it isn't for "sport." It's because your coverage is abysmal and your insight banal and hackneyed. In short, most of you guys are terrible at this. The analysis coming out of the MSM is boring and often riddled with errors. For folks in such vaunted positions, it's mind blowing that some of you get away with what you do. Those of us who do this for free wish we were free to swim in the warm seas of mediocrity, but then we'd lose readers. We're not picking on you because we're jealous. We love this sport and we're just dumbfounded that there are editors so lackadaisical that they sign off on the third rate material coming out of what are ostensibly - hee haw - the "real journalists'" desks.

We think we should be hired in your place because we do a significantly better job of meeting the needs of MMA fans than the MSM. If you don't like us, tough. In fact, don't be mad at us for being successful. If you're looking for someone to blame for our pesky existence, find the nearest mirror. You - the MSM - helped create us. If you'd do your job properly and write meaningful articles, there wouldn't be an opening in the marketplace for us. But you don't. So we are here. Get used it. Deal?

Your attempt to suggest it's acceptable for bloggers to exist as long as they know their place and blog "for fun" reeks of arrogance you can't possibly lay claim to with any personal acts of journalistic valor. You are accusing us of being uppity proletariats who don't know their place in capitalistic MMA media market. But I'm sorry, Denny, while we agree there are no barriers to entry, there are significant barriers to success. Do not confuse the two or conflate different groups. The fact is the successful bloggers are more than your competitors, and I'm afraid you are behind in the race.

We do this because we love it and we happen to be quite good at it. We've taken the challenge and jumped into the unknown waters of the blogosphere to see what we could find. Perhaps you should voluntarily enter a similar sort of crucible. Stand on your own two feet. If you manage to do half as well as MMAMania or even the young up-start Cage Potato, then you can talk. Until then, just write another revolutionary column about how annoyed Frank Trigg gets at cluttered desks or how meaningful it is for Sean Sherk to use ball point pens when he signs contracts.

Stick to the dumb stuff. It's your forte.

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