As I watched one of our competitors, MMA Junkie, spin itself in circles trying to explain away a horrible rating for The Ultimate Fighter as a triumph, I thought long and hard about what it means to be a sportswriter, how awful the ache is, how accursed the dilemma, how it sucks at the soul. No one gets into writing about MMA for money. If you did, or you plan to, please adjust fire right now.
You write about MMA, or any sport really, because you love sports. But something changes when you step into that press box, trying so hard to squeeze your 17 inch MacBook Pro into a space designed for a netbook, fingers crossed that you don't accidentally unplug someone else's gear as you fathand your plug into an overly crowded power strip. What was once a magical escape becomes a job. You see the sausage of sports as it is being made and you turn cynical - or worse - become co-opted by the very entities you are supposed to be reporting on.
Worse still, the passion is gone. You sit cage side watching thrilling bouts, strictly prohibited from raising your voice, joining a cheer, even from a covert pump of the fist. You lose everything that makes sport fun - the pleasure of cheering on a favorite, or better yet, letting a mortal rival hear it. You don't care much who wins or loses - it just changes which manager you kiss up to or who you seek out for a post-fight interview. The thrill of fandom is gone, awash in a sea of supposed impartiality. But answer me this: if you don't care who wins and who loses, what the hell are you doing around sports anyway? That's the principle question being answered and the only one that matters.
We've seen a spectrum change in the way we cover news in this country. Today, outlets like Fox News make no secret of their partisanship - it's a integral part of their coverage. When you read The Washington Times or the Wall Street Journal, you know you're getting a conservative spin on things. When you read The Huffington Post you'll lean left. The Christian Science Monitor will try to play it down the middle. These things are known. So why is the press box the last outlet of of that double edged sword known only as objectivity?
Author Jay Rosen calls it the "View from Nowhere," this insistence that the media must come from a place free of bias. It's a place that doesn't exist and by pretending it does, media outlets in the MMA world and beyond are losing focus on what it means to be in the journalism business. FishbowlNY explains:
Rosen thinks that journalists should disclose their biases because it would negate something he calls “the view from nowhere.” Folkenflik explains:
That phrase — ‘the view from nowhere’ — is what Rosen calls the media’s true ideology: not exactly on the right, and not exactly on the left. It is, he says, the way news organizations falsely advertise that they can be trusted because they don’t have any dog in the fight.
Most people already know that the media is biased [insert FishbowlNY Fox News joke #374 here] so Rosen makes a good point here. Why not just do away with all the posturing – like NBC scolding Keith Olbermann as if no one knew what his political leanings were already – and just tell it like it is? As Rosen says, the old method isn’t working anyway:
Removing all bias from their reports is something that professional journalists actually aren’t very good at. They shouldn’t say that they can do this, because it’s very clear to most of the people on the receiving end that they fail at this all the time.
In fact, there is evidence of bias abounding at most of your favorite MMA sites. Look no further than the quest to get DeMarco Murray on the cover of a football video game. There's no MMA connection there - just pressure from the UFC to support a kid who went to the same high school as UFC boss Lorenzo Fertitta. If one of the reporters you follow has tweeted or written about this game - well, you know why.
Enough. I'm a reporter most of the time. I will do my best to explain how this business works and what is happening behind the scenes. But when the cage door closes, I'm a fan. And there's nothing better to be. Who critiques something they love more harshly than a true fan? Look at message boards and blogs devoted to any specific team. All of them take a harder look at their team than the mainstream press ever could. Who can dissect a weakness more ferociously and thoroughly than a true fan? And why not bring these strengths into journalism?
There's nothing better than the feeling of joy, the pure love you feel for your team or fighter when they win. Why stifle that and try to hide it away. Only slightly less great is the ache when you lose. You may be near tears when the night is over, but at least you feel something, anything, even if it's pain. I'll be rolling with Team 209 this weekend as the great Nick Diaz fights the dastardly Paul Daley for Strikeforce. I will make no bones about, pretend no claim to objectivity. Bias! Passion! It's back, and not hidden under the false sheen of "reportage." This is a site for and by fans. We wouldn't want it any other way.