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Opinion: MMA media should not equate criticism with cruelty

MMA media criticism is not only needed, it should be welcomed.

Floyd Mayweather Jr. v Conor McGregor - Fighter Arrivals Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Over the past few months, I’ve heard two members of the MMA media opine that other MMA media members should not criticize or be mean or unfriendly to each other. However, I don’t look at these things as being equal. There’s no reason reporters to be hostile to each other, but when it comes to criticism, I do think there is a time and a place for it. I also believe that a reasonable and open-minded member of the media should welcome constructive criticism.

I’ll use myself as an example. One of the first things I do when I get a writing gig is to encourage the editor to be brutally honest with me. I don’t want them to handle me with kid gloves. I want honest and genuine criticism when it comes to my writing. Some more fragile writers might not welcome that type of talk. I understand that. No one likes to open an email or receive a call from their editor saying they need to speak to you about your work. When a writer gets that message, it’s usually not to mention how great the submitted piece is and that there is no need for changes. Yes, I still get a sinking feeling when that message comes, but I open it or call back as soon as I can, swallow my pride and take whatever comes my way.

Is that being mean? Is criticism from an editor, a writer or even a well-intentioned commenter mean or unfriendly? Some might feel that way. I don’t. No writer should consider a well thought out criticism of their work as mean. In fact, I believe any writer worth their salt should welcome criticism.

Now, I’m not talking about the type of “criticism” that comes in the form of “you suck” or “you can’t honestly believe or defend this” or worse—much, much worse. That type of criticism is worthless. It’s designed to hurt. I would consider that mean and unnecessary and encourage anyone to ignore it. But actual constructive criticism, that makes a point? That should not only be considered, but it should also be reflected upon deeply.

A few weeks ago I wrote about a video interview that appeared on Ariel Helwani’s MMA Show. At the time I thought the video shouldn’t have run because, to me, it lacked context, fell short of journalism and felt exploitative. I still think that way. In my story I pointed out several sections in the video where I felt the interview fell short and I offered up how I would have handled the Diaz video.

What I wrote did not come from a place of vindictiveness. Nor was it an attack on Helwani’s work. I don’t know Helwani on a personal level, so I have no reason to feel any way about him. The only thing I considered was how the video interview fell short. Some readers might have felt what I wrote was mean or cruel. I don’t think that’s true. It was honest criticism, done in much the same manner a book review or movie review would be constructed.

Some might ask why I would want to criticize another member of the MMA media. The honest answer is that I don’t. It was not easy to write that story, but it was written for one important reason. When something falls short as a piece of journalism, it hurts all of us who are involved in MMA media. And if there is anything I want, it is for MMA media to get better—so that what we do will be considered on par with the writing that is done on other major sports. That should be the end goal of everyone who writes for a living, or who wants to write for a living.

The criticism I do has good intentions. It’s not written to be mean. If every member of the MMA media holds off on criticism, I believe it only hurts the development of all of our writing. The only way to get better at anything is through repetition and having someone point out the places where we need improvement.

If we can criticize the UFC and other promotions, MMA managers, fighters, referees and judges, why shouldn’t we criticize the MMA media? That doesn’t make any sense to me.

Criticism not only has a place in MMA media, it is essential and it should not be misconstrued as meanness.