Bryan Joiner

Why then I

Category: Media

The End of Men

Are men finished?

That’s the conclusion of the cover story of the most recent issue of The Atlantic, where Hanna Rosin documents “How women are taking control—of everything.” I can’t speak to “everything,” but I’ve certainly witnessed a major demographic shift toward women in my industry. I’m not saying my experience is representative—but The Atlantic is saying it.

I’ll get deeper into my observations in a second. The first thing I did after reading the article was reach out to tongue-in-cheek-self-described “feminazi” Katie L. of this great operation, who more or less declared herself an “ur-general” in the gender war per the clip below (If it never shows up, just click on the link if you’re into that kind of thing. I’m working on it.):

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Gloria Steinem
www.colbertnation.com
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor Fox News

(I’ll say this: Colbert’s female replacement is going to be gooood.)

Back to my experience. I’ve had three real jobs in my adult life. The first one lasted nine months, during which the owner of the company purged two entire editorial staffs, myself and gender considerations excluded. I think we can call that one a wash in the gender war. It’s the next two jobs that have had undeniable trends toward hiring women merely as a matter of circumstances. In neither case was it a crusade; we were just hiring the most qualified people. It may be a tiny sample size, but it happened.

My next job was at the Queens Chronicle, which had an editorial staff of six, one of whom was a woman in her sixties who had basically earned the title of Managing Editor for life by dint of her extensive knowledge of certain parts of the borough and her house four blocks from our Rego Park offices. The remaining five editors were all in their twenties—and they were all men, if only in the technical sense. Sports party! I joined at a time of light staff turnover, but soon we locked into a four-man, two-woman rotation that lasted for about 18 months. I left when that arrangement fell apart, and when I did, I was the only male among the staff members—and they were replacing me with a woman.

When I joined the magazine at which I currently work (No link; Church and State, at least for now), I walked into the same arrangement into which I did at the Chronicle: six editors, one woman. Four years later, we’re down to four editors, and I’m again the only male.

Fun fact: all three of these companies were owned and operated by women.

So I found myself nodding along to the article as I read it, though as I’m sure some people found themselves shaking their own heads, disbelieving, based on their own experiences, Rosin’s conclusions. I’m just saying. And all of this was before I walked into a business lunch yesterday on the top floor of the Hearst Building, which was to be a 10-person roundtable discussing Hearst brands, and branding in general. I was the only male, and I hesitate to say it was a great meeting just to make the point of emphasis—it was a professional one, pure and simple. (Okay, it was pretty good too and the city views were, well, wow.)

To what does Rosin attribute this shift?

The working class, which has long defined our notions of masculinity, is slowly turning into a matriarchy, with men increasingly absent from the home and women making all the decisions.

[...]

The postindustrial economy is indifferent to men’s size and strength. The attributes that are most valuable today—social intelligence, open communication, the ability to sit still and focus—are, at a minimum, not predominantly male.

[...]

Researchers have started looking into the relationship between testosterone and excessive risk, and wondering if groups of men, in some basic hormonal way, spur each other to make reckless decisions. The picture emerging is a mirror image of the traditional gender map: men and markets on the side of the irrational and overemotional, and women on the side of the cool and levelheaded.

We don’t yet know with certainty whether testosterone strongly influences business decision-making. But the perception of the ideal business leader is starting to shift. The old model of command and control, with one leader holding all the decision-making power, is considered hidebound. The new model is sometimes called “post-heroic,” or “transformational” in the words of the historian and leadership expert James MacGregor Burns. The aim is to behave like a good coach, and channel your charisma to motivate others to be hardworking and creative.

Now let’s go back, as yesterday, to Moby-Dick:

The White Whale swam before him as the monomaniac incarnation of all those malicious agencies which some deep men feel eating in them, till they are left living on with half a heart and half a lung.

I couldn’t work with half a lung.

But, as we develop as a society and get smarter, companies are realizing that they don’t need to hire men based on invisible potential, machismo based in their invisible, “monomaniac” potential. The Internet has helped push analysis to new heights in an incredible number of areas—take baseball, for one—based on facts of productivity instead of promises. Gone are the days where a young, big baseball prospect is valued for what the scouts believe he has the potential to do; he is now inferior to the small, scrappy player who has proven he can, you know, play baseball. So much of being a professional anything involves listening and absorbing ideas that those who are caught up in “the malicious agencies which some deep men feel eating in them” aren’t going to get hired in the first place, especially in a reeling economy where financial recklessness cannot be tolerated.

It might be tempting to think that if the economy improves, there will be more risk-taking, and might more closely resemble the man-driven world of oh, all of time up until (and many would argue, including) now. But I don’t see us going backward. There may be more risk-taking in a thriving future, but they will be better calculated risks, and there’s no reason to think that women can’t make them. Thousands of years of free lunches for men might be coming to an end, and I’m fine with it.

Enjoy the weekend.

•••

Apropos of nothing, I’m wearing this shirt today:

Hell yeah, Biden.

A Day Late and a Framed Original Short

The other day some college heads and I were thinking on this cartoon for the New Yorker Caption Contest. Rather than actually thinking up entries, we were debating what sort of entries win, and the consensus seemed to be captions that could only be applied within the contest rather than trying to guess what the missing caption is, so to speak. That is, if the comic had a certain slug in mind, it probably wouldn’t win. That’s just sort of how it goes, and I won’t get any more esoteric than that.

But today I had a flash of inspiration that pretty much would have nailed the whole thing shut. Alas, I’m too late to win with:

“You always say you’d rather read, but I think you’re just a legs man.”

Holiday in Bizarro World

I am friends with a disproportionate number of creative professionals who have been affected by the economy: Writers, editors and graphic designers, mostly, but also architects, artists and others sprinkled in. The point was really hammered home with The Gawker Guide to Journalism, 2010 edition, which basically chronicles the ever-accelerating death spiral of paying media jobs. I’ve written elsewhere that I expect paid content to be a reliable part of the future of the Internet, but in a completely different form than how I grew up expecting to spend my life (and the events of the last couple weeks have spurred me to finally start putting my experiences as the Last Old Skool Journalist of a particular sort—one who grew up with newspapers, and was drawn to them—down on paper). I used to joke back in Queens that trade magazines were the places to get the money, and the newspapers like the ones I worked at were the place to get Real Experience, but translating that Real Experience into the job of one’s dreams seems to now be one of only 10 possible ways to get there, and certainly one of the hardest. The fact that I feel like I’m profoundly lucky to have the job I have now—the job I used to think was the “cushy” “journalism”—speaks to this fracture. In the Last Exit piece I cited above, I ask how much paid (as in, I get paid) journalism’s crash is actually related to the economy and/or the rise of the Internet and how much of it is cyclical, but there’s no doubt the economy has wreaked havoc on the best laid plans of many, many smart people I know who are working to a fraction of their considerable potential.

Contrast that with the lives of my dad and brother, who live out in the desert, and it’s like going to bizarro world. My dad works in academia, which for the gruff it gets during the fat years sure looks like a nice, warm incubator in times like these. Sez dad: “I will never curse tenure again.” My brother works at an investment company with the initials C.S. that basically doesn’t invest itself enough in risky things like the housing market to have suffered major consequences, as far as I understand it, as they work mostly in client services. Thus they haven’t been hit too hard, and anyway, bro is an up-and-coming manager there. Stepping into their world, it’s like the economic collapse was something that was happening simply to other people, one that made you appreciate what you’ve got, like seeing an accident on the highway. In fairness to them, I think they’ve looked at my career choice as foolish from the get-go, but the degree to which this has “confirmed” anything like that seems disproportionate with what I and hundreds of thousands of people are going through. I didn’t go to graduate school, but my four years in Queens were—and I don’t think anyone would doubt this—much harder than any J-school would have been; by extension, what’s happened to me is like if they went to medical school or law school and graduated only to learn that no one wanted to pay doctors or financial advisors anymore. I realize that people choose these schools mostly because they offer security against this inevitability, but growing up, who thought we wouldn’t have newspapers?

The point is, I spend last week in a bubble where the recession was happening to other people, and it really threw me for a loop. It doesn’t seem like the real world to me, and at least for the moment I still value the potential highs in my field over the security they have. God bless the trade magazine.

This Headline Is Stimulating

Don’t know what to write about now that the World Series is over.

How about this: sports blogging is hard. I guess that’s why I never took to it for long stretches of time. You have to have the energy of a coked-up rhinocerous to do it, and you basically need to eat, live and breath the Internet. Staring into a screen that long is bad enough; looking into one that’s can be so mean-spirited is worse.

The Internet is “democratized,” it’s said, in that people can now produce their own content and fight back against the traditional media. But it turns out some people just like to complain. Everyone’s a critic, and everyone who writes online has to be ready to be assailed from all angles. A thick skin is important.

What has that done to the actual content being created? It’s personalized it and made it more subjective. How could it not? The Internet has made every expert of every far-flung discipline accessible to the point where if you make a mistake in an article, there’s a good chance someone will notice, and then seventh-grade math takes over: if part of it is false, it’s all false. One day in my first newspaper job I was compiling a list of names for kids sports magazine—the kids had won an award or something. I was transferring them to our layout when my editor said, “Make sure you get all those right. I know if there’s just one spelling mistake, the whole thing’s ruined.” He said it in a way that suggested I should feel the same way. I didn’t then, but I do now. Put simply, I can deal with one upset family. (It’s called “empathy.”) But I can’t deal with hordes of screaming angry people who want to make a name for themselves by tearing down mine. Who am I, anyway?

The people who are making it on the Internet aren’t immune to this type of criticism—they just have the energy to fight back. In a lot of ways, the Internet is like talk radio. Their job is to be stimulating, using knowingly suggestive—rather than honest—headlines to draw in readers, and keeping the readers engaged by stimulating them more and more throughout the article. If you start out agreeing with them, you’ll be sold by the end. If not, you’ll be writing an angry comment. That’s the point of the whole endeavor.

To some degree, writers are now salespeople as much as they are thinkers, if not more on the former side. The ability to show up every day and hammer out a position is more important than developing any sort of grand thoughts. Some argue: hey, this is how it should always have been, writers should earn it. To which I say: bullshit. If the Internet is as important as they say it is, newspapers were at least that important before, and writing from a position of responsibility to the readers was the hardest part of the job description. Now writers write from a position of reponsibility to themselves. I’m not sure that’s a good thing.

P.S. Happy Birthday, mom.

Content vs. Promotion

Minor League Baseball teams are masters of promotion. Last night, I was watching an episode of Man vs. Food where Adam Richman traveled to three separate minor league stadiums to sample their gimmicky food items. I saw him eat a bacon cheeseburger with a fried Krispy Kreme donut bun in Sauget, Illinois and a five-pound, five-cheeseburger Super Burger in Grand Rapids, Michigan, before I changed the channel. You’d never see these food items at a major league ballpark, not leastwise because healthy-eating groups would have a field day (One can only imagine Mayor Bloomberg’s reaction if the Yankees started selling a five-pound burger. He’d outlaw all stadium food, and spend $20 million to do it.) You see it in minor league stadiums because minor league baseball needs to give fans every reason possible to come to the park to watch something that is an inferior product.

Those who argue that promotion is more important than content on the Internet could learn something here. Superior products sell themselves. Major League Baseball has an advertising budget, to be sure, and has blistered the airwaves with their “Beyond Baseball” commercials this fall. But they do it because they’re competing against other forms of entertainment for dollars—not other forms of baseball. Geographic factors aside, Major League Baseball does not need to worry about Minor League Baseball stealing its market share. It’s just not happening.

But wait, promotion junkies might say: what if Minor League Baseball had Major League Baseball’s advertising budget? Then the playing field would be even, except it wouldn’t: MLB would still have the product.  MLB has long been accused of not selling the game well enough in the “hip-hop era” (I can’t believe I just used that term), yet attendance is up and while food at the ballgames is a draw, it’s not the draw. There are easier ways to get Shake Shack than to go to Citi Field. There aren’t really easier ways to get five-pound burgers than to go to a West Michigan Whitecaps game.

It’s the same on the Internet. As my friend Dustin, a comic strip artist, wrote in response to my previous post, here’s the phenomenon of Digg, in a nutshell:

Let’s say you get on the front page of Digg. I’ve done it a few times. You get 3,000 Diggs, it translates into 100,000 hits in one day. You’re like WOW, fuck yeah, this is awesome! The next day you get maybe 15,000 hits. The next day 3,000. Then it gets smaller and smaller and next week you are back where you started. That’s the thing with social media. It doesn’t build your fanbase unless youre constantly generating content that does well. It just gives you spikes in traffic.

Those Diggs are like the Krispy Kreme burger. They’ll get people to come to your MiLB game despite its obvious inferiority, but eventually the popularity will wane. (A result of a Lipitor scarcity, perhaps). That’s why MiLB are constantly running ridiculous promotions, like one in Pennsyvlania where 800 kids stood on the field as a helicopter dropped 100 pounds of marshmallows and 100 pounds of candy toward them. Or the one from 2008 where the Quad Cities River Bandits of Davenport, IA (hey, I’ve been there!) offered free season tickets to anyone who got a team tattoo. For Minor League Baseball, promotion is a full-time job because the product is inferior. The promotion is the product. If you’re starting a blog and have an inferior product, yes, you should focus on promotion. But the better solution would be to spend most of that time creating better posts.

UPDATE: The minor league hijinks are not, it seems limited to baseball.

Birth of a Salesman

Slow day today, so I’m going to follow up on some ideas I read on my friend Jeremy’s blog about writers-as-brand-creators. This will be a break from PHILLIES WIN!-type baseball talk, but I promise to get back at it soon. I fell asleep last night at 9:45 and didn’t get a chance to write any of this down.

Jeremy uses the story of an appellate lawyer who committed suicide as a jumping off point to discuss “how most jobs are really sales jobs, even the ones that don’t seem like they ought to be.  And if anything I feel like the new economy only intensifies that.” I was already nodding along with him, and then he hit this:

I think what doesn’t get acknowledged as much is that it’s hard and sometimes tiring.  Maybe you don’t want to be updating three blogs, two Twitter feeds, and a Facebook page seven times a day, forever.  Maybe you don’t want to have to come up with value you can add to the world every day.  Maybe you don’t want to have to think about networking and new leads and selling yourself.

But more and more, I think the world is moving to a place where to be successful, we have to.

These are really interesting observations to me, especially in terms of how I thought a/my writer career would play out and how it has. The fundamental shifts in the industry have occurred right as I was trying to enter it, making it as difficult to navigate as the God-fractured ground at the end of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. There were rats, dad.

Growing up I read stories of how people 50 years prior had walked into newspaper offices and asked for jobs and were dispatched to Queens with a pencil and paper and—ta da!—30 years later they were Jimmy Breslin, or something. I knew that had changed by the time I had a professional job, but I definitely underestimated how much it had changed. Being a reporter didn’t involve working really hard to get to the point where you could find your place in the firmament, so to speak—it’s now about figuring out your place in the firmament, then working hard, and then establishing yourself. You’ll notice that I haven’t done it as of yet, but I only recently realized that generalism is no excuse for a lack of posts.

In a way, this is reassuring. In the new media landscape, writers will have been so singularly focused for such a long time that we’ll have experts on everything. The bad side is not so much that this practice discourages inquitisiveness among reporters and “reporters”—writers are, by nature, curious people—but that people might automatically discount writing that, say, a “sports guy” does about crime. (That is not an altogether random example.) On the flip side, building yourself as a brand allows you a lot of cross-platform opportunities, so I’m not sure that’s a good example. Like, if I wrote a really good sports blog, someone might let me write about movies. But I think I would always be known as the sports guy. Or “a” sports guy, I should say. The other title is taken.

Selling yourself isn’t new, of course, but I think Jeremy’s right that it’s taken more percentage of work time than ever before. That’s something that my friend Dustin echoed in his recent comic. Building a brand has become equally about the work you put in inside the medium and the work you do to promote yourself. Self-promotion has always had its advantages, but today, it’s about survival.

I mostly just feel what Jeremy was saying, is all.

UPDATE: As I watched Twitter this morning, MediaBistro tweeted about an article called “25 things I wish I’d known when I started blogging.” Number one is “Content doesn’t matter. Promotion matters.” MediaBistro immediately followed up to say most people would say that promotion is nothing without good content.

UPDATE 2: It would appear Tommy Friedman’s column from yesterday is also somewhat about this.

Am I Missing Something, Or Have The Sane Baseball People Gone Wacko?

Old-school baseball writers and announcers have, by and large, become a straw man for online critics, who broadside their often ridiculous generalizations with statistics and watch them try to wriggle out of them or double down on their assertions that Derek Jeter is “clutch” without providing any new evidence. This was the entirety of the idea behind the website Fire Joe Morgan, and spawned a new type of “journalism” — take down the stupid guy! Yeah!

The problem with this type of work is that the people doing it are starting to double back on themselves. They’re so concerned with what everyone else is writing that they’re missing the low-hanging fruit. There are so many observations that could be made about what’s going on in the baseball playoffs that aren’t being made by either the “traditional” or “new” media that the “observations” they’re making instead are ridiculous.

Take the play for which Jeter was heartily lauded by Joe Buck and Tim McCarver last night. Bobby Abreu hit a ball into the right center field gap, and took a wide enough turn around second base that he couldn’t get back before Jeter threw to first baseman Mark Teixeira, who had raced over to cover. On the play, second baseman Robinson Cano had stationed himself in front of Jeter, but Melky Cabrera’s throw went over Cano’s head and into Jeter’s glove. Seeing Abreu lose his footing, Jeter snapped a perfect throw off, to the delight of Buck and McCarver.

Was it a good play by Jeter? Yes. But did anyone ask why it happened, then or now? Everyone said Abreu screwed up—and he did—but they never asked why. If you follow the play, it’s easy to see that Abreu was so far around second that there’s no reason for him to think he could have gotten back if there was someone there. So one might ask: why would he do this? How about because the second baseman and shortstop were both in front of him? It’s incredibly likely that Abreu thought there was no one on the base, but there was Teixeira, who had raced behind Abreu to make the play you’re taught to make in Little League but gradually forget to do. It was a brilliant play, for sure, just not for the person who got credit for it.

If Will Leitch wants to know why people hate Joe Buck, that’s why. Also, he announces the game’s like he’s Jacob Silj. But my real pet peeve is Buck’s constant attention to what critics will say. He always unloads, “well, the critics will say…” and ping-pongs opinions on the game. That’s not inherently a bad thing, but he does the faux-equivalency thing the MSM is guilty of w/r/t political reporting. Just because there are two opinions does not mean they are of equal merit. STOP TALKING ABOUT WHAT PEOPLE WILL SAY ABOUT THE GAME, AND TALK ABOUT THE GAME. (Oh, and being better than Chip Caray doesn’t make him good.)

Unfortunately, Leitch’s buddy at Deadspin, Tommy Craggs, is not much better. An Angels fan took a video of Mariano Rivera spitting on the ball last night and got a overboard with his analysis… leading Craggs in the odd position of trying to argue against video evidence to try and make a point. Perhaps realizing the silliness of his endeavour, at the end of the post he said it would be “just about the coolest thing ever” if Rivera did throw a spitter—just in case, he, you know, did. Which he did. Craggs’ point, I guess, is that some random Angels fans on a blog are more worth making an example of than focusing a laser beam on the obvious:

1) That yes, Rivera threw a spitter.

2) Yes, it’s cool (I agree).

3) If Rivera is throwing spitters, it stands to reason pretty much everyone else is. So calm down.

Concerned with this? No, he’d rather tell you why your eyes don’t work. (Don’t worry, they work fine.)

I’m all for criticism (as you can see). But base it on what you see, and not what other people say. The game’s the thing. If you read something that’s tearing someone else down just for sport, just quit reading. You’re not going to learn anything anyway.

UPDATE: ESPN’s Amy K. Nelson tweets: “rivera spitball” No. 19 on google trends right now. so stupid.” Right, it’s stupid for people to be curious of things. The commissioner’s office also thinks you’re stupid, btw. They’ve just released a statement saying there’s no evidence he spit on the ball. I’ll assume they mean besides the evidence they have. Did Sammy Sosa have a corked bat or not?

Look, do I think the spitting thing is a big deal w/r/t fair play? Of course not. It’s silly and will pass, and I agree with Craggs that it’s even pretty cool. But it did, you know, happen.

UPDATE 2: Amen to new pals of this website Stupid Sports Blog for nailing this.

Why I’m Skipping Blogs with Balls

One thing I’m not doing today is getting on a plane and going to Las Vegas. I’m not watching out the window as we pass over the Alleghenies, the Great Plains, the Rockies and, finally, the desert. I’m not, upon arrival, dropping 50 cents into a slot machine at McCarran Airport, and being happily greeted by the blast of hot air just outside baggage claim. And I’m not attending the Blogs With Balls 2.0 convention at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

I don’t think the conventioneers will take it as a real loss. Many of the sites that will be represented get more hits in an hour than I get in a month. Plus, I’m not really a sports blogger. I’ve tried, again and again (and again), but I can’t write about sports day in and day out. I find pretty much everything fascinating, inside and outside the lines. On the Internet, that’s a liability. The best way for success online is to find a small, unlit corner of the web and make it your own. Not like “Covering Cleveland sports” specific, but like “Covering Cleveland sports and gambling, taking a unique progressive/libertarian/Republican stand on social and political issues, and tying every post together under the guise of a curse against the region perpetuated the racist mascot for the Cleveland Indians” specific.

The blog in question is Cleveland Frowns. It’s written by one of my friends and it’s one of my favorite. Its proprietor is in the air as we speak, probably enjoying a complementary tomato juice and getting his “game face” on. This is the second Blogs With Balls convention in less than a year, and he’s attended both. The networking opportunities are unmatched: all the heavy hitters in this relatively new genre will be there.

But the whole thing strikes me as fundamentally odd. If blogging is the way of the future, why are sports bloggers meeting at a convention—an increasingly outdated mode of gathering and exchanging information? Doesn’t the Internet, the very thing that makes this convention possible, also make it redundant?

I’m not begrudging people’s chance to have a good time. If they enjoy hanging out with people they’ve never met, or only “met” online, that’s fine with me. Put $50 on black and toss back some G-and-T’s. They’re free!

What does affect me is the quality of sports blogging that I read on a daily basis. And I think that sports blogging needs a resolute kick in the pants if it’s ever going to be taken seriously.

What sports bloggers need to understand is that they’re no fundamentally different than the sportswriters to whom they are “alternative.” If Peter Gammons was born in 1985, he’d probably be a blogger today, and if Deadspin founder Will Leitch was born in the 1940s, he’d be the guy at the daily newspaper cranking out columns for you to hate. The point is, there’s nothing about blogging that exempts it from the rules of any other consumption. It needs to be interesting and fresh, sure, but it also needs to be true. And the more work you put into any one post, the better it will be. Bloggers need to focus less on how to increase their hits via keywords and headlines—though these are important—and more on how to reach out to teams, players and other writers to make their work better.

Bloggers have come a long way, the work only gets harder from here. Maybe that’s the point of the convention, but it seems more like a celebration to me of something that’s not yet worth the self-congratulations. Blogging is still an alternative to the mainstream, and simply outlasting the dinosaurs isn’t going to change that. Bringing light into a bigger corner of the Internet will. The better bet might not be to squeeze your arms into coach class, but to stretch them out, as it were, at home.

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