me and paul sullivan at CubsConYesterday morning was an interesting one.

Readying myself for a morning of home opener coverage and endless Wrigley renovation updates, I saw this Tweet from Chicago Tribune beat writer Paul Sullivan in my timeline:

Boy, it rubbed me the wrong way. These fans were out to have a fun day, and Sullivan snaps a picture, using it to make light of why anyone would want to come out early to see the Cubs on Opening Day at Wrigley Field. Call me sensitive, but I thought it was a crappy thing to do, and it merited a call out. So I called him out in a sarcastic, but playful way:

Sullivan, who almost never responds to Tweets, responded in a way that (1) suggested he’d had something he wanted to say for quite some time, and (2) surprised the hell out of me:

It took me a few moments to collect myself, but I sent Paul a couple of Tweets. One frustrated:

And two sincere:

Paul and I also exchanged emails, the specifics of which I’ll keep between us. But they were short and courteous. I expressed my disagreement with his use of the word “plagiarize,” and offered to stop sharing/discussing his writing on BN. Paul essentially indicated that he likes the site, and I got the impression that he wasn’t looking to accuse me of a specific instance of (or instances of) Jayson Blair-style plagiarism. It doesn’t look like he’ll be publicly confirming that he was joking anytime soon, though.

Sullivan has a bit of showman in him, and some of his digs are in jest and good fun. This pushed that line a bit, and it’s disappointing. Moreover, it raises with it an important conversation about the nature of sports journalism, access, sports blogging, and what I do at Bleacher Nation.

First, let’s dispense with that ugly “P” word. The generally-accepted definition for plagiarism, as offered in this instance by Merriam-Webster, is “to steal and pass off the ideas or words of another as one’s own; to use another’s production without crediting the source.” If it doesn’t go without saying, plagiarism is among the most serious and damaging charges someone can lodge at a professional writer. And, if it doesn’t go without saying based on that definition (or any reasonable definition you can concoct), let me state it clearly: I have never plagiarized, and never will. I’ve never even approached it. The light from plagiarism has yet to reach BN’s Earth. I don’t think it will ever get here.

I do what I do with integrity, transparency, and honesty. With one casually-flicked – and very public – sentence, Sullivan chipped away at that, however slightly.

It was unfortunate and unfair, but it gives me the opportunity to discuss the aspect of BN’s Cubs coverage with which Sullivan has an issue: aggregation.

Simply, aggregation is a long-standing aspect of blog writing, the most notable example of which here at BN is the morning Bullets. Aggregation comes in a variety of flavors, some of which is rather insidious. There are sites that automatically search out, steal, and repackage originally-produced content on their own site, a practice that would qualify as both plagiarism and copyright infringement. There are others that lift and repackage originally-produced content and supply a link, but they republish far too much of the source content and supply no original content/analysis/discussion of their own. That is not what I do, and it never has been. What I do is probably better described as “aggregation and curation.”

Useful and appropriate human aggregation usually has a certain look: here’s a link I think you should read, here’s a very small slice of what the author at that link says, and here’s what I think about what the author at that link says. A good blog uses aggregation as a piece of what it does, and there are very large, reputable baseball sites that rely heavily on aggregation. And there’s nothing wrong with that, because they do it the right way. The obvious examples here are the inimitable and widely-accepted MLB Trade Rumors and Hardball Talk.

Although it is far from the only thing that I do, thoughtful human aggregation is an important part of what I do. There is so much information about the Chicago Cubs available out there that, as part of what I do, I read/listen/watch everything I can find on the Cubs, cull what is important, and present the information in a useful manner – frequently with extensive analysis. Aggregation here is done with appropriate attribution, including a link. By doing so, I am not only keeping readers here informed, I am also spreading the love to other writers.

I don’t pretend to be anything I’m not here at BN. Over the years, when I’ve received barbs about “not being a real journalist” or “just being a fan like anyone else,” my inclination has always been to say, “Well, yeah. I’m just a dude who writes about the Cubs.” I’ve never really thought of myself as anything more.

That said, I can’t ignore a huge piece of this conversation: bloggers like me aggregate out of equal parts service and necessity. As a media entity without credentials or traditional “access,” sites like Bleacher Nation have always had to approach coverage from a different perspective. The aggregate-link-and-comment model arose for this very reason. Historically, independent bloggers have not had access to the press box or the clubhouse. We can’t talk to the manager ourselves. We can’t get quotes from the GM. So we do the best we can.

Fortunately, the Cubs have been supportive of what I do. I’ve recently started receiving media releases from the Cubs (transaction news and official news you see on BN is, like, actual reporting!), and I’d like to think the ball is slowly rolling toward the kind of legitimization necessary for me, or for someone writing under the BN banner, to be able to cover the Cubs like any other media source with credentials.

Even then, I wouldn’t want to change how I do things too dramatically. Information about the Cubs is all part of one large conversation. No one owns the information, and no one – save, perhaps, for the Cubs – should own the access. Reporters are entitled to write about the Cubs, and I’m entitled to write about what they say. Far more importantly: you, the reader, are entitled to see it all and participate in that conversation. When I’m able to do more “direct reporting” on the Cubs, if that phrase works for you, I’m still going to want to view the entirety of the conversation with a wide lens. And if that means linking to and discussing the reports of other writers, then so be it.

But, until that access is afforded – and the imprimatur of legitimacy that comes with it – I will be vulnerable to the kinds of criticisms Sullivan lobbed at me yesterday, fair or unfair.

For now, the best I can do is continue to be extremely transparent – which, ironically, is what gives people ammunition to blast me. When I’m relaying and commenting upon information that an outside reporter has cultivated, I go out of my way not to try and casually slip in the fact that the information came from another media source without a link (which, as an outside observer, is common practice among many traditional media outlets). Instead, I proclaim loudly and boldly the source of the information, and then I offer my own, original thoughts. To use my transparency as a sword against me is the kind of short-sited folly that I “have neither the time nor the inclination” to correct. I know that I’m doing things the right way, and I know that I’m proud of my work. Everything else is, at best, secondary.

I’ve always said I respect what the beat writers do, and, for the most part, I think they do great work. Even to this moment, I’ll say it about Sullivan, too. I share with you what they write because I think you should read it. I’ve never supported the “us against them” approach vis a vis bloggers and traditional media, and I think it’s a mistake on both sides. Perhaps it is because I am not a traditional journalist that I’ve always viewed our roles as complementary, not adversarial. I intend to remain that way.

Thank you for being a part of the Bleacher Nation community. I feel incredibly blessed to write about the Chicago Cubs for a living; it’s both an honor and an obligation that I take very seriously.

A final thought: Let’s not turn the comments into a Sullivan/beat writer blast session. There’s a reputational aspect to these things, and although there’s little I can do to put the credibility toothpaste back in the tube Sullivan just squeezed, I can do my best not to squeeze anyone else’s. It’s just not me, and I’d like it not to be you, either.

  • Mike

    The thing is, based on the accepted definition of ACTUAL plagiarism, you’d have to wonder why anyone would ever want to plagiarize Paul Sullivan. If you’re going to plagiarize, you should go after people who actually know how to compose a decent sentence.

  • Andrewmoore4isu

    I was going to
    Comment, but then I read the last paragraph!

    • Ron Swanson

      This….biting tongue…

    • Jack Weiland


    • Cyranojoe

      +1 too.

    • SirCub

      Haha, nice restraint!

  • TOOTBLAN Tracker

    I’ve been a “real journalist” and a blogger. Neither is more inherently noble than the other.

    That said, what Paul said was small, inaccurate and unfair and should apologize in the same venue in which he made the allegation.

    It is, on its face, libelous.

    • Noah

      That’s one of my problems with the Paul Sullivan comment as well. It’s been awhile since I’ve dealt with libel issues (probably while studying for the bar exam), but he made a false comment about Brett’s professional integrity. It was one thing when, about a year ago, Keith Law, Kevin Goldstein and Jim Callis said that most of the blogs doing their own “top prospect” lists are pretty silly. Even though I’ve worked on those in the past, I agree with them. I have no scouting expertise, and can only take what others have written, look at the stats and try and boil down what others are saying. That’s a specific contrast of experts v. amateurs in an area where there is at least a strong argument that expertise is vital.

      This is different. And whatever anyone thinks about Sullivan’s writing, it was disappointing to a different level.

    • forlines

      Thank you Brett for your dedication to all things Cubbies. Without trying to murder Sullivan with words, what he did was a cheap, childish and unwarranted pot shot against you. I understand where he was coming from in his first Tweet (i think/hope most cubs fans do), as well as understanding where you came from in responding, but taking it any further than mild jokes is just lame and unprofessional.

  • cubfanincardinalland

    A journalist should know that words can be powerful tools. That was unprofessional, and down right dirty. Tell him your a lawyer also, maybe that will wake him up from slanderous statements.

    • cjdubbya

      I know that Brett said to not attack Sullivan, but I actually sent him a tweet saying exactly that yesterday. Weak sauce, dick move, whatever you want to call Sullivan’s actions, I think it all fits. I don’t know the guy so I can’t say how he is as a person, but I think we can all call him out for that action, which most certainly didn’t need to be done.

      Twitter gives you 140 characters to post something, but I think that just two characters sum up my thoughts on Sullivan’s plagiarism accusation – FU.

  • Weber

    “Traditional” newspaper reporters will always have some amount of hostility towards bloggers, regardless of the quality and integrity with which you blog.

    If readers are coming (and coming back) to your site, you are providing value to them, that’s what matters.

  • Brian

    Well said Brett! I personally appreciate your site and the others I peruse. You do a stand-up job and I for one will go nowhere other than here for my info!

    • Greg

      Yest to that. I get way more (and better) information about the Cubs here than I ever did from the Tribune site. It’s hard not to say what most here are thinkinglivan, but you’re a good man to put in that last paragraph. Keep up the great work Brett!

      • Greg

        Dang I wish I could type!!

  • Leo L

    I know you last paragraph said not to beat up on Sullivan but you I have been following your site for a long time. i can tell you are proud of your work and put alot of time into it. I got to think his response has to be a little bit of jealousy. I dont know him so i am obvoiusly guessing. I would like to point out that he if he was jealous and/or the fact that he even would go far as to intereact with you by email that there must be some kind of respect for your work. once again job brett on a great site. ( by the way, writing is my weakness and i too am jealous of your skills)

  • Katie

    Wow. Just wow. And I’ll leave it at that.

  • Dan

    Way to be a class act Brett. Keep up the great work at Bleacher Nation!

  • justinjabs

    Yeah, we shouldn’t be talking about Sullivan in the comments, but what he did what downright disrespectful and has lost my personal support for his work (which was only immediately gained because he was part of the beat writer “gang”). What happens to Sullivan if he says that about Carrie? Or Rosenthal?

    A non-Sullivan comment: I would say what you do Brett is not “aggregation.” I prefer to use the term “curation.” You are linking us everything that pops up in your RSS feed, in your Google alerts, in your Twitter feed, etc. Like you said, you’re taking the best and most relevant information and presenting it for us to read. To me that’s the difference and the latter is much more awesome and credible.

    Continue doing what you do and good job handling this situation appropriately.

    • justinjabs

      That should say you are NOT linking us everything. Where are you edit button?? 😛

    • Brett

      That’s a good word, Justin. I should have included it, and now will. Thanks.

      • Chase S.

        But that’s plagiarism! (kidding)

        I agree with Justin. The first thing that came to mind after reading Paul’s tweets was “well, he doesn’t have the access you do, what the hell else is he supposed to do?!” I guess it’s kind of a simple way of saying what Justin just explained, which I think is equally important in sportswriting: you take a plethora of information, centralize it, hence curation. You also bring up discussion on each article, which gives a good middle ground (I think, anyway) of what’s being reported from “real” journalists. It gives us a story behind the story so to speak. Being a writer (though not of the journalist variety) myself, I know how offensive and personal a comment like that feels. Props to you for defending yourself and bringing up this discussion of what you do. I know I’ve had that conversation with someone before about your blog and will defend you all the way.

  • roz

    Does Paul Sullivan not understand what it means when you retweet someone?

  • Papi

    Sullivan’s tweet and reaction did not warrant this lengthy of a post but good on your Brett to explain, educate and address. My tweet was not so indirect or judicious but needed to be said

    • cjdubbya

      And yet that’s just your opinion, whereas Sullivan stated something to be taken as a fact, yet it’s wrong. Just wish there was a way to take him to task for that statement.

    • forlines

      HAHA! that’s one of the best tweets i’ve ever read….’the carlos marmol of sportswriters’! Classic!

  • EddieK76

    I was ready to say yesterday that what he said was highly libelous since he has nothing to base his accusations on. I won’t say what I truly think of Sullivan or a lot of Cubs “real” media if you want to know hit me up :)

  • Jesse Ervin

    I would just consider his jealousy a compliment.

  • The Other Matt

    Brett, you do a wonderful job. By far my favorite Cubs resource of all time.

    • HackAttack


  • Nancy Thomas

    I enjoy and appreciate your work, Brett. Been a Cubs fan for 50 years, live out west now but I am still faithful. Your blog keeps me more connected now that I don’t have Chicago “traditional media” to rely on. Keep up the good work – GO CUBS GO!!

  • a_mazz_ing

    Kept it classy as you always do Brett. Sully’s shot was bush league. I think it really says something to have this many pissed off fans of BN because of this tweet from Sully. Keep up the awesome work!

  • Gary Vandre

    Thanks for what you do. As a downstater our Cubs coverage/news is abysmal, and I don’t want to wade through a dozen sites to find the info you provide.

  • DAN W

    Kick his a** Brett. LoL. But remember, any press is good press.

  • Cubbie Blues

    I got this from Phil. Seems appropriate.

    • Cubbie Blues

      Well that didn’t work.

      • Rmoody100


  • Myles

    Is there a way to measure how many twitter followers a person has over time? I’m just curious to see how many followers he may have lost over this (or he blocked; at least a few OV commenters blasted Paul and were met with a block). I actually like Paul Sullivan’s work, but I dropped him after I initially read this.

    • aCubsFan

      Yep. There is a lot of software available to measure following and see who is coming and going. Mostly on your feed but sometimes you can check other feeds. I don’t think Paul Sullivan cares about how many followers he has or how many leave because Twitter followers come and go all the time.

      One must have to remember for a reporter/journalist, just like any other business, Twitter is just another method for driving traffic back to the website. And, it has been widely covered all the faux pas and missteps journalists, celebrities and everyday people make with their tweets and postings. This is just one of them.

  • cubfanincardinalland

    What I find most bizarre is his original tweet in the first place. Fans waiting in line to see their favorite baseball team on opening day is a tradition many find sacred for a century of baseball.
    For someone who makes his living covering a baseball team and the sport, to mock them is almost kind of delusional. Maybe time to find a new vocation if he really has that type of bitterness and jaded attitude towards the game.

  • Mike In Southern Illinois


    I highly respect what you do here at BN. I work in the radio business in a rural area, and as such, my income is like working with stone knives and bearskins. If I could, I would support your site.

    From time to time we get press credentials to Cardinals games at Busch Stadium. I hope we do when the Cubs come to town. I will gladly go to that series, and pass along so-called actual reporting. Like when we throw a beatdown on St. Louis!

  • Rich G

    I enjoy your work very much, Brett. So much so that I’ll respect your last paragraph even though I was waiting for your comment on this matter so as I unleash some vitriol on Sullivan.

  • SouthernCub

    Brett……Don’t let that dude get to you, if you’ve been above reproach in your dealings, then you’ve nothing to worry about. Keep doing what you do, because you do it well.

  • Gabes A

    First time post…Long time follower…

    Brett I’ve been following your site for over a year now. Never have I felt like I’ve needed to make a comment on this site. But as someone that hits F5 ever few minutes to see if you’ve posted anything new, I greatly admire and appreciate your work. No jabs at Sullivan are needed. Once someone sees your work and sees the following that you have, the respect and admiration will be there. I must say that I especially enjoy the comments sections! It’s nice to see the regulars post like Darth, Hans, Goat, Prof, Westbound, and everyone else.(the ones with the funny & interesting names are easy to remember lol). Keep up the great work Brett and know that there are others like myself that share the same feelings!

  • Josh

    Brett – I have ready your blog for a while now, and thoroughly enjoy it. I wish I could say the same for Paul Sullivan. Good luck, and keep doing what you do.

  • Jason

    Did Sullivan know it was opening day at Wrigley? Plagiarism is a pretty big accusation to throw out to any type of journalist. The funny thing is the only times I read his articles is after you posted the link to send me to them, so really he should be thanking you.

  • Ron

    The way you aggregate information is why I read BN. There is simply too much information out there to read if you have a life other than baseball. Following this blog has made me a more well rounded fan of the cubs because I have access to an much information as my time allows. If I ever thought your point of view on Cubs related material was miopic in the sense that you didn’t offer or allow for dissenting or alternate opinions I would not follow BN. In fact I have read some of Sullivan’s work because of what you do. In closing, I just want to say thank you, I appreciate your hard work. You are providing an incredible service to Cubs fans everywhere. Oh and he looks like a dork anyway!

  • Abram

    I’ve been in Afghanistan for more than nine months now. While I’ve been here, I have tried to keep up with the Cubs as much as possible. I follow two (technically three) people / sites… and that is it. You (Bleacher Nation) and Paul Mooney & Cap at CSN. That is it.

    I, too, am a journalist. Just happen to be one in a military uniform. So, I know a “little” about proper content, story telling and all that jazz. Brett, you are by far and away one of the best writers a fan can read on a continual basis. You mix it up. You’re entertaining and you’re informative. Also, you’re grammar is spot on. Which helps make your information that much more palatable. Unlike some other blogs that forget to edit, edit and edit again before publication. Thank you for all of your hard work and dedication.

    Your message board proves that you have a captivated audience. Which, in your own words, is swell. (BTW, thanks for getting me hooked on that word)

    I’ll leave the Paul bashing to the rest of the message board.