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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.

  • Matt

    Stay classy Brett – Sullivan is clown shoes.

  • HD

    Well written Brett. It’s hard not to stick up for you and blast Sullivan though. You’re our one stop shop or this fan and tons of others. Keep up the good work.

  • Ralph

    All I can say is that I have literally looked at/read this site every day of my life for the past couple of years. That’s saying something, right?

    • Jason

      ditto.

  • Yohler

    While it was stated that we not throw stones at Paul, HE CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH!

    Sorry, had to throw that one in there after your quote. Walk tall Brett, you do a great job here.

    • SirCub

      “Deep down inside, Paul, in places you don’t talk about at parties, you want me on that blog. You need me on that blog.”

  • Jp3

    Wow, it’s really amazing he had problems with YOU making me aware of who Paul Sullivan even is… Please don’t put his work on the bullet points anymore because I don’t want him to get anymore hits from me clicking on the always credited work of his you displayed. This is amazing mainly because instead of just giving him his due you created a link every time so we could jump to his page if we wanted.

  • Spencer

    Keep doin what you do Brett.

    • Cub Fan Dan

      +1

  • MightyBear

    While I believe we all appreciate this article Brett, it probably wasn’t necessary. We all know you are a person of character and you always link to a source when you quote it. Another huge part of BN, besides all the great information, is the fun. I can honestly say that I come to BN because I want to be a more informed Cub fan (which I am now) but also for the fun. I get quite a few chuckles from you and the posters and I get Cubs information in a timely manner. That’s what makes BN special. Thanks for all you do and you do a great job. There will always be critics. Just keep up the great work.

    • whiteflag

      ^this. Bleacher Nation is a wonderful community.

    • Diggs

      The post probably wasn’t necessary, but I think it sums up why a lot of people like this site (or at least it’s a main reason for me). I think we all could understand if Brett had written a scathing attack on Sullivan, but he didn’t. He civilly laid out his arguments (in a well-written manner) for why what Sullivan said was ridiculous, and he kept everything in the right perspective.

    • Troy

      I echo mighty Bears sentiments! For over a year now I have been reading bleacher nation and have never once even thought that there might be plagiarism Or any other misconduct. It’s clear to me that he was trying to create a negative light towards bloggers putting himself above you And trying to make it seem as if your blog is not legitimate. I can honestly say every Cubs fan that I run across I tell them about your blog And will continue to do so. Thank you Brett for all you do and inspiring Cub fans everywhere.

    • OregonCubFan

      Unfortunately it was absolutely necessary. Whether it was in jest or not – Sullivan publicly threw out a word that made his comment a very serious accusation. Just like a teacher or public official who is falsely accused of a sexual indiscretion is forced to defend themselves as their career is threatened – a writer accused of plagerism must do the same. It’s a shame it came from another writer who should understand 1) what this word means and 2) how serious of an accusation it is.
      As one who is mired in both public speaking and academia, I must compliment you on your work Brett. It does what a good research paper should do – collects the data, presents it, comments on it and offers creative and substantiated new ideas. Keep up the good work.
      And no – you have never come close to plagerism. Shame on you Paul Sullivan for suggesting it.

  • Spencer

    Regardless of anything else, Paul should apologize for his use of the word plaigarize, but obviously that has an extraordinary different and negative connotation than almost anything else he could say about a writer/blogger/journalist. Its like saying be sure to go to Dr. Smith if you love medical malpractice. Maybe his beef is legit, maybe not. But his wording was inappropriate.

  • Sam

    I come to Bleachernation multiple tomes daily. I NEVER go and read ONE thing Paul Sullivan puts out there unless you put it on your site. He’s jealous of you.

  • Jon

    Long time reader, first time commenter. What you do here is flat out awesome Brett. Keep doing what you’re doing.

  • miggy80

    Brett, here’s the dirty little secret. I only read Bleacher Nation because you tell me where to find Cubs info and I don’t have to do all that work myself. So yeah I’m kind of using you.
    Thanks!

    • MichiganGoat

      We are all leeches living in symbiosis with Brett

  • MichiganGoat

    Well written Brett

    [img]http://onlinesaleschannels.files.wordpress.com/2011/09/stay_classy.jpg[/img]

  • socothegreek

    Keep up the great work Brett. I’ve been hooked on your site since I discovered it a year and a half a go. When I hear somethings going on with the cubs, your opinion is the one that I look at first.

  • CUB5

    What you do is take their drivel and break it down with your opinion on the topic(s) at hand. Nothing wrong with that. You always have insightful remarks and I enjoy reading them. Keep up the good work!

  • Coop

    While I appreciate your taking the high road, I think some bashing of Sullivan is in order. Bush league behavior needs to be called out lest the perpetrator think there are no consequences to such behavior. I hope, at a minimum, every regular on this site drops Sullivan from his/her twitter feed (if you even followed him in the first place) for at least a week so he sees a noticeable impact for his poorly chosen words. I agree with others above – my first thought was his post seemed to verge on libel. Rather ironic, I suppose, since the two worst acts a writer can commit are plagiarism and libel…

  • http://ehanauer.com clark addison

    We all know that newspapers are on life support, and Sullivan is probably anxious about his continued employment.

    As a Cubs fan in San Diego, you and two other blogs are my main source of Cubs news, especially since the Trib and Sun Times are behind a paywall. Among the three, you are usually the first and best with news, opinion, and analysis. I appreciate what you are doing. Keep up the good work, and don’t let the bastards get you down.

  • Franck Cr.

    Keep up the good work Brett, regards from Costa Rica !.

  • Stinky Pete

    Soooooooooo you’re not going to explain yourself to a man who benefits from your work and then questions the manner in which he benefits?

    AFGM references are pure gold in my book.

  • Bob Johnson

    I’ve been reading the Trib Sports Page for about two years since moving back to Chicago but honestly had to Google Paul Sullivan to find out who he is I have emailed a couple of The Daily Herald Reporters after they wrote impressive stories. Keep up the Good Work Brett!

  • EngCubFan

    Congratulations on receiving validation that you are becoming the number one source of information for true Cubs fans. I’m sure this won’t be the last. No wonder all these mainstream publications are going bankrupt.

  • Stockholm Cubs

    We love the work you do, Brett. No doubt.

    As a sidenote, the Chicago Tribune blocks access to much content for non-US IP-addresses, leaving me grateful for the summaries/bullets (with links!).

  • Teri

    Brett, stay away from the politics. I follow BleacherNation every day and am proud to say that if I lived closer, I would have been one of those in line for the bleachers. I love your coverage and you are my main source as a tweet! Thank you.

  • swaz46

    I’ve written it before, and I’m sure I’ll have the opportunity to write it again. THIS is the reason I come to this site everyday. It contains well-written, fair, and eloquent articles and yes, even bullets. You always treat everyone with class and respect, Brett, even when they don’t deserve it, as Sullivan doesn’t here, imho. But you teach us all to take the high road, Brett. It’s something we all could stand to do more than we do.

    Keep doing things the way you have. No one does it better.

  • CubsFanBob

    The worse was that fat lip waste Ozzie JR piling on the tweet chain. What kind of person has Ozzie JR as his greatest supporter ?

    Sully crossed the line with that pic / tweet insulting Cub fans waiting in line for the bleachers. Sure it was way too early for fans to be out there but so what. Joke or not the entire tone of the tweet/pic was insulting and mean. In fact if you read or hear Sully enough he is constantly making fun of, piling on, and passively aggressively trashing the Cubs and their fan base. As someone who says they love their job one would have to question if he loves watching a mlb team play in a mecca of a stadium covering the Cub’s epic journey to one day break the longest losing streak in professional sports or he loves the basking in the defeat and pathetic endless hopelessness the Cubs seem to drown in constantly.

    The dude needs to step down covering the Cubs period. He grew up and continues to be a White Sos fan / supporter. That in itself is not a crime but if you cant do your job with respect to those you cover or provide feedback on without being a dick all the time then your doing a disservice to upholding the high standards and ethical behavior in the practice of journalism.

  • Rich

    I have been hooked on this site for over a year…and I thought Sullivan was just joking, hopefully for the most part that is what it was.

    Good work Brett!

    now BN Thongs for all

    • MichiganGoat

      Yes lets all put on the BN Banana Hammock and march into the Tribune office ;)

      • whiteflag

        Hilarious!

  • Tim Sheedy

    Keep up the good work Brett. Sullivan is bitter about something.

  • Spriggs

    It all stems from Sully’s Napolean Complex.

  • hansman1982

    “While I appreciate kind words, let’s take it easy on @PWSullivan. I remain hopeful that was just a bad joke.”

    Tweet out this joke and see how funny it would be:

    “See @TeacherXYZ123 for the latest NAMBLA forms. Registration due soon!”

    Although, I think we have one of the trolls that comments here figured out.

  • Grant

    Ed. Note: 2nd sentence should be “home opener” not “homer opener.” :)

    I’ll comment on the content of the post separately.

  • I love marmol

    Darth hater

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