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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.

  • ReiCow

    Brett,

    I am extremely pleased with the way you present information, and have always respected how well you cite all your sources. As a publishing scientist, citation is of great importance to me, and your site does it properly. Keep doing everything you do, and don’t change your style one iota!

    Moo!

  • DaveY

    I stopped reading sullivan years ago. He’s just not worth it. Chicago hasn’t had a decent baseball writer since Jerome Holtzman and only has one decent sports writer in Sam Smith. The tribune dropped Smith but kept sullivan… what were they thinking?

  • Indy57

    Brett, BN is my number one site for all things Cubs. Keep up the great work! I’ve learned so much here in the last year. Great stuff and a fun community.

  • Carson

    Been an avid BN’er for years now. In addition to enjoying your take on things (with a quirky sense of humor that you can’t get from traditional beat writers) I can’t recall one post where every article and writer wasn’t given credit for their work. Keep doing what you’re doing, Cubs fans appreciate it!!!

  • BABIP (MichCubFan)

    I am not even sure who Sullivan writes for, but if I see a link for an article that looks interesting in the Bullets, I will click on it to read the article. I don’t think there is any other way I would find my way to one of his articles. So if anything, I think you are helping him get more page views/readers…and the same with any writer.

    I would guess this is a snobby professional writer sitting on his high horse cracking a serious, pointed joke at a talented writer who is probably more relevant and interesting than he is, but who writes for a lowly blog, not a newspaper.

    I can see how a newpaper columnist would be threatened by a good blog and blog writer. His business is going in the wrong direction.

    But keep doing what you are doing, Brett. This is the first site I go to when I sit down at the computer. Any other Cubs’ site is pretty much obsolete…unless you link to to it and it looks interesting. Paul Sullivan made himself look pretty bad here.

    • BTC

      Completely agree with what you ^ said.

      Brett keep up the great work. I have always been a big fan of the Cubs, but never really put a ton of effort into reading a bunch of articles on them. BN changed that, I check the site everyday. I never would have heard of Paul Sullivan if wasn’t for this blog. I wish there were other sites just like this but about the hawks and bears.

  • http://www.bairsdenuni.wordpress.com BAIRSDEN

    As an avid reader of Sully and avid viewer (his appearances on Kap’s show), that is until the Trib started charging for ‘premium’ articles, his attitude seemed to visibly change toward the organization after Hendry was ousted. That’s obviously a viewer/readers viewpoint but I can only judge the man off what he provides his viewer and readership with.

    Whether he lost sources inside the organization that soured his attitude or simply isn’t a proponent of the new direction of the front office I will say I haven’t enjoyed his coverage nearly as much these past 2-1/2 years. Sully does seem like a good enough dude, I’d certainly like to sit down with him for a candid interview about his own views on the Cubs.

    That being said if he respects you Brett I would think he wouldn’t even joke about the ‘P’ word. Could just be an honest gaffe but without seeing you two’s correspondence I’ll just bite my tongue. I can learn just as much or more from yourself Brett that I can learn from a beat writer like Sully as an aspiring journalist. Keep doing your thing. Let your haters be your motivators.

    • Tobias

      I had stopped reading the Tribune online when they went to the “premium” articles and I am still confused on what they perceive a “premium” article. I may be the only one, but it seems that every article, especially the Bears, is a “premium” article.

  • Adam

    Wow, what a %#^@!

    There is a reason why this is the site I read about the Cubs and not any other. Its the best!

  • cjdubbya

    It would be fitting if this thread ended up being the one with the most comments in the history of the site.

  • 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 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.

  • Jp3

    .There was an alleged incident which you invented.In the same way that if I assert that you sleep with sheep,than it is alleged that you sleep with sheep. (full quote)-Blue Chips (nick nolte)

    On a serious note that’s a serious allegation and nothing to joke about.

  • @cubsfantroy

    All I did was tweet him and say I am disappointed by his comments and lack of a public apology to Brett, and for that reason I have to unfollow you.

  • Richp

    My source for all Cubs news is: CSN,ESPN/CHI,BLEACHER NATION. Harumph,no Paul Sullivan here.

  • DCF

    I think Sullivans tweetpic of the waiting Fans was kinda funny. Standing in line when there is no line really is stupid. I guess they tried to get on tv as the superfans or something.

    • whiteflag

      It could have been funny, but Sullivan routinely bashes Cubs fans. Sully grew up a Sox fan, which there is nothing wrong with, except he is now a Cubs beat writer. He either needs to drop the constant cheap shots or find a new job. I for one stopped reading his articles a long time ago, along with that other nitwit the tribune employs.

    • Dynastyin2016

      Sullivan does realize without those kinds of fans, he doesn’t have a job, right?
      And to reply to his original tweet, when family and friends get together for any reason, it should be celebrated.

  • DarthHater

    Very well done, Brett. Sullivan is obviously totally out of his league in trying to screw with you.

    I know you don’t want us bashing Sullivan, but I feel that his behavior truly deserves some critical comment that you have been to kind to supply.

    When I saw Sullivan’s plagiarism tweet yesterday, I quite naturally assumed that he must have some specific gripe with you over the amount of his work that had been quoted on BN or some alleged insufficiency in an attribution. So I was quite surprised to learn from your post today that he really seems to have no specific gripe about such things, but only a more general problem with the whole issue of aggregation. Having concerns about that issue is perfectly fine, but articulating those concerns by launching an attack targeted specifically at BN is both petulant and ridiculously misguided. The fact that the attack took the form of a drive-by tweet smearing only makes it more egregiously childish.

    Even worse, Sullivan’s irresponsible and unintelligent behavior was not even occasioned by any particular events related to the issue of aggregation but rather was prompted by the unrelated fact that you had tweeted a sarcastic response to his obnoxious comment about a photo of dedicated Cubs fans. To take offense at your tweet and respond on an unrelated issue in such a manner is utterly immature.

    However, since immaturity is one the table and is, after all, what I do best, I must say, in closing, that I agree with the comment made here yesterday that Sullivan is an:
    [img]http://news.fanfeedr.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/images4.jpg[/img]

    • DarthHater

      *too kind
      **on the table

      [repeat request for edit button] :-)

  • ETS

    I can honestly say I keep better track of beat writers because of this site. Heck, there’s no way I would have read as much Nick Cafardo in my life if it weren’t for BN. (Suddenly I feel like I should be mad at Brett for that.)

    Also, there’s been several articles that I have clicked the link and gone to the source that otherwise I would not have.

  • unccubsfan

    Very classy and well thought out post. As a relatively new reader, I can honestly say that I have not skipped visiting this blog daily since I discovered it. Although I do not own a subscription to the Tribune, I don’t think I would be as inclined to visit Sullivan’s (or a majority of the beat writers’) columns even if I did subscribe to the paper. Because you are a level headed fan first, Bret, I find your blog to be much more inspired and thorough than the paper media’s content. I guess access to the clubhouse, GM, and press booth cannot make up for a lack of passion.

  • Matt

    Sullivan’s comment was out of line.

    That said, I understand why newspaper journalists find “aggregation,” or “curation,” or whatever you want to call it frustrating for a few reasons.

    One is that they feel as though internet sites that aggregate their information into easily gobbled bullets (without their permission) is akin to stealing. I don’t think this is the case here, as you duly noted that you always give credit where it’s due.

    Another problem for newspapers is their constant battle with social media and technology to stay relevant; news is generall “old news,” by the time it actually hits the newsstands. Thus, when a site like this condenses their last foothold, so to speak, into another easily digestible bullets for free, as opposed to paying even a nominal amount for it, the reaction is as though their last frontier of “old school news reporting,” has been encroached upon, if not ruined (in a sense).

    I read a piece earlier in the year about a journalist lamenting having to learn to deal with social media in today’s society, and learning how to write all over again, in a style that’s suitable for 140 character limits and the like. Quite a few journalists have openly lamented this, as they find what they do an art, of sorts.

    At any rate, I again must say that Sullivan was out of line with that comment, and he should apologize publicly, the reasonings for his seemingly angst-ridden feelings toward 21st century technology notwithstanding.

  • Cheryl

    Brett, I was a journalist and I read BN because of the integrity of your reporting. I could care less about Sullivan. Keep doing what you’re doing.

  • TWC

    Ace, if it makes you feel any better, I don’t mind all your plagiarism.

    • Cheryl

      PS: I stopped following many media journalists a long time ago becaus their standards are not up to what I was taught. Your writing is an exception.

  • ryan

    Keep up the good work, Brett. It’s a great site and I will continue to be a longtime reader.

  • Andy

    I think Sully might just be jealous that Brett has about 2000 more Twitter followers than he does. In all seriousness, BN is terrific. As a “one-stop shop” for all of the reporting, and all of the information, with some decent (even if I sometimes disagree) analysis, BN is one of the best sports “blogs” I’ve come across in any sport. There’s no good reason to stop doing what happens here, and how it happens. It’s damn good the way it is.

  • Matt

    I read and enjoy your take on baseball every edition. I couldn’t care less who this other guy is. Keep up the good work!

  • jt

    ” aggregation is a long-standing aspect of blog writing ”
    *
    I would consider aggregation as a long-standing aspect of academic research.
    *
    IMHO, you present the context of others in a greater collective context with a presentation that is all your own. You then offer original interpretation while allowing others to post their own POV.
    *
    me thinks that is how free speech should work….
    and I thank you!

  • The Dude Abides

    Sullivan obviously is not sold on the team slogan “Committed”. He’s a writer for a major newspaper not a fan writing a blog. He is responsible for attracting readers and opinions good and bad help his cause.

    Your silver lining is he at least knew who you were. You are making a dent in mainstream media. His tweets may lead a few of his followers to your sight to give you a look and see if they like what is going on. I’m sure you also track hits and followers so it’s a good thing as I’m sure you know.

    Congrats…

  • Kevin F.

    Sullivan will be defensive because he earns a living in a dying industry: print media. That said, he’s slowly but surely crossing the line into Roznerburg: the beat writer who seems to dislike those who he is covering, or what he is covering. Next stop: sarcastic, curmudgeonly column produced on a regular or semi-regular basis featuring a select group of admired athletes, usually from the writer’s heyday, whilst ripping the former beat. (Roz just loved Tiger Woods and I always thought it was some sort of karma when The Hero took the fall.)

  • http://twitter.com/Brad_S_Brewer Brad Brewer

    Brett, I saw that whole interaction unfold, and thought that whether Paul was referencing that specific tweet or your body of work as a whole, that he would be COMPLETELY off base. As far as the tweet goes, you quoted his tweet and responded appropriately (his tweet had aggrivated me as well!). Likewise, your writing here on Bleacher Nation is always well done and you are very careful to not only use your own spin on the topic, you cite all your background info if you had any. His joke/anger-tweet is totally unfounded and ridiculous. Granted, Paul Sullivan can be a bit of a diva, so I wouldn’t take it too personally.

  • ProfessorCub

    This is a professional and mature response. Well done.

  • Dude

    I’ve only made it through half (will finish when I have more time), but Buster Olney does the same aggregation (with less curation) as you every day on his ESPN blog. If anything, it gives greater exposure to the Paul Sullivans of the baseball world.

    Either way, we’ve all got your back should this turn into an Anchorman-esque street brawl.

  • Ryan

    Brett,
    I am a big Cubs fan and had never really got into reading blogs or following the Cubs other than on TV or ESPN.com. I found your website last year during the off season and have thoroughly enjoyed your approach to covering the Cubs. I don’t read most of the articles that you link too, I don’t have time to do so. So I would never have heard of the beat writers unless you have mentioned them. So for those who are giving you crap I hope they understand that there writing would never have been read if it was not for you. Thank you for your hard work and glad that you can make a living at this, I wish I could.

  • matt

    I think you attacked his tweet, and he responded. It is what it is. I can see both points of view. You don’t plagiarize, but you do essentially re-report what they’ve already said. Albeit with your own spin and creativity. On top of it, some of the content that is aggetated or whatever is costing their employer money as it is “premium content” or on and ESPN Insider type site. I love this site for that reason, it’s all the articles essentially in cliffs notes that I can read, and see fans reactions. All of that being said, I think you handled your tweets/emails well. I think it could have ended there. Writing a Blog about the incident seems to have crossed the line a bit as well.

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