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.

  • Jtcubsfan44

    I have ended up reading many articles I otherwise would not have because of the site. You do a great job giving Cubs fans information to think about and read further into. Keep up the great work Brett.

    • Ryan


      Late to the party here…You totally didn’t need to defend yourself. Not only did you RT him, which essentially is citing him and tweet, but it is twitter and public access. He would have a hard time arguing with anyone that twitter isn’t free source. Lastly, all he did was bully and bull-doze, which we all know is a sign of weakness and insecurity. Brett, you did nothing wrong here.

      I see a deeper issue of him being a Cubs beat writer, much like Levin or Greenberg, etc., that have a nasty habit of white washing our entire fan base as idiots who know nothing about the game, and the real inside of the game as well. I have seen him twice now at ST, and he just screams of being a “stereotyped” journalist in the sports world. Between him, Rosendumb and Witty, they have nothing else to do but find a story or make one up to serve their desperate need to be liked.

  • caryatid62

    I think this site is probably the best Cubs blog there is and Sullivan’s tweet smacked of the bitterness that comes with being a jaded writer stuck in a dead-end gig. However, there is a point to be made about the relationship between bloggers (in general) and beat writers.

    The “Rooftop Owners=Bloggers” comparison is not entirely without merit. Both rely upon the product created by another to build their business. While this site is very good about citing and sourcing all others (the “plagiarism” charge was ridiculous), it’s fairly clear that there is a sizable chunk of this site that could not be possible without the work of the beat writers. Part of that is an issue of access, but the point remains-without their work, this site has significantly less content.

    Sullivan, Wittenmeyer, Miles, et. al. all wanted to prevent a Cubs blog from ever posting anything they wrote or using any quote they obtained through their own efforts, they’d be in the right to try and do so. While I think this site would respect that and continue to produce solid independent content, how many other blogs would?

    I guess the point of this is that we’re all quite quick to call one group of people who profit off of others’ content “greedy leeches” and defend vehemently another group who (not to the same extent, of course) also profit off of the work of others. I think both issues are much more complicated than we make them out to be, and it would be nice if more people recognized that.

  • cubzforlife

    As a loyal BN follower and Brett fan I look forward to the day the Cubs are again in the playoffs and Brett is in the clubhouse with his credentials. The only downside is no Cubs gear allowed and you cannot cheer in the press box.

  • Dan

    As a transplanted Cubs fan (and part of the 85% of the population that works for a living), the value BN brings to me is that I can go one place for all information Cubs. I do not have time to follow everyone, and have found your site over time to be very fair and thorough.

    From a fellow writer and scholar of such, you always conduct yourself and site things more than appropriately. If someone doesn’t like your work, they don’t need to follow it – whatever.

  • Kevin

    While I do not often comment I do tend to read most of the stuff you post on here and I have never thought of anything as the “p” word. I know others have said it above but you have included such a wonderful summary of articles with links that it makes it fun to both enjoy baseball and especially Cubbie baseball with pride. I am not overly baseball “knowledgeable” but I have learned a lot through both your candor and writing style. Keep it up!

    Thank you,
    Go Cubs…and closer to me iCubs!

  • JoyceDaddy

    Love your site Brett. Great content, great people, it’s awesome. Keep up the great work.

  • Dougy D

    PREACH ON BROTHER!!! I love that you think before you write, which unfortunately, not all of us always do (myself included). The reason why I started and have continued to read this site (almost every single article through entirely) is because you are a fan and share the information of others. I would not know anything about Paul Sullivan or the other beat writers if it weren’t for your contribution to the distribution of their writings. Being an Iowa resident and a Cubs fan since I was a weee chap, there never has been much for us to get current info on the Cubs other than watching ESPN or Cubs games, until now. The depth of the organization that you give to us helps make being a Cubs fan easier in these tough times. THANK YOU

    • Ralph

      You said it Ronny Boy… I mean Dougy D!

  • Josh

    Brett, great site. Well done. Cats pajamas.

  • Dan Foote

    I’ve lived in far west Texas for most of my life. Basically, this is where Cubs fans go to hell. The local news outlets do not cover the Cubs unless there’s a scandal or they’re playing the Dodgers or Rangers. The national news we see here doesn’t cover them. So Cubs addicts like myself must rely on the web for our daily fix of ANYTHING Cubs.

    For years I read the Chicago Trib and Sun Times on line versions, plus a few blogs. Then one day I accidentally came across a blurb about BN. Of course I had to check it out, since it was another source for Cubs info.

    After several months of reading all of the sources, everyday and seeing some of the same information over and over, I am now reading ONLY BN everyday and one or two sites once every month or two.

    The information presented here takes the best from all of the other sites and adds color and weeds out the CRAP that I don’t need to read and don’t have the time for. If BN were to go away today, I would probably read the Cubs official website and leave the other sites alone. What can I say, I’ve gotten spoiled here.

    Bleacher Nation, from here, to a World Series and BEYOND!!!!

  • jim

    As stallone once said, you drew first blood brett, but is no big deal as long as you ply sully with copious amounts of beer, etc 😉
    Did you expect him to just let it go unanswered?

  • walterj

    Can’t say enough on how good this blog is . Keep doing exactly what you have always done , because that is why I visit this site three times a day .

  • Ivy Walls

    You are a destructive emerging market driver and Sullivan works for a deconstructing business model.

    Remember this quote from a great baseball movie:

    the first guy through the wall. It always gets bloody, always.

    It’s the threat of not just the way of doing business, but in their minds it’s threatening the game. But really what it’s threatening is their livelihoods, it’s threatening their jobs, it’s threatening the way that they do things. And every time that happens, whether it’s the government or a way of doing business or whatever it is, the people are holding the reins, have their hands on the switch. They go bat shit crazy.

    • King Jeff

      Yeah it really stinks that we fans get to pick and choose who and where we get our news and commentary from, and that we all aren’t still subject to having to read the SunTimes and Tribune as our only sources for anything Cubs related. Sure wish it would go back to the days that I was forced to read Gordon Wittenmeyer and Jay Mariotti if I wanted Cubs coverage. -smh

  • fromthemitten

    well hopefully you got a lot of followers/hits out of it

  • Uncle Ruckus

    Paul Sullivan is my hero! Thank you Pauly for giving us “trolls” a voice!!! Bretts an oversensitive punk anyway. I encourage all of you BN’ers to migrate over to Bleed Cubbie Blue, a far superior site to this one.

    • Jim


      • Uncle Ruckus

        Yep, im about to get blocked for the 3rd time in 3…2….1…

        • Bric

          Sometimes it’s easy to forget that Brett reads thousands of comments a week and has tens of thousands of hits more than that. He’s not a machine. I remember once when he still called himself Ace that I thought I pissed him off. He responded by calling me Barry (from and earlier article when we all introduced ourselves with real names, starting with him. Hence, some people still call him Ace). I was like “Dude… you don’t remember my name is Brian?” His response was “No, I honestly don’t.”

          The point is Brett has a lot to do and read and in seeing this site for 5 years + I’ve found most posters take way more offense to their own comments than Brett ever does. It might just be in your mind and you might want to just step back and think about that for a second. JMO – We’re all Cub fans.

        • whiteflag

          Are you aware Brett use to write for BCB?

    • hansman1982

      Oh, no. You sir are WRONG!

      The comments section is THE place for quality debate and discussion.

    • DarthHater

      Speaking of being “blocked,” I enjoyed your new portrait:

  • Ralph

    What’s a Paul Sullivan anyway???

    • Dougy D

      see above picture

  • Kenny

    Love what you do here Brett. I do believe there is a place for all forms of media to report on what they love. I personally only ever read BN for all the latest on the Cubs and just generally fun articles. Thanks.

  • tgk

    As a professinal lurker, it takes something rather profound to draw me out of the wookwork. And while I hate the fact that my first post on BN is for Sullivan, I just felt that I should support Brett. I am a former journalist who holds a degree in journalism and nothing I have ever seen on this site has even given me a hint of plagarism. And while I am respectful of Brett’s request that we refrain from bashing Sullivan, I find the general tenor of his post to be in line with the snarky, elist attitutde that often comes out in his writing style. That, and the general unwillingness of the tribune to make their site user friendly, is the reason I’ve stopped reading him.
    For those of you screaming “Libel,” even if his comments resulted in actual damages you have to prove that he had “malicious intent” for him to be held accountable in court and awarded damages. It is incredibly difficult to prove that one person had malicious intent for another, and even when someone is awarded damages initially (which is rare) it is almost always overturned on appeal.
    All of which means this: While it was irresponsible of Sullivan to make the comment, given the Trib’s legal resources Brett has little to no legal recourse. (Which I am sure he already knows) The best he could hope for is an apology Based on what I I have inferred from reading Sullivan in the past, I would say that it is extremely unlikely he is man enough to admit fault.
    Keep up the good work Brett, and don’t worry about Sully. We know the truth and appreciate all you do.

  • Adarecub

    As a cubs fan living in Ireland I would be lost without bleacher nation. Sullivan is a jackass. I’ve always been struck by how much Brett credits everyone for their published articles. If plagiarism is the only charge Sullivan can level at Brett it makes me disrespect him even more. Bitter does not cover it

    • DubCub

      Another Irish Cubs fan? Huh, who knew!

  • Brett

    They are too numerous to respond to individually, so, with apologies, I want to thank you all for your kind words today. You’re swell.

  • Abe Froman

    I wrote this exact article word for word two months ago, not accusing you of anything directly just saying it’s quite a coincidence.

  • Chef Brian

    I’ve been an avid reader of BN for over a year and I can honestly say that everything I have read on this site has been above board and you have never been in the vicinity of the “P” word. Sullivan gave you a low blow, and it was really uncalled for. Unfortunately, whether you classify yourself as a journalist or not Brett, your integrity is all you have and that is no small thing. You have a right to protect it. You do an excellent job here. Keep it up. From the looks of it, you have a lot of supporters here. That also is no small thing.

  • Gcheezpuff

    Hands down the best Cubs blog and the fact that you interact with your readers makes the site all the more enjoyable. Many of the sports writers don’t offer the same interaction and in many cases seem to not realize without fans they wouldn’t have a job. I appreciate and respect what Bleacher Nation is and always make it my first stop for Cubs info. Thanks for doing what you do Brett.

  • Rooster

    This is the first site I look to for Cubbie info. It’s classy and up to the minute. Keep up the great work.

  • baldtaxguy

    Very well written response. He had more coming to him.

  • Ash

    Sullivan likes to throw out the barbs on Twitter, and I think it’s relatively harmless. I enjoyed his calling out of Plesac.

  • LEO R.

    Brett you do a great job bringing all of the Cubs news together and in a timely manner. I check out this site a couple of times a day. It’s my favorite. Thanks for doing a great job.

  • johnny kelroy


    I, for one come to this site almost first and foremost because I believe that you deliver well thought out, cerebral information. I have been a die-hard Cubs fan since the late-80’s (born in ’82), and I share a lot of the same feelings that you do as a fan. Keep up the great work, and I will continue to support the site and enjoy getting my information as well!

  • Doctor_Blair

    If anything, this makes me lose respect for Mr. Sullivan. Was it because he publicly took a shot at Brett? No. As much as I appreciate Brett’s work, he certainly doesn’t need me to e-knight for him. I lost respect for Mr. Sullivan because he essentially did what you’ve seen many kids do on the Internet while participating in forums or playing games – he said something he’d likely never say to Brett’s face because he feels like he can say whatever he wants with no ramifications. The Internet takes away basic etiquette from dim-witted egotistical fools (like myself, for example…) and it appears he’s no different. I’m sure it will just break his heart to hear he has one less twitter follower.

  • Joe

    Brett you are the man. Low blow from Sullivan with absolutely no merit. You are more insightful with your writings and far more grammatically conscience. Not a day goes by that I don’t see a glaring grammar error in a muskat, Sullivan, or whitty blog post. I follow you and Jesse Rogers and that’s it. Keep up the amazing work!

  • JellyDevil

    I know you did not want to turn this into a Paul S. Bash fest but he is one of the weakest “beat reporters” in the business. When was the last time he broke a story or had anything insightful? I challenge anyone including Paul to post anything that would fit that description.

    And my opinion is not based on just following his “beat writing”- I have also frequented the same tavern as Paul over the years and had several baseball related conversations. Always found myself somewhat dumbfounded by his lack of baseball knowledge and or passion. He seems to be someone who thinks very highly of himself and thinks he is above the ridiculous Cubs fans that come out and watch this terrible product year in and year out.

    Needless to say you have a lot more real followers than he does- guaranteed. He must have pictures on someone at the Trib- that can be the only explantaion.