Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Off the Mark

It was a throw-away line, a comment to underscore a point.
Speaking of blogging in a column earlier this week, I wrote that "before the Internet, bloggers were ... the lunatics we used to see ranting on street corners. Now, they call them citizen journalists. Which is like being a citizen thoracic surgeon.
"All you need to know about bloggers is that the insufferable billionaire Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, is one ..."
If you don't know Mr. Cuban, he is an entrepreneurial genius who made several billions in the technology sector while still in his 40s.
Reaching into his petty cash drawer, he bought the NBA's Dallas Mavericks for $285 million. As owner, he has distinguished himself by racking up more than $1 million in fines for offensives ranging from berating officials on his blog to running onto the court to dispute calls.
Some call his act energy. I call it ego.
Bottom line: Mark Cuban lives in a different universe than mine.
That is why I was surprised to hear from Mr. Cuban, who apparently hangs on every word I write.
"Insufferable? Big word for someone you have never met," he huffed in an e-mail.
Well, Mr. Cuban, anyone with a passing interest in news or sports has caught you and your act. You often get as much camera time as your players. I didn't have to shake your hand to decide you were "insufferable." And if that is too big a word for you, "bombastic" or "self-absorbed" would fit just as well.
Sure, I'd like to meet you sometime, but I bet we travel in different circles.
For example, you have your own $40 million Gulfstream V jet. I fly coach and hope to accumulate enough bonus miles someday for a free trip to San Jose.
You own an NBA team and hang with the assorted billionaires who make up your exclusive fraternity. I coached AYSO soccer and helped out in a couple of fundraising bake sales.
You own a high-definition television channel. I own a digital camera.
You live in a 24,000-square-foot mansion. My house clocks in at about 2,300 square feet, give or take a porch or two.
I'm an ink-stained wretch, and you're a billionaire, yet we can have this dialogue. Is this a great country or what?
Alas, our paths will probably never cross again. But as a parting gift, you directed me to your blog titled, "Why Journalism Matters."
In it you wrote: "Want to get younger viewers? Go out and hire the very best recent college journalism graduates you can find. Give them a camera, a computer and an area of specialty; Business, local politics, national politics, whatever. Better yet, ask them what they think matters ... Tell them their only requirement is that they are equal parts journalist and adrenalin junkies. Focused on fearlessly finding the truth behind stories that matter to them, their families and friends. Guess what, even for a 21 year old, it's not just about Paris Hilton, Bradgelina and the latest Rap feud ..."
Good idea, Mark, but of course most newspapers already hire the best and the brightest. There are some conditions attached, of course: unbiased, balanced and thorough reporting and an ability to write is a requirement.
"Fearlessly finding the truth"? It's called investigative journalism, and it takes vast amounts of time, skill and more than a little bit of luck. I knew two reporters at the Los Angeles Times who spent five years on one investigative story.
In the meantime, readers want the news, and they pay for it to be delivered seven days a week. Not just "stories that matter" to the reporters but stories that matter to them: what the city council or state government or school board did, the election results and, yes, who won the basketball game.
Unless you are going to feed them the unsubstantiated drivel that we call blogs.

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