Our lunchtime critical interlude

Hey, remember when we started reviewing newspapers' all-sports blogs? Neither do we. Re-acquaint yourself with the series here and read on for Part II: The Central Division.

First, a caveat.

In our initial look at newspapers' all-sports blogs, much was made of using comments as a proxy for utilization figures. We didn't fully express our regret for relying on such a rough-edged metric--some members of the WRG team have professional experience with comments and Web posts, fully understanding that certain pieces (by style and topic) are simply destined to spark more discussion. However, it was agreed that comments offer a rudimentary scale of readership, and we felt that the visual presence of feedback had positive connotations.

(Of course, if you'd like to improve this series' accuracy by sharing actual utilization data with us, we're e-mail-accessible at we period rite period goode at gmail dot com.)


Second, a reminder for how we do, again to those who missed Part I. Here's the key: We avoided team- and sport-oriented blogs to focus on all-sports blogs--ones that didn't have a built-in audience but had to cultivate their own (like a Mister Irrelevant or With Leather have done, as opposed to a TrueHoop or BulletsForever). We stuck to the major sports towns and, as an informal guide, came up with a few metrics that seemed fair.

* Post length: Hey, working against readers' limited attention span is important.
* Output: And so is keeping things fresh.
* Style: How the blog's written (like an AP article or a self-help column) goes a long way toward standing out.
* Hat-tips: How much love is given to non-newspaper blogs.
* Following: The best metric would be utilization, but since that's kind of opaque, we used the imperfect gauge of comments.


And to any reader who's made it this far, we're sorry for the long commentary. But keep your reading glasses on and take your Adderall; this post is just getting started. We review the seven "Central" sports cities today.


Chicago Tribune
Steve Rosenbloom

It must be a Tribune Company mandate--like its sister publication, the Baltimore Sun, the Trib has a number of its staff members blogging using the same WordPress template, although RosenBlog was a much stronger effort than O, by the Way. In part, that's because Rosenbloom brings some personality and energy, and we liked his give and take with readers. Don't read too much into our praise, though; this isn't an amazing format but it works.

Post length: Very long. 1,000+ words.
Output: Frequent. Usually one-two posts per day.
Style: Generally conventional. While Rosenbloom moves from topic to topic, he might as well be doing a round-up in a print column. Interestingly, and increasingly, Rosenbloom also uses his "back talk" feature to pull out comments as a regular feature in posts, either to respond and foment conversation...or more likely, mock the readers.
Hat-tips: None. Although there are a number of links, they're all to other news services.
Following: Strong. Most posts warrant a couple dozen comments. Rosenbloom also gets points from us for interacting with his readers, although some of them clearly aren't devotees. According to one commenter, "I am not a big fan of RosenBlah," although he goes on to commend a post on Carlos Zambrano. We also weren't huge fans, but like the Cubs over the White Sox, we'll take the Trib's blog over the competition (see below).

Chicago Sun-Times
Full Court Press
Roman Modrowski

Chicago's big enough to warrant two baseball teams, not to mention two major newspapers. But with the exception of a high school blog, "Full Court Press" is the Sun-Times' only sports blog, perhaps helping it attract a greater share of the newspaper's readers than it deserves.

Post length: Very, very short. Several dozen words on average. A typical post: "Cubs get Steve Trachsel back for Rocky Cherry and another prospect. Will he help?"
Output: Frequent. One post per day, although these feel more like daily polls than actual articles.
Style: Inquisitive. Modrowski asks questions--LOTS of questions. The typical post either is framed as a question, ends on a question, or is basically composed of several questions. Perhaps this helps with his readership, but didn't build any attachment with us; the posts are too short to do anything but hint at Modrowski's personality.
Hat-tips: None. The posts are so short, where would he put them?
Following: Very strong. Dozens to even several hundred comments on several columns, usually responses to Modrowski and each other. And as we found, maybe this is a winning formula. But we're interested in reading a sports blog, not a message board.

Cleveland Plain Dealer
Various authors

Kind of a choppy read, but that's to be expected: The Plain Dealer hasn't built an all-sports blog, but developed a clearinghouse that lumps every sports writers' posts into one feed (the feed can be customized by sport, but that defeats our purpose). If we were huge Cleveland-area sports fans, who had equal interest in the Indians, Ohio State football, and area prep athletes, this site would be our heaven. But since we're not, we mostly got a headache trying to keep the many topics straight.

Post length: All over the place. From 100-word live blog game updates to 1,000-word game previews and digressions, with the paper's sports columns and news stories mixed in.
Output: Frequent, with a caveat. Up to dozen of posts per day, with heaviest volume on game days. However, many of the posts are just articles from the newspaper edition, so that skews the number; perhaps 4-5 solid posts per day that are strictly written for the blog and more than just a quick game update.
Style: Also all over the map, although nothing too adventurous--the writers usually stick to addressing or challenging the major talking points. Still, the quality and type of writing considerably varies by what's been covered, who's doing the covering, and so on. However, we were very intrigued by the decision to share the alternate story of the Indians' Game 7 victory. (It's common to write two versions of a sports story, given deadlines).
For their part, Indians fans were intrigued too...as to why the paper was tormenting them. "Sadistic," wrote one; "I want to vomit," chipped in another. Still, it's the rare sports blog that can provoke physical reaction--and by innovating, using the blog to offer this behind-the-scenes look, we want to think the Plain Dealer's doing something right.
Hat-tips: Very few. Several links to blogs musing over the Indians' collapse, the Paul Byrd HGH scandal, and so on. But nothing extraordinary and extremely minimal, especially given the blog's volume.
Following: Handful of comments, usually, although the Indians' collapse has drawn out the mourners; some Tribe-demise stories have gotten 30-40 responses.

Detroit Free Press
Mike Valenti

We were divided over how critically to review Valenti's blog; it only debuted in August, he's a radio host--not a Free Press staffer--and he's only written about a dozen posts, a good chunk of which are on fantasy football. Actually, we figured he's had enough time to get settled, so we'll be brutal: The Free Press has made a huge mistake. Valenti's fantasy football tips, which were orginally conceived as his site's original bread and butter, are underwhelming and no different than anything you'll find across the Internet. His wrap-up of Michigan State games is painful to read; it's like someone held out a microphone and Valenti auto-babbled the first talk radio words that came to mind. (MSU quarterback Brian Hoyer will be happy to know that Valenti thinks, "
He's a man and he may not have the best physical attributes, but he is a good leader and I respect him." So, to confirm--the MSU quarterback's a man, should you have doubted, and the newspaper's chief blogger is a fan. Thanks for the insights, Free Press!)

We have no idea what the newspaper muckety-mucks were thinking--maybe that Valenti's radio audience would migrate over? (And is the guy even popular? We Rite Goode needs a Detroit-area stringer to fill us in). Maybe colleague Mitch Albom is just orchestrating this to get material for his next book, "Saturdays with a Moron."

(OK--that's overly harsh. Valenti's not necessarily dumb, just a bad writer. But we just thought up the joke and really, really wanted to use it.)

Also, we're trying to stay away from commentary that doesn't concern the actual blog, but the Free Press blogging set-up is frankly awful, especially for a major newspaper. The site's incredibly difficult to navigate--who knows, Valenti may not be the only all-sports blogger, just the only one we could find--and we even had problems trying to load the pages.

Post length: Medium. The posts range from 200 to 1,000 words.
Output: Minimal. One post per week, on average.
Style: Colloquial. The guy's a radio show host, not a Free Press writer. Maybe you can tell by our comments...let's just say, it shows.
Hat-tips: None.
Following: Handful of semi-literate comments so far, some expressing scorn, others challenging the manhood of other commenters. However, reader Quasar is grateful for Valenti; he writes, "This blog was sent to me [by a friend] as a joke...
I appreciate the fact that this was sent to me, so that I could get a good laugh 1st thing in the morning."

Indianapolis Star
David Woods

Not much to say about this very, very quiet blog. Plenty of potential...none of it realized.

Post length: Medium. 350 words or so on average.
Output: Non-existent. Starting in June, Woods began posting once a week or so--with promises to blog "through the 2008 Beijing Olympics"--but after four quick posts at the start of August, there's been only one post per month. We don't know if he's been on vacation, if the plan fell through, or if Woods is really, really pacing himself through next year.
Style: We liked that Woods admitted upfront that he was a track and field fiend--it gives him a wrinkle, even if he's covering all sports, and could position him nicely as Olympic-mania builds over the next year. But, sadly, Woods is strictly conventional and doesn't really push the medium.

Take this post where he touches on his idea of having four medals in the Olympics, to preclude a country from carrying out a medal sweep. This is the kind of stuff great newspaper blog posts are made of--Woods could use his connections, his years worth of expertise in the industry, and get actual athletes to weigh in--say, the fourth place finisher who never got to the victory stand, or the bronze medalist who eked out a victory. Instead, Woods just confines the idea to a paragraph.
Hat-tips: None.
Following: None.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
The J-S didn't seem to have an all-sports blog--disappointing, in a town that has the big three profesesional sports represented--so we're going by default with Don Walker, who writes about "the business of sports." It's a little bit of a stretch from our parameters, but the topic could be a neat little niche (we always liked Darren Nowell's columns on ESPN) and an interesting prism to focus a general sports blog. Too bad this appears to be a blog in trouble.

Post length: Average. 250+ words per post.
Output: Minimal. When we first started tracking blogs months ago, Walker had been posting 4-5 times on a typical week, but now he's down to a weekly post. at best.
Style: Straight news. Some of it's good stuff, but the blog sorely misses a personal touch. For example, Walker posts about a new Lombardi movie being eased into production. Is he excited about it? Your guess is as good as ours--one would think a cheesehead would have some opinion, but Walker never shares what his thoughts might be. If the Free Press's Valenti lets too much rah-rah MSU fervor dominate his posts, Walker errs too far to the side of clinical, detached writing to make his blog compelling.
Hat-tips: Almost none. There was a link to a Yi Jianlian fan club, for instance...back in July.
Following: Low. A few comments on the sporadic posts. We worry that Walker's given up on the effort, just when a feature linking the Milwaukee Bucks to the Chinese Triad is begging to be written.

Nashville Tennessean

Not a good sign when the blog's description--which has been up for months--features a blatant error. "There is something is wrong in the world of sports..." Paul Kuharsky tells us*. Unfortunately, he doesn't often explain what those somethings is are. And as a full-time NFL reporter with a radio gig, this blog is clearly a sidelight and suffers for it; if he didn't update it during training camp, there's no way Kuharsky's making time during the Titans' regular season.
* Update: The blog appears to have been finally fixed within the past few weeks, but here's a record of the error.

Post length: Average. 350 words.
Output: Minimal to nearing irrelevance. Only two posts in the past two months, which makes Kuharsky previous pace of a post per week positively prodigious.
Style: Conventional, but with a little attitude. We actually really liked Kuharsky's work, what we saw of it. He wrote a short missive about nervous habits in baseball and ugly trees; a more recent post, about his lost jacket, seemed destined to annoy but was sufficiently entertaining
Hat-tips: None.
Following: None.

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posted by Crucifictorious @ 01:16,


At October 23, 2007 at 11:10 AM, Blogger Jarrett Carter said...

So would it be feasible to say that readers have been complaining about the "Primary Complaint" blog?

Oh, how the Lord moves in mysterious ways.

At October 23, 2007 at 10:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Valenti's show is the #1 Sports Talk program in Detroit, on Detroit's all-new 97.1fm Sports Powerhouse WXYT-FM.

And his writing is brutal.. you got that right.

His thoughts, passion and intellect are exceptional, his ability to go from thought/spoken word to pen & paper make Helen Keller look like Shakespeare

His lack on content at the Freep is made up for at his personal website http://www.sportsinferno.com

At October 23, 2007 at 11:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You must understand that Valenti's style, though mayber a little raw, is how he is. He is not trying to be a columnist, he is just adding a more rounded picture to topics that he speaks about. And as for his fantasy picks, they are usually a lot better than the ones you get from the fantasy sites. He doesn't buy into hype and has a better grasp of sports than most of the espn types.

At October 23, 2007 at 11:33 PM, Anonymous Jesse said...

The Plain Dealer is really good about its blog.. you're short selling how good it is, to have nonstop Cleveland sports news thats really exhaustive + well-written.

At October 24, 2007 at 4:20 AM, Blogger Crucifictorious said...

Jarrett...I'm not sure there are any readers to complain, frankly. But not trying to knock the blog; we liked Kuharsky's stuff! Really! There just wasn't much there.

Anon #1, thank you for the info...if we set up a Detroit office, the gig is all yours. Although, is Valenti really that great, outside of the written word? There wasn't much to recommend him on the Sports Inferno (just a handful of posts that we found)...however, Valenti sounds reasonably sharp over the podcasts, although nothing unbelievable. He has a great voice, though.

Anon #2, we had no idea Valenti had so many defenders...the comments on his posts weren't impressive in number or tone, to say the least. Good of you to stick up for him. And if Anon #1 doesn't get back to us on being our Detroit-area source...well, have we got a job for you.

Jesse, we clarified in the post that the site would be great for Cleveland sports junkies...as a blog, though, it just didn't work for us. However, there's much to be said for knowing your audience--and clearly, the Plain Dealer is giving readers what they want.

At October 24, 2007 at 5:06 AM, Blogger Crucifictorious said...

Also, Anon #2--we challenge you to prove Valenti's fantasy picks are 1) anything special and 2) buck the conventional wisdom. We're willing to be wrong, but don't expect much.

Case in point: Valenti's most familiar post to us is this one, which ran on both the Free Press and the Inferno in anticipation of the season's start. Basically, Valenti systematically sets up a number of straw men to tear down. To wit.

1) Valenti: Jon Kitna's overrated--drafting him at the same time as Brady, Palmer, and Brees, and ahead of Bulger and Rivers is a "total joke."

We Rite Goode: Well, it would've been a poor (but not awful) decision...had it actually happened. This wasn't the experience in any of our drafts; Kitna was looked at as a sleeper QB who went in the late rounds. On a macro level, Kitna's average ESPN draft position was 98.5--well behind Brady (20.0), Palmer (17.0), and the much-lower Brees (22.1), whose owners would LOVE to take that pick back. While Kitna hasn't set the world on fire, averaging 11.8 points in the average ESPN league, he's currently slightly outperforming Rivers (who averages 10.7 and was drafted at 69.1) and totally outdistancing Bulger (3.7, 35.1). Draw your own conclusions, but splitting the difference, even the rare player taking Kitna early could've done worse.

2) V: Brandon Jackson is overrated and being taken ahead of proven backs; he'll be splitting time with Vernand Morency, too. Why take running backs-by-committee when you can take a player like Ahman Green?

3) WRG: Seriously? This point is beyond ludicrous. Again, using ESPN, Brandon Jackson was taken at 98.5, on average (Vernand Morency, at 103.5, FYI). Ahman Green's average draft position: 40. Of course you take a starting RB rather than a committee player; is that supposed to be cutting-edge insight? Jackson was being drafted at a point when no starters were available...and taking a flier on a young RB who's a potential starter in the 9th/10th round (which is where a 98th pick would likely fall) is a great risk-reward. Not to mention, sloppy research by Valenti: Morency was injured and still hasn't returned to form. The only thing giving this thought a shred of legitimacy is that Brandon Jackson does stink, though.

3) V: Joey Galloway is ridiculously sliding down the board, as guys like Kevin Curtis and Drew Bennett are being taken ahead of him.

WRG: Cue ESPN's average draft rankings: Galloway (72.9); Curtis (117.3); Bennett (142.7). We're talking Galloway being picked an average of four to five rounds before Curtis, and in a ten-team league, Bennett's barely in the draft. We'll agree that Galloway has had a productive season so far (as with all WRs, it's often feast-or-famine, but he's #17 overall). Still, Curtis has outperformed him--he's #10 in ESPN's average rankings. Again, the rare player who took Curtis ahead of Galloway has actually benefited; anyone who took Bennett before either is in need of a CT scan.

Here's the thing, Anon. It's easy to give advice in the vein of "All the people picking the Dolphins over the Patriots are idiots"--of course they are. It's a false reality to assume, though, that a lot of people were picking the Dolphins last weekend. In the cases above, Valenti's argument tends to be right--there's just no reason to make it in the first place. Basically, we like our fantasy football experts to presume a certain level of understanding in their audience. And if these are tips at all, at best they're tips for dummies.

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