Fifth in a series of nine daily essays leading up to the 2008-09 college basketball season.
In case you haven't heard, our great nation recently concluded a long and protracted and polarizing popularity contest that decided, among other things, our heads of state and guiding ideologies for the foreseeable future. It was often marked by severe disagreements that pitted American against American.
Voters in this election had real choices, not only in political parties and candidates, but in information sources as well. Thanks to a wide array of television outlets and a million-website universe, people had no problem locating and latching onto the message they were looking for. Republicans, for instance, had their Fox News and their Drudge Report and their conservative radio hosts and commentators; Democrats could huddle around their Air America, trade Daily Kos journals, and -- in a brilliant example of profitable media positioning -- nod in agreement to MSNBC.
It's a level of choice unprecedented in media history, thanks to postmodern technology. In 2012, there will be an entire media complex for the independent middle-of-the-road undecideds, which will view all sides with a shopper's eye, revel in the constant wooing and catering, then not bother to show up for election day by suspending coverage the day before.
In the future, we'll be able to float through their entire lives in agreeable and segmented bubbles, hearing only and exactly what we want to hear. "News" will truly mean "what you already know and believe to be true." Technology will lead America to this great victory, outstripping the promise
made 230 years ago by a simple Kansan poet. In the future, never is heard a discouraging word.
That sports journalism has followed the same path as political coverage in the past decade or so seems to advance the theory that, with unlimited choice, most consumers will automatically choose in favor of agreeability and against the intellectual challenge. All around, bland communities of yes-men who rail against the common enemy and play us-against-the-world. (Deadspin, after all, was an empire formed by people who weren't getting what they wanted from ESPN anymore.) Your favorite team has fan blogs, message boards, and, increasingly, its own high-powered media-relations propaganda arm and maybe even its own internet TV station -- it's the center of the world.
Analysts, where they exist, get more reaction from armies of like-minded drones than they do from those who praise their work at face value. In an environment where media outlets measure success by the number of "comments" a piece receives, bias becomes a market force. Hack analysts, where they exist, engage on confirmation bias -- a pre-fabricated notion, supported by a line of facts that support the thesis, all in the name of generating reaction. That's not being a proper conduit
between information and audience.
But there's plenty of reason to color and shade, because the new world dictates that it's profitable and career-advancing to do so. It's easy to consume that material, and many do, but I urge you to maintain a detached intellectual curiosity about the process. Was this written to stimulate a specific emotional reaction? And why would they want to do that?
For my part, this site's part, I realized after a few years that maybe I was going about all of this the wrong way. My own school, Drexel, has a basketball team I'm fond of, but my own fractured relationship with it -- some work my company did with DU a decade ago ended badly for everyone, and they pulled a financial aid loophole that soaked me for tens of thousands of dollars -- keeps me from being a homer. When I started the Mid-Majority, instead of being an apologist for every team below the Red Line
and making everyone feel good about themselves, I made the tactical mistake of blindly praising success when it came.
But glory at this level comes and goes, and fans of down-cycle teams that were, at a time, the toast of the site (Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Bradley and Holy Cross come to mind) didn't get what they wanted from me after a while. I went from being a genius
to an idiot
, from being quoted extensively to the subject of e-mail carpet bombs. While some enjoy the attention, adrenaline and controversy, I find it tiresome, and dealing with it gets in the way of the work.
There's a price for all of that selectivity, and it's niche alienation. If you've been reading this site for four-plus years, which is one full college cycle from matriculation to Senior Night and plenty of rises and falls, it's likely that you're more interested in the anthropological overview of the landscape than any specific portion of it. And there's a good chance that we've swapped e-mails or talked on the phone. There aren't many of you out there.
Which is why this site will always be a loss-leader for me, yet will always remain as my greatest love among all the projects I'm involved in. Readers will come and go when I say something positive or negative about their favorite teams, but this site is not for them. It's our semi-private conversation.
So, for you, I promise to continue this project with the focus it deserves. I'll travel around the country and tell you what I find. I'll attempt to find the common threads between what builds success and summons failure in mid-major college basketball, and invite you to come to your own conclusions about the results. Above all, I'll try to report on all the stories that can't be written ahead of time.
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