Friday, May 15, 2009

The pros and cons of anonymity

I'm a bit conflicted about the points Bob Kravitz of the Indianapolis Star makes in this column about the anonymity of the blogosphere (found via this post from Deadspin's A.J. Daulerio). On the one hand, Kravitz is partly right about how anonymity can lead to a decline in the quality of dialogue; see many sports message boards or the comments on most newspaper pieces for great examples. He goes too far, though, and picks the wrong examples.

"My biggest objection is the proliferation of blogs and posts by anonymous weenies -- or pansies, if you will," Kravitz writes. "Everybody is big and brave behind a pseudonym, but confront them face to face, and next thing you know they're changing underwear."

The words Kravitz uses are interesting, but counterproductive. The world of sports is too full of ego and testosterone as it is, and it doesn't really accomplish a lot to blast the masculinity of all bloggers who use a pseudonym. Kravitz could have chosen to engage in a careful discussion of the advantages of standing behind your work, but instead decides to start throwing out offensive labels; to me, that isn't a constructive approach.

In my mind, the key is accountability. If you're accountable for what you write and demonstrate that by responding to comments and e-mails, I don't particularly care if you go by your real name or a clever alias. The world has changed, and so has the traditional definition of journalism. I'd prefer it if we could judge people by their work and by their accountability, not by their display name. Each blog should be considered by its quality, not by if it's by someone who writes under an alias.

With that said, though, there aren't a lot of great reasons to stay as an anonymous blogger in my mind. Yes, there's the occasional situation where something you write could cause you problems, but those aren't as common as you'd think. Consider that many of the most controversial writers on the Internet, such as Drew Magary of Kissing Suzy Kolber and the aforementioned Daulerio of Deadspin, use their real names; if they're able to do that, doesn't that suggest that most of the Internet's tamer writers could do the same thing?

There's some very good work done under pseudonyms, but there's also some incredibly poor stuff. Consider Eklund of Hockey Buzz, who's used anonymity to spread ridiculous rumours for years and made a celebrity of himself in the process (even appearing on Sportsnet's trade deadline show one year while wearing a mask). That sort of stuff drags down the reputation of the blogosphere as a whole and leads to the prejudices of people like Kravitz.

It also depends what you're going for. If you're writing a pure comedy site like the aforementioned KSK or the great Style Points, there might not be a big advantage to using your own name. The point of such sites is to be funny, not really to offer serious analysis. If you're writing a team blog or a league analysis site, though, there are plenty of reasons why going under your own name can help you. For one, it helps a lot in getting attention and building the profile of your site. There are plenty of us mainstream media types who are always looking for interviews, and we're much more likely to reach out to you if you demonstrate that you're willing to go by your real name and stand behind your work. It sounds much more professional to quote someone by the real name than by their Internet display name. It also helps in building relationships with the teams and leagues you cover and the other journalists who cover them.

For example, consider my work covering the Vancouver Whitecaps here and at The 24th Minute. I stand behind everything I write and am easy to reach; I've also made efforts to get to know people at the club and the other journalists who cover the team, such as Marc Weber of The Province and Bob Mackin of 24 Hours Vancouver. As a result, I've been able to get access to some games, have conducted interviews with players and coaches and have been linked by both the club and some of the journalists who cover it. That's helped my coverage a lot, and I doubt any of that would happen if I wrote under a pseudonym.

For me, it's not primarily about the access, though. The main reason I choose to write under my real name is to make it easy for people to identify my work and get in touch with me about it. You can always e-mail me (at andrew_bucholtz AT, follow me on Twitter or Facebook or comment on my posts. I'm trying to make my site just as credible as anything in the mainstream media, and the biggest part of that is standing behind what I write and clearly identifying my sources whenever possible, which is why I make a big deal of trying to include authors and sites with my links. I try and make it clear how I can be reached when I comment on other sites as well; I usually post comments under my own name, but make it clear who I am in the few profiles where I use a screenname.

That doesn't mean all bloggers or commenters have to use their real names or try to gain access for the sports they cover. It's a personal choice, and you can produce great content either way. There doesn't need to be a war between the sides either; Kravitz and his ilk shouldn't be labeling all anonymous writers as "pansies" and "weenies", and some anonymous bloggers and commenters should perhaps be a little easier on the mainstream media. Both sides should avoid trying to paint their opposition with broad strokes, as those generalizations only further stereotypes and don't accomplish much. To close with a blatant ripoff of William Shakespeare, "What's in a name? That which we call a sports blog written under a pseudonym can be just as insightful and funny."


  1. Good article. If my writing ever became a career instead of a pastime then I'd do it under my own name. As it stands, my e-mail is clearly marked and people can track me down any number of ways if they have issues with the way I run my site.

    It's funny that Kravitz talks about weenies hiding behind the anonymity of the internet considering the rise of the blogosphere is almost completely attributable to reporters' inability/unwillingness to ask hard questions for fear of losing their access.

    Just one more dinosaur that can't see the forest for the trees.

  2. Absolutely, PPP; you've always been reachable and accountable, which is the most important part. Kravitz's problem is he's overgeneralizing and picking bad examples in addition to calling people names. He has a point, but he ruins it with the case he makes.

  3. Just pointing out, Drew Magary posted under a pseudonym until June of last year when the press for his book's release started and one of his co-writers got fired when he outed himself.

  4. Good point; I remember the Tunison story well, and it's probably the best example of why anonymity might work well for some blogs in that sort of comedic vein. Like I said, I'm not really against anonymity; it's more about what kind of content you can produce and if you stand behind it. I just find writing under my own name works well for me, and it might help others in the more analytical vein.In the end, whatever works for each blogger is fine with me.