Thursday, February 25, 2016

Why The Input Club's attempt to control longform isn't going to work

I got angry yesterday. This isn't a regular occurrence for me in general, but it's particularly unusual when it comes to sports media; there's plenty of frustration and disappointment in that world, and in discussing it, but there isn't too much that motivates me to outright anger. Yet, Esquire and ESPN The Magazine writer Chris Jones' "In Defence Of Longform" (which really reads like a defence of a specific kind of longform that he practices, a condemnation of all other attempts at the form, and an exclusion of those who aren't already practicing his kind of longform, but we'll get to that) and the subsequent Twitter arguments I had about it ticked me off in a way I hadn't experienced in years. I've been trying to figure out what exactly sparked that anger (after all, surely there are more controversial and more problematic things out there than an argument over longform standards), and I think I now know just why it bothered me so much. The case made by Jones (which was written in the wake of SB Nation running and then pulling a highly-problematic piece on convicted serial rapist Daniel Holtzclaw and then putting their longform program "on temporary hiatus" during the subsequent internal investigation), and by those who took his side, feels like the latest iteration of a highly-problematic subset of media, The Input Club, something that's used to limit the advancement of young writers and try to ensure they play by the conventional rules.

What is The Input Club? Simply, it's the belief that work should be judged not on its intrinsic merits (the output), but on who wrote it, what process they used to write it, and where it was published (input factors). This is something that's been used in the media wars before, and was a key part of traditional journalists' original arguments against bloggers. That war has now been lost, and you won't find many still taking outright shots at blogs and the web (apart from Michael Wilbon, that is), but that doesn't mean the anti-blogger, anti-young journalist sentiments have dried up completely; people have just moved the fight. In this case, thanks to the Holtzclaw story, it's happening over SB Nation Longform, which has produced a variety of incredible pieces. I'd rather read many of those than much of The Input Club's conventional longform, and I'd argue that the site should be judged on its entire body of work rather than just the problematic Holtzclaw story. They shouldn't be told to stay out of longform just because their longform vertical doesn't have the resources of conventional media outlets doing it. In many ways, that argument smacks of those anti-blogger wars, especially when you consider that many of the SBN pieces have been written by younger journalists, some with a blogging background.