Friday, March 11, 2011

Climbing Media 2011: A Response to Andrew Bisharat

In response to a post I made earlier this week, Andrew Bisharat, editor at Rock and Ice had this to say:

"This is exactly the reason why blogs are never going to replace actual content created by legitimate media sources. Your post is uninformed, poorly researched, completely made up off the top of your head, and makes sweeping generalizations that largely aren't true (and none of which are substantiated by any facts) just in order to make yourself sound as if you know what you're talking about.

Peter, do you even read any of the print journals that you're talking about? Do you follow any of these sites' online presence beyond an obviously cursory perusal of content? Are you fluent enough in French, German and Italian to comment about the content of the European sites? What content, exactly, is Deadpoint creating that in your opinion is so far exceeds the quality of what other websites are writing and creating?

You have no shortage of ways of contacting any of the editors at any of the publications that you bring up in this post, but you decide that your powers of deduction ought to be good enough to dissect online media landscape. Looking at numbers, presenting facts, asking This is the difference between journalist and a writer who has ethics to this field, and a blogger who spouts of hyper-intellectualized, ego-stroking fiction. I hope you realize that.

If you want to look at simple numbers, an easy search on www.alexa.com will show you that RockandIce.com is most popular, highest ranked website of any of the sites that you mention in the U.S., so it's completely erroneous for you to say that we have no significant web presence.

Of course, everything could be better--and I agree that we have a ways to go before our website meets the quality of our publication. It's something we're constantly working on, but good journalism is expensive. Opinions are cheap.


--Andrew Bisharat
abisharat@bigstonepub.com
Senior editor, Rock and Ice"


Well. To be honest I have probably more important things to consider, such as the fate of a country that legalizes "medical" marijuana and outlaws collective bargaining. But of course for a senior editor to take the trouble to smite a lowly blog is really a compliment in a way so a consideration of this bit of prose seems in order.

As I review the arguments actually stated in the piece, and not the ones invented by Andrew (those will emerge in due course) I note the following."...there is maybe one stand-alone web-based general climbing media outfit that is producing its own content and creating a distinctive brand." Nowhere in Andrew's comment is this central truth addressed or refuted. I stand by this statement and welcome suggestions for other companies I may have missed. I continue, "American print journals such as Climbing, Urban Climber, and Rock and Ice are far behind the Europeans in providing a significant and satisfying web presence." I am unable to see how Andrew's comment considers this argument on its merits either. Instead he cites a survey from Alexa.com, claiming that "RockandIce.com is most popular (sic), highest ranked website of any of the sites that you mention in the U.S." Note that I didn't say that R&I was unpopular or poorly ranked or anything of the sort, only that, in my view, it was, along with Climbing, et. al. "far behind the Europeans." This is a statement that can be argued over, not by citing statistics but by direct comparison with the top European websites, such as UKClimbing, Planet Mountain, etc., something Andrew doesn't bother to do.

I continue further by making a statement that has been supported by conversations with editors and even a comment that was posted from a former Climbing staffer, to the effect that editors and publishers see focusing on the print edition as a safer bet, since they can actually monetize it and not give expensive content away for free. This is a hypothesis that can be followed by trained monkeys and hardly requires contacting busy editors and wasting their time to confirm the obvious. Either way Andrew does not address this central point except to note that journalism is expensive, which is correct.

I continue ironically enough, to note that most blogs are not really worth reading over the long haul, being either industry mouthpieces or purely personal ventures that rarely ask interesting questions about the sport. The irony is that this echoes Andrew's premise that "blogs are never going to replace actual content created by legitimate media sources" though I would not presume to dictate what "legitimate" implies here. However I do not go on to expand upon how my own blog is clearly worth reading nor do I cite my readership numbers, mostly because they are so low as to be embarrassing.

So what is it exactly that Andrew has a problem with? Let's look at the first sentence. "Your post is uninformed, poorly researched, completely made up off the top of your head, and makes sweeping generalizations that largely aren't true (and none of which are substantiated by any facts) just in order to make yourself sound as if you know what you're talking about." I am not sure what exactly is uninformed here as Andrew doesn't bother to refute any actual points made in the piece nor cite research I could actually have done besides contact some editors to discover the obvious point that journalism is expensive. While I do compose extemporaneously, I fail to see what was made up off the top of my head. I also wonder how I can possibly write "sweeping generalizations" that not only "largely aren't true" but are not even "substantiated by any facts." That frankly takes a lot of work that I don't really have time for. But I digress.

Andrew is correct to question my bona fides. I don't actually read anything anymore in the world of climbing journalism. Wait, that's one of those sweeping generalizations unsubstantiated by facts. OK I admit that I do read climbing magazines and have done for many years. But then Andrew gets personal. "Do you follow any of these sites' online presence beyond an obviously cursory perusal of content? Are you fluent enough in French, German and Italian to comment about the content of the European sites?" My reply is "Does anyone do more than a cursory perusal of these sites?" And of course, my fluency in foreign languages is second to none, certainement, certo, though my command of echt deutsch is less than perfect, thanks for asking. What a silly point to try to score since European sites such as Planet Mountain or 8a.nu offer multiple language options, including English in an attempt to be truly global. I guess I will defer to Andrew's multi-lingual capacities on that one.

Then of course the reprimand, where Andrew the senior editor glares from under his green eyeshade at me, the cub reporter. Chomping down on his well-chewed stogie, he barks, "Kid, you have no shortage of ways of contacting any of the editors at any of the publications that you bring up in this post, but you decide that your powers of deduction ought to be good enough to dissect online media landscape."

Hilarious stuff to be sure, to stand corrected by the author of an "article" complaining about trustfunding dirt-baggers in a recent issue of the mag. No stereotypes or generalization there, of course. Just good old pound the pavement, shoe leather journalism, the way grandpa used to do it. Yessir "Looking at numbers, presenting facts, asking This is the difference between journalist and a writer who has ethics to this field, and a blogger who spouts of hyper-intellectualized, ego-stroking fiction. I hope you realize that." Wait what was that again?

"Looking at numbers, presenting facts, asking This is the difference between journalist and a writer who has ethics to this field, and a blogger who spouts of hyper-intellectualized, ego-stroking fiction. I hope you realize that."

OK, maybe the saliva was covering over the screen so much at this point that it was getting hard to see, but honestly Andrew, proofread your work, however modest the venue. You're a senior editor at Rock and Ice fur chrissakes. And can you explain the tortured syntax of "asking This is the difference between journalist and a writer who has ethics to this field?" What field are we talking about here? How can I have ethics to it? Am I the "blogger who spouts of hyper-intellectualized, ego-stroking fiction?" Do you mean I reek of it? Spout off? Are we talking meta-fiction here?

Anyway, thanks for the opportunity to write this Andrew. One issue as I see it is that you are paid a salary to write about climbing but you have shown that maybe your criticism of my work could use some critique itself. In fact I have been editing your comments for free (no gratitude expected of course) and hopefully showing what few readers I have, that yes I have integrity and no I am not as amateurish as you would like to believe. My opinion may be cheap as you say, but it's also free, free of slapdash personal attacks and sloppy writing.

11 comments:

shamwow said...

A slightly regrettable situation, as I enjoyed Andrew's most recent article in the photo issue and this casts him in a very different light. In the article (not sure if you've read it) he explores some of the troubling issues of today's bouldering, in a fun and light-hearted manner, yet asks tough questions without actually trying to be an authority, just reminding us about the purity of bouldering and the importance of the individual experience. Some of this writing has helped to "guide" me through what is often a hostile gym, outdoor, and internet climbing environment, and to regain sight of my own intentions (I work at a gym, climb regularly outside, and blog). That Andrew would take the time to be so critical without proofing or really fleshing-out his ideas is frankly pathetic for someone who gets paid to write and edit (I edit everything; emails, comments, and more formal pieces- if other people take the time to read it, then you should take the time to complete the ideas).
Is it the virtual nature of these "debates" on the internet that prevents them from maturity? Can people take stuff seriously when it doesn't need to be, or just ignored altogether?

matt said...

i haven't picked up a (climbing/R&I/UC) mag in years, not even in barnes and noble, simply due to the fact that 1) the news is old and i've seen most of those pictures already on the internet. 2) videos of climbing are way more entertaining than reading about trustfund climbers, tuesday night plastic tales, comp results , and the bi-monthly recycled article about hueco or yosemite or some place in colorado that no one outside of colorado cares about. 3) ADs. nearly 50% if not more of any mag's content is ads. sure they need to pay for their skimmed down product somehow. Not to mention that R&I.com is a borefest. I picked up my first R&I - #64 recently. it was something like 130 pages and was entertained to the point that i pretty much read it cover to cover!

There is nothing unique about climbing mags these days. Alpinist is the only one with quality writing and photos and i could care less about alpinism. While i don't necessarily see DPM (or any blog) replacing anything in print, but DPM's WAY more geared towards today's climbing population.

AB sounds like a little kid who just came in second place for the unteenth time to a different person and is looking for someone to blame. (His) product lacks in so many ways, and his defensiveness furthers my disinterest.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes the truth hurts, doesn't it?

Anecdotially, I think you're right. I read your blog regularly. Andrew Bisharat apparently reads your blog. On the other hand, I don't visit the Rock & Ice site regularly, because it is just not very interesting or easy to use.

More importantly, I think that Andrew Bisharat's Charlie Sheen moment, if it truly was posted by him, reflects poorly on himself and his business. It certainly annoyed me enough to post this.

By the way, thanks for your seminar on Wednesday. It was very interesting to hear your perspective on bouldering, and it's a great service to the climbing community.

postmaster said...

Damn, what a brilliant way to illustrate the point I was trying to make in the last post...Drama sells. I feel about 10 times more likely to check to see what ruthless comments were made here than I am to check 8a again in hopes that Adam Ondra updated his scorecard.

I think many people are being a little too harsh on AB. While it may not be entirely professional to post what he did, his reaction is understandable. Imagine that you try really hard to do a good job at whatever your occupation is and someone told you that it was shit. It's hurtful. Someone wrote on DPM the other day: "who proofreads this stuff? They should do a better job." Well, I proofread that stuff and when I spend hours a day correcting errors and then miss one or two and get called out...it hurts.

That's a micro version of hearing from a couple people that your entire magazine and writing sucks. Which simply is not true. Rock and Ice does a great job and Andrew's writing is witty and spot-on a lot of the time.

None of us climbing media sites are perfect but we all share a common goal of doing the best job we can. Let's lighten up just a bit. Constructive criticism is helpful but outright attacks are not.

Mike

Anonymous said...

"Your post is uninformed, poorly researched, completely made up off the top of your head....."

This sounds like the pot calling the kettle black. To me, this paragraph is a good description of the ever repetitive stuff in R+I.

In this weeks installment, Andrew and his gang of zany pals take on Rifle Mountain Park yet again. Andrew will be telling us about some amazing interaction that happened at the Project Wall, and giving us just a little more insight into whats going on inside Sam Elias's brain behind that unibrow.
Im tired of reading about the chronicles of Andrews Rifle friends. Its awful.

climberism said...

The real issue here is that climbing "journals" today are biting at too big a bullet, covering far too much ground. We are going to see more Splitterchoss's and more Climberism's pop up, which will make a real impact on this industry. I agree the internet has a long way to go, but the future of this industry isn't in big blanket businesses but in tight niche local markets. The internet can be a very friend place for advertisers and once they see this, which they are, it will change the community forever.

The Europeans have the right idea. planetmountain.com covers Italy; ukclimbing.com covers the UK; disnivel.com covers Spain, etc. These guys are kicking ass because they reach a market and provide content people can relate too in their area.

Most of my readers, slightly over 10,000, are from the NE, and that is who we really care about. It allows us to keep a focus and grow rapidly. I don't care to reach Cali, that's for Super Topo.

It has been tough starting this project over the past year because of deep pocket players/organizations that have themselves spread all over and so thinly. Most NE readers don't care about the latest routes or climbing news in Colorado, that's for Spillterchoss to cover. Readers connect with what's around them and that's what we are trying to do.

Call them blogs, websites, or call them whatever. The internet is going to make a huge difference in to industry, Europe is proving this. It is just a matter of who is going to step up to the plate and take charge here.

Anonymous said...

Three flipping cheers for AB's spot-on letter to this blog's author, and this blog's amazingly consistent, fantastically heinous pretension. Like his other writings, AB's letter was well-written and healthily cathartic. It was less self-effacing than usual, but I can understand perfectly well how he might have lost some patience. I do every time I visit this train-wreck.

Jeff Markley said...

Peter, I think the main reason you get called out so often isn't because of the actual issues or points you make but because you consistently come off as a pedantic, know-it-all twerp in your writing. To your credit, you don't do this so overtly, it's more of a subtle attitude that pervades your work. I know a lot of people who read your stuff wouldn't agree, but I also know many would. And as some one who does, I find it extremely irritating.

I do think that AB's comment was off base, but I also feel for the guy. As someone who get's annoyed by you too, I can see where he's coming from. Too bad he didn't just say the truth of what I'm sure he was thinking "Screw you Peter, I work really hard on my shit and you sound like a little internet pussy when you tear it down," rather than try to spar with you on certain points you made.

With that said, at least you have the balls to put yourself out there and, though I disagree with you a lot, I can not deny I find this blog very interesting and I hope you keep stoking the fire. Bottom line is that your one blog provides immeasurably more interesting content than major magazine's sites like Climbing.com or Rockandice.com, or whatever the hell their URL is, I think I went there once years ago and quickly assessed it as worthless.

Peter Beal said...

To those criticizing AB and R&I, I ask you to not condemn the magazine or Andrew out of hand. I never did in my original post on climbing media and my reply was a rebuttal to a poorly and hastily written comment that should never have been sent but was. I tried to keep personal attacks out of it as much as I could, despite the obvious provocation.

Anon, you are free to read AB however much you want and avert your eyes from my trainwreck.

Jeff, I appreciate your supportive comments and understand your feelings about the tone I set. Many people are OK with it, some people hate it. I can only say that it is not likely to change any time soon. Some may see me as a polarizing figure in part because I take some issues very seriously that they would just as soon pass over or that I have the temerity to comment on matters I am not "qualified" for. Ot they may consider me a pedantic twerp. In the words of John Boehner, "So be it."

The mystery of Andrew's response is that in no way did I single out Rock and Ice or AB's writing, nor even castigate the mags themselves. His comment was certainly unprofessional and unproductive. Comments made about this post have said as much so far. I won't even go into some of the emails I have received.

R&I has said things about blogging in the past that were hostile but fair enough, who cares? Nobody bothered to comment on that post. However, when an editor at a magazine, an editor I know, comes after me like that, I get angry especially when he did such a poor job of it.

If in anyone's view I am a "little internet pussy" I can only point to four continuous years of writing for my blog (and now there are two blogs), numerous interviews, reviews, and videos, virtually all of it original content, along with writing a book. I also wrote several articles for Alpinist as a result of the blog. This has been done while holding a full-time job and raising a family. If I sound serious, it's because I have to be.

If I piss some people off, especially anonymous commenters, I have to write it off as collateral damage. I can't please all the people all the time. But if editors and public figures like Andrew get annoyed and write comments like that, they get served in kind. Criticism is one thing, BS is another.

Anonymous said...

"If you want to look at simple numbers, an easy search on www.alexa.com will show you that RockandIce.com is most popular, highest ranked website of any of the sites that you mention in the U.S., so it's completely erroneous for you to say that we have no significant web presence."

In fact the paradigm for online climbing media has shifted to the point that Supertopo is now by far the most relevant and timely climbing website, for American climbing anyway. I can think of several instances in the past where the featured comtent of the so-called "highest-ranked" websites AB cites were little more than re-postings of content and reporting found on Supertopo.

And to label anything AB has written as "journalism" is particularly laughable - wouldn't researching articles he writes involve actual research and reporting (i.e. traveling to the locales and speaking with the people being written about)? All I see is either recycled posts from other sites or "news" from The Boulder CO Bubble.

Anonymous said...

I'm really sad I missed this. It's ridiculous to find Bisharat accusing somebody of the things he does best. There's a plethora of evidence showing tht he is an overglorified blogger eternally praising his supercool friends strong climbers from a strictly American perspective.

How is he well researched? He's always remembering the world how his buddy Chris Sharma was the first to climb 9a+ (wrong, Huber's Open Air was and there's a good chance that at least one of Rouhling's pre-Biographie routes were harder than 9a anyway) and 9b (Dani Andrada is shown having freed a 9b in Rodellar in Dosage V, if they say it, it must be true right?).

Also, talking about the numbers of visits to R&I tells us nothing about the numbers/science that may or may not be behind his own articles. People might be flocking the R&I website even if their articles are totally descriptive and non-scientific pieces.

Finally, I'll never forget the way he slagged off the Wizard's Apprentice for being mostly footage that had been seen already (like a lot of stuff in First Ascent wasn't in Progression and a lot of the Progression stuff wasn't somewhere else too) and even intimating that one should slap Adam Ondra should one see him at a crag.

The guy is one massive wanker with an ego the size of a mountain, like the photo of him posing by a desk placed in a meadow clearly shows. At least when he writes as a journalist.