City Paper is not for tourists
I’m going to get my personal bias out of the way up front here, not just because it’s the responsible thing to do, but because the reasons for it illustrate the point of this column: I consider Dan Steinberg, creator of the Washington Post’s DC Sports Bog, to be a friend. I know him because I used to write an obscure blog about the local NFL team. He not only linked to the posts I sent him, but he was instrumental in helping me land my first professional blogging gig. I’ve also contributed to the Bog on a couple of occasions. End of disclosure.
The Bog turns 10 this month, which seems almost unbelievable to me. I have this insipid, and recurring, thought experiment in which I look at a piece of pop culture ephemera and try to establish its age relative to one of its antecedents. So, for example, Weezer’s Pinkerton album is as old now as Rush’s 2112 was when Pinkerton was released. I do this all the time, with everything. My wife hates it.
Although this is a little inexact, the Bog is now just a bit older than former Post sportswriter Tony Kornheiser’s 1997 Pulitzer nomination in the category of “Distinguished Commentary.”
There’s something significant to me about that timespan. By the time Steinberg launched the Bog, Kornheiser’s Pulitzer submission package was largely forgotten, and he had re-established himself as a national talking head. That year, in fact, he would begin a doomed stint as an analyst on Monday Night Football.
Meanwhile, in the decade since the Bog launched, it has redefined sports coverage, in more than one way. The idea of a single-author blog posting multiple items every day covering the esoteric, personal, quirky side of local sports was groundbreaking at the time. For a while, it felt like the sportswriting equivalent of Brian Eno’s observation about the Velvet Underground’s first record: Not everyone read the Bog, but everyone who did started a blog.
And once they did, Steinberg would find a way to give their musings some daylight if they had any merit at all. When your readers are primarily family and a few loyal friends, the traffic that ensues from a Washington Post link is game-changing.
The Bog championed egalitarianism in other ways, too. Steinberg made the most of his press access to ask the kinds of hair- and sock-focused questions fans wondered about but that no beat reporter took the time to ask. He also regularly eschewed press access, often writing about games via their broadcasts—and thereby covering the broadcasters and the commercials too. That, in turn, led to what is now commonplace but seemed unusual at the time: using radio interviews as firsthand sources, transcribing player comments and bringing them to web (and, eventually, print) readers who couldn’t be bothered with sportstalk.
The D.C. sports scene often seemed disproportionately visible in the national media in the early 2010s, and the Bog was a major part of the reason why. In other markets, a player or an ex-player gets on the local Jack and the Donkey Morning Yap, says something doltish, and a few thousand people hear it. Here, the comments would be transcribed, analyzed (or snarked on), and posted, often within an hour. And there are enough media types among the Bog readership that these kinds of posts—or at least the comments within—not only would go viral but would end up driving the afternoon’s national sports news cycle.
It made for a perfect media ecosystem, content growing from content growing from content, and it certainly didn’t hurt that local teams had no shortage of inane things to say.
The spike has diminished somewhat, in part because the local NFL team no longer commits behavioral felonies every hour on the hour, but also because the Bog model has flourished and spread to the point that the transcriptions of ill-advised radio interviews no longer come exclusively from this market.
Through it all, though, Steinberg (and more-recently Scott Allen and the Bog’s many other contributors and editors) have kept the focus determinedly local, occasionally providing voice for fan protests (as in 2009’s “Burgundy Revolution” and “Signgate”) and always emphasizing any cross-franchise connections and friendships.
A decade is long enough to make the Bog an institution, part of a symbiotic cycle with the region’s tortured sports psyche and an established point of view. It earned that status in the most natural way possible: by being reliable, egalitarian, and local.