Originally posted as an entry on December 29, 2009, and now made into a page for the Why I Like Baseball FTC-required “Disclosure Statement.”
This has been an interesting decade to be a baseball writer.
Once upon a time, in a storied era of American history, sportswriters were the creme de la creme of all writers. New York City had dozens of newspapers and even smaller cities boasted multiple papers, often with multiple editions per day. Newspapers were the morning drive radio, and the evening TV news, and CNN and ESPN. Those now-iconic words, “Extra, extra, read all about it,” indicated some big news had happened that wasn’t in the previous edition of the paper you read already that day. Wire services carried the stories of the top writers to newspapers all over the country. Writing was the thing.
The biggest celebrities and and stories of the day were sports figures and the games they played. The Hollywood blockbuster film didn’t yet exist. The first commercial radio license in the USA was granted in 1920, and the first “gold record” for a music album wasn’t awarded until 1941. Think of Jim Thorpe in the 1912 Olympics. The Kentucky Derby has been run since 1875. Jack Dempsey won his first boxing heavyweight title in 1919. And there was baseball, baseball, baseball.
So the best-known writers were the sportswriters, in particular the baseball writers.
But time has marched forward and each new medium has brought new ways of enjoying baseball. We have seen the rise of radio and the classic storytellers, and the advent of slow motion cameras and in-game audio have brought us closer to the field than ever before. Mobile phones have made it possible for us to follow every pitch of a game halfway around the world no matter where we are or what we’re doing. And the Internet brings us everything, audio, video, stats and data, and, yes, writing. More people are writing about baseball than ever before. We can read a thousand opinions and recaps of a single game, from partisan and non-partisan points of view, from professionals and fans, from historians and bloggers, not just after the game is over, but during, as well.
When I started Why I Like Baseball in 1999 it was because baseball had become such an obsession I couldn’t help but write about it. And although I had been writing professionally for over a decade at that point, as a freelancer there were not enough baseball writing gigs to be had to satisfy my urge to write.
So I started this website and started writing essays, interviewing people connected with the game, recounting my childhood baseball memories, as well as writing about some of the baseball books I read. At the time, there were no “blogs.” I called Why I Like Baseball “an online journal” before there was such a thing as LiveJournal, thinking of the word in the sense of “journal” meaning “literary magazine,” although I was the magazine’s only writer.
I went through an intense period from 1999 through 2001 in which I read, quite literally, over a hundred books on baseball. New books, old books, biographies, histories, encyclopedias, player instruction manuals from the 1940s, juvenile fiction from the 1950s, and more. Then I slowed down and read about another hundred books over the five years after that. Then I wrote two books of baseball history myself. Looking back on it now, I realize did the equivalent work of getting a PhD in comparative literature, except I did it in baseball.
One unintended side effect of all the writing I did about the books I read, though, is that publicists at book publishing houses kept stumbling across Why I Like Baseball and wanting to send me free books. Typically they send me books I might actually like, too, and I always try to mention the books, even if I don’t get a chance to actually read them all the way through. (These days my writing life is so deadline-packed, I don’t have the luxury of devouring books like I used to.)
It’s no coincidence that the books that land in my inbox are doing so at the same time that major newspapers across the country are cutting their book review sections and book reviews have all but disappeared from literary journals. The amusing thing about the FTC rules, of course, is that no one ever regulated book reviewers at major newspapers. If they said a book was awesome because they were buddy-buddy with the author when actually the book stank, it wasn’t considered a threat to the American public.
Book reviewers have also never been required to disclose whether they got the book free, and of course it’s absolutely standard practice for someone in the ad department of the newspaper of magazine to then try to hit the publisher up for advertising money, pitching an ad in the same publication with the supposedly purely artistically and critically motivated review. Some of you may be thinking though, that regular journalistic rules must apply to newspaper reviewers, no? But here’s the plain truth. A columnist (which is typically what a book reviewer is) doesn’t have to be bound by facts, only by opinion. When a columnist says something factually incorrect (or lies) about you in the newspaper, you will learn this fact when the newspaper editor tells you that you have no recourse, because columnists are allowed to express their opinions without any requirement of getting the facts straight.
Hence you have sports columnists, too, who write scurrilous pieces about major league players, for example, but the FTC doesn’t give a flying fig about them.
In the meantime, blogs have exploded. Lots more people like me, fans and the baseball-obsessed, got onto the Internet and started websites of their own. Then as the newspapers scrambled to keep some of their market share, every baseball beat writer had to start his or her own blog, too. ESPN and all the non-text-based sports media got into the act, too, with their own dedicated columnists and bloggers. In fact, the line between columnist, beat writer, and blogger has become extremely blurred.
It’s because the line between journalists and bloggers has become so blurred that the FTC has decided to impose special rules for bloggers about disclosure. Ostensibly this is to protect the public from borderline fraudulent or dangerous opinions–like, I suppose, bloggers getting paid to talk about how wonderful a child safety seat for a car is, when actually it’s a dangerous death trap, but the bloggers are too amateur to know. Or something like that.
The result is that each blogger is supposed to publish a disclosure policy. I don’t really see that my opinions about baseball-related products can in any way be dangerous to the general public, but okay, I’ll do my best to be a good citizen.
Forthwith, then, I shall disclose my blog income and policy on review products.
What’s funny about this in my case, of course, is that I didn’t really expect to become a book reviewer. Or DVD reviewer, or any kind of “reviewer,” but it has ended up being part of this blog’s content as a matter of course — I will write about the ballparks I visit, the media I consume related to my sport, and who knows what else? I’ve written about T-shirt companies who have sent me samples and about the hotels I’ve stayed in on baseball road trips. Some of the things I’ve written about have been free samples sent to me by companies hoping for a mention, but I always disclose the source of the stuff I’m writing about. Some of the samples I receive, I keep, and some I pass on as raffle prizes for my local SABR chapter (Society for American Baseball Research, a 501(c)(3) non-profit). I’ve never been paid by anyone to produce any of the content on Why I Like Baseball.
I suppose if someone came along and said “Here’s a couple hundred bucks to write about our product,” I would consider it, but I’d disclose it if I accepted the offer. I’m pretty sure such offers are as mythical as the unicorn anyway, or at least as rarely glimpsed as the unassisted triple play.
The monetary compensation I have received has come from the following sources. I set up an Amazon Affiliate account years ago, so purchases that are made from the “Buy from Amazon” links on my site give me a small kickback. I think in the 10 years of Why I Like Baseball’s existence the total income from these links has totaled about $100, or the equivalent of taking a family of four to Yankee Stadium for a regular season game. The second form is text link ads, mostly to ticket reselling sites with the occasional online casino thrown in. These are another thing that has come to me over the transom. After half a dozen advertisers approached me to ask how much I would charge for a text link ad, I finally set a price per word. (If you’re curious, see the ad info page since the price goes up and down depending on my Google Page Rank and Alexa rating.) I total maybe $250 a year from those ads as of 2009, or about $5 a week. I also started running Project Wonderful ads a few months ago that have been making about two cents a day on a good day. And yes, I pay taxes as a freelance writer, and that includes my blog income.
So there you have it, my blog’s disclosure statement on income and reviewing. Now I can get back to the activity of writing (I hesitate to call it the “business of writing” now, having disclosed what a pittance this blog actually makes.).