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Increasingly, 'Fans Are Setting the Agenda' in the Blogosphere

By Liz Clarke
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Whether movie critic, restaurant reviewer or political pundit, it has become almost obligatory among journalists to bid farewell to the year by compiling a list of the previous 12 months' biggest triumphs and flops.

But in the arena of sports, the arbiter of what matters is increasingly shifting from the mainstream media to the freewheeling realm of the blogosphere, where impassioned fans opine about the playing field's heroes, villains and controversies of the day.

That's the conclusion of a Charlotte-based marketing firm, Sports Media Challenge, which has developed software to track the major topics being debated on the most influential sports blogs.

In several respects, what the Internet-based blogs -- or "fan-generated media" -- chatted about in 2007 mirrored the major story lines of the stick-and-ball sports that dominated newspaper pages and TV ratings, according to Kathleen Hessert, the company's founder.

But in other instances -- such as the remarks that cost Don Imus his wildly popular radio show -- bloggers were ahead of the mainstream media, buzzing about the comments disparaging Rutgers women's basketball players for days before it became national news.

"More and more, the fans are setting the agenda now," Hessert said. "They're rattling the cages and saying, 'Hey, I have as much to say about this -- and have as much invested in my sport -- as any media person. And my opinion is just as valid as the mainstream media's.'"

Her company monitors about 4,800 Web sites and blogs throughout the year to track sports fans' opinions and obsessions. Amid that cacophony, it keys on the 10 or 15 most influential sports blogs, whose membership shifts but typically includes such powerhouses as Deadspin and SportsbyBrooks, and produces a list of the five biggest topics each week.

The NFL, Major League Baseball and NBA dominated blog chatter in 2007, in that order.

Among NFL topics, Michael Vick's involvement in dog fighting, along with Commissioner Roger Goodell's disciplinary decisions, ranked among the top.

Baseball blogs were consumed by chatter about steroids.

NBA bloggers argued about the suspensions of Robert Horry and Amare Stoudemire during the playoffs and Kobe Bryant's trade demands in summer.

Not every topic that broke into the weekly top five in 2007 concerned major league sports. The murder-suicide involving professional wrestler Chris Benoit captivated bloggers in June. And the most blogged-about high school sports story involved pole-vaulting champion Allison Stokke, who became the victim of unwanted attention after pictures of her were posted on the blog withleather.com.

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