When I was in college, there was a much-discussed-but-certainly-untrue story about a brilliant student who was assigned to write to a paper about Melville’s classic book Moby Dick. He completed his essay with time to spare and then sketched an exceptionally detailed picture of a great white whale for his cover page. The professor, duly impressed, awarded him an “A” for his effort.
The next year one of the student’s fraternity brothers took the same class, but procrastinated a bit too long. Finding himself short on time, he decided to “borrow” his friend’s paper, along with the cover page, changing only the name and the date. His paper also came back with a bold “A” grade. The year after that, another fraternity brother turned in the paper and whale drawing once again. He feared that he’d be caught, but also valued his drinking time, so he took the risk that he’d get away with it. The third time was once again a charm – another “A” grade. Finally, in the fourth year, a lazy-but-cautious student decided that enough was enough. He still didn’t want to write his own paper, but he was afraid of getting expelled. Accordingly, he once again turned in the same paper that had been submitted the prior three years, to the same professor. This time, though, he took off the drawing of the whale and submitted a cover page with only a title, his name and the date. A week later, student number four got his paper back with a big “B” across the top. In smaller letters below, the prof had written. “Good stuff – where’s the whale?” In the world of bass fishing website, there are plenty of whales. I was reminded of this story a few weeks ago when I started my standard early morning rounds of the fishing media. First I clocked in to Bassmaster.com, where I found a found a story about KVD entitled “Mac Daddy approach to the spawn.” Then I went to Wired2Fish.com, which featured a remarkably similar story called “KVD’s Mac-Daddy Hammer.” AdvancedAngler.com had “KVD Mac Daddy Spawn Hammer”
BassZone.com wordsmithed it a bit more, coming up with “KVD’s Mac Daddy Hammer Approach.” BassEast.com? “KVD’s Mac Daddy Hammer Approach to the Spawn.” Like snowflakes, none of the titles were exactly the same, but they melted in the same way – and if you go to your Google machine, you’ll see that numerous other fishing websites picked up the story just the same. Now before you go and assume that I’m picking on the websites mentioned above, or KVD, or the writer of the piece, let me put that thought to bed. At one time or another, I’ve written for each of the sites, and consider their operators to be friends who generally create a good product. Furthermore, I’m guessing that most of them have contractual relationships with one or more of KVD’s sponsors – perhaps Toyota, Strike King or Quantum – that require them to post such pieces, or at the very least strongly suggest that they do so.
As for Kevin, his job is to promote his sponsors, and the more places this gets published the better he’s accomplished that job. Similarly, the author wants his work to be seen by as many eyeballs as possible, and assuming he has some sort of business relationship with Kevin or one or more of Kevin’s sponsors, his job is to attain maximum dispersal. The ones who piss me off are websites 3,864 through 10,897 who publish this same piece. Putting aside for the moment the substance of the Mac Daddy Manifesto, how does it benefit you, Mr. New Website Constructor, to publish the very same information I’ve seen a couple dozen other places? Do you think I’m going to log on to “Leroy’s Low-Tech Bass Site,” see this piece for the eight-hundredth time, and decide that yours is a site that I’m going to bookmark? No, it makes me run from you and never click again. Just posting pixels for the sake of posting more pixels is a turn-off (unless said pixels depict Kate Upton jumping on a trampoline, then post the hell away). I’ll admit, I’m generally not a fan of the advertorial pieces that all too often substitute for small-j-journalism in our world. They cheapen the sport and undermine the impact of the really good reporting out there. That said, the Mac Daddy piece has some decent basic info. It’s nothing earth-shattering, but enough to help the average angler a bit. The first time I saw it and read it, I thought it was useful. The second time I kind of chuckled. By viewing number four, I was openly dismissive of subsequent postings. The web allows us to take for granted information that was tough to come by years ago. Thirty years ago you had to wait for the next issue of Bassmaster to find out who won a BASS tournament. Fifteen years ago, if you were a comparatively early internet adopter, you could learn who won within 24 hours. Today, on the other hand, we have live-blogging, war rooms, independent on-the-water reporters and a host of tournament coverage. That’s a big plus for all of us who care about the sport. The minus is that the internet, in its wholly democratic goodness, provides anyone a forum to post just about anything they want. That leaves us to separate the wheat from the chaff, and there’s increasingly more of the latter.
There’s a place at the table for anyone with something to say, but the idea that such an opportunity mandates serial cut-and-pasting is ridiculous. There are already a ton of websites out there engaged in tournament coverage, in fishing tips and in tackle reviews. If you take on one of those topics, do whatever you can to distinguish yourself from everyone else – either make it different in scope or make it better. Otherwise, why bother?
Again, I’m not picking on the KVD Mac Daddy piece. It’s just a convenient example. There’s a herd mentality to the fishing media that makes the overall quality of the coverage lame. Any third rate BFLer can send out a press release on a new sponsorship agreement, and you can be sure it’ll be plastered on dozens of sites the next day. That’s good for the angler and good for the sponsors, but it does nothing for the website, which is kind of ironic because it’s the website operator who ultimately has control of the flow of information. It’s almost like they’re afraid to be left behind. The reality, though, is that if you’re a startup, you’re already 50 yards behind in a 100 yard dash, so moving at the same pace as the big boys doesn’t do you much good. Ultimately, the more our products look alike the more our coverage becomes a race to the bottom, and that turns the sport into a sad little echo chamber.
Please don’t interpret this as requesting a moratorium on additional sites – as I stated above, there’s room at the table for anyone with something meaningful to state. People who don’t fish often ask me if I ever run out of things to write about, and I simply reply that between tournament coverage, equipment, destinations, techniques and personalities, there’s an endless supply of topics to write about in the world of fishing. If you really want to start a magazine or a website, find the one that interests you most, the one that truly gets your rod stiff, and run with it (well, don’t run if your rod is stiff – and if it lasts more than four hours, call a doctor or Jennifer Love Hewitt).
We already have enough mindless copycats in the tackle industry, why should those who cover them also adopt that posture?
There’s room in the livewell for five big bass, but whales need not apply.