* Murray Chass turns the page

September 4, 2008

Although no longer an employee of The ne Yoek Times, Murray Chass continues to write about baseball on his Website...which is NOT a blog.

Although no longer an employee of The New York Times, Murray Chass continues to write about baseball on his Website...which is NOT a blog.

This profile of the former NY Times’ veteran baseball columnist appears in the current issue of the New Jersey Jewish News. During the interview I did not bring up the fact that I was blogger (as you will see, his views on the subject are crystal clear ), lest I incur his wrath.

* * * *

Murray Chass was a staple of The New York Times sports section for almost 40 years. With the state of the newspaper industry currently in flux, he was one of more than 100 staff members of the august publication to receive a buyout.

“Basically what they were trying to do — like so many baseball teams — is shed payroll,” said Chass in a phone interview with NJ Jewish News from a recent vacation in Cape May.

Chass, who joined the Times in 1969, had no plans to retire when the offer was made. “I wasn’t sure how long I was going to work, but I wasn’t ready to quit writing,” said the 69-year-old columnist. “But it was too good [an offer] to pass up. It was a little difficult, but you make the decision to move on.”

Not one to let any grass grow under his feet, Chass created his own website (MurrayChass.com) as an outlet for his baseball musings. “I’m enjoying it. I’m writing three or four columns a week. I don’t have a boss, I don’t have anyone telling me what I can and can’t do, and I write pretty much what I please.”

Chass, who attends Ahavat Achim Orthodox Congregation of Fair Lawn, was spurred by the numerous e-mails and correspondences from loyal readers telling him how much they would miss his work. “I figured, if they wanted to continue reading, I would give them the opportunity.”

Chass is not in it for the payday, either from his own work or through advertising revenue on the site. “I don’t expect to make any…. It’s doing something I enjoy doing.”

A “newby” at the Internet game, Chass admitted he “would like to do a better job in getting the word out. I’m sure there are a lot of people who would go to the site if they knew about it. Someone suggested I should take out an ad in the Times, but I’m not sure they would run it,” he said, tongue in cheek.

Chass goes to great pains to make clear that his on-line presence is not a blog. “To me, the blog has a bad connotation because anybody can write one, and just about everybody does.” His main complaint has been that most bloggers have no real journalism experience; they haven’t done research or interviews and are just spouting opinions — and doing it without much grace or panache.

Recently, Buzz Bissinger, author of Friday Night Lights and Three Nights in August, appeared on the HBO sports program Costas Now on a panel discussion about the role of blogs in sports reporting. He entered into a heated exchange with Will Leitch, at the time the editor of Deadpsin.com, a blog devoted to sports gossip. In an obscenity-filled on-air tirade, Bissinger called Leitch and his ilk to task for poor journalistic ethics and quality.

Chass echoed Bissinger’s sentiments. “I think newspaper people look down at the blogs because we have spent our lives learning the craft, learning how to do it the right way and most bloggers have the ability and opportunity to just go on-line and do whatever they want. They have no accountability. I would like to see a blog that runs a correction.”

He has been the target of indignation by younger fans and those who put great stock in the plethora of statistics; Chass has been called — among the milder insults — a “dinosaur.”

“I have not encountered a blogger who’s doing what I’m doing, writing columns that have ideas and that are well thought out. On the other hand, people say I generalize too much and that I should not generalize. I’ve probably looked at a dozen blogs and haven’t found anything worthwhile…to go back to read them.

“I think the Internet today has changed people’s mindsets so much; especially the younger crowd will latch on to anything that’s on the Internet. It’s sort of scary, as far as I’m concerned.” He takes no comfort in the fact that the Times features several blogs on its website.

“You don’t have to remind me…. The Times has gone crazy with blogs and I think that’s unfortunate because the reporters are spending their time on their blogs when they should be out digging up news.”

Chass has a standing invitation on his site for other veteran writers in his situation to contribute. With his many years in the game, Chass would seem like natural to come out with a baseball book. But while still an employee of the Times, he would not consider it, following his ethics that one can’t serve two masters. His loyalty was admirable, if now seemingly misplaced. Now that he has some extra time, he is considering that long overdue book, but not the one some might have expected.

“One of my thoughts has been for some time to write children’s books. Not novels, but for really young kids, the kind that we read to our children and they read now to their children. It’s something I will get to soon, probably the first thing I will work on.”

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