Product of the SLAM Generation

As we get older we have a tendency to look at some of the things we read as kids, in my case and SLAM magazine, the same way we look at professional wrestling. Their rampant typos and strictly Q&A style interviews may not have been the marks of professional journalism but there was a reason we loved them. It’s because for all the flaws, those sites and magazines were real; much more real than the traditional journalism I thought my parents were wasting their time consuming.

Once I went through the University of Oregon Journalism School I found a purpose for traditional news and kept asking myself why I hadn’t picked up on “the game” of news reading when I was younger.

I’ve been into history and racial politics since the seventh grade but I always thought the television nightly news was wack. I was much more comfortable reading books, immersing myself in music, or studying the moves of ball players.

What made AllHipHop and SLAM so appealing was that I could relate.

Whereas the traditional news was corny and dependent on limited information (Mainly because it’s corporate controlled and press release dominated), a site like AllHipHop covered all bases. Besides general music news, it offered music, videos, no holds barred forums and even a rumors section.

The rumors were really what revolutionized the news aspect of the site. Most of them were just that, rumors, but they set off the forums and inspired many readers to search for the truth themselves.

What resulted was a better understanding of how the media works, specifically that there’s almost always more to a story then what you hear in the official version. Also, it led to impassioned discussions that challenged both our knowledge and creativity.

For example, when Jim Jones called out Mase for having ulterior motives for becoming a pastor, it had hip-hop forums buzzing. It was cool to be smart and more knowledgeable about Jim Jones and Mase’s history because someone would embarrass you if you didn’t have all your info together.

Likewise, if you had a talent for Photoshop then you had the ability to make light of the situation or a person commenting on it and win over readers with your art. In a sense, it gave everyone from my generation the power of a political cartoonist.

However, if you didn’t know what you were talking about or your joke was lame, your reputation would suffer an instant backlash. This made people step their game up and brought out the best, as far as research and originality, in a generation of young people whose opinions were otherwise marginalized.

SLAM was a publication that brought me closer to the game of basketball than recycled stories on ESPN or more PR friendly, establishment sports papers. At a time when I was downloading most of my music and getting my news from online sites and forums, I always managed to shell out $5 for a copy of SLAM each month.

People called it the “hip-hop basketball magazine” but that was just because the writers wrote with the style and slang we use to talk in real life. The reliance on Q&A interviews formats could be considered tacky but as a reader, I cared more about the content than the presentation. SLAM’s special issues like its Streetball editions and Top 50 or Top 75 players lists were must haves because they gave us stories about people that we would never hear about on TV and/or challenged the establishment’s official status as the arbiters of who’s great and who’s not.

Back in the day, my favorite section was “Punks”. It gave shine to notable high school players and provided one player each year with the opportunity to be a columnist. “Punks” helped inspire me as a player to work hard for the dream of getting that level of exposure and appreciation.

It also taught me how to read between the lines without even thinking about it because I could compare the stories of people featured with those I personally knew going through the same thing. I could tell what was real and what was fabricated for the sake of not losing an opportunity, which in a sense, was just as real.

AllHipHop and SLAM also had space for traditional journalism. Writers like Davey D, Kevin Powell and Dave Zirin inspired me to be a journalist with the way they used words in their columns. They didn’t just write what my 11th grade teacher would call “journal entries”. Their pieces were filled with interviews, insight and a commitment to the communities around them rather than a singular desire to make money writing.

The combination of unconventional and traditional, along with exhaustive content, made reading fun, rather than a chore I needed to do so some banker or business executive wouldn’t hoodwink me in the future.

Fast forward to today and I find myself trying to transition from college into professional journalism. I constantly ask myself why I’m trying to break into a dying industry.

War, politics and social justice have replaced my former obsessions of basketball and hip-hop so I have to pore over the traditional media I resisted when I was young. The coverage doesn’t have nearly the depth, writers insist on traditional (often cookie cutter) styles and the business nature has tainted what made “less professional” media so engaging.

Perhaps that’s what makes sites like World Star Hip Hop, Wikileaks and Twitter so successful. They aren’t traditional. Users feel completely in control and pick and choose what they want to consume, whether it be videos, documents, stories, etc.

Most importantly, their wealth of information creates depth in itself. Knowledge is like a puzzle, and these sites give users the opportunity to piece it together however they desire. They thrive for the same reason that people can sit around and watch Brett Farve updates on ESPN. They’re obnoxiously informative.

Writers constantly discuss where journalism is going, as if there’s a magic formula that’s just waiting to be discovered. If users don’t feel a purpose reading news, then it will never appeal.

AllHipHop and other sites with forums were so great because we could interact with news and music from our favorite artists as well as share our own work, whether it be rhymes, beats, comedy or poetry.

Imagine if we dissected political speeches the same way we do hip-hop lyrics. Even though both have to be taken with a grain of salt in most cases, hip-hop at least gets judged as a craft. Media analyzing the craft of political speeches would be much more effective in holding our leaders accountable than regurgitating bits and pieces depending on our political beliefs.

If we had politicians doing SLAM style interviews, which would certainly be off the record in traditional media, we might have more time to worry about the issues they’re debating rather than the high school popularity contest the institution is portrayed as.

The news media rose out of a necessity for information with limited resources. With more technology than ever, the artificial nature of the industry is being exposed. We become less dependent on secondhand stories with every new creation.

To borrow from Mos Def’s track “Fear Not a Man”, people talk about journalism like it’s a giant living in the hillside, coming down to visit the townspeople. We are journalism. So the next time you ask yourself where journalism is going, ask yourself, “Where am I going? How am I doing?”


One Response to “Product of the SLAM Generation”

  1. Thanks! In my haste to get up to speed with the news, I too have become a victim of surface level news. Yet, I enjoy having an in-depth conversation on a topic and often yearn to find out more about a topic. Thank you for your thought provoking entries. Keep on writing.

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