Bloggers and the Press Box: All Of This Has Happened Before…

To quote a song from Consolidated, “Well, well, well, here we go go again.”

This blog is just past four years old, and for the life of Jerseys and Hockey Love, the issue of credentials for hockey bloggers has been kicked around and debated to the point of becoming stale. I started before there were big blog networks, before Fanhouse, before Puck Daddy, before Sports Blog Nation, and the Washington Capitals were just starting to allow bloggers into the press box. Not that this is a feather in my cap or anything, it’s just my personal point of reference.

Chances are, I don’t have to tell you about Eric McErlain and the excellent work he has done for other bloggers to help them get into the press box. If you haven’t read his draft of blogger guidelines for getting credentials, you really should. Read them, and then take another look at the date of that post. August, 2006. Four years ago, the fight for credibility was being fought by people who deserved to be there, and for people who would come later. And the fight continues.

Greg Wyshynski talked about a conference call that happened this week about the media and bloggers getting access to the locker rooms of teams who don’t credential bloggers. The gist of the issue, from Puck Daddy:

Yet several prominent NHL franchises, including the New York Rangers and Edmonton Oilers, have strict “no blogger” policies in their arenas. They don’t see them as working journalists, and they certainly don’t see a need for them to have access to cramped locker rooms after the game.

On Monday, these teams emphatically voiced those concerns during an annual preseason conference call between NHL executives and team media-relations directors. Their issue: If my team doesn’t credential bloggers in its home arena, why should bloggers haves access to my team’s locker room on the road?

Well, it is a good question. If the credentials are issued from the home team, then yes, I feel like a visiting team should respect the home team’s decisions in these matters. It seems simple enough. When any media is critical of a team, they should just realize that not every voice out there is going to be on your side. If an MSM reporter doesn’t write in a way the team wants to be represented, they don’t lose their credentials. As a professional courtesy, the same behavior that is displayed towards professional journalists should be extended to bloggers who are credentialed. If a blogger is expected to behave professionally when granted the privilege of press credentials, then they should be treated like a professional as well.
But not every blogger should be granted full access to teams. Hockey blogs are too often treated like they are a genre, and not a medium. The complaints range from not being journalistic enough (I’m proud not to be a journalist) to being too classless. But a quick tour shows that blogs vary in their voices and styles, and all it is easy to see the differences (as long as you are willing to make the effort or have an open mind). My blog isn’t like your blog, and even network blogs are different from one another (take a tour of the SB Nation blogs, and you will see what I mean). I don’t look or act like Deadspin, and I’m damn proud of that fact.
Being established and building a voice, style and reputation should count for something. You shouldn’t be asking for credentials if your blog is under six months old (and I’d even take that to a year). Teams know that the local newspaper isn’t going away overnight (mostly), and that if a beat writer leaves, the paper will have someone there soon to cover the job. Blogs come and go, and you can’t guarantee that one will last longer than half a season these days (I’ll save that rant for another day). It isn’t the job of the team to subsidize a blog with credentials (here, have a press pass and make something of yourself, kid). It isn’t easy to keep a blog going with little support, but establishing yourself should come before the credentials.
The journalism complaint is the one I hear the most, that blogs are mostly opinion, and not suitable for being granted credentials. In reality, the business of sports writing is merging the opinion side of things into the beat writing / straight reporting side. Look at the changes that have happened to newspapers, and the jobs their beat reporters have added to their workload. Do you know of many beat reporters that don’t contribute to a blog of some sort? And how much of that blogging is straight reporting? Opinion has been added to the job of beat reporter, and they still have the journalism aspect to satisfy (and usually do). As for straight opinion, newspaper columnists have had access to teams for years. I don’t know anyone who would say that Woody Paige is a reporter, but he can access teams as needed. He is a columnist, and he makes his bread and butter on his opinions about sports. But access isn’t a problem for him.
If I have a single issue with hockey blogs (and I do have a few, but I’m trying to keep it in context here), it’s a lack of editorial review. I mean this from a spelling and grammar standpoint, as well as for content. There is a lot of content out there that doesn’t get a second look before the publish button is pushed. Editorial keeps writing on target and quality high, and it helps address the issue of accountability. Editorial does not mean the mainstreaming of a blog, it doesn’t mean censorship, and it doesn’t mean stifling someone’s voice. For some reason, editing has gone away (hell, even rewriting has gone away), and it’s a bigger issue than most blogger recognize.
Cutting off all access to all blogs doesn’t solve the problem, though. When teams keep blogs at arms length, blogs start to get louder and more critical of the treatment. Blogs continue to cover the coverage, and produce speculation that may or may not be close to reality. When blogs are cut off, they aren’t able to report on the facts. They aren’t able to base their opinions on anything but the coverage they get (or lack of coverage). And as you could imagine, teams don’t appreciate that, and look at blogs with disdain again. The cycle continues. This part of the equation sits in the hands of the teams. They would also be charged with policing the credentials that are handed out, but the benefits should be obvious to them.
Here in Colorado, we have to contend with the closed media network of the Avalanche. The Avs are broadcast on their own cable station, Altitude. They control every aspect of how the team is covered there. Outside of that, Denver suffers from having only one newspaper, and one prominent hockey voice at that newspaper. Regardless of my feelings toward that coverage, not having a second newspaper in a city the size of Denver is an issue. Not having enough voices to challenge each other makes the lack of coverage even more complacent.
So should bloggers be allowed access to the teams? And really, should ‘new media outlets’ be allowed access (since podcasters are in on this as well). I think they should, but much like player contracts, clear guidelines should be set by each club, and maybe even reviewed by an outside party to make sure they are somewhat in the spirit of a free press, and not trying to control the media. Eric McErlain’s guidelines are a great place to start. From there, something can be built.
There’s a lot of discussion on this today. If you aren’t tired of it by now, you can see the various points of view from around the web from Justin at the Goalie Guild, Justin Bourne, Kevin DeLury, and more from Puck Daddy. I’m sure there is more out there, and I’m curious about what you think. This is just my opinion. What’s yours?

Update: Something I’ve thought about in the past, and was just talking about on Twitter, was that so many bloggers want into the NHL press box, but have no experience in a press box. If you were coming up in the ranks of broadcasting (or even an NHL team in just about any position, from player to coach, and refs as well), you would be cutting your teeth in the minors. Minor league teams need every bit of exposure they can garner. They have an appreciation for their fans that doesn’t scale to the NHL level. I realize that not every blogger can do this, but if I were in charge of handing out media credentials to bloggers, I would suggest spending a long weekend with a minor league affiliate, and see what that blogger produced. It isn’t cheap, it isn’t easy, but that’s how it goes. A guitar doesn’t come with a business plan, and neither does a blog. Sometimes, you have to work hard and make sacrifices along the way. Ask some of the professional hockey writers who are nice enough to give us some time. They can tell you.

Comments

  1. zambonirodeo says:

    Gotta say one thing… the minor leagues I covered are not necessarily the place to learn about objective, dignified, professional press box behavior!

  2. I really appreciate this piece. I have just recently started my own blog. I don’t live in a major sports market, so I don’t have the temptation of trying to bite off more than I can chew and seek professional media credentials. Certainly, there may be that pipe dream that I will become successful enough at this to have it become more than my after work hobby, but I am realistic.

    I have taken to trying to find local or “second tier” events to cover to build a bit of local following and hone my skills and voice at the same time. Even in Halifax, NS I have wonderful opportunities to so: QMJHL, Canadian Senior Baseball Championship, Premier League basketball and the upcoming Canada Games.

    Thanks for the info and reinforcing what I already know but must always keeping in mind: it takes time to buiild reputation and elearn.

  3. Joel – It’s easy to look around and see the ‘success’ of others and judge ourselves by that. At least, I have done that in the past. But experience counts for a lot these days. There are no shortage of people who can type.

    I’m amazed at the people who haven’t even started a blog that will ask about how to ‘make it’ or get into the press box. But even people who have access still tend to cover other sports, and branch out some. Look at what Buddy Oakes is doing at http://www.predsontheglass.com/ with other sports, like roller derby. If the NHL doesn’t feel like they need us at the moment, then go where you’re wanted. Show them the value that you bring. They will figure it out eventually, and with all due luck, you will have the experience and reputation to step in.

    But I’m glad you liked it. I hope it helps.

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