Sunday, December 02, 2007

Adventures in broadcasting
Hockey Night in Canada meets the blogosphere

Well, first of all, I thought the piece on Hockey Night in Canada last night was a terrific introduction to the blogosphere and the press box issue that we here have been batting around for some time now.

It's really incredibly difficult in a short piece like that to make blogging relevant to such a wide, disparate audience, but Elliotte Friedman and company do a nice job. We meet some of the particulars, hear from Ted Leonsis and the Pro Hockey Writers' Association, and afterward get a nice run through of a few sites by the venerable Ron MacLean.

It's that last bit that I believe is the single most significant part of the whole thing for the blogosphere: The fact that such respected, mainstream voices are piping up and saying "Yeah, I read blogs, and this is why" goes a long way toward legitimizing the medium. I often receive emails from hockey bloggers who are seeking credit for the way their work influences what appears in the mainstream media, and while I think some of that is overblown, it's also ridiculous to pretend the hard work of so many is not having an affect on NHL coverage.

And all many are asking for is that little hat tip in return.

Inside Hockey producer Jennifer Barr dropped me a note last weekend to say they would potentially be putting together a piece on hockey bloggers, and asked for my input. Friedman, Barr and a CBC crew then went to Washington for Wednesday's night's Panthers-Capitals game, where the majority of this segment was filmed.

On Friday afternoon, they came to The Globe and Mail newsroom for a quick, on-camera chat, something that put me in a bit of an awkward position. I feel as though I'm as much a part of the blogosphere as I am the media, but when it comes to putting bloggers in NHL press boxes, it's hard to find the middle ground. To a certain extent, I agree with Kevin Allen's concerns over just who can gain that access, but I also know that there are many, many bloggers out there who would shine if given increased access.

It's happened in Washington already with people like Jon Press, someone I've had the chance to meet and now keep in touch with, and I honestly can't see any reason why it wouldn't happen again and again in locales where the press box is far from full.

One of the questions Friedman asked was what had I done to help bloggers gain access to the press box, and the answer, frankly, is "not much" — at least outside of advocating for it on this site. I'm still a small fry when it comes to this industry — and given that's my livelihood, it will always take precedence over the work I do on this site — but I do feel as though this is an issue that deserves more support and that would benefit from just a little diversity of opinion on the media side of things.

As Leonsis said on his own site this morning, the blogosphere is here to stay, and it's really going to be about the two sides coexisting in the future. Teams ultimately hold the keys to the press box, and with several apparently on the verge of taking the plunge, we're likely going to see a radically altered hockey media landscape five or 10 years from now.

(Of course, as a friend pointed out last night, one of several elephants in the room here is the fact bloggers in the press box represent a form of competition for the media.)

There's been some really terrific discussion of the piece around the blogosphere so far, and I wanted to highlight a few of the interesting posts.

Here's Islanders Outsider:
I enjoyed the piece and thought it was fair. I do wish that coverage of this story would cease mentioning Islanders bloggers being permitted to wear jerseys. It's rarely mentioned that those who do wear jerseys are not in the actual press box and are required to remove their jerseys before entering the locker room. More attention should also be paid to the idea that, league-wide, some bloggers are intent on converting their blogs into new-media careers, and others are content to blog for the sake of blogging. The groups can, and should, co-exist, cooperate, and benefit from each other.
An excellent point, one I completely agree with. It's a distinction that needs to be included here, as many bloggers are, and will always be, fans of certain teams, and I don't think that precludes them from providing coverage of their team.

No cheering in the press box is a fine axiom, but "no cheering for bloggers" doesn't have to be the only way to go. It works in Washington, and would elsewhere, but what the Islanders have introduced doesn't deserve to be dismissed out of hand.

As I've said before, honesty is paramount if you're going to provide quality coverage on a personal medium like a blog, and wearing the home colours is as honest as it gets.

Here's Nashville's No. 1 hockey booster, Dirk Hoag:
They spoke with Kevin Allen to get the professional sportswriter's view of the growing impact of hockey blogging, and he spouted some of the more obvious arguments about the whole sector being in its "infancy" ...

... amateur online sportswriters have been going at it for over 10 years now, as Spector, PJ Swenson, myself, and others can attest. The field is hardly in its infancy, but rather, full-blown acne-ridden adolescence at least. I received full press access from the Red Wings back in 1997 and 1998 while writing for In the Crease, under terms which both parties agreed to; act like you belong there (no asking for autographs), and let the deadline-guys get their quotes first. It's not that hard, folks.
Another solid point. Even this site, as of Friday, has been around three years, and seven or eight of the notables on my blogroll were hard at work pumping out hockey content long before I showed up.

What's really in its infancy is the push for more access, something that, frankly, wouldn't have happened at all if not for Leonsis.

I also liked this post from Hockey's Ladies of Greatness (great name), which gives us a frank assessment of what it's like to be a fan blogger among the Washington press corps:
As someone who has benefited and will probably continue to benefit from the Caps' progressive policy towards bloggers I'm not convinced as to whether or not I belong in the press box. But I certainly appreciate the opportunity and try to make the most of it when given.
And our friend Jes Golbez has what I'd call a more 'down with the media' perspective here.

Ultimately, the taped bits I did with Friedman didn't make it to air, something I sensed might happen at the time given my, let's say, less than controversial answers. (I'm also a pretty quiet, understated guy to be making waves on television.) I'd be lying if I said I didn't get a kick out of seeing this site brought up on the air by MacLean, but honestly what was the most satisfying was having the blog community recognized for its collective efforts.

Blogger, unfortunately, is still thought of as a derogatory term by many.

I make my living in the media, but I'm as proud of the fact I'm considered an integral member of the blogosphere — and I hope it stays that way. As I told Friedman in the interview, it's very difficult for me to take one side or the other on this issue given I'm a member of both camps, one of the few people working tirelessly to help both groups succeed.

And I certainly think that's possible.

"I don't think it's anything to fear; I think it's a business and social imperitive that we embrace it."
— Ted Leonsis
UPDATE Tom Benjamin has an excellent post on all this over at his site.



At 12:07 a.m., December 03, 2007, Blogger HockeyTownTodd said...

Excellent post.
I was surprised at how complete the feature was, given the time allotted.

In describing the way you handled things, kinda put on the spot, I think you handled the situation very well.

Any chance NBC will buy that segment and show it, or do one of their own?

At 12:14 a.m., December 03, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I enjoyed the piece, too, but was very disappointed to hear nothing of the main distinction between MSM & blogosphere: objective reporting (MSM) is not the same as subjective opinion essays (blogging). Thus, all the hand-wringing about accountability, honesty, and fairness are merely smokescreens for some in the MSM to defend their real estate in the press box.

This whole competition/encroaching-on-the-MSMs-turf debate is absurd, because the blogosphere will become worthless if it tries to do what the MSM does .... or maybe Tom Benjamin is right, and this is all a conspiracy to co-opt the new media and bring it under control of the Borg collective.

At 1:25 a.m., December 03, 2007, Blogger Wyshynski said...

objective reporting (MSM) is not the same as subjective opinion essays (blogging).

Actually, I thought one of the best moments of the piece -- and I e-mailed him to tell him this -- was when Nate Ewell of the Caps PR cabal compared the blogosphere reaction to Glen Hanlon's firing to that of the MSM when it came to opinion writing. That's where blogs really, really fill a need here in the U.S.; newspapers in most NHL cities are hard-pressed to give any additional space to opinion pieces on hockey outside of a Sunday notebook.

At 1:31 a.m., December 03, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Excellent post - I don't have the time to check your site out as often as I would like, today I came here through Islanders Outsider.

The issue, or lack thereof - when it comes to team apparel in the locker room is moot at this point, because just about every single one of us has accepted our place in the blogging community. While we are generally fans first, we do not want to raise eyebrows in a negative light. I have been to all but two Isles home games this season, and I have not had a problem with any of the mainstream media thus far. A few of them have even offered to hold my voice recorder if I couldn't get close enough - so take from that what you will.

We are building relationships - which is what the idea is all about. I see no reason why the media and those blogging cannot co-exist.

Michael Schuerlein

At 2:10 a.m., December 03, 2007, Blogger Hawerchuk said...

Ron Maclean made a good point when he said it didn't seem like blogging would enjoy the same status in Canada as it does in the US. I basically never read the local coverage, but I decided to look at my local team's (Sharks) coverage in the San Jose paper this morning, and this is what I got from columnist Mark Purdy:

If you don't want to read it, the basic gist is this: Patrick Marleau's shooting percentage is 8% so far this year because he doesn't get angry. (Marleau insightfully tells the reporter what we all know - nothing's wrong, he'll go back to his career average of 15% soon enough.)

When a writer in the mainstream media writes stupid things like this all the time (pretty much every time I read his column), what's the point of having any MSM coverage at all? The HNIC piece mentioned that San Jose was one of the teams that was letting bloggers into the press box, so clearly they feel the same way about local news outlets.

At 3:11 a.m., December 03, 2007, Blogger Andrew Bucholtz said...

Totally agree with your post, James: the feature was well-done, and showcased the different perspectives on the issue pretty well. Nice to see your site get some on-air exposure. Like you, I've got experience on both sides of the debate, as I work in mainstream media (albeit very small and insignificant mainstream media) but have also taken various forays into the blogosphere. I think blogs definitely have an important role to play in both the present and the future, as the mainstream media simply can't cover everything due to personnel and space restrictions (or sometimes, as Ted Leonsis mentions in the feature, choose not to cover important franchise events). As per the press box debate, I agree with Ron's comments that it's a win-win situation for cities that are having trouble attracting much media coverage: it's going to be a while before that makes its way into Canada though. Hopefully the net impact of features like this will be to reduce the tension between the mainstream media and the blogging community: I think they can co-exist, and that they can both learn from each other as well.

At 4:13 a.m., December 03, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another idea I haven't heard on this subject is: why aren't we debating this 'press credential' issue in two seperate parts? One for press box access, and one for post-game locker room access.

If I'm an NHL owner, I'm witholding the press-box pass because I'd like that blogger to remain a paying customer. The whole idea of 'live blogging / blogging in real-time' is a gimmick that does not serve the blogosphere's higher purpose of subjective, passionate opinion pieces. The fan-blogger should pay attention to the game, absorb it, go home and think about it in a big-picture kind of way, and then write their essay.

If I'm a MSM journalist, I have a lot less objection to a blogger alongside me in the locker room than in the press box. (though I'm not sure why I imagine this; it's just a gut feeling at this point)

I can picture a blogger getting something from the locker room experience; I don't see what his advantage is getting into the press box ..... and as I think Tom Benjamin would say, the blogger risks getting infected by the pack mentality of the MSM if he does so.

At 6:31 a.m., December 03, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I relate to your point 100% as I do not even sit in the "press box lite" the Islanders have set up. I sit in my season ticket seats every game and then meet everyone downstairs after the game.

I watch the game as I normally do and live blog from my phone when I can. It's not my main focus to blog entirely from the game, although some of my readers wish me to do so.

I tried taking notes during the game, like I do at home but it started to take away from the enjoyment I get while at the game. I do however take a bunch of photos every game - and cover the press conference in photos.

Michael Schuerlein

At 7:32 a.m., December 03, 2007, Blogger Baroque said...

Whether or not you made it on camera, your blog got a mention - and aren't you glad you didn't have a naked hockey player story as your most recent post? :)

I enjoyed the feature very much, and liked the fact that Ron McLean went to other sites using the blogroll, since it highlights that the various blogs interact with one another and share ideas and credit one another.

At 9:39 a.m., December 03, 2007, Blogger Wyshynski said...

If I'm a MSM journalist, I have a lot less objection to a blogger alongside me in the locker room than in the press box.

Can't agree with you on this one, and I speak from experience. Most writers and electronic media do their most important work in the locker room and then, usually, in the media room. They're on a deadline, they want to get what they need and then complete their work.

I think one of their biggest fears -- besides the silly notion of bloggers cheering in the press box, which is one of their main taboos -- is that an army of fans are going to muck up the postgame process with inane questions, block their access to certain players just by being another body in an already-cramped locker room or -- in their worst fears -- unleash some sort of unprofessional act that embarrasses themselves and the pros.

As long as everyone's aware of the usual pecking order -- TV before radio before print before those who aren't on deadline -- then everyone can get along. I've not witnessed a case in which a blogger tried to "jump the line" in order to ask something off the wall or "inappropriate," as Brian Pothier called it in the CBC. (I'd love to know what "inappropriate" meant to Pothier, by the way. I imagine it might have been a question that was more pointed and critical of his play than he'd receive from the MSM...)

At 11:29 a.m., December 03, 2007, Blogger Pete said...

And now you are appearing on Deadspin! All things internet and hockey clearly run through!

Congrats on the HNIC piece James!

At 12:04 p.m., December 03, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anyone who says bloggers are not held accountable for what they write has never written a quick, poorly researched and heavily opinioned blog post before.

I could fill in the blanks for them anytime.

At 2:40 p.m., December 03, 2007, Blogger Katebits said...

I find myself increasingly perplexed by the conversation occurring about hockey bloggers and the media. Every piece about this issue seems to start with the assumption that "good bloogers" will behave like the media, and that the ultimate goal of sports bloggers is to obtain press access.

The entire foundation of this argument seems pretty flawed to me. Blogging will never, ever, ever, be "legitimized". There is too much variation, with too many disparate voices for "blogging" to ever earn credibility. Don't forget, the guy who published the naked photos of Tlusty is just as much a blogger as Mirtle.

Blogging is a new voice for the masses, not new media. Yeah, sometimes bloggers produce good journalism, but in most cases (my own included), journalism is not the goal.

At 2:43 p.m., December 03, 2007, Blogger Andrew Bucholtz said...

Agree with gwyshynski: as a journalist, it doesn't really matter to me who's in the press box at a game. It's difficult for anyone there to get in the way of your story, and quite often, whoever's around will catch things that you miss and come up with interesting ideas. I know personally it would bother me more to have more people in locker room interviews/scrums, as that generally means you get to ask less questions of your own. However, there are ways around that: personally, I think the best solution would be to make more players available for post-game interviews to relieve the crowding. Quite often, you can get some of the best perspectives from the lesser stars on the team. If the media relations people don't want to do that, I have no problem with bloggers waiting to ask questions after the mainstream media.

At 4:35 p.m., December 03, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

@Andrew Bucholtz

It's good to see other media members warm to the idea of working next to bloggers. I know this has always been my concern while standing elbow to elbow with some of the best NY sports writers.

Honestly, I have never asked a question while in the media scrum - mostly due to lack of confidence. It's a dreadfully frightening experience for someone such as myself because of all the possible ramifications that exist.

More than anything else, I sit quietly with my voice recorder and observe the entire scene in the locker room. I found I get more from doing that, then I would from asking 1 question after the media is finished up. By that time, the player has already asked anything I want to ask and is looking to shower and get out of dodge.

I know I will eventually ask questions in the scrum - but only when I am 100% certain all the other media members are finished.

Michel Schuerlein


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