Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Blogging on the beat

When the discussion turns to the media and bloggers, as it did on Hockey Night in Canada two Saturday's ago, it's often framed as "the media v. bloggers" — two sides diametrically opposed.

That's true, at least to a certain extent, but what's also true is that, more and more, the media is successfully moving into the blogosphere and, for lack of a better term, joining the conversation.

Craig Custance is a great example.

The Thrashers beat writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, one of the largest newspapers in the U.S., Custance has built quite a following on his blog. He's a relatively young guy (31) who has embraced the blog duties as part of his daily travails, something he says has benefited his work and the fans.

A lot of his success with the site stems from the fact he's part of the blogosphere and has a relationship with the local bloggers. Custance also credits online sources in his pieces for the paper and regularly talks with fans in the comments section.

"I have a lot of interaction with the Thrashers bloggers," he said over email last week. "I'm pretty sure I've met all of the regulars, and I read everything, just to make sure I'm not missing anything.

"One of my goals when I took over the beat in January was to make my blog a must-visit site for Thrashers fans and to generate as much interaction with readers as possible. I get a lot of great ideas from readers, and it gives them a pipeline to the team because I do try to address appropriate issues they bring up on my blog with the players and management. Then I report it back to them, and they love it."

So how does he feel about bloggers in the press box?

"For the record, I’d credential [local hockey blogger] The Falconer and that’s where my opinion differs from the Thrashers," Custance wrote in a blog entry about the Hockey Night in Canada piece and the issue of accountability. "Instead of a blanket policy, I’d do it on a case-by-case basis, and approve a blogger I think could help increase and improve the coverage of the team."

Which sums up my thoughts as well.

This isn't a black-and-white issue, with those who do this for a living trying to battle against those who don't. Custance is a great example of someone who's thinking progressively, working with and embracing the blogosphere, and ultimately coming out ahead.

And he's not alone.

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At 7:22 p.m., December 11, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great, except the only bloggers who would get credentialed are the ones who write fawning pieces.
Non-MSM draws its potency from being outside the establishment.
Sitting in the press box doesn't change anyone's powers of perception, but it goes a long way toward co-opting the writer. Those free donuts come at a cost.

At 2:08 a.m., December 12, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rich Hammond and Matt Kredell (of the Los Angeles Daily News) are doing similar work on the Kings:


For all intents and purposes, the LA Daily News now owns the hearts and minds of die-hard Kings fans (yes, they are substantial in number, despite the W-L record in recent years), whereas the LA Times had been the paper of record until Hammond's blog appeared.

At 9:20 a.m., December 12, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I don't think it's a requirement for fawning as much as it is for professionalism. I mean, there is no demand or restraint on the MSM types to be complimentary to the teams they cover. There is however a need for professionalism and a guarantee (be it understood or written out) for honesty and integrity.

The concerns that media relations folks have with bloggers is that there is no guarantee of that integrity. They're providing these people with credentials, that is to say is they are entrusting these people with the confidence to act like professionals but there's not much they can do to protect themselves.

If I'm a PR guy, I don't want to be known as the guy giving access to the dressing room to someone asking for autographs or drooling over the "hot players" or being otherwise inappropriate. I know a lot of bloggers will scoff at this idea, but it is a valid concern, as there are blogs dedicated to such frivolous details.

I'm a big fan of the work done by Eric McErlain and Ted Leonsis attempting to set some sort of standards to adhere by for bloggers. It's really the only way progress will be made in these fields, because, for right now at least, if you want to get the same access as the media, you have to be accountable like the media.

For bloggers who are too "opinionated" or "passionate" for that compromise, then they can have the Blog Box or a regular seat in the stands. But a line needs to be drawn somewhere.

I think that's what Custance is also referring to when he talks about a case-by-case basis. He doesn't mean accepting only the bloggers who are complimentary to the team, but accepting those who are serious about the work they do, professional in their approach and could handle the extra access properly.

At 12:24 p.m., December 12, 2007, Blogger James Mirtle said...

The idea that I'm going to sit in the press box and get a free donut and have that affect how I do my job is utterly ridiculous.

Besides, the majority of bloggers are fans of their team already, and objectivity in a lot of cases goes out the window. As long as people are perfectly honest about where there bias lies, that's not a problem.

At 1:54 p.m., December 12, 2007, Blogger Ben said...

Good comment about the free donut. And how do you define 'professional' anyway?

If people wanted straight-up articles, they would just visit the newspaper website. Blogging should be unique.

...and look no further than local accredited sports media for the team's biggest fans... just open your local newspaper.

At 2:18 p.m., December 12, 2007, Blogger Jennifer said...


Nice of you to throw some props to Craig. Most local hockey fans were cautiously optimistic when he took over the beat last year and he's done a good job considering the challenges of covering hockey in a football obsessed southern town. He makes nice in with the bloggers and if you see him at practice or on one of the rare occasions we get into a pres box somewhere he does nothing but treat us with the same respect he'd give "real" colleagues.

At 5:09 p.m., December 12, 2007, Blogger Andrew Bucholtz said...

Totally agree, James... the case-by-case basis is really the only way to do this, given the wide-ranging nature of blogs and what people are in it for. There are plenty of bloggers who would do a great job with full access, and plenty more who can accomplish what they set out to without it. Good for the mainstream media members like Craig who can see the value of a blogosphere...


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