Monday, May 19, 2008

Meet your new Puck Daddy
Yahoo! makes hockey blogging a full-time gig

Doing what I do, I've had a few strange encounters and uncomfortable interviews over the years, but there hasn't been anything quite like last week, when I discussed the finer points of hockey blogs with "a guy from Jersey" and four cats mewling in the background.

When Mr. Wysnyski hits it big, it'll make quite the audio clip to pass around.

I assume most of those who stop by here on a regular basis know Greg, either from The Fourth Period, FanHouse, Deadspin or his book, but for the uninitiated, he's one of the best — if not the best — of what I'd call non-traditional hockey writers out there.

Although who knows if you need such definitions anymore (or where they apply).

In any event, in mid-April, Greg went from being "Greg, the only hockey writer I know from Jersey," to Puck Daddy, Yahoo!'s resident NHL blogger and the first-ever full-time hockey blogger hired by a media organization.

At least that's what I called him when I gave him a ring.

"I didn’t realize that until you said it," he said. "It never even occurred to me that that was the case, but it probably is, isn’t it?

"I’m not obviously the first blogger to get hired by a media company; I guess I’m the first to do a daily kind of thing the way we’re doing it."

Yahoo!'s been in the sports blog business for about eight months, ever since Jamie Mottram was hired from AOL to take on the gig. Hockey was a little ways down the food chain, and was originally going to be a part-time job, but after some solid success with the Big Three sports, Mottram tapped Wyshynski on the shoulder.

The guy from Jersey quit his day job as an editor at a weekly newspaper in Virginia. He'd been there nine years.

"Greg knows hockey," Mottram said, "and is an excellent blogger with a solid journalism background... he relates the game to puckheads and casual fans alike. He's funny and works his ass off."

Me? I'm surprised it took this long.

[Mirtle] What follows might be a bit long, but it's not every day I do a lengthy Q&A with a hockey blogger. And after spending days on end in an apartment full of Jingle Cats castoffs, Greg admitted he talks a lot.

Was he surprised when the job came up?

"There’s been this sort of trend of going out to find bloggers to create content for major media websites," Wyshynski said.

"I think it’s the right call [to go full-time] because I think that’s the way things are trending. I don’t think that, if they wanted to make the hockey blog as good as the football blog is, the basketball blog — I mean the basketball blog is incredibly good, it’s incredibly popular, it’s ridiculous how much that thing’s grown since Skeets took it over — if they wanted it to be like that, then I think it’s a full-time job. I think part time we could have gotten it to a certain point, but full time is the only way we could have gotten it to where I think it belongs.

"I respect the hell out of all of them for what they’re doing. It really does feel like joining an all-star team in a way."

[JM] One of the things I asked him was how Puck Daddy would fit into the hockey blogosphere, and what his strategy was with the site. He is, after all, in uncharted territory.

"I think in hockey, there’s an incredible amount of amazing blogs out there, but at the same time, how many of them are updated 10 times a day? Or even five or six times a day like you have?

"There’s a niche to be filled in that instance. As talented and deep as the hockey blogosphere is, there is room for Yahoo! to do this thing in a real rapid-delivery sort of way and really stand out doing it."

[JM] As far as the full-time part of the gig, I pointed out that Paul Kukla, a popular hockey blogger who has gone full time on his own and brought writers into the fold, has provided a bit of a model.

"I’m a little bit more in awe of him than I was a month ago," Wyshynski said. "I feel like I’m going to have a heart-attack trying to keep this thing running. And that’s just from 8 a.m. until 7 p.m. and Paul updates at, you know, two in the morning and shit like that. It’s a little amazing that he can keep the thing humming like he does.

"Deadspin is the inspiration for a lot of things that people do on websites and it was an inspiration for me. Having written for Deadspin for the first quarter of the year, I got a real understanding of a lot of things that [publisher] Will [Leitch] does. There’s an art to it that I didn’t realize before writing for Deadspin.

"Knowing when news should go up. Knowing how often to update. And knowing how long you let things, sort of, ripen on the vine so that an audience finds it.

"People can find news anywhere, so everything that goes up has to be something different than what they read somewhere else. So it’s not just good enough to put news on the site that they can get via The AP, or via Kukla, or via their Google Reader. There’s gotta be some sort of a hook to it."

[JM] Which begged the question, "what's your hook?"

"The facet of it that I’ve always been a proponent of, and I’ve been lucky in being able to align myself with people that feel the same thing ... is there’s a complete gap in coverage when it comes to hockey of what fans really care about versus what is being written about the sport," Wyshynski said.

"And by that I mean, fans really care about rivalries. Fans really care about fights. Fans really care about what the players are like away from the rink. And not just the usual, “their mom had to drive them three hours a day to practice when they were 12” — they want to know who they’re [having relations with], what kind of car they’re driving.

"I think that the new generation of players is loosening up a bit, we’re learning more about them, we’re learning more about their likes and dislikes and the culture they’re from. The fact that now you’ve got these hockey super-couples that go beyond the Alexei Yashin-Carol Alt model — it’s really cool. It’s that sort of coverage I want to bring into the conversation along with the game stuff ... I think there’s so many different ways to approach the sport that haven’t necessarily been approached by mainstream media and I think that’s why the blogosphere’s thrived the way it has."

[JM] Coming out of journalism and jumping into the blogosphere, especially with a site that's as, shall we say, loose as Puck Daddy is, one of the things Greg said he really wanted to bring was both sides of the equation, journalistic principles combined with the "fun" side of things.

I personally know that's a tough balance to strike sometimes, as there's no set border other than what your own sense of self dictates. And there's a lot of grey.

"I’ve been able to kind of balance it throughout my career and I’m proud of it," Wyshynski said. "Everybody and their moms is talking about the Will Leitch-Buzz Bissinger thing and it really hit home because there’s this unconscionable stereotype of what we do that there isn’t any journalism involved in it and that you can’t balance putting up a goofy fan-made video that envisions the Flyers’ front office as a Nazi war room with going and asking Jarome Iginla what he thinks about Obama and Clinton. And I’ve done both. There’s room for it.

"It’s extraordinarily difficult. I think, what it comes down to is not, what do the people you cover think, but what does your audience think? And they’re going to be people in the audience that don’t necessarily understand the delicate balance.

"I put up a story the other day, Rich Hammond from Inside the Kings put up a really cool interview with one of the broadcasters that had been there since the Jurassic era. He puts up this great interview with the guy, and the guy tells the story about how, at one point in the Kings game, I think in '87, somebody threw a live chicken on the ice, and the chicken had a napkin tied around its neck for no apparent reason, there’s a live chicken on the ice, and literally the referees are telling the players, you have to stickhandle around the chicken. And it’s a great story.

"So it’s a very tiny news bit, we throw it up on the site, we put a picture of a chicken up, it’s great, it’s funny. And you wouldn’t believe how many comments came in saying ‘is this what passes for journalism at Yahoo!’?"

[JM] If you're still reading at this point, and your name isn't Greg Wyshynski, you get brownie points. A few final words from him on the hockey blog community and how his new gig fits in.

The tight-knit community:

"That’s the great thing about being a hockey blogger. Outside of a few corners of the internet ... I think everybody gets along, I think everybody respects each other and I think everybody loves the fact that there is so much content out there. And if ESPN did that, or TSN or Sportsline kind of crafted their own quirky blog, then that’d be really cool."

Providing a different voice:

"No disrespect to the Canadian media, because they’re the ones who drive practically every story that’s worth writing about in hockey ... but I think that there’s a certain perspective and a certain voice that can be brought to coverage that maybe isn’t necessarily there in the States just because of where the sport’s been the past 15 years."

Leaving the dead-tree medium:

"For Yahoo! to commit full time to a blogger for their NHL page was a leap of faith. It wasn’t a leap of faith for me once it became a full-time gig because it’s a dream job.

"[But] it’s a bit of a leap for me because it’s a bit of a lifestyle change. I mean I’ve been literally punching the clock at the same newspaper since ’99 and it’s routine, it’s all I knew. It was also sort of bittersweet for me to leave a newspaper at this point in the world because you’re dealing with a medium that’s going through its struggles. I really felt sort of bad being the guy who loves newspapers who jumps ship to the internet. It’s not like I ever felt those people were wrong; I just never felt I would be one of them."

[JM] I should note that, yes, Greg and I chat once and a while over email, but other than one meeting long ago in a Washington press box, we're not well acquainted. I imagine that'll change now that he's decided to take over the blogosphere.

The reason I wanted to put this together, however, is I don't know if many people realize the shift that took place and the fact that we may see new roles like this become the norm. I know from his work at FanHouse that, once he gets going, Greg should be able to put together some great material and help change attitudes about what the hockey blogosphere is really about.

In any event, my thanks to Greg and Jamie for taking the time out to fill us in on Yahoo!'s foray into hockey blogging. Feel free to toss other questions in the comments as I'm sure they can answer them.

Over the summer, I might tackle a few more blogosphere-related items if there's any interest. What say you?


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At 9:40 a.m., May 19, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

James, I love all your posts. You could mash on a keyboard to the beat of Ice Ice Baby and it'd still be better than 99% of the crap out there. The more stuff you put up the better I say.

At 10:28 a.m., May 19, 2008, Blogger Katebits said...

Thank you for this post, Mirtle! I've been totally wondering what the heck was going on with Wysnyski and his new gig. I hope you do write more posts about the blogosphere because you've got a pretty unique vantage point.

At 11:37 a.m., May 19, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

is there’s a complete gap in coverage when it comes to hockey of what fans really care about versus what is being written about the sport," Wyshynski said.

Bravo, Greg W., bravo!

Closing this gap is where you, Dr. Mirtle, and Greg really excel. My greatest wish as a hockey fan (other than the obvious "my team winning the Cup every year", of course) is that the approach you guys are taking will trickle up to the MSM -- print and television. What the fans want to watch and what the fans want to read about has never been easier to suss out now that blogs like this one and Puck Daddy have given us a voice.

(Also, please do keep writing about the state of hockey blogging. I'd be very interested to read what you think about the ways hockey blogging has evolved this season and where you think it might be heading next season.)

At 1:31 p.m., May 19, 2008, Blogger Kara said...

This was great.

My two cents: I'm a relatively new hockey fan in that I've been watching as many Oiler games as I can since 2005. However, my dad was a huge Oilers fan during their heyday and I also grew up with the game that way but I was never as interested in the sport the way I am now.

One of the reasons is definitely the factor that before, during, and after the games, I can go read some great blog posts about the game, or the players, reading the comments on everyones opinion and the debates and conversations that can go on in these comments..

I would think that if the internet hadn't blown up and blogs have never really began, I wouldn't be as interested in the game. I wouldn't have learned so incredibly much about the game. These blogs have been an incredible community of resources and information.

Keep this stuff up cause this is gold.

At 2:20 p.m., May 19, 2008, Blogger PJ Swenson said...

Yahoo could not have picked a better guy. It is still a little funny just reading some of Greg's headlines on the site.

Has he ever met Ross McKeon? That would be a good interview for a post. Jamie and Greg also have to come out to Yahoo world headquarters before it becomes Microsoft South. Puck Daddy tour stop #1.

At 2:33 p.m., May 19, 2008, Blogger Dirk Hoag said...

Great interview, James; the point about blogging filling in where traditional media don't address fan interest (rivalries and fighting) is a fascinating point. If a mainstream writer writes something to the effect of, "they oughta cream that guy", he gets pilloried as unprofessional (wasn't there an incident of that during the Pittsburgh/Ottawa series?). If a blogger does it, they're "edgy".

At 9:04 a.m., May 20, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great interview. Great to see that Yahoo took a chance on making Greg full-time.

they want to know who they’re [having relations with]

Any investigation into the numerous rumours would be greatly appreciated ;)

At 10:14 a.m., May 20, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

James your reference to the Jingle Cats sent me on a YouTube search that has made our day so far.

At 9:59 p.m., May 20, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr. Mirtle,

Seriously, awesome interview. I don't think the length of it was an issue because the entire thing was compelling for anyone who wants to know the guy behind the post. Plus, for someone who may find themselves on the thin line between "to blog or not to blog", this may have helped them with a direction.

Solid work sir.


At 10:18 p.m., May 20, 2008, Blogger Sean said...

Fantastic interview. Great job my both you and Greg!


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