by SENShobo on 09/28/10 at 12:33 PM ET
Where do we fit in?
That is the question bloggers have been trying to answer, and that the NHL and its teams have been trying to sort out, looking rather discombobulated in their varied approaches. Currently under discussion is a new credentialing policy, leaked by Yahoo! Sports, which according to different sources seems to be under closer scrutiny at this point. Officially they are rules of thumb for teams wondering how to get into blogger credentialing, and the individual teams would appear to control their buildings and access to them at the moment.
But really, what is it that the League has to be afraid of, and what consequences of credentialed blogger actions are they envisioning?
Adam Hochberg, on Poynter Online, paints the concerns and criticisms very well.
“This is a fiery debate that seems to be really raging across all the professional sports, not just the NHL,” said Tim Franklin, the director of the National Sports Journalism Center at Indiana University. “There really is no consensus about how to credential bloggers and what kind of access to give them.”
“It was simple before,” said NHL Media Relations Director John Dellapina. “You worked at the New York Daily News, and they told us you were the Rangers beat writer. Obviously you were credentialed for the game. It’s not so easy when somebody says, ‘I write this Islanders blog.’ “
“Not everybody can be admitted to the game for free and have access to the press rooms and the locker rooms just by saying they have a blog about hockey,” Dellapina said. “No sport is in the business of letting every fan in the locker room.”
It is obvious, one would think, that not every fan should have access to media areas, but every fan is not a blogger, nor does every blogger behave as a fan. While bloggers have begun to creep into the traditional arena of MSM, what consequences have there been?
Almost a year ago, a blog wound up reporting on an apparent yelling match in the Flames’ locker room between Dion Phaneuf and Coach Brent Sutter. Not the details one would want getting out, and yet by now they could actually be assuaging Flames fans, hinting at a rift to ripen them on Phaneuf’s trade out of town. A more famous incident out of Alberta came when a blogger was banned from the press box in Edmonton, for some combination of live blogging the game and critical words of the team on the blog, and an upswelling of blogger outrage was seen across the NHL blogosphere.
The pertinent detail missing in both cases was that while those incidents arose on blogs, both Adrian Dater and Dave Berry were there with credentials gained through their MSM employers, the Denver Post and Vue Weekly, respectively.
Not all bloggers who cause headaches find themselves as a part of MSM. I would expect that one of the least favourite tasks of NHL GMs, Coaches, and players is to deal with rumours generated by bloggers, including the likes of E k l u n d (one of the few times I will mention the name, with the same internet-spyder-thwarting spaces often seen in emails). Yet he was most definitely in the stands for the 2009 NHL Entry Draft in Montreal, and rather than the dreaded NHL jersey this particular blogger wore a leather motorcycle style jacket. He was most definitely also there because the League specifically credentialed him.
Perhaps it makes sense that the New York Rangers are allegedly leading this charge, considering the calamities they raise. Yet it was Avery who not only made his suspension-worthy comments, but even brought the cameras to him specifically for his words. The war that has spawned between Coach John Tortorella and Larry Brooks has existed both in Tampa (warning: one F-bomb by video’s end) and in New York (a minute of tense argument, no swearing), but Larry Brooks is a MSM writer whose credentials have continuously been renewed.
Where is the real blogger controversy? Sure, if the Islanders want to have their fans blogging in jerseys from a box and not alongside the media, and are asked to let MSM go first in the locker room, perhaps their organization is wanting to treat them differently than MSM, and they should be. But when someone like Leonsis credentials bloggers to cover the Capitals, it is not granted to any random request. Those non-MSM writers given access are deemed fit by the team to be there.
I myself have been there, at both the All-Star Game and Entry Draft in Montreal. As pointed out in the proposed guidelines, I am not doing this professionally, and yet I had all the access in the world. But I used the experience to learn, as Paul undoubtedly knew I would, having gotten me the credentials and adding me to his stable of bloggers after reading my work. I knew enough to let MSM go first in interviewing players, to not to show up without my only-jacketless suit. Even as I overheard and recorded bad missteps from both players and MSM, none of those recordings wound up on the internet; they truly served no one.
Where, truly, would this policy go, in policing a thus-far nonexistent problem? If the Rangers could keep media credentialed by anyone other than themselves away from their players and staff on the road, would Lundqvist’s presence at the All-Star Game in the future keep all bloggers out? Would it extend to all personnel, as I don a tin-foil hat for a moment, meaning that if anyone from the management team on down through team scouts and staff writers were placed in any location, the visiting team could effectively remove bloggers from not only their locker room, but the home locker room, press box as well, and effectively all media areas as well?
Teams should be able to handle bloggers. No blogger who drops F-bombs in every sentence and fills every podcast with conspiracy theories while avoiding every kind of fact known to man will ever find a team wanting to credential them. If a blogger were to truly misbehave, in some ways it would be easier to ban him from ever receiving a press pass again; with MSM, you would find yourself hard pressed to keep out a paper’s beat reporter and risk losing your newspaper presence, as much as a seasoned beat writer would be hard for a media room to cut loose, with all the contacts and years of information that any successor would fail to possess.
Eventually, I hope that bloggers will come to be known by the NHL for the work they do, and the ways that they can differentiate themselves from MSM. Not having to file a preview and review story for every game, along with escaping the press room mentality, allows for a freedom of expression more diverse than the addition of profanities; it is telling that great stories, like THN’s piece on Wayne Simmonds and Chris Stewart, are a rarity in MSM, something that they are not often able to find time for among their other responsibilities. The NHL and its teams waste no effort in evaluating every pool of talent for on-ice efforts; it seems foolish to categorically ignore such an opportunity to find ambassadors for the NHL who did not take the standard route to the finish line.
I will never tell the NHL or any team who it does and does not have to credential: I was proud to get access to the All-Star Game and Entry Draft, and I respectfully accept the Ottawa Senators’ desire to stick with their familiar MSM bodies. But at the same time, if a blogger is credentialed, he should be allowed to act in the same respect as any other member of the media, and held up to the same standards.
After all, if team management and ownership cannot trust one another enough to hand out credentials responsibly, I think we have a much bigger issue on our hands.
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