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Bloggers Rights: From the Outside looking in.

Over a series of three submissions (depending on interest) I would like to touch on an issue which has taken on some recent momentum, the rights of hockey bloggers in general to expect and receive access to the media boxes of NHL teams.

In this first article I will attempt to clarify the parameters of the issue through a step-by-step analysis of what the bedrock issues actually are, and through this explanation to perhaps solidify the nature of the debate and provide some insight on where strides can be made on either side.  In two subsequent articles I will then touch on to what degree bloggers meet those amorphous standards of acceptance, whether or not that access is even something bloggers ought to be seeking, and some suggestions on how I think they may be able to accomplish those goals. 

Part I: What are Bloggers Rights?

The initial obstacle I encountered when trying to form an opinion on this matter was piercing the ephemeral nature of the question itself: To what degree do ‘rights’ enter into this discussion?  My conclusion is that, quite frankly, they don’t.  The NHL is a for-profit enterprise.  Teams generate revenue through the dissemination of information, access and other commodities, so it seems disingenuous to suggest that any group of people deserve free access to those commodities via the assertion of ‘rights’, at least in lieu of a tangible benefit generated for the team itself.

This obviously led to a second, and much less easily answered, question: to what degree would blogger access create a tangible benefit for a NHL team and thereby pass this first obstacle to entry?  To begin to answer that one has to look at how existing media generates those benefits.  In the interest of brevity, it should suffice to say that media coverage is largely a symbiotic creature, in that rather than generating interest it’s coverage more directly represents the amount of interest present among their readers and viewers.  There are of course instances where media coverage spurs interest in a team, but those are marked exceptions to the rule.  The sport itself generates the interest and need for information, the media then increases or decreases coverage to reflect that.  Writing a story about how the Wings may win a Cup will never generate as much traffic or draw as many users compared to a story about how the Wings actually won a Cup would.  The sport and the team drive the amount of interest.  What the media can do is sway opinion to a certain degree, but generating the interest it takes to have an opinion in the first place is largely beyond their ken.

‘Where do blogs fit in then, Mr. Wizard?’  Thank you for asking.  The above example functions under the presumption of a perfect market balance, that the media unerringly adjusts it’s coverage in precise step with their assessments of the interest out there, and that those assessments are always 100% right.  Obviously the Mainstream Media (MSM) is neither that prescient nor that agile to make such finely tuned coverage corrections, and the print media especially lacks that kind of precision in their focus.  It’s often a difference between having a dedicated hockey beat writer or not, so there is little room in the way of fine tuning there.

Now we should begin to see where these Alternatively Streamed Medias (ASM, hat tip to Senshobo wink ) have their optimal niche, in providing supplemental coverage where the MSM has dropped the ball and failed to accurately gauge and meet fan interest in a subject through their publications.  The issue of whether the MSM or the ASM is better able to provide the information fans want is one that will be touched on in a later submission.  Briefly, ‘who’s better at it’ is more of a subjective argument than anything else.

Finally, in this discussion of ‘rights’ bloggers have opined that as they perform a similar function they should be treated equivalently with the MSM with regards to access, and this is simultaneously a fair and unfair request.  As I’ve already demonstrated bloggers do overlap substantially with the MSM in situations where the MSM is not providing sufficient coverage, but there are some inherent differences between the MSM and ASM which require further analysis before the question of access can be fairly answered.

By and large, blogging is something done by people with a passionate interest in their subject.  It is done at little cost, with little overhead or oversight, and with little investment beyond the blood sweat and tears of the author.  Very few bloggers are financially compensated for their work, and even fewer still are able to make a living solely from their sites.  The MSM, on the other hand, play a slightly higher-stakes game.  After being selected from a pool of similarly-qualified applicants its writers are either directly employed by a parent company or their livelihood is otherwise dependant on their pieces, and those submissions ordinarily pass through at least one editorial level before they are published.  There is an apparatus in place for the team to express dissatisfaction with the work being done.  On a more general level, there is a standard of professional ethics in the MSM that is understood.

Why does this matter?  When a NHL team grants access to a member of the MSM, they do so with an understanding of the aforementioned differences.  If a member of the Detroit Free Press sits down and opens his laptop an NHL team has some legitimate assumptions it can make.  If the author of WingsBlog.net sits down and does the same, what can the team safely assume they’ll do?

The Internet has dramatically impacted the Way Things Are, and that impact has perhaps been most pronounced in the way information is handled in, and by, the media.  As blogging moves into it’s adolescence we see it entering the same struggle for identity and acceptance, the same search for self, we each endured in our own ways as we grew up.  I wonder what the final product will be?

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