September 02 2010 01:37PM
Hockey blogs and hockey bloggers aren't going anywhere. That's a reality the Edmonton Oilers and other NHL teams have to accept and come to grips with, and the sooner the better.
Thankfully, that's a realization that seems to be slowly taking hold as teams and their media relations departments tackle the issue of how to handle blogs and bloggers, specifically when it comes to access and accreditation.
What are the guidelines for issuing credentials to bloggers who aren't parts of mainstream media outlets, like The Journal, TSN or Sportsnet? What should they be? How do teams decide which websites are granted access and credentials and which ones aren't?
David Staples, at The Cult of Hockey in The Journal, has written on the topic more than once. So has Greg Wyshynski at PuckDaddy and Eric McErlain at Off The Wing.
As a member of the mainstream media who also blogs for a non-MSM website, this one, it's a debate I've been drawn into more than once at levels both philosophical and personal -- most recently this week, when I had a protracted discussion with J.J. Hebert, director of communications and media relations for the Oilers.
MSM AND THE OTHER GUYS
Hebert and I have disagreed often about access and credentials for non-MSM outlets. I've argued that some websites, Oilersnation among them, should be granted the same courtesy as their MSM counterparts.
Of course, my position on that, some would point out, isn't altogether altruistic -- I'm one of the fortunate few who gets paid as a blogger. Even with mainstream gigs like co-hosting the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260 and covering the Oilers and Eskimos as a freelance writer for the Canadian Press, it's in my best interest to take that stance. Oilersnation puts money in my pocket. So, my version of the discussion NHL teams are having about bloggers continues with Hebert.
The juxtaposition between MSM websites and non-MSM sites and how they are perceived and treated by teams like the Oilers came up again this week because of my personal circumstances.
For the 2010-11 season, I'll be writing for NHL.com and covering the Oilers much like did when I wrote the beat for The Journal and The Sun, at least for their home games. That means attending morning skates and writing game stories and features on the Oilers and visiting teams.
It's a gig I look forward to and one I'll be taking on while continuing with Gregor's show and writing for Oilersnation with increased frequency. At least that's my plan. If only it was so simple.
WHO GETS IN?
I'm not out to put Hebert on the spot here because he and his staff are doing their best to address the ever-increasing number of requests for credentials as they pertain to the proliferation of hockey websites.
With The Journal, The Sun, TEAM 1260 and CP, I've been accredited by the Oilers dating back to 1989. In terms of NHL credentials, I've had them since 1982, when I convinced the Vancouver Canucks to give me a spot in the parking lot and a seat in the press box.
Essentially, Hebert told me and my editor he'd be happy to issue me a pass for NHL.com (or TEAM 1260 or CP, for that matter), but that he'd have a problem -- one that's been ongoing -- if I was going to continue to use my access to gather material for Oilersnation because this site isn't recognized as part of the MSM.
One of the problems facing Hebert is that when Gregor and I write for Oilersnation, he gets calls from other bloggers: "If Brownlee and Gregor get a pass, why not me?" The argument is that if we get in, everybody should and that if they don't, we shouldn't. I don't buy that, but I get how the issue could be a pain in Hebert's ass.
Here's the Oilers policy, or lack of same, as Staples recently reported:
"Allan Watt, vice-president of broadcast and communications for the Oilers, says, "We don’t have a policy, only a position which is consistent with the other Canadian teams regarding bloggers. We take the position that we don’t accredit websites and bloggers not affiliated with or employed by a mainstream media. We also reserve the right to deal with these requests on a case by case basis."
I believe the position, as stated by Watt, is far too restrictive and needs to be reconsidered. There are a lot of bloggers producing well-written, thought-provoking and insightful accounts and commentary that draw millions of page hits and, as a bottom line, enhance awareness and interest in the Oilers, and all NHL teams for that matter.
Not all those websites, as has been pointed out before, have an interest in getting credentials. They can do what they do without them. But some of those sites do want access, and there's no legitimate reason in 2010 that those sites, including this one, be dismissed without consideration because they aren't affiliated with MSM outlets.
That said, the Oilers have every right to decide what websites and outlets they issue credentials to. They have a right to expect and maintain levels of professional conduct and coverage. It's their show.
What needs to happen is for the Oilers and all NHL teams to adopt a position that they will issue or decline credentials based on the merit of the website applying for same.
What is the history of the site? Is the content fan-boy trash or mindless gibberish laced with profanity, or does it resemble, at least loosely, what you find on MSM sites? How large an audience does the site reach? Is somebody just looking for a free seat in Rexall Place or a chance to get into the dressing room? Is the content and commentary being produced of a "professional" standard? On and on.
TIME HAS COME
Asking those kinds of questions, and others, in establishing policy for issuing credentials to non-MSM websites translates, at least initially, to a helluva lot of thought and extra work for media men like Hebert. But the time has come.
If an old-school, inked-stained wretch like me has come to the conclusion that there's a lot of well-written, worthwhile content and commentary out there being produced by people who have never been near a journalism school and who aren't employed by MSM outlets, it's likely long overdue that NHL teams recognize it as well.
Websites like Oilersnation aren't going anywhere. Hockey blogs and hockey bloggers are here to stay and they're going to have their say, one way or another. From where I sit, that's a good thing.
It's time for the Oilers, time for every NHL team, to open their doors and embrace that reality.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.