Those $%#@&# bloggers: what to do?

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."

MOVING FORWARD

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.



  • Ducey

    I think the Oilers are doing the right thing.

    The MSM is slow but they have editors, lawyers and assets. If a writer says something defamatory or outside the ethics of the profession then there will be consequences. Editors will say no, the writer/ paper can get sued, etc. In most cases the MSM edits what they say, and for good reason.

    Lets say bloggers have access to a dressing room, or team flight etc, and they overhear a conversation or see something that is outside the realm of professionalism to write about.(Rumours for example) Lets say they want the nice juicy headline to boost hits to their site and they go ahead and report it.

    What is the consequence for that blogger if it turns out not to be true or is tabloid type stuff that impacts a player negatively. Not much. He likely has few assets and may not even care if he gets sued. He has had his 15 minutes of fame.

    There is a level of trust and accountability between teams and the MSM that makes the system work and allows the Oilers to feel comfortable allowing professionals like Brownlee, Matheson, Gregor etc to have access.

    Robin, I think you underestimate your profession. You have off the record conversations, hear rumours, see things that you will not report on – you have said that many times here. I can’t see the average blogger with no editor or training doing the same.

    If bloggers get credentials, the result will be that the Oilers and other teams will need to protect their players and will grant even less access to players – to everyone.

  • smiliegirl15

    I think there’s an aspect of discomfort with losing traditional standards for determining the legitimacy of a writer. It used to be very simple; go to journalism school, become good enough to be hired by a widely distributed publication, get credentials. It’s a far murkier world when it comes to blogs. All you need is a command of the English language, steady content, and a following. The blog world’s “do-it-yourself” nature is probably an uncomfortable thing to deal with for anyone used to traditional ways of information transmission.

    Accepting blogs also necessitates some difficult, gray-scale decisions. Oilers Nation is by far one of the more sophisticated members of the Oilers blogging world, with its frequent breaking stories, quality writers and between you and Gregor, some mainstream credibility. But how would you handle a blog like Black Dog Hates Skunks? Its emphasis on personal storytelling doesn’t exactly fit the profile of someone you’d want covering the team, even if the writing is strong. Do the stat guys belong, if they’re trying to analyze the game through numbers rather than personal analysis? I think there are some tough decisions to make.

    I will say that I’d love to be able to read Lowetide interviewing Stu MacGregor or Kevin Lowe, or have David Staples have a conversation with Tom Renney about the disconnect between the expectations on a big man like Dustin Penner versus the reality of what he is. The whole point of allowing coverage, from the point of view of the organization, is to encourage fan interest. It’s time for them to recognize that their best and most dedicated fans often process their information through blogs, and to respond accordingly. If they don’t, they might miss a whole generation born into the information age.

  • I think Watt has given away what this is really about before. The Oioers perceive blogs and websites as being competition for edmontonoilers.com. They don’t own radio stations, tv stations or newspapers and don’t generate enough info to justify doing so – they’d end up having to cover all sorts of non Oiler stuff to fill the time. web content is easy though. They own a portal. It is, at present, the best place for original source material. Say they start giving me access and I travel to Edmonton to exercise it. I start posting audio and video on my own site, along with my own commentary, which isn’t the neutered crap you get on oilers.com. Suddenly, I’m directly competing with them. If was in my second or third yea of law school and had the time and access, it’s something I’d think about doing. This is about preserving their monopoly on a specific medium, I think.

    In any event, say they decided they would accredit blogs with some demonstrated sustain and readership. What are we really talking about? Ten guys at most, a bunch of whom don’t even live in Edmonton?

  • Oiler Country

    How would the Oilers or the NHL for that matter measure the level of professionalism of one’s site?

    It’s a question that needs to be answered, however, perhaps a good measuring stick is to see how many “bloggers” are people who are or have been employed by the MSM? Audience metrics would be harder to capture however, and how would one know if the blogosphere is reputable?

    Oilersnation exists at the level it does because of writers like yourself, Lowetide, and a couple others. It gets creditability from your background.

    It all comes down to measurement of what blog has the beef and what blogs are just fan blogs.

    • Oiler Country

      There are some very talented writers who have never drawn a pay cheque from the MSM, so I wouldn’t weight that too heavily.

      It really isn’t that difficult for an NHL PR guy to look at websites over the course of a few months and separate the “Look, I got a picture of Cogliano with his shirt off on my cell phone camera” from those providing content more substantial.

      Like I said, they should look at:
      — What’s the content? Is the content balanced and fair, even if it’s not necessarily positive?
      — Who writes for the site?
      — How much traffic does the site draw? Five-thousand page views a month, or a million etc?
      — Does the site pay writers? Does the site spend money to cover the team, such as by sending writers to the draft, league meetings etc? In other words, is it competing against MSM sites by covering issues and events?
      — Based on content, does the site need access to games or is it a case of somebody just trying to get into Rexall for free?

  • oilerdiehard

    Of course you don’t write everything you see or hear, at least as a beat writer who travels with the team — that’s part of the understanding you enter into with the gig.

    Some bloggers would last five minutes because they might choose not to follow the conventions. Like you said, without an editor to answer to and ongoing employment at a news outlet to consider, some people might take the approach that anything they see or hear is fair game and if they cross the line, so what?

    The tell-all guys would get weeded out very, very quickly. Adios.

    • Legoman

      Absolutely Robin. There ass would be outside Rexall so fast they would not know what happened. The problem with this scenario is if someone steps beyond that invisible line and reports something juicy that has not been heard (TMZ like). You as a mainstream writer would probably have no choice but to cover this. You would get scooped per say and also because of the possible fall out that would ensue how much access would the team grant at that moment. It takes one mouth. As a fan and a blogger I want my team covered but also protected. Individual basis based on reputation, experiance and player/team trust, is the only way to go.

      • While a segment of bloggers out there might disagree — those who think the MSM doesn’t ask the “tough” questions they would or tell it like it is as they would — staying within the understood guidelines doesn’t mean you have to kiss up to get along.

        A few simple (and reasonable) examples of what we were expected to avoid as reporters who travelled with the team and had access most people don’t.

        — If player X is playing through an undislcosed injury, don’t use the fact you have access to the room and medical areas to write, “Hey, I noticed Sam Gagner had a big ice pack on his knee today . . .”

        — Don’t make public private conversations that are overheard on the team flight, bus or hotel.

        — Reporters sometimes end up eating or socializing in the same restaurants etc as the players. Don’t suggest that “Player A gets more ass on the road than a public toilet seat.” If the law/curfews etc aren’t broken, what players do away from the rink isn’t public domain. We aren’t paparazzi — “Look, it’s Sheldon Souray with two hot chicks . . .”

        It’s mostly common sense stuff.

        • While I’m not sure if any of your three examples reflect the concerns of the blogging group you mention, “– those who think the MSM doesn’t ask the “tough” questions they would or tell it like it is as they would –“*, some might well disagree with your grouping of the first example with the 2nd and 3rd.

          I’m sure there are some that would have interest in your 2nd and 3rd examples, but I don’t think those are particularly good examples of information bloggers feel the MSM should, but doesn’t, report. Those have nothing to do with hockey, they are tabloid material unrelated, as you rightly note, to covering hockey. Obviously the line gets murky at some point, but I’ve never read any respectable blogger criticizing the MSM for not revealing the type of information gained in examples 2 and 3.

          That said, I’m not sure everyone would agree with you on whether the first example is “reasonable”, since a player performing poorly because/while he’s injured is (at least arguably) a “hockey” story.

          I think most would agree that, even if you’re reporting on strictly hockey-related stuff, if you’re writing and publishing articles with no tact or respect for those involved, there would be some concern that your access might be limited going forward. But does that mean the reporter should be obliged to treat injuries as a secret if the team doesn’t release the information itself?

          That said, I understand that if you report information that was understood to be off the record, your sources probably dry up quickly.

          * I think these criticisms relate more to questions asked of GM’s and coaches than of players.

  • JohnQPublic

    The Oilers (and NHL) need to ask themselves: “why does the MSM get media passes?”

    The answer: free media coverage to fans to generate interest.

    Do blogs generate fan interest? Obviously. In fact, blogs have the most devoted Oiler (NHL) fans of all.

    So what’s the problem?

    The Oilers management sound regressive on this policy.

    Here’s the solution: grant blogs access if they have XXXXX number of hits per day. You have to be this tall to ride this ride.

    It’s a simple solution. Get with it Oilers. I only read national papers, but get most of my hockey news from blogs – it’s more timely, entertaining, colorful, and often has much deeper analysis.

    (… and more maroons, but you can’t have it all.)

  • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

    I agree with what the NHL teams are trying to do as a whole. There is far too many mickey mouse characters out there with zero reliability.

    You and Gregor make sense to get passes, but if other bloggers want passes they need to be more open about who they are and maybe lose the nicknames. Or at least don’t guy by the nicknames.

    The NHL is running a business and they need to make sure that who they let in aren’t just going to be goofs. Maybe there should be some sort of course that the NHL offers to make bloggers more aware of what they want?

  • I do not envy JJ Hebert’s job in deciding this. Until a decent process of weeding out the “mindless gibberish laced with profanity” and the actual hockey fan’s blog is developed, and I don’t think it’ll be that easy, the Oilers are doing the right thing and just keeping everyone out. I think the trickiest issue is when the guys like Brownlee and Gregor, the mainstream guys already with credentials, writing for the blogs. I’m not saying I think it’s a problem(we at Oilernation benefit greatly from it, in fact) but it kind of contradicts the Oilers policy. This is definately an issue that the Oilers should be proactive on however. Maybe a couple of issues such as these should be brought up in the future R&D camps?

  • NHL teams are foolish to not embrace the blogger phenomenon. I mean, it only serves to grow the game.

    In the same breath, why wouldn’t the NHL and its teams want that added exposure? I suppose the argument to that is that they get the exposure without offering credentials to bloggers – so why bother?

  • How were Herbert and Watt able to hear you during your conversations with their ears full of sand?

    I agree not all bloggers are worthy of pass, but to basically have a policy of ‘no bloggers allowed’ shows how out of touch these guys are.

      • DK0

        I think he was trying to ask “Isn’t every team in the NHL doing the same thing and saying no bloggers, MSM only, for credentials?” I’m guessing the point he was trying to make is that its not like the Oilers are being pricks about it, they are just following the industry standard

        • The Oilers are one of the most strick teams when it comes to bloggers getting press passes. It is not league wide, as some teams like the Washington Capitals do actually embrace the Bloggers. Ted Leonsis has spoken about the issue at hand and actually has his own blog.

          I do really think the policy should just be to review each application case by case. If a blogger applies for the press pass and can provide data to prove his readership and the legitamacy of his writing/blogging, then they should be approved, which would be the case for guys like Brown Lee and Gregor.

          I would love to see the numbers on readship and hits on this site in comparison to the standard MSM sources.

          If it comes down to a #’s game… pull John Mackinnon’s press pass, he’s a joke.

  • Milli

    I think it is a tricky one for teams, but one that has been around for a few years. Time has come to embrace it. I think after about 5 minutes maybe less, you can tell if a site is worthy. Another note on this, doesn’t the Washington Caps owner blog directly with the fans, that is the coolest thing.

  • Milli

    They could look at doing something like issuing credentials to those bloggers that meet certain credibility criteria, like a high rating on technorati, etc. It would push those bloggers interested in taking their coverage of the team seriously to build better sites and easily weed out the ones just trying to get into the stadium. Using purely subjective criteria only opens them up to criticism like the organization only allowing bloggers that pander to the team in – which would inevitably happen.

  • Librarian Mike

    I rarely read the MSM sites any more as the blogs often have more up to date information and the person writing seem to care a whole lot more as it is his one gig. MSM writers often write an article a day or what ever fulfill the editors quota and move on. I also like stuff that is from the writers head and not filtered through an editor and slashed for content or to fit a given space. I have read so much great stuff lately that just never would have appeared on a MSM site such as stats analysis on the 72 Series and an interview with MPS translated from Swedish. I only have one vice I watch hockey, read about hockey eat sleep and breathe Oilers.
    It has been a lot more fun to do this since I started to pay attention to blogs. the Oilers ignore blogs at there at there own loss of revenue. Not to mention the fact that they will be sending there message through the established MSM system and ignoring a large portion of their most passionate fans. Not wise in my opinion and I am not alone of coarse.

  • Good post, Robin. I would never want access, even if offered, but there’s no reason some guys who want it should be denied. My only quibble is that I don’t think this is about “professional” writing and reporting standards. Guys who get drunk on talk radio shows get access. It’s about control. The first bloggers who do get access with the Oilers will be the ones who play nice. It won’t be the ones who criticize the team, even if their writing and reporting is spot-on.

    Andy

    • Fair comment, although feel free to replace the word “professional” with whatever term, for you, reflects what separates the obviously outrageous/just-for-laughs kind of sites from those offering statistical analysis, commentary etc.

  • Rob...

    -Is adding bloggers to the scrum likely to improve/enhance the quality of the questions being asked already? -Asked another way: If bloggers ask different questions than the MSM, are those the questions the ones that cause speakers to clam up and scrums to be ended prematurely?

    I can only assume that a MSM rep would be hauled onto the carpet if they kept asking questions that were considered stupid on many levels. What does a blogger have to lose unless they work for an organization with a hierarchical structure that results in a similar arse-chewing?