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.

  • I should also point out that the NHL itself, as in the league office, is fairly warm to bloggers. I, personally, was credentialed for the NHL Entry Draft last summer, along with other members of my network, and that’s just my own personal example. Bloggers have been invited to the NHL Awards, various All-Star game events, and other events that the league itself can control.

  • Banger

    The thing i like about blogs is the fact that it is people giving their opinion and not just simple reporting. I mean of all the papers, radio shows etc in this town. How often do you get an article in the MSM that is different from the other guys at the next paper? Same quotes, similar takes etc. Are all those same quotes and interviews just getting expanded to multiple websites too?

    I mean you watch TSN for example. You see everyone else mics in there getting the recording. You hear the same interview on every channel and radio station.

    Maybe this has something to do with MSM guys getting more one on one access to players? Maybe then someone would get a take on a story that is different then the next guy?

    Am i way out to lunch Robin? Seems to me with the current system it will just be more of the same information anyway.

  • longbottom/P.Biglow

    I agree whole heartedly with you Robin. The Oilers should lead the way in creating the rules on bloggers who get media passes. That being said any creditable blogger can get enough information from the team website, news media, outher bloggers to be able to form opinions and ideas to create blogs. Blogs are informative but they are opinions and not competeing with media outlets to get a scoop.

  • Rob...

    I realize it sounds pretty self-serving for me, a semi-professional hockey blogger about the Oilers, to agree with almost every word in this post. But I, a semi-professional hockey blogger about the Oilers, agree with almost every word in this post.

    Even if I have no interest in standing in the dressing room talking to Jason Strudwick about giving it 110%, it would be nice if players could at least talk to us without having the kibosh put on by the Oilers’ front office.

  • JJmorrocco

    What would it take for ON to be considered MSM? I have heard it referenced by the MSM this week, during the Habby story. that must give it some legitmacy.

    How long will it be until the Oilers buy up the Nation and take control?

  • 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?

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

      • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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?

  • 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?

  • 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?