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

Robin Brownlee
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."

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.

Aceb4a1816f5fa09879a023b07d1a9b4
A sports writer since 1983, including stints at The Edmonton Journal and The Sun 1989-2007, I happily co-host the Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260 twice a week and write when so inclined. Have the best damn lawn on the internet. Most important, I am Sam's dad. Follow me on Twitter at Robin_Brownlee. Or don't.
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#51 Robin Brownlee
September 02 2010, 03:56PM
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Hemmertime wrote:

Article boiled down to as few words as possible.

"Give CoppernBlue access, do not give jeanshortsandbaggedmilk access."

Uh, no . . .

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#52 Jonathan Willis
September 02 2010, 05:19PM
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Naturally, I'm with the consensus here and in agreement with Robin's article, even though access wouldn't do me personally much good.

I would like to make one side point, though: my interactions with the Oilers have been through J.J. Hebert, and while Hebert hasn't been able to do much for me he's always spoken both to me both professionally and politely, and I've appreciated it.

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#53 smiliegirl15
September 02 2010, 05:23PM
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Considering how many people actually read the blogs here, the Oilers would be well advised to continue to foster some kind of relationship with the Nation. There are a lot of people (me included) who come here for Oilers news, what's really going on in the team and updates on current happenings - signings, the draft, etc.

Ignoring the power of the blogs would be like saying the internet is just a fad. It's the way of the world now; jump on the bandwagon or get left in the dust.

I know you've said before Robin, the Oilers are very much aware of the Nation but do they have anyone who wades through the inane comments to see what fans are really thinking and feeling? There are a lot of posters who post worthwhile comments. There are a lot of other people who should actually read what they typed and/or what the original article said before they hit Post.

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#54 Ryan
September 02 2010, 06:04PM
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I agree that the Oilers could grant OilersNation access to the team without little worry about professionalism. Gregor and Brownlee are basically running the MSM in Edmonton for the majority of hard core fans now.

TSN and SportsNet don't have the content to satiate us and the papers are too interested in keeping the Oilers happy.

But seriously one had not need look any farther than Wayne here at the Nation. Would you let him get a press pass? Is he considered professional enough? I laugh out loud thinking of him being offered a press pass.

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#55 David S
September 02 2010, 06:31PM
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Tyler wrote:

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?

Agreed. Nice comment.

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#56 David S
September 02 2010, 06:40PM
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Travis Dakin wrote:

HAHAHA Uh.... yeah.

Hahahahahaha!!!!

Wait a minute.

*Ponders Baggedmilk ogling in the post-game dressing room*

Yeah, Good point.

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#57 Quicksilver ballet
September 02 2010, 07:00PM
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I can understand the Oilers not wanting to allow the bloggers access to press row in their building. They have no control over what is being written in most if not all cases. If they can't temper/control what's being written then why endorse it, period. They can't keep hiring their biggest critics. Bum Stauffer is a good example, he's not an overly gifted color man for the Oilers, but that's the only place Katz could hide his critical arse. He had a good thing going with Total Sports and the Oilers effectively ripped out his spine by hiring him and tempering/severing this critcism all together. You can't do in msm what you can do in the viral world.

Must just be chafing JJ's arse with all this valid criticism being leveled their way this past year with little or no control over it. Finishing 30th in a 30 team league has been boffo for the western based bloggers and hell for the Oilers administration i'm sure.

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#58 Jason Gregor
September 02 2010, 08:56PM
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Andy Grabia wrote:

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

Andy you have a problem with a controlled experiment that tries to raise awareness? Real astute comment on your part.

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#59 The Towel Boy
September 02 2010, 09:15PM
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BUCK75 wrote:

@Towel Boy

"Who saw this coming!!!"

Hey! There is a blog called that too....isn't there? ;)

Case & point right there. A guy who has a good take on things & doesn't have time to even hardly post on his own blog....

Don't you worry...I have HUGE plans for my site for the upcoming season...

*runs of to see if website is still active*

Yeah...like I said: HUGE PLANS.

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#60 Dustin
September 02 2010, 09:41PM
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Robin, be careful what you wish for. With access comes the inevitable selfcensorship. It's only natural that articles would get toned down for fear of losing access.

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#61 Robin Brownlee
September 02 2010, 09:50PM
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Dustin wrote:

Robin, be careful what you wish for. With access comes the inevitable selfcensorship. It's only natural that articles would get toned down for fear of losing access.

I've got access. I'm talking about extending that to other non-MSM writers.

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#62 Greg
September 02 2010, 11:22PM
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So if one of the issues is that it would take too much work to develop criteria for qualifying which bloggers to give credentials too, why don't the bloggers themselves take on that work? Setup an association that spells out the criteria, continually reviews and adjusts that criteria with the NHL teams, and does the leg work to determine which bloggers meet the criteria. Each team could give a quota to the association of how many bloggers they'll accept, and the association determines which ones get it as long as they meet the criteria and, say, a vote amongst the members.

That gives the teams a body to go if one of the bloggers gets out of hand, and puts all the work on the bloggers to organize it, qualify each other, and hold each other accountable to whatever standards are agreed to. At the same time, a league wide association would hopefully have enough clout to avoid being influenced to writing certain stories by the teams. Should strike a good balance, no?

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#63 Robin Brownlee
September 02 2010, 11:28PM
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@Greg

NHL teams are not about to relinquish control of who they issue credentials for to an outside group, nor should they.

Screening and accrediting websites isn't a matter of being too much work for media personnel, it just means more work.

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#64 Quicksilver ballet
September 03 2010, 12:04AM
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I'm sure the Oilers probably like to keep an eye on whats being said about the organization, if Glen Sather didn't agree with what Dick Chubey had to say about the Oilers over a period of time, could they go to a rag and have a msm guy removed, or take away his access?

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#65 Robin Brownlee
September 03 2010, 07:09AM
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Cranky old Chubes had a long run. He was eventually moved aside for Dan Barnes, who earned the promotion.

I haven't heard of the Oilers seeking to have any writer moved off the beat since I got here in 1989, which covers the Sather, Lowe and Tambellini eras.

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#66 Rick
September 03 2010, 08:46AM
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Robin Brownlee wrote:

NHL teams are not about to relinquish control of who they issue credentials for to an outside group, nor should they.

Screening and accrediting websites isn't a matter of being too much work for media personnel, it just means more work.

Don't they already?

When you were granted access did the Oilers do it after assessing you individually or based on you being employed by the Journal/Sun or member of the AP or some professional writers association?

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#67 Robin Brownlee
September 03 2010, 10:39AM
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@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?

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#68 oilerdiehard
September 03 2010, 11:57AM
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@Robin Brownlee

Well not control over issuing the credentials. But I do wonder sometimes wonder if control is at the heart of this issue. Which could be why bloggers get shut out.

With regular MSM people having those credentials or not having them can greatly effect their job, earnings and by extension their family. I often wonder how much opinion or content is mentally transferred to the not going to use bin. Because they always have the fear that their credentials can get yanked and having to deal with those people daily.

With most bloggers if they get their credentials taken away and having no boss to answer to if the Oilers take issue with them. It means they have very little control over what a blogger might write. I do not mean a bunch of swearing or the like. But having things written that put them in a bad light and receive real biting criticism. Maybe the blogger even witnesses things (that a MSM guy would only discuss with other MSM guys but never write) and has no problem writing about it.

This is of course all opinion from the outside looking in. It is hard not to have the feeling sometimes that we often only get part of the story and a small portion of the real opinion of the MSM member.

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#69 Legoman
September 03 2010, 03:05PM
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@Robin Brownlee

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.

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#71 Tapeleg
September 03 2010, 04:15PM
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Eric McErlain's blog is called Offwing Opinion, not Off The Wing.

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#72 speeds
September 03 2010, 07:52PM
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Robin Brownlee wrote:

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.

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