Yet Another MSM Blog Post
September 17th, 2010

There’s been a bit of a debate raging on in the last little while with hockey bloggers and the self-styled ‘mainstream media.’ It started off with some Toronto Maple Leafs bloggers taking issue with the Toronto Sun lifting material of their own wholesale and without attribution. This led to potshots being taken from both sides, mainstream journalists like Steve Simmons wading in on Twitter and Damien Cox (probably) blocking a bunch of people on Twitter in response.

Pretty typical as far as Internet slapfights go, although notable due to the fact that this was yet another instance of ‘bloggers’ getting another strike of credibility as the mainstream media continues to lavish attention on the greasy, unwashed blogger masses.

The whole debacle speaks to a larger issue going on with bloggers and those of the mainstream media, though, and that’s the increased notability bloggers have been enjoying as of late. This isn’t a particularly new phenomenon: guys like Greg Wyshnyski over at Yahoo’s Puck Daddy have been making a living off of being a hockey blogger, while folks like James Mirtle and Leafs comedy site Down Goes Brown have both been able to take their success with their blogs and parlayed them into fulltime employment.

Some NHL teams have been very blogger friendly. The Washington Capitals have been giving bloggers full accreditation for a couple of seasons now, while the Vancouver Canucks will be giving accreditation to bloggers at this year’s training camp. (Of course it should be said that, as mentioned in the linked article, other teams, like the New York Rangers and Edmonton Oilers, have been making it a point to distance themselves from bloggers.)

Then, Bruce Dowbiggin of the Globe and Mail decided to weigh in with some thoughts regarding the role bloggers should play in the hockey world. I said on Twitter that it was probably one of the stupidest things I had read regarding this whole debate and I stand by it. That said, Dowbiggin does raise some solid points regarding bloggers: they’re typically faceless, anonymous fans and can get away with spreading a whole bunch of rumours and misinformation that would get a reputable journalist fired. They can also get away with spouting a lot of vitriol and hate that wouldn’t necessarily fly if you were a journalist actually facing these folks all the time.

Fair points, to an extent (and I’ll explain in a moment), but where Dowbiggin goes completely off the rails is when he suggests that bloggers should pony up a $10,000 bond in order to have the privilege to blog. I find this ridiculous for a number of reasons, most notable is why should the blogger be held responsbile for being granted press box or locker room access? In my mind, it is the team’s responsiblity to make sure they aren’t giving out media accreditation to mouthbreathers and it is the team who should bear any sort of responsibility should a blogger that they have invited acts or blogs appropriately. Last I checked, you can’t just get a Blogspot account and then be able to eat all the free popcorn, as there is a bit of a screening process going on here.

Secondly, Dowbiggin is being more than a little dishonest with his representation of both bloggers and mainstream media types. Dowbiggin is worried about how bloggers can spread rumour unchecked. Frankly, I think the mainstream media is doing a fine job all by itself in that regard. Canucks fans would remember a couple of offseasons ago the rumour that was broken by Jason Botchford about how Marion Gaborik had bought a house in Vancouver, suggesting that he may be signing in Vancouver. Gaborik, of course, ended up in New York and the real estate story was later debunked by Pavol Demitra, of all people.

There’s also the old journalist standby of ‘unnamed sources’ or ‘a source close to the issue’ or ‘an official who wished to remain anonymous…’ While I understand how sourcing works within the field of journalism, journalists sometimes act on bad information or take partial information and speculate endlessly on things. Not a whole lot different than what Dowbiggin accuses bloggers of doing. While the immediate response may be ‘well, that only happens every now and again’ I would disagree. Off the top of my head, there’s the aformentioned Gaborik real estate venture, Toronto Sun columnist Steve Simmons suggesting that Mats Sundin had a career ending injury, Toronto Star columnist Damien Cox suggesting that Martin Brodeur was upset at Luongo replacing him during the Winter Olympics (and then later admitting on Toronto radio that he had not, in fact, spoken with Brodeur over the issue.) If we want to include broadcasters, there was Ron MacLean’s embarrassing impression of Carnac the Magnificent during Augergate last season.  So, what’s good for the goose should be good for the gander: pony up your $10,000 and stop hiding behind the papers that employ you.

Secondly, the claims of bogus research are also frustrating. Dowbiggin himself should know that even professionals like himself sometimes cut corners on stories and don’t bother fact-checking. In fact in 2009, Dowbiggin himself made claims in one of his columns and was taken to task for his lack of research by Damien Cox. Embarassing that such a professional would make such a gaffe like that, correct?

Of course, this also ignores the work many bloggers do in serious statistical and critical research regarding hockey, which goes well above and beyond what some sports writers do for their job. It’s not meant as a slam: news media doesn’t lend itself to exhaustive research or ridiculously in-depth analysis. But to paint all bloggers with the same brush is unfair to the people who are doing serious work.

Finally, I fail to see how media accreditation would stop the flow of nonsense and rumourmongering that exists on the Internet and with ‘bloggers.’ Even if they are self-described ‘insiders’ like the Twitter account NHLSourcesSay (and have a comically bad track record for plagarizing or being horribly wrong on a number of things like NHLSourcesSay.) This sort of garbage would be going on regardless of media accreditation and I’d argue that smart use of accreditation by NHL clubs could actually do bloggers a world of good, as it’d encourage better behavior amongst bloggers while discouraging bad behavior.

Which leads me to another point. There is one very valid criticism to be had over this cozying up between bloggers and hockey teams. Newspapers are, to put it nicely, in trouble. Every year there are more layoffs and cutbacks being made to newspapers. The Washington Times decided to do away with its sports section entirely (perhaps you see why the Capitals are friendly with bloggers now?), while there have been over 2000 layoffs in the newspaper industry in the United States in 2010 thus far. Things haven’t been much better in Canada, with the Halifax Daily News folding in 2008 and layoffs being a regular occurrence in the past 2 years. With newspapers reeling and other forms of media (since we’re talking sports, television and radio being the biggest) being ill-equipped to handle any sort of investigative work, there’s a huge potential vacuum opening up for well-researched, critical material.

While there won’t be any lack for information and data, it’s the ‘critical’ aspect of things that makes me worry. Bloggers have shown a knack for being able to roll up their sleeves and do some research. But sports teams haven’t yet shown that they’re prepared to deal with bloggers who may be critical of the team that they’re cheering for. It’s hard to imagine, for example, the Calgary Flames being behind a blogger calling for Darryl Sutter to be fired and giving him media accreditation. Heck, the Vancouver Canucks have had a history of complaining about the coverage they’re received, even going so far as to try and get columnist Tony Gallagher sacked way back in 1991. More recently, team owner Francesco Aquillini called up the newsrooms of both the Vancouver Province and the Vancouver Sun to complain about stories written about Dave Nonis’ firing. It paints a troubling picture of bloggers more or less being forced to wave the pom-poms and not speak out against the team’s interests.

After all, unlike Tony Gallagher, bloggers would not have the support of a major media outlet and would be left out in the cold over any potential disputes. This could lead to very one-sided coverage in local markets, not necessarily something that suits fans, teams or writers (be they of the blog or MSM variety.) While current MSM journalists provide that critical viewpoint right now, you have to wonder if they’ll always be able to provide that service going forward, given the state that print journalism is in right now. Some teams are starting to create their own media departments (see: the Leafs TV channel or Kristin Reid and Canucks TV.) Could bloggers become an integrated part of that? Is that necessarily a good thing?

While I think bloggers have been getting a bum rap lately, there are serious questions about new media and the role it plays that aren’t being asked. Let’s try to focus on that, rather than trying to create a ‘No Homers Club’

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