WARNING: This post contains discussion about the sports media landscape in the NHL and Toronto. You've been given a heads up so feel free to skip this post.
Two years ago, a lot of the blogs that comprised the Barilkosphere at the time penned an open letter to Toronto Maple Leafs fans seeking to open their eyes to the excellent writing and analysis available to them away from the media 'superstars' of the MSM. The trigger was yet another lazy 'blame the fans' article, this time penned by Howard Berger, which served as the straw that broke the camel's back. I think that the open letter might have had an impact. When that was posted in October of 2008 this site racked up 17K visits for the month. At the end of this month we'll have racked up our third consecutive month of close to 140K visits. This is really missionary work that we are doing. Since that October, I haven't read Howard's writing other than when a commenter here or a friend suggests that there might be something of interest (Editor's Note: ie when he writes something exceptionally offensive to Leafs fans) which is what prompted this post. MapleStirUp mentioned on Twitter that Berger has name dropped the site so I checked it out.
Apparently, Howard takes sanitized questions from his readers every once in a while and Randy from Lethbridge (definitely not one of you guys) asked about the recent debate about blogs and media credentials, a topic that MF37 covered excellently:
"Hi Howard… always enjoy your work. There’s recently been a debate, on-line, that hockey bloggers deserve the same privileges as newspaper, radio and television reporters. Do you believe that reputable blogging websites should be accredited by NHL teams and their writers provided space in the press box? And, what do you think about the recent proliferation of independent hockey sites?"
After the jump is his answer and my reply.
I apologize in advance for the big block of text that you are going to read but far be it for me, a lowly pleb without a journalism background, to add paragraph breaks into a professional's writing:
My immediate response to your question, Randy, is the more the merrier. Hockey is an all-encompassing matter to untold thousands of people and I object to nothing that helps advance the popularity and relevance of the game. But, the issue you raise is a bit more complicated. First of all, I can tell you – without equivocation – that Canadian-based NHL teams, and many in the prime American markets, already have limited space in their press areas. As such, there has to be, minimally, a criterion which defines the nature of a website petitioning for access. Otherwise, all you’d have to do is submit a piece, on-line, and call up a team saying you deserve to be in the press box. That won’t fly. Others will argue the need for a distinction — as in all business pursuits — between hobbyists and paid professionals. Let’s face it: before the Internet, no person beyond those employed in media circles had a public voice, or the facility to transmit news and opinion. Many more people have a voice today, simply because they can. There is no restriction to starting a website other than one’s desire and wherewithal to do so. Qualifications that lead to the common hiring process are unnecessary. I have a very strong interest, for example, in the U.S. space program; it’s been a passion of mine since the days of the Apollo moon-walks 40 years ago. I’ve read practically every book related to the subject and – were I so inclined – could probably start a website with commentary and information that might be of interest to others. Of course, that wouldn’t give me the right to go down to Cape Canaveral and ask to be part of a space shuttle mission; or even plausible license to request a press credential for the next launch. Moreover, I believe websites that vehemently lobby for media privileges are diminishing their own product. I periodically sites related to the Maple Leafs, such as Pension Plan Puppets, Maple Leafs Hotstove and TMLFans.ca. There’s an enormous community of Leaf supporters that frequent these web-pages, and a mostly enjoyable coterie of bloggers. I’ve got more respect for Maple Leafs Hotstove because its writers have the integrity to submit articles under their actual names. But, no blogging site, in my opinion, should be granted media privileges unless it chooses to play by the same rules as the so-called "mainstream" element. Professional reporters are governed by libel laws; by standards of language use, performance and accountability. I got in trouble a few years ago for saying something on the air about Sean Avery that I shouldn’t have, and I was appropriately sanctioned. That’s what happens to known public figures when they violate the laws of media and/or society. Such standards are non-existent among many independent websites, whose administrators insist [for obvious reasons] to hide behind pseudonyms. You may not agree with my opinions, but you know who I am [by name], the legitimate, recognized media outlet I work for, where you can find my articles, and how you can get a hold of me, as my e-mail address accompanies each column. You may argue why I submit my FAN-590 blogs to the HockeyBuzz website, given that its proprietor is famous for anonymity. The answer is simple: Though you may not like "Eklund’s" rumors, or approve of his shtick, he neither judges nor takes gratuitous pot-shots at anyone from beneath his veil. Nor does he use disgusting language. By comparison, much of the Internet is a sewer. Even a burgeoning site such as Maple Leafs Hotstove will never be taken seriously until it moderates the rampant vulgarity in its chat forum — obscene language that demeans and devalues the honest work of its bloggers. That applies to the others, as well. No individual or sports media outlet in a press box anywhere in North America would be allowed to transmit such profanity; nor should it be. So, in answer to part of your question, Randy, I welcome any and all hockey voices in the blog universe; their own opinions, and opinions of me that are stated within appropriate boundaries. The only scourge in this racket is indifference. As mentioned above, however, lots of work must be done by independent websites to conform with mandatory laws of media and society before they should expect common privileges.
Whew! If you made it through all of those red herrings, misconceptions, and outright misrepresentations (Editor's Note: Don't forget the hypocrisy) then here is the reply I submitted which I trust will be moderated since I conformed to the mandatory laws of society...mostly.
Howard - First off, thanks for reading. Feel free to sign up for an account and comment. Elliotte Friedman has one and James Mirtle is a regular commenter.
As for the debate about credentials, it is not about allowing any Tom, Dick, or Harry with a blogspot address into the press box. The debate is whether there is a place for writers outside of the usual group of writers. Furthermore, every blogger interested in press credentials understands that there would be a vetting process. It would not be a free-for-all as you seem to suggest and no one 'expects' that they be given access.
The debate kicked up because of the Rangers' desire to control access to their team while on the road. They want to shut out bloggers that have been vetted by the home team. Some teams in weaker markets are courting their most dedicated and influential bloggers precisely because their press boxes are not packed to the rafters. In Toronto, where there is an abundance of media, whether they do anything useful with their access or not, the room would be cramped with any additions. Maybe they could use some of the seats that go empty.
I find it funny that the media is so obsessed with bloggers using their real names. If I used a name like David Danforth you'd think that you knew my name and suddenly I'd have more integrity? As it stands, you know everything that I write because I've used the same handle for four years now. If knowing my real name is a big hangup you could always e-mail me since I conduct all of my correspondence with it. However, blogging is a hobby and I do have a real job so until the day, that will likely never come, that blogging pays the bills my byline will read PPP. Oh, and my e-mail address is just as easily found. Anyone, whether the Toronto Sun's editor or a reader, can find it and contact me or my partner Chemmy.
The libel laws is a pretty fresh angle since, last I checked, bloggers are actually still governed by the law. I WISH I operated in a nebulous world where I could do whatever I wanted but sadly, that is not the case. Our accountability is different than yours of course. We're beholden to our readers and the blogging community as well as SBNation under whose umbrella we run the site.
Your association with him is a nice bit of 'integrity' by the way. I guess if we used our real names AND fed people bullshit it would be alright as long as we didn't say mean things about others. (Editor's Note: Oh yeah, Eklund plagiarizes as well) Good to know.
Since you read the site I bet you know a bit about how journalists in this city apply their 'professional standards' as Dave Fuller stole a story from our site. His editor promptly held him accountable by...doing nothing. It's far from an isolated instance in the realm of MSM-blog relations so excuse me and other bloggers for not heaping praise on those standards.
I agree that much of the internet is a sewer. For example, there is a website that sells 'season tickets' at $20 a pop to feed people false rumours. It features baseless speculation that sadly is taken as reality by a deluded set of fans. You might know it by it's full name: HockeyBuzz.
As for the issue of language in the comments of Maple Leafs Hot Stove or any other site, I wonder if you hold newspapers such as the Globe and Mail or a television station like TSN responsible for their comment sections. The language might not be as salty but a lot of the ideas are even more offensive. I would guess those comments don't devalue the work of contributors to either of those media groups because it would be in staying with the double standard that media members apply to blogs. We try to moderate them to a certain extent but at the end of the day, the comment section on the blogs is much like a sports bar. The way people comment is the same way that society today speaks.
Your comparison of the language that we use in our writing and that is used by papers like The Star or the G&M doesn't hold water. The reason they don't use the same language is because they are network television to our HBO and not just in the fact that there is a growing group of fans that prefer our greater depth. Furthermore, there's no need to hold on to an all-encompassing puritan standard of language on the internet because readers are able to decide what they want to read since they are adults.
Hope that helps dispel some of the misconceptions that you hold. And for anyone else reading this exchange I hope it helps to spur some discussion.
(not my real name!)
I wonder what Berger's readers will say since I assume that the overlap, at this time, is pretty thin but it should be interesting.