Saturday, October 17, 2009

Fear, Loathing and Blogs in Las Vegas, Part III: Access Denied

As part of my ongoing effort to report on the Blogs With Balls convention I've been at for the past few days, I present coverage of the third panel, which dealt with access. This was one of the most interesting panels of the conference for me, as it dealt with a hot topic in the blogging world and one I'm particularly interested in as a journalist/blogger. It was moderated by Dan Levy of the excellent On The DL Podcast, and featured Greg Wyshynski of Yahoo!'s Puck Daddy, one of my favourite blogs, plus Mitch Germann, the vice-president of communications with the San Francisco Sacramento Kings*, John Karalis of the Celtics' blog Red's Army and Patrick Wixted of New Media Strategies (and a former Washington Redskins PR staffer). Here's a shaky cellphone picture of the panel.
*Yes, I know the Kings are in Sacramento. Odd things happen when you try to write posts while sleep-deprived, such as mixing up California cities!

[Left to right: Germann, Wixted, Karalis, Wyshynski, Levy]

There were a lot of interesting ideas expressed at this panel. One of the first ones was Germann's comments about why the Kings have decided to be proactive with blogger access for guys like Tom Ziller of Sactown Royalty and Zach Harper of Talk Hoops and Cowbell Kingdom. "We're starting to see an evolution now where people want to hear from other fans," Germann said. "You want to let them in because bloggers are your brand evangelists."

Germann has a point here. There is a lot of value to promote having a discussion about a team. However, there are a couple of questionable assumptions that could be derived from this quote; first, that bloggers are there to promote the team, and second, that bloggers are fans, not professionals. I don't think Germann would necessarily agree with either of those conclusions, but they could be derived from that quote, and both are problematic. There are some bloggers who are fans of a team first and foremost, and there's nothing wrong with that. Others have a loyalty to the team they cover, but do try to be as objective as possible. There are also some who go with the full traditional complete objectivity the mainstream media regards as necessary; you can argue about if this exists, or if it's a good thing, but there are people who try for it, and I don't think that's necessarily bad either.

Furthermore, being a fan doesn't make you unprofessional, although this is often assumed by many. In my mind, what would be unprofessional is glossing over your team's mistakes, blaming everything on luck or officials and presuming that your guys can do no wrong. Few bloggers I know of act this way, although I'm sure they're are some. By and large, though, people demand a higher standard. Many of the successful bloggers out there admit that there are teams they would like to see win, but that doesn't make them less critical; in fact, sometimes it makes them even harder on their teams. The point is that admitting you'd like a certain team to win doesn't have to make your analysis or perspective any less valid.

Another good point Germann added is that bloggers aren't necessarily all that different from established media types. Sure, there are plenty of bloggers derided for being rumourmongers or guys just looking for odd quotes, but those types exist in the mainstream media too (see Bruce "Malkin To The Kings" Garrioch, who earned that outstanding nickname from Wyshynski himself.) As Germann said, "There's already guys that ask the goofy questions that the players don't like."

Wyshynski picked this up with an interesting segue. There's a widespread notion out there that giving bloggers access will cause them to be less critical, but he isn't sure that's true (and I'm not either). Many beat writers and columnists are often critical of the teams they cover, as are many credentialed bloggers. Now, there is a chance that giving bloggers access will change the nature of their criticism, and I think that can be a good thing. For example, it's easier to call a certain player a douchebag if you don't ever face them in the locker room. If you do face them in the locker room, you're more likely to say something milder, like "Player X was inconsistent tonight", or "Player Y struggled on offence." That kind of writing can be just as critical and insightful, though.

To me, it's much better to use those kind of terms in the first place, regardless of if you have access. Sports dialogue and opinion can get the same point across in a civilized manner that it can in an invective-laden rant, and in my mind at least, personal insults have no place in sports journalism. Going four for 13 from the field doesn't make Player X a douchebag; it does mean that he had a bad night.

One of the other points Wyshynski made was that access should be granted widely, not sparingly. "I think everyone who wants access should have access," he said. He also went away from the often-used and ill-conceived standard of pageviews, saying, "You have to be judged on the content of your content. I don't think traffic should be the standard." He added that it's unfair to judge bloggers by the lowest common denominator, as traditional media aren't judged that way. "That's like putting the Jay Mariotti standard on all bloggers," he said.

All of those are great points. In my mind, every blogger who wants access and can show that they won't abuse access should be granted it. If that helps move the discussion on their blogs into more civilized realms, that's a nice byproduct. Not every blog needs access, and there are plenty of great insightful bloggers who never go near a locker room. Access can be a great benefit for blogs, though, and it can enable bloggers to get a fuller understanding of what goes into certain tactical decisions and certain players' decisions on the field. It's easy to say that punting on fourth-and-two is a stupid move, but it's more effective to present that argument alongside the coach's rationale for doing so.

Traffic is also a horrible standard for if a blog should be allowed access. In my experience, many of the more interesting blogs on the Internet are the ones with lower page views; they often present more unconventional opinions and unusual analysis. Moreover, many of the higher-traffic blogs owe many of those hits to pictures they post of attractive women; there isn't necessarily anything wrong with that (although I choose not to do it here), but it doesn't really reflect on the state of your writing or your analysis, and it doesn't say anything about what you'd do with access. As Wyshynski also pointed out, you can't just judge all bloggers by their medium; no other journalists are judged that way. The New York Times isn't seen the same way as The New York Post, so why should that standard be applied across the blogosphere?

As previously mentioned, not every blog needs access, and that's a point Karalis reinforced throughout the panel. He also added that access can provide that pressure to be more favourable to the team you're covering, even if you don't necessarily bend to it. "It's a test of your character when you get that access," he said.

In the long run, I think access can be very beneficial for many blogs, and I'd love to see more leagues and teams offering it. That doesn't mean everyone has to have it, and a lot of the more humour-based blogs may actually be better off without access. Still, for those trying to offer a serious, analytical take on a team or a sport, access can be very valuable. Hopefully, more leagues and teams will see the benefits of granting expanded access to bloggers, and the blogosphere will continue to evolve in a positive direction.


  1. Buch: Sacramento Kings, not San Fran.

    Enjoyed this series.

  2. Thanks, Andy; stupid sleep-deprived mistake here. I do actually follow the Kings, but I just typed the wrong city name.

  3. This is cool, I enjoyed it, but I'd also like to hear about doing lines of coke off whores asses at the Bunny Ranch.

  4. As a fellow sports blogger, I have experienced first-hand how backwards some franchises are. The Blackhawks are particularly tough on bloggers, offering no access, even at practices. I'm hoping they soften, because I agree with a lot of your points on access. Great piece!

  5. how would you suggest they offer access if not by page view? I'm curious. Many blogs that are not self promoting and may only have a handful of loyal readers are basically writing for themselves. Why grant them access if the team will not actually get anything out of it?

  6. Good point. There obviously isn't much of a benefit to credentialing a site that only has 20 readers. However, it's more that I don't think page views should be the only metric; I'm fine with them being one consideration, but I think a team is better off credentialing a site with 1,000 weekly readers that provides good, responsible analysis and will use the access to ask legitimate questions and improve their coverage than a site with 5,000 weekly readers that only focuses on senationalist speculation. There are great sites without a lot of readers, there are great sites with tons of readers and there are not-so-great sites that get a lot of traffic. I think decisions should be made on an individual blog-by-blog basis, with pageviews as one element considered, but not the only one.

  7. Yes, there are plenty of good sites that don't have enormous traffic. But every good blog developes an audience by word of mouth and cross promotion. Certainly not all blogs shoudl be judged the same for credidation purposes, however, traffic is the only way to mathematical guage they have. Also longevity should factor in. Too many times what you may consider good reads fall by the wayside because the writer loses interest in continuing if there isn't enough interaction with their audience.

    Out of the twelve the Islanders enrolled for the blog box at least half stopped writing. I'm rambling. I'm sorry.