Friday, October 24, 2008

Blogging the NHL

Habs Inside/Out A Rare Ally Among Mainstream Media

More than a week late on this one, but you'll have to forgive my oversight. A wedding and a wonderful winning streak had come in the way of this article and the blogsite.

As I often try to do when I notice conflict and contrast in hockey and its loyal media, I wanted to write a piece about two recent stories I had come across. The first, and most encouraging, was this one from Habs Inside/Out about adding new bloggers to the site and the second was this one from Puck Daddy about the Oilers losing a blogger.

I'll begin with the latter...

Blogger booted

It was during the Oilers first game of the season that blogger Dave Berry of Covered in Oil was accosted by press (gang) guys and asked to cease his blogging activities from the Oilers pressbox. I won't recount the whole story, but if you want to read the drama, read on at Dave's last entries here and here.

The fact that I neither read nor particularly have any inclination to read live blogs while I'm watching a game is neither here nor there. The fact of the matter is, the Oilers have overstepped the mark on this occasion. Berry was doing nothing to contravene any oath he had taken or any law of society. He merely ticked off the brass, at which point they had to invent a set of rules which they would then go on to impose for all of 24 hours.

Their battle, as has been pointed by many a commentator, is rather futile. Anyone watching on TV, at the game with a blackberry or even still in the pressbox can easily live blog negative thoughts about the team if they want to. Covered in Oil, even, is still up and running, and will probably just replace Dave by someone else at some point.

What's more, even though the content was largely negative, how many people did the Oilers think this material was reaching. Judging by their comments, its probably only in the low thousands.

No, all the Oilers have ended up doing in this mixed up situation is anger a lot of very very vocal people. The story of the incident has been picked up by every hockey blogger under the sun (it must have if I'm in on it too) and every corner of the hockey playing universe. In terms of PR for the organisation, it was a -10 – I didn't read a single article taking the Oilers side here.

For me, as interesting as the saga was, what intrigued me more was who ratted Mr. Berry out in the first place.It must have been:

a) someone reading the blog that night (especially because it emerged the problem was content)

b) someone who doesn't like the idea of live blogging

c) someone who had contact with the Edmonton Oilers press guys

As big and popular as blogging is, I think it's a stretch to believe that anyone to do with the hockey team operation or ownership would be reading snide remarks instead of watching their team. This leads me to believe that it was either another blogger or someone from the traditional media.

Now, I thought that bloggers stuck together. And all the response in this case leads me to believe that is true, even though Berry did try to drag a couple of peers down with him belatedly.

So, that leaves the big bad media. Berry, a member of both fraternities himself, even expressed that were he not blogging he'd have had nothing to do while waiting for his quotes anyway. That throws the "too busy working" alibi right out the window. Yeah, I think the Edmonton media landed a scoring low here.

After all, there is a certain implicit agreement in the "I'll scratch your back, you scratch mine" arrangement between bloggers and media who work together. In the case of the Oilers organisation, it went to the extreme - the blogger was dissing his team and those "scratching his back". They decided to tell Mommy and Daddy.

Gosh, the media really do have their knickers in a twist over this new-fangled blogging thing, don't they...

... Well not all of them actually.

The progressive team @ Habs Inside/Out

Though I don't always agree with their take on matters involving hockey, I have to hand it to the boys from the Gazette and the blog they have nurtured over the past two seasons. I think they deserve acknowledgment for their efforts here.

For one thing the blog is done in the right spirit. It neither takes itself too seriously, nor does it take hockey too seriously. It simply provides an addendum to all the material that is published in its parent publication, the Montreal Gazette. This hasn't stopped the main page and Mike Boone's blog from being the most complete, up-to-date and reliable source for Canadiens material (in English, I should qualify).

The other thing the blog has done right has been to embrace the bloggers. I can't say that I have personally experienced their favour on too many occasions (there was a recent link attributed to another blog), but I still laud them for interacting and even linking with bloggers like Robert L, TC Denault, the Four Habs Fans and others. The step they have taken to formalise this relationship by serialising some of these authors on their Other Wing page, is either ahead of the times or right with them, depending where you're from. And the manner in which they interact with the bloggers does them credit too.

Habs fans should count themselves very lucky to have these guys. And, when you think about it, English Habs fans are the luckiest of all – with probably the most intense and disproportionate amount of coverage of any team in the NHL (given the size of our group).

So, in general, can bloggers and the media get along?
I think they can. Other than Habs Inside/Out, I think that there are countless examples showing that they can. In Long Island they fraternise, and in Washington they get along too. Thankfully Edmonton is one of a few teams who tread a more archaic path.

Personally, I don't think Tobalev or I would have any problem getting along with any of the professional Habs media (though as I said, we would have plenty to debate and disagree about – hockeywise).

Incidentally, I also wonder whether co-habitating is the right approach for everyone at the end of the day. I think the root of blogging and what makes it powerful and compelling is its independent nature. On this occasion, I tend to agree with Matt (the Flames fan) at Battle of Alberta, when he says:
There's a reason I've never attempted to contact the Flames organization, get a press pass, an interview, or the like. Actually, there's two reasons, the first of which is that I like this blog the way it is: it's personal, I don't owe anyone any favours, and I don't have to abide by anyone's rules and guidelines but my own.

It is certainly a dilemma that some lucky bloggers get to deal with. It's still all theoretical to me.

In any case, I am thankful I support Montreal, where the door to the halls of media discussion has been left wide open with a sign saying "Welcome bloggers".

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