Wednesday, December 05, 2007

New Media, Old Media and Everything In Between

The continuing debate over the place of bloggers in the hockey world is one that is filled with conflicting arguments and different perspectives. Newspapers have covered it, bloggers have discussed it, and it was most recently given a spotlight by the crew over at CBC's Hockey Night in Canada.

Adding their voice to the debate, my two favorite Devils fans over at Interchangeable Parts have put together a questionnaire for bloggers to get a better feel for where we are and where we're going.

Now I think...I think...there are a few other Caps blogs around somewhere. Guys, this issue is one that hits us closest to home - I invite you all to take this questionnaire and run with it.

1. What was your motivation for starting blogging? Has that changed at all in the time you’ve been blogging?

The simplest answer is I just wanted a place where I could talk about my team. There is nothing I am more passionate about than my love of the Caps and hockey in general; blogging just seemed like the perfect outlet for me to talk hockey without bugging my family and friends any more than I had to. And frankly when I started I was frustrated by the distinct lack of coverage given to the upcoming season, a season I was actually very excited about (one of those ignorance is bliss moments, I admit). I figured if I couldn't read about the Caps, I could write about them.

In the fifteen months since I started, my blog has become much more than just a place for me to babble on about my team. It is now a way for me to interact with other passionate fans, to become part of a community of people who share a love of hockey. I've developed friendships and broadened the way I look at a season, a game, a single play. It may sound cheesy but I really feel like I've learned something from every single person I've come into contact with, be it a commenter or a fellow blogger.

2. What do you think your blog contributes to the hockey conversation?

I hope that first and foremost I'm able to bring a little bit of humor to the table. There is so much about being a hockey fan and specifically about being a Caps fan that is just downright hilarious. If you take it too seriously you're liable to go crazy - it's a game, it should be fun!

There is also something to be said for providing a female perspective in a male-dominated medium. I didn't start out with that specific goal in mind and I don't like to specifically refer to myself as a "female fan". I'm a fan who happens to be a female and I think putting a label to it just invites further division. However I refuse to allow the "puckbunny" image to be the predominant face of the female fan and I'm happy to be a representative of the true female fans, to show that the majority of us know the game, know our team, and can handle any debate you throw at us.

Plus we're likely to engage in that debate without it dissolving into a "whose is bigger" contest...but that's a different issue.

3. What do you want to get out of the blogs you read?

A different voice. Something that isn't just a rehashing of an article or a press release, something that shows the personality of the author or authors. I read blogs because of the different opinions they provide or the way they make me laugh. I read blogs that generate debate in the comments or voice an opinion that may be unpopular. I want to be entertained, stimulated, provoked or moved.

4. What determines which blogs you read and which you don’t?

I look for blogs that show a sense of humor, blogs that show a knowledge of the subject matter, blogs that are well written and blogs that present combinations of all three. Analyzing stats is one thing; doing it with a well-defined voice and a quick wit is quite another, and those blogs that achieve that go on my reading list as well.

I won't read blogs that show a distinct lack of effort - that can mean anything from having multiple typos and errors (my pet peeve) to using dry and nondescript writing to being completely devoid of enthusiasm. I also won't read blogs that disregard all rules of basic civility. There's trash-talking and then there's being downright mean, and I can't stomach the latter, no matter what team they may represent.

5. How important is the issue of gaining press access to you as a blogger?

I have had press access on several occasions, whether it is in the press box on game night or at an event like the uniform unveiling. Every experience I've had as a credentialed blogger has brought something new and different to my posts - a quote here, a picture there, anything that gives texture and depth to what I'm already writing. It's fact-gathering with a twist, seeing the behind-the-scenes elements of the game without the restrictions of deadlines or a specific story.

It's Milan Jurcina's pink socks at opening day of training camp; it's Ben Clymer's story at the draft day party about his own draft experience; it's talking baseball with Brooks Laich.

I am definitely for press access being extended to bloggers, if they so choose to apply for it, because it does broaden the fan experience. Bloggers bring a different perspective and can pass on the benefit of that perspective to the fans. There of course should be rules and guidelines defining who is eligible and who is not, but the option should be there for those who meet the criteria. The definition of "media" is expanding beyond just a journalism degree and a byline, and nothing is gained by pretending that's not true.

That being said - I don't think that gaining credentials is something required of every blogger in order to be taken seriously. There tends to be a "holier than thou" attitude among some bloggers who do choose to get credentialed, and this drives me crazy. Gaining press access is great, I'm all for it, but it's not the determining factor on what makes a great blog.

Some of the best blogs I've ever read were written by people who have never set foot in and have no desire to be in the press box. They don't put any less work into their blogs just because they don't seek out a press pass; their opinions don't matter any less. It's in their ability to carve out a corner of the blogosphere, a readership, that they become credible - not whether someone deems them worthy of holding a tape recorder in front of a goalie's mouth.

I think that the debate about credentialing bloggers has become far too narrow, lumping all blogs in with the ones who want press access. Humor columnists and food critics are, technically, members of the press; would you want them in the press box for a Caps game? No. Does that make them any less skilled at what they do? Definitely not. And it's the same for bloggers. Each blog has a different role to play, each blogger a different goal for his or her site, and that doesn't always include press access.

I have had a great time covering the Caps for this blog and I hope to continue to do so. But I also have no plans to trade in my experience as a fan to be press full time, at least not in this capacity. I love being a part of the crowd and being allowed to cheer or boo when necessary. I like wearing my jersey; I like jumping around when the Caps score. I even like sitting among the enemy fans. It's part of being a fan, which is why I started a blog in the first place. My time spent as credentialed media enhances my blog, but it's my experiences as a fan that make it what it is - for better or for worse.

6. To what extent do you feel accountable for the content of your blog? How concerned do you think readers should be about the authority and accountability of your blog?

Every word I write on my blog counts towards my credibility as a writer. Stats and numbers need to be checked; quotes need to be confirmed and then credited. If I get something wrong I fully expect to be called on it, because my readers and hockey fans in general are smart. They won't stand for half-assed, nor should they. So when I make a mistake I own up to it and fix it; when my opinion is challenged it is my responsibility to back it up.

I know that my readers are aware when I am being opinionated, when I am being analytical, and when I am being downright silly. Things I say for the purposes of satire or humor in general are clearly identified as such, as are my personal opinions. I don't pretend that my site is a source for breaking news or deep analysis, although each will from time to time trickle into the content (usually by accident...). My blog is not here to inform but to entertain and provoke thought and debate.

7. How concerned are you about the authority and accountability of the blogs you read? Do you find it difficult to judge the authority and accountability of the blogs you read?

Every blogger regardless of the purpose behind their blog should be held accountable for things they say in the public arena. However, how much I'm concerned with it comes down to the type of blog it is. If it's a site claiming to have the inside track on a trade rumor or the latest news on a disciplinary action, I absolutely am concerned about the authority and accountability - and some are harder to judge than others, to be sure. If I'm taking something as fact, I want to know that it's real...hence the reason I avoid certain blogs at all costs.

Other blogs, though, are simply there to entertain and I approach them as just that, entertainment. I'm not concerned with their authority because they're not trying to pass themselves off as a news-gathering site or anything close to that. Accountability comes in to play only if they express opinions but don't back them up, highlight a fact but refuse to confirm it.

8. What value, if any, do you think blogging brings to the NHL?

Blogging provides a tremendous value to the NHL. Hockey fans may often be in the minority but they are also the most passionate, loyal and knowledgeable fans of any sport - and bloggers are among the most insane dedicated fans of all. First and foremost, you need maniacs like me and others to be on board, to sell the sport and pass the love down to our kids.

But more importantly it's what blogging brings to the general hockey conversation. For years the only way to get analysis on a certain issue in the hockey world was one of three ways: open a newspaper, turn on a television, or listen to the radio. You got opinions from a select few, so-called pundits and analysts who gave you one, maybe two viewpoints, and that was it.

Now with a simple click of a mouse you get 10, 50, 100 different opinions from people who can then go read the other opinions and discuss them. What bloggers write and how people react to what we write can tell the league more than any focus group, because it's not prompted or filtered; it's real.

What is great about blogs is that they can appeal to the casual fan as well as the lifelong diehards, because the writing is accessible...that alone will do more than the glowing puck ever could. In the relatively short time I've been doing this I've gotten numerous emails with questions on everything from where the best seats are for a game to what a certain rule means to how I feel about a controversial topic. I've had people write just to tell me they attended their first game and loved it, and I've had others write in to tell me that I'm an idiot and wouldn't know hockey if it bit me in the, er, rear.

That's passion at all ends of the spectrum and all levels of fandom, demonstrated through just one blog - one of thousands. And nurturing that passion, whatever stage it may be in? That's how you grow a sport.


Victor said...

You talk baseball?

DMG said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
DMG said...

...I had asked whether you came up with these yourself or got them somewhere else before I realized I'd missed the whole first paragraph of the post. That's what those summary/red more things do to me! Obviously I am not smart enough to handle this blog

Interchangeable Parts said...

Obviously I am not smart enough to handle this blog

DMG, CC's brilliance can often be too much to handle, right? :)

Seriously, CC, you've outdone yourself. These responses are so great I think it's going to take me all day to collect my thoughts fully, but thank you so much for taking the time to answer the questionnaire.

Schnookie (who can't comment because her employer seems to think Blogger is a time waster) and I agreed that hearing your take on how being credentialed has made your blog better was really refreshing. But it was also a great point to make that not being credentialed doesn't make a blogger "less than".

As the Caps bloggers are obviously at the forefront of this debate, we'd love to hear from more of your compatriots!

CapsChick said...

Victor: I do indeed - just not here...I have enough on my plate talking about one frustrating team, you know?

DMG: Oh, now, of course you are - but just in case I'll try to use small words and simple sentences ;)

IPB: Great, great questions, girls - I will do my best to get my fellow Caps bloggers on board because I think we've really only heard from a few of them on this issue and it's definitely worth discussing.

We still have, I believe, more blogs than any other team - growing every day, as evidenced by new blogs from people like DMG - and that's really something amazing. Lots of different voices, different styles, different opinions. I hope they take the time to fill this out themselves...

Of course none can hold a candle to the incomparable IPB, but what can you do? There's just so much talent, intelligence and wit to go around!! :)

kaat said...

Very interesting topic. That gives me an idea... ;-)

bleedingblueandwhite42 said...

Really well put CC. I especially appreciate the comment about the female fans that can actually carry a conversation about hockey without saying something along the lines of "sidney crosby is my favourite player." Yeah...mmhmm. The kid's great sure...but do you even know who he plays on a line with? Yeah, thought not.

Great thorough answers. :)

Teebz said...

Fantastic post, CapsChick. You said it all, and were very succinct in your message.

In fact, I may answer those questions tomorrow on my site.

Interchangeable Parts - beauty questions on your end as well. Very well done.