Without a doubt, a tension exists between hockey bloggers and those who work as members of the mainstream media (MSM). The lines that separate the two groups have blurred as both fans and those with official press passes to cover the game interact and participate online. Communication tools and software have become more readily available and easier to use, allowing anyone with a basic understanding of the technology, and an interest in the game, to participate online.
In the past few years, bloggers have made the jump to more mainstream platforms and we’ve also seen those with press passes, such as fomer Edmonton Journal writer Robin Brownlee, get into blogging. In his latest post for OilersNation, “Deep Thoughts XXIV: Ties that bind”, he had this to say about the current state of hockey coverage:
I think it’s time NHL teams accept that non-MSM bloggers are here to stay and start issuing them press credentials and granting access to players.
“Hey, Darcy, I’m doing a story on goons and knuckle-draggers and I’d like to talk to you . . .” Or “Taylor, I think the Oilers made a big mistake burning the first year of your ELC in 2010-11 and I’d like your thoughts on the big picture I’m painting here . . .” Or “Nuge, screw the boxcars and PPG, your QUALCOMP/real Corsi/something something numbers prove beyond a doubt Gabriel Landeskog deserved the Calder Trophy. Whaddaya say?”
Move aside, spineless MSM fartcatchers. Now the tough questions can be asked and the truth finally be told. I’d pay to see it.
I agree with Robin’s assertion that bloggers are valuable contributors to the game of hockey. The amount of work done by the online community is remarkable, but it has been done without any sort of press credentials or direct access to NHL players or managers. In my opinion, granting bloggers press passes will have little impact on the quality of their work. I agree that bloggers could ask players and managers tougher, more thought-provoking questions and perhaps supplement their work with interviews. But for what bloggers provide to the game of hockey, including the data analytics, the discourse surrounding current events and the information development, press passes will have little to no impact.
Press passes don’t have the same prestige they once did
Holding a press pass used to mean an individual was part of an exclusive group who attended games and got direct access to athletes and managers. As technology and communication tools evolved, so did the significance of those with press credentials. For example, most press conferences held by hockey teams are now available in real-time, through web and mobile technology. Instead of reading the paper the next day to get a journalist’s analysis of a team’s announcement, a fan can watch live interviews and raw footage to make their own interpretations. Athletes themselves have become closer to their fans and sponsors using social media applications and other public relations events, requiring less interpretation and input from mainstream media.
Beware the gatekeeper
There are several key characteristics of the online environment that have allowed for blogs to develop and grow independent of the MSM. The ability to create, share and interact with one another has been critical to the content available on hockey blogs. There are also no hierarchies built-in within these online communities, as the status of bloggers depends strictly on the content they produce. As demonstrated by various hockey blogs, all are welcome to participate but not all contributions are equal. Contributions deemed valuable are further extended through comments and sharing done by blog particpants (i.e., authors, readers and commentators). As a collective group, the online community dictates the direction of the discourse and the information development.
The second the Oilers or any other NHL team begin selecting which blogs are granted press credentials, they take on the role of gatekeeping. The Oilers will exert power and control of content, characteristics absent within successful online communities that aim to create and share information. The Oilers won’t be able to grant everyone access, so their decisions will be openly questioned by the online community.
Rather than a press pass, I would argue that more digital content and data would benefit bloggers. For example, access to game footage from more angles or stats captured from precise player movement on the ice would better supplement the work generated by bloggers. When assessing ways to improve any product, one has to be mindful of the key factors that spawned success and what their actual work entails. In this case, hockey bloggers have become important faciliators of information and knowledge development that surrounds the game of hockey. And it’s the freedom of the web, the absence of a gatekeeper and the ability to create and share content that has allowed them to succeed. What passes could do is give bloggers an up close viewing of the game to supplement the analysis and information development on their blogs. But this would be more information-collecting, rather than the information-development hockey bloggers have succeeded at.
The development of new media and different communication technologies shouldn’t motivate individuals to strive for access to established institutions. Instead, these tools should be used to create new, niche, groups and products that push the evolution of their predecessors. In the end, those with press passes and those using blogs have an interest and desire to build the information surrounding the game of hockey. How the two groups contribute and what content they produce will always be different, but we’ll continue to see a crossover between the two as the technology develops.