On Monday, I experienced what is in many ways a blogger’s rite of passage: I was criticized by a hockey insider. Oddly enough, it wasn’t a member of the mainstream media or an NHL coach or GM. Instead, it was player agent Ritch Winter. What was even more strange was that he didn’t criticize me because I am a blogger; he criticized me because he thought I was a newspaper reporter.
Since his post was in response to an article I wrote at Pass it to Bulis, I will be responding there, but the gist of his complaint was that I didn’t contact him regarding the theory I was proposing in that article. To be honest, it simply didn’t occur to me. As a blogger, I’m used to those doors being closed to me, but since I am now affiliated with both the Vancouver Sun and The Score, I potentially have more access now.
Blogs are, however, slowly infringing on the hallowed ground of journalism. The advent of the internet is gradually squeezing out print media and forcing it to adapt or die. As time goes by, more and more bloggers will be setting foot into press boxes and locker rooms in arenas around the NHL.
The issue is, journalists have a code of ethics and standards. They also tend to have editors. The blogosphere generally has neither.
To what extent should bloggers be expected to follow those same standards? Without the same editorial oversight of a newspaper, how are bloggers to know when a line has been crossed or more research is needed? It’s an important question to ask: how many of you get your hockey news and opinions from a newspaper and how many get it from hockey blogs? It’s a bit of a biased question, given where you’re reading this, but it’s worth asking nonetheless.
As I see it, there are essentially three classes of blogs. My desire to split things into classes probably comes from reading too much Plato recently, but I think it will be useful to draw some distinctions.
First, there are the blogs that no one reads. This may be because they have just started out and haven’t gained a readership or it may be from a lack of promotion, diligence, or writing talent. Whatever the case, no one particularly cares if code of ethics is breached or if a standard isn’t maintained at such a blog as there is no audience. Still, a blogger just starting out who has hopes of getting media access or has some similar goal should still be responsible with what he or she writes.
Then there are the blogs that have a wide readership, which can be split into two groups. There are the blogs run by bloggers who don’t give a damn what anyone thinks of them and could care less about getting access to players, coaches, or GMs and there are the blogs run by bloggers who do want that access.
For the former group, they can only hold themselves to their own standards. While the blogosphere will, to a certain extent, self-regulate, the blogger who sees him or herself as, perhaps, a renegade or relishes his or her role as an outsider won’t be impacted much by someone calling him to follow journalism’s standards. The only regulation is reputation.
For the latter group, I think they need to hold themselves to the same or similar standards as journalists do. Bloggers frequently complain about some members of the mainstream media, but will retreat behind the defence of “I’m just a blogger” if confronted with similar mistakes. While that’s all well-and-good for the blogger who is satisfied with an outsider’s role, it shouldn’t be an adequate defence for a blogger who wants access.
One of the issues facing bloggers is immediacy. I don’t have an editor that reviews my blog posts before they go up; I simply write the post, schedule it, and up it goes. If there’s an issue with a post, it’s more likely to be caught by a reader and commented on than it is for an editor to see it and fix it. That’s just the reality of publishing on the internet. With the speed of news these days and the desire to be the first to publish an article about a given topic (gotta have those pageviews), mistakes can quickly creep in.
I think that’s one of the fears of many teams in the NHL: where is the accountability? Who is responsible for content on a blog? If a newspaper reporter says something false about an NHL team, the general manager can call up the newspaper and hold them accountable. After all, more than one person is responsible for an article in a newspaper: there is a team of people involved in most cases, even if it’s a small team.
On a blog, responsibility falls squarely on the blogger, and that’s not a situation that is very comfortable for the NHL. To their credit, the NHL has been remarkably open to bloggers, but has left it up to the individual teams when it comes to giving out media credentials. Some teams have welcomed bloggers into the press box, while others have resisted, but it’s just a matter of time before bloggers with media credentials are more and more common.
As that happens, those bloggers will need to behave ethically and exercise due diligence when researching articles. It is, however, a two-way street to a certain extent. If NHL teams, coaches, GMs, and – yes – agents want bloggers to follow such standards, they need to be open to bloggers contacting them to answer questions as it is necessary in order to act in good faith.
Ritch Winter ended his blog post by saying that he simply won’t talk to the media any more and will only answer questions via his blog and Twitter. He sees it as a “better approach” because he “won’t be misquoted” or “find the lion’s share of [his] comments on the floor near an editor’s desk.” He hopes this will lead to less bias, more accuracy, and greater honesty. I think it will simply lead to a player agent controlling his message.
From what I can tell, Winter seems like a pretty passionate guy that I would probably like if I spoke to him. Unfortunately, I didn’t. I’m in a grey area between blogger and journalist that makes it difficult to know what standard I should hold myself to. I still see myself as an outsider to that world, speaking from a distance that – I hope – allows me to see things more objectively. But, perhaps, I and the rest of the hockey blogosphere should be aiming for something more.