The New York Islanders "Blog Box" is officially open for business! Twelve bloggers have been selected, (with more to come) and the links and introductions are all posted on the official Islanders home page under "news" on the heading menu. Imagine that! If you look at their pictures, they all look like normal enough folk. They all appear to be people who are capable of following rules and guidelines set forth by the team. (Well, maybe all but a couple of them!) So why is something like this so unusual? Why are the Islanders the only NHL team to officially have a "Blog Box"? In my opinion there are a couple of reasons, and we will take look at them in a bit.
First of all, while the Islanders might be the only NHL team to have an official press area designated for bloggers, they are not the only NHL team to recognize some bloggers as a legitimate media source. The Washington Capitals have long been giving a number of bloggers press credentials and special team access. These bloggers sit in press row with the other members of the media and are invited to press conferences just like the professionals. Other teams like the Vancouver Canucks, Buffalo Sabres, Atlanta Thrashers, and St Louis Blues embrace fan bloggers and even provide links to the blogger sites from their official home pages. Then of course, there are teams who treat their fan bloggers like the competition or the enemy. For instance not too long ago, someone posted a message over at the official Hurricanes Message Boards that they had just found "Canes Country". They mentioned what a wonderful site it was and that people should check it out sometime! Well, that message was immediately deleted and the person who posted it was warned that it was against the rules to post links or information about other sites on that board. REALLY? What a shame that Caniacs are not allowed to find out about "Canes Country" and other fan sites directly from the Hurricanes. It does make one wonder if the Hurricanes franchise is a friend of the fan blogger or foe. Why don't they embrace amateur bloggers like some of the other teams do?
During the first week of July, I received an email from the Hurricanes director of Media Relations, Mike Sundheim, asking me for some input regarding a couple of ideas. I happily responded with a few suggestions, one of which was to link some fan sites from the Hurricanes main webpage, like the previously mentioned teams do. I thought that would be a nice service to provide for fans in general and it would take minimal effort from the staff. Plus, it would be a recognition of sorts for fan bloggers who have supported the team so fervently in the past. Well, it's 3 months later and I have yet to hear back from Mike, so I have to assume that the things we discussed are either not going to happen, or were put on the back-burner for now. I know that Mike is very busy and I'm not blaming him. All I'm doing is comparing the differences of how various NHL teams deal with fan bloggers. Some are certainly more responsive than others. The Islanders media guys must really be given kudos for all the extra time that they took in preparing the blogger box, interviewing and selecting the different bloggers, and for reading the numerous applications and sample blogs that were sent to them. It had to be extremely time consuming.
So now we get to the crux of this post, why aren't more bloggers allowed in the press box? Why aren't more given team access? Why aren't more given some type of credentials? I have talked about this with a few people and I think it all comes down to one thing. Teams don't want to upset the traditional media, the print media. I don't think it matters to the radio and television guys, bloggers wouldn't hurt their business. But let's face it, what's the main difference between a professional blog like Lord Stanley's Blog or John Forslund's blog, versus an amateur fan blog? The main difference that I see is that the professionals have inside access to information that the amateur blogs don't have. If we examine the hockey blogs which are linked to and read from the most, blogs run by James Mirtle, Paul Kukla, Off Wing Opinion, Japer's Rink and others, we see that these writers each have special media access. With this access, they can provide information that the little guy just can't offer until after it's reported. Most of them built their blog empires because of hard work, excellent writing, and because of special inside access.
I'm sure that seeing success like that scares the print media to death. Obtaining information from blogs is becoming mainstream now. People are reading blogs more every single day, not only sports blogs, but in every news and entertainment category. Is it a coincidence that when John Forslund starting blogging for WRAL, the News and Observer blog started being updated several times per day? This, after we saw weeks of inactivity all summer long? Sure it was offseason, but we never saw this kind of blogging last season either. It's turning into a competitive blog world out there! Sportswriters might tell you that they don't want the pressbox to be open to general bloggers because the amateurs might whoop it up and cheer and act unprofessionally, but I can't believe that's the real reason. Most consistent bloggers with popular blogs are intelligent, mature people. Believe me, the ones that I have met can be mature enough to be respectful and follow the basic rules in a pressbox. Besides, if they don't follow the rules, they can always be escorted from the box, never to return, can't they?
Like it or not, professional writers are eventually going to have to face the facts. Amateur blogging is here to stay. The writing is improving, more people are reading, and at some point, more and more amateurs will be gaining access previously not granted before. The Islanders obviously didn't care whether or not they offended their local press. They probably felt neglected by the coverage which was allotted to them compared to the other metro teams. Now they have created a buzz that the other teams don't have, plus have more people writing about them then ever before! Hopefully this will translate to a higher readership as well. It will be an interesting experiment to follow and other teams will be watching closely. Will this be the start of a trend, or will the experiment burn up in flames? Either way, I'm sure that there are more than a few New York sportswriters out there that would love to put a lock on that blog box!