In the sporting world, we have no shortage of endless debates.
Would the Leafs have beaten the Habs if they met in the 1993 Stanley Cup Final? Is poker actually a sport? And would Babe Ruth have used HGH if it were available to him in 1927?
Another tireless debate is the battle between the mainstream media and bloggers in the sports world. I’ve actually had enough of the debate, but over the past few days, the temperature has risen yet again between the two sides. We’ve seen the Pension Plan Puppets, who run a terrific Maple Leafs blog, go on the offensive towards the Toronto Sun, accusing them of plagiarism.
We’ve also watched the blogosphere blow up at Damien Cox over the Jose Bautista story. And just a few days ago, Yahoo’s Puck Daddy released some very interesting information on the NHL’s decision-making process on whether or not bloggers should be allowed in the press box.
There is place for both the traditional and new media to co-exist in the sports world in 2010. In fact, it’s ridiculous that we are still having this debate. But the problem is, both sides are far too suspicious of the other for us to close the gap between the two sides.
So in the interest of building a bridge between the bloggers and the mainstream media, I’ve put together a list of several rules for each side to remember.
For the mainstream media:
Rule #1 – Not All Bloggers Are 12-year-old kids.
There is a sense from many members of the MSM that bloggers are outcasts who live in their parents’ basement. They wear Battlestar Galactica t-shirts and play Dungeons & Dragons when they aren’t watching Carolina Hurricanes games on Center Ice. This simply isn’t the case. Many bloggers are extremely intelligent and normal people, who just happen to be passionate sports fans. A lot of them are talented writers with a terrific sense of humour. Several of them have made the jump to the MSM, including Greg Wyshynski (Yahoo), James Mirtle (Globe & Mail) and the ever-popular Down Goes Brown, who now writes for the National Post. These guys are terrific writers, who can hold their own with the very best in our business. The people who write and maintain a blog on a regular basis are the most dedicated sports fans out there. Some of them are just waiting for their big break to get “discovered”. And for us to marginalize them is wrong on so many levels. Bloggers are often the ones who buy our newspapers, watch our TV shows and listen to us on radio. Yet, when they have something intelligent to say, we dismiss them far too easily. I encourage every member of the MSM to be a guest on at least one blogger’s podcast in your local market. You will soon realize that legitimate bloggers are terrific people. (Just try and ignore the Star Trek references.)
Rule #2 – Don’t Be A Hypocrite
Many members of the MSM are thin-skinned people, who cannot stand being criticized. Yet most of us make a living by being critical of the athletes we cover. How many times have you heard a journalist – especially in a Canadian market – complain about an athlete not being able to handle the media pressure? “If he can’t stand being a goalie in Calgary, maybe he should move to Tampa.” But when the shoe is on the other foot, we don’t like it so much. When someone rips us on HF Boards or on Twitter, we get all defensive. We need to learn to handle criticism from bloggers and fans. They are our watchdogs, whether we like it or not. I’ve had hundreds of people criticize the way I look, the way I speak and what I’ve written in this space. That’s all part of the package. We can’t dish out criticism and not expect to receive any in return. And if you don’t like being in the spotlight, perhaps you should consider another profession. Or you can cover the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Rule #3 – We’re Not So Special Anymore… And We’re Copying You
In this day and age, a passionate fan can follow his or her favourite team without turning to the MSM. We should realize that we need to offer fans more than just the access to the players and their clichés. Sometimes, my press pass only allows me to get scintillating quotes like “It is what it is” and “We’re taking it one game at a time.” We need to understand that the sports fan is going to look elsewhere for their sports entertainment fix. Most MSM personalities have taken to writing a blog, or signing up for Twitter and Facebook. In other words, we are doing everything that bloggers have been doing for the past five years. So we have to admit that there is merit in what bloggers are doing. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be copying you, right?
Rule #4 – We Also Make Mistakes
Any time an erroneous report appears on a blog or website, we in the MSM are quick to criticize it as another example of shoddy journalism. And when one blogger makes a mistake, we paint the entire online community with the same brush. However, our industry is just as guilty for making mistakes. We report rumours that never materialize. We fabricate stories with phony sources. We sometimes put the wrong picture on the front page of the newspaper or misspell a headline. (Check out the website www.regrettheerror.com for a full listing of MSM mistakes). But our mistakes tend to be forgiven rather quickly, while we hold it over a blogger’s head for years. Let’s not act like we’re perfect.
But before the bloggers start rejoicing about this attack on the MSM, it’s time for the spotlight to be turned in your direction.
Here are three rules that bloggers need to remember:
Rule #1 – Being On The Sidelines Is Easy
I wonder how funny some of you bloggers would be if you actually had to face the subjects you were poking fun at on a regular basis. I’m betting the Leafs blogger who makes fun of Daniel Alfredsson at every opportunity would have a slightly different approach if he had to actually face the Senators captain in the locker room. It’s really easy to sit on the outside and make observations. But when you deal with players, coaches and GMs, you need to build personal relationships with these people. They aren’t your friends by any stretch – but you need to be able to look them in the eye the next morning. When you work on a particular beat in the MSM, there is an inherent accountability that is non-existent in the blogosphere. Our criticisms are more measured because we actually face the people we are talking about. Sitting on the sidelines is pretty easy.
Rule #2 – Don’t Tell Us Our Job Description
I love it when someone tells me that my job description should include knowledge of every single sport. That isn’t the case. We are all specialized reporters. Just as you wouldn’t demand a real estate lawyer to be an expert in trying an assault case, you shouldn’t expect all of us to be experts in every sport. I will be the first to admit that I’m not a CFL fan. But that doesn’t mean I can’t hold my current job, as some of you have suggested. After writing an anti-CFL blog post in this space last November, I was flooded with requests that I tender my resignation, because I don’t like the CFL. People accused me of writing a pro-NFL piece because the corporate suits at Rogers directed me to do so. Some of you have no clue how a news department actually runs. And in case you’re wondering, I’m also not a huge UFC fan either – despite the fact that it’s always on our network. That doesn’t mean I can’t cover the CFL and UFC at some point in my career. I just have to do more work when I cover those sports, because the research doesn’t come naturally. But there is nothing wrong with a sports journalist admitting he isn’t an expert in every field.
Rule #3 – Proof Your Work
Your credibility is compromised when you misuse words like “its”, “their” and “who’s”. If you are going to launch grenades at the media, make sure you don’t open yourself up to criticism with grammatical errors. It cheapens the quality of your work and your argument looks week. Whoops. I meant to say your argument looks weak.
Here’s hoping we can put this MSM vs. bloggers debate to rest for good.
And while we’re at it, the Habs would have beaten the Leafs in 1993. Poker is not a sport. And Babe Ruth would have tried HGH… if it were injected in a hot dog.