State of the Sports Blogosphere: Observations, Criticism and Thoughts on the New Sports Media
Bloggers. What was once a guttural cadence and curse is now a reality. As printed pages shrink faster than Michael Jackson’s rotting, gelatinous goo and cartilage of a nose, Internet writing has boomed. The Internet is now the world’s main information resource. Those who have not understood this have found themselves on the recession bread-line as economics kicked change-over into overdrive.
The sports media is fraught with entrenched companies, reporters, press relations and marketing gurus. Internet sports writers came along and broke every rule in the book. Sports teams’ good-old-boy network of those who played the “game,” had to scramble as the blogosphere suddenly had the inside information — or suddenly threw player X, Y and probably Z into a vat of flaming vitriol. Opinion and writing out of the dry wall of the typical article suddenly had teeth. It had new life. Online had the bite, and gripped on like a Rottweiler.
People were reading the blogosphere faster than teams could coordinate press releases. Fans sought online what they were simply not getting from papers, or even radio, which soon became heavily marketed and narrowly aimed at specific demographics. Most sports shows repeat the same things these days. Aimed at the lowest common denominator, it is mostly about sowing anger and dissent to attract the angry or frustrated fan. Insight or unique takes seem far gone from this venue, especially for US-based markets when people look for hockey.
From fan pages, message boards, and email lists came a new sort of digital entry… the blog. A sports blogosphere of all sorts blew up, creating a new path for fans to seek succor away from team, corporate, or the consumer machine. The old guard, using pads, pens, and old ways found themselves side-by-side with Internet writers, pod-casters and vloggers who were younger, more technologically savvy and constantly beating them to the punch. Some were bitter. Some simply woke up. Others fell by the wayside.
Alongside the new regime, came concern…. and well founded. How does one –if we cannot control their actions — at least keep the Internet writer from being irresponsible, ignorant, wrong, flaming, hateful, etc, etc etc? This has been a conundrum for many, and mostly inaction and argument has ensued rather than any answers. The depersonalization and disconnection that the Internet provides leaves an abyss of issues in the middle. It is very easy, in the lieu of no set structure, to take things too far, be inaccurate, or take advantage.
Nobody seems to have stepped up to address this. Not the previous generation of sports writers, many of whom still do not include Internet writers in their professional landscape, nor the teams or leagues that would like to see guidelines and rules, yet have done nothing to set standards themselves. The NHL’s blog rules takes no ownership of the bloggers or sets standards. It merely places control on each team.
Nor have the Internet writers stepped up, despite empty words on the subject when they notice that are not included along with the regular press. Instead, many bloggers seem to in-fight more than actually come to some sort of accordance. While sports print writers seldom call out other sports writers, unless in a bar after a bottle of Wild Turkey, it is a common thing to see one blogger bitch about another on the web. The pettiness is at almost a high school level of back and forth, and many media personnel cite that issue itself as one of the biggest reasons why bloggers and Internet writers are not fully embraced.
There are many questions as to how some on the web operate. With the lack oversight provided by an editor, some bloggers say or do anything they want to control perception. The murkier they operate, the more they set back the own efforts. Transparency and clear standards is the only answer here. The businesses of many are a fog or something very ad hoc and unprofessional, and their operations are going to start to come into question soon. Web stats, demographics, vision, business guidelines and contracts might start to peek between some of the smog that surrounds the digital ether. This should be a wake-up call to some others who persist arms akimbo in self-induced shadow and faux-mystique.
The clear path, at least to me, is the clear creation and definition of what sports internet writing is, and more important, the setting of guidelines. Of course, rules concern many people who are operating well without the wing or prayer. Yet there is a bigger issue at stake than inhibition and a fear of losing freedom of expression. If one seeks entry to a press box and recognition as some sort of journalist, then there simply is no other recourse. What is needed is some universal inclusion, not old-mindset exclusion.
We all want in to the legendary press box, the holy grail, unattainable to just about all bloggers. It is easy for some, a chimera for others to attain some sort of credentials. Teams seems terribly reticent to allow bloggers, some, if NOT many ,that might actually get far more readers than many beat writers online, into their “sacred place”. This seems very backwards, if not completely nonproductive. The Press Box is a prime way of establishing relationships with the media relations groups and internet writer. It forces writers to truly have a stake in their product. Once there, internet writing will have a slight learning curve to keep its unique, independent,and ground-breaking texture while adhering to some basic journalistic precepts. Plus, of course, the blogger might have to invest in a sports jacket. However at least there is a give-and-take process in working out of what the internet writer can be, as well as creating a new dynamic perception rather than knee-jerk judgments and assumptions by all involved parties.
The old school vs. new school arguments are really getting tired. Every time I hear a sports media type is “old school”, my eyes roll. Denial isn’t just a river in Egypt. It is alive and well as the old guard cling to something that fell years ago. It is time to invite them in and see what they are about, boys. Add to this, even if teams do not roll out a carpet for the blogger in-house, why aren’t they at least going out there and introducing themselves to what are powerful voices that connect with fans? For all shrill complaint of lack of control and standards, very few media relation staff have made an attempt to open communication lines. Pro-activity here could bridge the gap and breach of understanding and misunderstanding.
Yet, when some do get inclusion into some press facilities or some half-bred “blogger” press box that some old guard still construe, sadly, as a “fan box”, there is still a deep disconnect between sports and the new breed of writer who might or might not be a fan, yet transcends the labeling that sports organizations seek to constantly apply.
Since sports organizations are a business first, they must address the internet writer, whether they want to or not. Business, eventually, needs to get with the times. In hockey, this has reached a crescendo of need. They need to reach fans, and internet writers have subverted many print and radio people who were representatives to fan bases looking for an undiluted or independent look outside the talking heads that are collecting a paycheck. Even the NHL went out their way to create a Director of Social Media Marketing and Strategy.
Old school is long gone. Didn’t you get the memo? It’s been up on the web for a year or two now.
The print industry is dying, falling in a last gasp of starvation of ad dollars and demographic markets that have seeped away. Meanwhile, the didactic and stagnant style of “print” still appears online, as if somehow the web server is the new printing press. Not a chance. Soon, more dynamic and enthralling websites will take those few still reading those away.
PR flaks must develop new relations with a new class between them and their team’s consumer base. Once headway is done here, as PR looks to invite in the blogosphere…bloggers must then avoid be sucked into “the game”.
What is the “game”? It is an age-old give-and-take mindset. Once access is granted, how long before your working blogger hears”Do me a favor, run this story?” It is almost a pay for play mentality. Media relations and PR people however are using it as bait to hook some of the more “positive” blog press in. But we can’t let them take it too far.
Perhaps it is time for some of that back-rubbing to die too as favors and favorites don’t exactly correspond to circulation, drinks, nor result in extra ticket sales anymore. The game of “exclusive” and “access” seems to be more a game of favorites. All press, and thus all bloggers, are not treated equally. The buddy system does not just equate to swimming or snorkeling. It also is alive and well in the offices of these teams and the press they deal with at times. It might be time for a new mindset here.
What also needs to go is the new breed of VIP fan that is developing alongside the effective blogosphere. There are those in the blogosphere who have zero desire to be independent, or even a writer, but instead to be a team employee sans the paycheck. This new form of groupie talks about themselves habitually, seeking their own “ins”, entranced by a new hobby of figuring out sports peoples email addresses. Teams seem apathetic or even encouraging these personalized booster clubs; even if individuals might be creeped out by the “stalk” factor. However, it seems to be the active attempt to take advantage of addicted personalities and “social-o-paths”. Some teams, based on ticket sales and reach, encourage and even invite some of these fans to pressers, meetings and have blurred the line between fan, access and information. Anything for that ticket sale, it seems.
So we get all sorts of extremes. Those looking to eke out their niche and perches, need to navigate tricky waters. Admittedly, some teams and leagues do too as they too struggle in the new media and team needs.
How does one keep to some rule set and self-control? It isn’t easy. As a print atmosphere seems to skew and warp their own journalistic notions regularly and the media becomes a hodgepodge of curious and malleable integrity, that isn’t the focus of attention. Instead, many look for the miscue or mistake of the internet writer instead, since that is easier.There is a short rope on the internet sports writer. Yet, if they are a high paying fan, the rope is far longer.
It is all a narrow divide. For those who barely pay attention in a very A.D.D. news and information overloaded world, readers these days tend only to focus when there is a fiasco or situation. Judgment reigns in short bursts instead of careful measurement. As a result, there is little room for error. I know this well, for I have broken rules and caused some problems myself. It took months to get past the stigma it and other pre-conceived notions created…for myself and for others.
So, does all this just continue? Will the chips fall where they may? It’s been several years now, and still it is like the Wild West at times in the sports blogosphere landscape. Many are left to their own devices to sink or swim. As a whole, it still mostly lies disorganized and scattered. Something has to break here. To me, the only answer is to be a major push to get those involved in Professional Writers Associations. Standards need to be set, and headway needs to be made on all areas, lest, the struggle of all writers, internet and otherwise, will feed itself into an unending circle of standing still as the world changes around them. If sports teams and leagues will not sit down and apply some sense of standards and guidelines, it is incumbent on us to come together and create some.
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