I normally don't write about blogger access for NHL teams. The Atlanta Thrashers have been outstanding with allowing the bloggers access to the team and getting us media credentials for blogger nights at the arena. Their program is a class act, and I would never want to be seen as questioning what they do or whining to get more access.
Recently, though, two articles on Puck Daddy (found here and here) were posted regarding blogger access - most specifically, the limitations that some teams feel need to be placed on it. Some NHL teams are welcoming of the free PR that bloggers bring and others prefer to let the professional journalists in only - each team has their own reasons for it. The teams who do not credential bloggers are taking issue with the fact that bloggers are getting press access in the locker rooms with said team when that team's the visitor. They feel that their rules for press access at their home arenas should be respected by the teams that are hosting them as well. That's understandable. Just as one state has to respect the laws of another, a NHL team needs to respect the requests of the visiting squad - if they aren't as welcoming to bloggers in the locker room then bloggers shouldn't be allowed back there, end of story.
The real issue comes up with whether or not teams need to treat bloggers more like press and less like hacks with computers. Proposals were made, according to Greg Wyshynski, that basically wanted bloggers in a holding pen a la creepy autograph hounds until someone graced the bloggers with their presence. What good that does the bloggers, and by proxy the team, I don't know. The bloggers only get the company line and they have to deal with the indignity of being treated as unprofessional and being treated as such quite obviously. What do you think they'll write about when they get home - what the Oilers' assistant video coach had to say for 5 minutes, or the fact that they got nothing out of the experience and would prefer to not be subjected to it again? It's not good PR to treat bloggers with distain.
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You might wonder why the team would care about bloggers fussing. Bloggers are loud and vocal, and many of them cater to an audience that's substantially sized. Word does get out, and when the bloggers are unhappy, they're more prone to be negative about the team or the team's management and again - that carries.
On the flip side, a blogger that wants to be taken seriously can't rant and rave and be negative with every post just because he wasn't allowed access to the morning skate. If that blogger wants to be taken seriously, he needs to be impartial at the very least. Offer constructive criticism. Be snarky if you'd like to be. But always be professional. I have never witnessed any unprofessional behavior at any bloggers day event I have been to, nor have I really heard of any happening elsewhere. That reputation of professionalism needs be fostered both through actions and through writing.
The memo that was leaked to Puck Daddy was the part of this that I took issue with. Meant to be a suggestion or a rough draft of what a league wide policy could look like, it directly took a shot at unpaid bloggers in it's first stipulation. By saying that bloggers for an on-line news agency/print media should be recognized as a requirement for credentialing basically cuts out every other blogger who is not a journalist. Right off the bat whoever composed this memo makes known that he does not consider bloggers to be appropriate credentialed press. That's fine, but if the memo is about how to handle bloggers, then why come out and imply that you would rather not see them in the arena at all? Also, the employment of full time journalist requirement would also shoot bloggers down, since most blogs I know are run as hobbies and even if they do feature more than one primary writer, they are not staffed by full time professional journalists.
The memo does give the teams final say to who they credential, which is nice, but lays down further stipulations that limit access to the visitors' locker room, limits access to the press box (by either having special seating in the box or by having an area away from the press box), and requires a different style of press pass to signify that the individual is a blogger, and not a paid journalist. I don't disagree with the different press pass (we get a one day media pass that's a different color than the official passes here in Atlanta), and I do agree with the limitations of the access to the visitor locker room. I disagree with the quarantine. If the bloggers are acting professionally in the press box, I'm not sure what the big deal is with them sitting near members of the media. We were all seated a few seats down from Tyler Kennedy at the Penguins/Thrashers game. Not one of us even acknowledged his presence. I didn't even notice until 2/3rds of the way through the 3rd period. No one was unprofessional.
Like I said, I appreciate the access that the Thrashers have been nice enough to give us in allowing us to interview players as well as the coach. I don't expect every team to allow access to every blogger - there needs to be a screening or verification process so people don't start up blogs just to get the access. That's what lessens the experience for the serious bloggers and it's also where the "blogging in pyjamas in your parents' basement" reputation comes from. Some bloggers don't conduct themselves professionally, or write in a polished and appropriate manner.
Of course, some paid full time journalists don't either. You can't use a person's profession or lack thereof to judge if they will conduct themselves in an appropriate manner. The only way that you can judge if a blogger belongs in the press box is trial by fire. Chances are good, though, that the benefits will be encouraging for the team - and the relationship between bloggers and the teams could be, and should be, mutually beneficial.