The Shackles of the Press

Are you a fan of relentless self-indulgence? Then this has been the week for you, because the new media has been talking about itself again. The Toronto Sun translation liberation from our blogging brothers from different mothers at Pension Plan Puppets. Greg Wyshynski at Puck Daddy writing articles on how paranoid some NHL teams are about letting filthy bloggers near their high-priced athletes, and how the NHL is reacting by suggesting teams relegate bloggers to segregated parts of the building and give them distinct identification to keep them from mingling with the purebloods upstairs.

I realize I'm being a bit flip about this, but honestly, these shenanigans don't deserve to be treated seriously. The ancient, esteemed, and sacrosanct profession of sports journalism deserves none of those adjectives, least of all "journalism". Besides, I'm not really bothered by whether I'm considered a worthy member of the press corps or a pimply-faced part-time buffoon in an ill-fitting shirt. I say this as a guy who not too long ago had a chance to wave NHL press credentials around like I was compensating for something: I think that having access to professional athletes can be important and interesting, but as a member of the brotherhood of bloggers I can genuinely do without it. In fact, in some important ways I'd prefer it.

Going to the NHL draft as a credentialed member of the press was a lot of fun. I met some people I'd previously only heard about, and to borrow a metaphor, saw how sausage is made. I got to lord around and feel superior, which is one of my favourite things in the world, and if given the opportunity, I'd do it again. But that's because it was entertaining, not insightful. I'm not convinced it made my writing any better doing it from the media riser than from the stands, nor do I think I'm a case that far out of the ordinary. Press access might provide a few interesting tidbits and pieces of fluff around the edges, but if the teams deny it to us bloggers I don't think it'll make a difference.

Don't confuse the retrograde attitude of some NHL teams with the attitude of the NHL itself. When the SB Nation guys, including myself, went to the draft back in June, it was a class act. We got real press passes that gave us access to the actual press riser, not merely a special Bloggers' Section in the trough of the men's bathroom. There was a shortage of seats, but that was true for everyone, not merely us basement-dwellers, and a professional time was had by all. The only piece of plagiarism I remember was when I stole Pierre LeBrun's information about the Dan Hamhuis trade. I actually sat behind the aforementioned Greg Wyshynski on the second day and at no point did he crowd Taylor Hall into a corner and insist on personalized autographs for his entire extended family. Blueshirt Banter's Jim Schmiedeberg, in spite of his alleged line-crossing and unprofessionalism, didn't once try to hop the fence and throttle Glen Sather. Or if he did, I was grabbing stale pretzels at the time and missed it.

And what did I get out of it that I wouldn't have got by sitting in the stands? A power outlet for my laptop, I guess. I asked Stu MacGregor a question and he looked at me like I was so stupid he wasn't sure how I forced my way into the building. Derek had a question about John Davidson's actions at one point and I was able to go ask John Davidson what the answer was, which would stand out a lot more for me if I could remember what the question was. But the bulk of what I did in our two draft-day threads - the sarcasm, the observations, the news, the additional sarcasm - I could have done just as effectively from the stands. Perhaps better, since I was so far away from the Oilers' table I could neither see nor photograph a damned thing. Would our draft coverage have been that much worse if I hadn't given you Steve Tambellini's inconclusive quote about Andrew Cogliano?

I don't want to oversell the point here. Getting a press pass and going to the draft was a lot of fun and I'd do it again. I certainly enjoyed seeing the cogs and wheels of the professional media instead of the slick facade we usually enjoy. But that shouldn't matter to you, the reader, and I don't think it does.

Was there anyone who would have completely ignored our coverage of the draft had I not been wearing a rather tasteful press pass? To turn it another way, when one of us comes up with some brilliant piece of work about the Oilers, how many people out there say, "Well, I would read Copper & Blue, but they don't even talk to the players so their opinions are invalid." How many people who don't work for the Edmonton Sun, I mean? I'd be willing to argue that sports blogs have become popular because of that lack of access: once upon a time somebody wanted to write about his favourite sports team, but couldn't get access to the club or its players. So he made a virtue out of necessity and concentrated on analysis, intellect, and wit rather than "Do you think you'll have to give it 110% to beat the defending world champions tonight?"

To the extent that press credentials have value, it is only in the perception that there's value. It's an implied endorsement: "Okay, you guys look solid, we'll let you near the athletes, but no eye contact". The problem with an implied endorsement is that you don't always want the organization's endorsement. Particularly not when it comes with strings attached: it's important to not only be fair but to maintain the appearance of fairness. I run a little soccer blog about my local team and haven't even applied to the front office for some sort of credential. Yeah, it would be neat, but I'd miss standing in the self stands with my fellow leather-lungs hurling imprecations at the opposing goalkeeper. I don't want to be seen as in the pocket of the organization, and I'm not sure what I'd get out of it besides a free seat and a roof over my head in the press box (admittedly a powerful motivation some nights).

Most importantly, the more we start aping the mainstream media the greater the risk we run of becoming just like them. Sure, I'd happily hit the big time and become a professional journalist; I'm not proud. But not at the cost of losing whatever it was that got me to that point.

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