If you are a mom or interested in politics and have a solid opinion or have a green thumb or are an expert on world politics, then the blog world is for you. If you act professional, give solid opinions and do your homework, then companies, media, and followers may give you respect and you may be able to find a way to contribute to the area you are passionate about.
If you are interested in blogging about sports, that is probably less true. The blog world continues to slowly evolve in various levels of respect in sports, but that evolution, even for some of the most respected writers, is still slow. Maybe it's because sports is such a constant in society that the issues seem to rise and become louder than in other areas, maybe it's because there is still a reticence for acceptance by those who are slow to technology, but the battle wages on. Last week the battle actually came from and center, as two writers were barred from their respective areas of coverage, albeit for different reasons.
First salvo was fired by the Miami Heat, who banned writer Scott Raab for his expletive filled tweets directed at LeBron James. Then we have the Islanders, who banned Chris Botta, a blogger they helped spawn and trumpeted out as a pioneer in the field, for violation of some interview rules. Similar? Different reasons, same result.
As someone who feels that the blogosphere and digital media needs to be embraced more as an outlet for coverage and access, I cringe when I hear the word "banned" used. Like radio, then TV, then talk radio after that, we are still in a discovery stage of who and how and what is "legitimate" in the digital world and what is contrived. There is abuse on all levels and not just by bloggers, and there is also great work, especially in the long form, being done by media who are less limited and can be more insightful in the digital space. The opportunity for coverage and for telling stories to the masses, is perhaps larger now than it has ever been. However there are limits of good taste, even outside of Free Speech, that do cross the line, and that line of evaluation is still blurred, and will always be controlled, by the credential issuer. It remains an opportunity to gain access, and it should not be an assumption. In the case of Scott Raab, we don't know all the details, but we do know he used an outlet that he has, twitter, to cross a line of professionalism. Whether it was done to gain attention or whether it was stream of consciousness and was regrettable is not known. What is known is that in the eyes of the Heat, a team which has gone to great lengths in their slow days to acquire media attention (remember Lamar Odom pumping gas?), Raab's rantings went beyond what is considered acceptable for a professional journalist, and he lost that opportunity. Did they turn him into a martyr or increase his forum? Maybe. Whatever the outcome, the media-conscious NBA did not let the decision happen in a vacuum, and probably set a standard for what is acceptable, and not acceptable, for media going forward.
Then there are the Islanders, a team which just a few years ago was, along with other NHL teams like the Washington Capitals, at the cusp of conquering the digital space for fan access and innovation. Islanders TV on their website, the bloggers box, a partnership with NeuLion, fan interraction during their broadcasts, and then Chris Botta's blog were all hailed as new ways to try and engage a young fan and stay relevant in a very challenging media landscape. Their work was copied by other teams, and was part of the NHL's rise in the digital space that has seen them be the leader in online fan engagement when compared to all the major sports. Ironically in a time when "controlled media" is becoming the norm... writers coming to work for team publications... Botta went the other way. His work was solid and he took the role of journalist, covering the team, and eventually the sport of hockey, with a growing and popular fan base. It all seemed to be a pretty happy relationship, and gave insight into how such things could work together into the future. Then this summer, as the NHL continued to step up their digital innovation and social engagement, the Islanders announced a cutback on blogger credentials. The team that led the charge, for whatever reason, was cutting back at a time when media coverage was slipping overall, a curious move for the organization that was struggling to find its voice. In fairness, they became more aggressive in telling their business stories in the media and tried to find more ways to engage the off-ice coverage, but at the end of the day sizzle and steak need to go together for fans and to warrant coverage, and one cannot effectively control what the media will write about the product. If it's good you get the coverage, if it's not, unless you have some drama to go or story lines to pitch, the coverage wains and is not necessarily flattering. Therein lies the issue with Botta's ban.
The house organ (although he was never ever a shill of the organization) became the critical journalist. Fair but critical, and perhaps the Islanders saw that as not neccessary coverage any more. We don't know all the facts, and it probably was not done without deep thought. What the ban did do was again cast a light on what some groups perceive as "real media" and what is seen as "secondary" media. Would he have been banned if he wrote for Newsday or the New York Times or not have been an "insider"? Not known at this point. The Islanders, in fact, are not stopping AOL or any of Botta's other outlets from covering the team, just he himself, which seems very curious. If it was a violation of team media rules, that is certainly not a first, especially in New York, and it has never resulted in a ban of a media credential. He was not profane, he was not unprofessional, and in many ways he brought more interest to the Islanders brand than any other media source short of Newsday or MSG Network. Regardless it set a very strange precedent for teams on every level if the ban holds up, and probably brought Botta, a pretty low key guy, more attention than he ever wanted.
So what does all this mean? In one case it means if you are a credentialed journalist, no matter what medium you use, you have to view yourself and your comments in a way that can bring repercussions. It's not what you say. It's how you say it, especially in a matter of good taste. The other case appears to be more troublesome for the line between media and the relationship with those you are covering. What is the expectation? If it is to work with rose colored glasses, then that's not media coverage, that's advertising. If it is to be fair and tell what one sees as a professional journalist, which is really what Chris Botta morphed into, then the ban is very troubling indeed. Both will be interesting to follow, and both will certainly set some interesting precedents going forward.
Now there are many blogger sites, the biggest of which is Deadspin, which have little to no interest in being recognized by "traditional" media. That's fine. They make it clear that they are a fans voice and play to the edge, and away they go. Their numbers are big, their practices are avant garde, their style is not for the traditional and that's the way they choose to do their coverage. No excuses and their audience finds them. However for those who choose to be a little bit less of a voice of the fan and more of the news gathering type, the battle rages on. Where it will end at some point is up for debate, but in the meantime following the war from a distance will be interesting, especially for those who in these challenging times are taking to the digital space as a way to make a living, find a voice, and deliver coverage.
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