There was a moment late on Saturday night at the Nassau Coliseum when blogging, journalism and public relations collided with the force of a Dion Phaneuf open-ice check. In a cramped interview room after New York's 3-2 win over the Buffalo Sabres, Islanders defenseman Chris Campoli was asked if the referees had treated his team unfairly. Before Campoli could answer the question, Chris Botta, the team's public relations director, interjected a warning.
"Let me remind you, Chris," Botta said, grinning, "we can get fined even by a question from a blogger."
Excuse me if I stifle a groan here. Over the course of the entire 2006-07 season I spent in the press box with the Washington Capitals (35 games overall), I was never identified as a blogger. I was simply treated like any other member of the working press and was granted the same access and privileges -- including access to the visiting locker room if I wanted. Of course, that also meant I had the same responsibilities, which meant staying out of the way of the beat writers who had deadlines to meet, moving if I was blocking a camera angle, as well as making sure I didn't step on team logo on the center of the locker room carpet.
And it also meant not cheering from the box and leaving my Capitals hat at home. More on that later.
Over time, my own blog, Off Wing Opinion, was granted other privileges, and I was able to secure spots on the glass for a team of three volunteer photographers I recruited. Just like me, they were expected to comport themselves as professionals. And after most of a season, Ellen Blanchard, Kate McGovern and Allen Clark were treated just like any other photographer working the game.
In other words, if you didn't know Off Wing was a blog, you'd never know that any bloggers were actually working the game. It was all very seamless, and a real tribute to the professionalism of the Washington Capitals, the team that granted us the access. This season, the team has granted access to even more bloggers, all wearing the same laminated press passes the beat writers and photographers wear.
But if you had taken a trip to the "Blog Box" on Long Island on Saturday night, you would have seen something quite different: A group of fans segregated from the rest of the press who were only allowed guided access to Islanders players and no access to the visiting locker room at all. Most galling of all, many of the box bloggers trooped down to the Islanders locker room wearing Islanders jerseys.
If you want to get a taste of what the working media thinks of the grand experiment, just stop by SportsJournalists.com, where they cued the laugh track with a discussion slugged, Blogger Bashers Rejoice:
As someone who has defended the idea of increased media access to bloggers, it's with a heavy heart I must report that according to SI.com, several of them mingled with the working media during postgame interviews while wearing Islanders jerseys ...All throughout the SI.com piece, you'll see claims about how this "experiment" -- one that comes complete with a couple of academics from a university in Pennsylvania who ought to be ashamed of themselves -- is some sort of incredible innovation in sports media.
Team blogs are kind of like Fox News. You go there knowing you're getting one side of the story ...
Sigh ... desperate marketing ploy ... some things will never change in hockey.
That's actually the last thing that this deserves to be called. Instead, we ought to call it for what it is -- a glorified fan club. That this farce is sponsored by Eklund, the least credible voice in sports blogging today, only makes the joke complete.
Don't get me wrong, as I don't blame the Islanders fans who managed to win a spot in the box for going along for the ride (though I'm curious why a blog like Islanders Army, one with an established track record, couldn't be found a place at the table). After all, who wouldn't want a chance to go to the game and talk to the players? But the folks that are involved need to know that they're being used by Eklund and the Islanders, and in the process, doing more damage to the credibility of sports blogging than they can understand.
Previously on FanHouse:
Naked Truth and Toronto's Mini-Video Ban
Maple Leafs Say No to Digital Video
An Unexpected Idea for the Islanders Blog Box
Unmasked & Anonymous: Answering Ethical Questions About a Blogger Named Eklund