Discussing Journalism and New Media with Mike Heika, Bob Sturm and Greg Wyshynski - Part Two

In Part Two we discuss the issue of team access, the credibility of blogs and the new ways journalists can reach out to readers.

Today Defending Big D presents the second half of our two-part discussion on the changing landscape of sports journalism. In this half of our discussion we switch gears a bit and talk about blogs and the business of sports websites. You can find part one here.

This discussion stemmed from an interest in analyzing just how things have changed recently and where things were going, I thought it would be interesting to be able to get the opinions of the journalists that are "on the other side", and are facing this rapid change head on. I set out to get the opinions of the top hockey journalists in Dallas and on the web, that cover a wide spectrum of the sports media. They are:

Once again, I want to express my sincere gratitude to these three for taking the time to answer our questions. I'd also like to thank all of the outstanding writers here at SB Nation for assisting me in putting this presentation together. I was overwhelmed by the response we received for part one and I hope that part two is just as intriguing, informative and entertaining.

Follow the jump for part two.

**Note: The opinions expressed herein do not reflect the personal views of Brandon Worley, the views of Defending Big D, nor those of SB Nation**

Eklund, and his website HockeyBuzz.com, has made a living off spreading rumors and has become a well known figure for online hockey writers. Do you feel that the fact that this arguably semi-credible hockey blogger has obtained mainstream credibility and press credentials has set back the efforts of hardworking writers to obtain credibility in the eyes of the traditional media?

Wyshynski: If the traditional media wants to believe that all bloggers are as unethical as Dwayne Klessel, that's unfortunate ... but it's ultimately their issue of perception. Again, it's no different than a blogger believing all newspapers behave like the New York Post.

First, it should be said that Dwayne Klessel has a business model that works, and has put together an impressive hockey community. It's impressive enough to attract established voices, impressive enough to establish cozy relationships with corporations like XM Radio and Comcast; and it's impressive enough to give HockeyBuzz talent access to events that other blogs are turned away from. So, from a business aspect, HockeyBuzz can be said to have credibility.

Journalistically, it's another story; and I think his impact has been marginalized by traditional media that quickly started understanding his methodology, even if they still have to chase ghosts now and then (like his recent report that Alex Tanguay had signed with the Florida Panthers).

If his lack of credibility has set back anyone, it's for the writers on his site, because he has some damn good ones over there that deserve more respect than they receive. But about a dozen of them have reached out to me over the years and told me that they're willing to live with that tarnish in exchange for HockeyBuzz's readership. It's their choice to make.

Sturm: Maybe, but I don't mind what he does too much. If people take any rumor dealer seriously, that is their own fault. Baseball, Basketball, and Football all have their shares of people that do largely the same thing. Many of those types are being paid big dollars at some of the giants in the industry for telling us the 19 places Roy Halladay may be traded. It is interesting to hear Texas is in on Halladay from one of these guy, but are they really? And when it is done, and he is traded to the Red Sox or Dodgers, will those guys be slammed for mentioning Texas? Eklund is a lightning rod, but I still follow him on twitter, even though I know that taking it as gospel is foolish. But, Larry Brooks and several others are not far away from that status.

Heika: This goes in hand with the answer above. Because of the rules set up by my organization, we need to get a source to say he will be a source, and we need to have that source have direct knowledge of the situation we are reporting.

This became a problem when Dave Tippett asked Joe Nieuwendyk not to release his firing until the next day, and Nieuwendyk then promised Tippett he would comply (and told everyone in the Stars organization to follow this edict).

So, I knew this was happening, but I could not report it as a done deal (because none of the people would agree to be a source on the story). Meanwhile, a blogger who heard it from someone who heard it from someone can break the story and be right _ and then we look like fools.

Growing up in the newspaper business, we were taught there are few things worse than being wrong on a breaking story. If you report it, it darn well better happen. But the new world of the blog allows mistakes all of the time. If you're wrong, you often get a pass. If you're right, you're a hero.

That allows for more risks where a blogger can swing for the fences.

Now, the newspaper system was grounded in the roots of news reporting, where real issues were being dealt with and careers or lives could be on the line _ and we may be overdoing it by holding those same standards in sports. What people have realized over time is that sports are entertainment and shouldn't be taken so seriously. What Eklund does is simply speculate on where a guy might play hockey. Quite honestly, if he's wrong, so what?

Credibility is a big factor in any business, but so is entertainment _ and he has shown that you can make a living by being entertaining.

I don't think he has cost the bloggers too much credibility. I think he's an entity unto himself. As long as teams feel they can benefit from using bloggers, they will accommodate them.

Some feel that blogs and online websites have no accountability since they do not have to worry about upsetting the teams they cover. Do you feel that access, or the need to keep your access to the players and the team has prevented you from doing pieces that you otherwise would have?

Wyshynski: There's no question that reporters on the beat have to choose their spots and, in some cases, pull their punches. But the end result is often gaining exclusive information or accuracy that can't be gained if they're always on the offensive. It's a different game than for an opinion writer, which most bloggers are.

It's one of the critiques of the blogosphere that I feel is unfair: That the scathing quality of their editorial would be adversely affected with increased access. Without that access for more bloggers, I just don't see how that theory gets proven.

Sturm: Not one bit. Once it changes what we write, we have lost. On the other hand, I have been in the media for 15 years. Perhaps that fear is good for someone just starting out, so they understand the healthy respect we must have for those we cover. Irresponsible slamming is not a proper destination, either.

Heika: I think training probably has more to do with that for me. I think it's natural that you don't want to upset people you have to deal with on a daily basis, but I also know that's part of the job.

But The Dallas Morning News has always wanted me to use analysis instead of opinion, and analysis typically allows you to tone things down. As such, you usually don't question effort, so much as you try to explain poor performances. That makes a big difference for the athletes. I also think athletes understand criticism, so if you do develop a good relationship, then they accept the criticism.

There has been a revolution of sorts over the past decade in the sport of baseball and the advent of extremely advanced statistical analysis. What are your views on some of the advanced hockey statistics that have started to become more widely used online, such as BehindtheNet.ca and HockeyProspectus.com?

Wyshynski: I think they're great for debates, great for finding new ways for assessing a players' overall performance. If nothing else, they've helped make plus/minus look even more disposable.

Where they fall apart is for goalies, whose current stats are like eating a piece of skin off the turkey and assuming you know what the full Thanksgiving dinner's going to taste like. There's so much more to the position than GAA and save percentage.

Sturm: Love Hockey Prospectus, Football and Baseball prospectus, too. Hockey is tough to decipher sometimes, and any advancements we can make in the way we look at the sport can only help us all. I cheer for more breakthroughs, as baseball has lived off people who love reading about the sport more than watching it sometimes.

Heika: I was awful at math, and I'm not a fan of the extensive use of stats in sports. However, I do appreciate the need for stats in discussing sports, and I think anything that gives fans an option is a good thing. If you love stats, then having more stats (or a place to discuss those stats) can be fun. Just like in our world of 300 television channels, some will choose to use some channels and some will not, but it's nice to have that choice.

Do you read any hockey websites/blogs (non-newspaper related) on a regular basis?

Wyshynski: I read between 30-40 a day, depending on the news of the day. And some of them aren't even on SB Nation!

Sturm: Absolutely. James Mirtle is my favorite. I think he does a great job. Puck Daddy, Andrew's, Your site, and many others are all on my daily stops. As well as TSN and Faceoff.

Heika: Tons. I pretty much try to keep up with all of the NHL blogs and read as much Dallas Stars stuff as I can.

The Dallas Morning News, The Ticket and the writers on Yahoo! Sports have all started to use "new media." Were you reluctant to venture into the world of online networking and blogging, or was it something you felt was important to embrace? Now that you've entered this new world, what are your views on its effectiveness?

Wyshynski: I didn't understand the value of Twitter until the Eastern Conference semifinals, when Sidney Crosby complained about the delay in cleaning up the hats at Verizon Center after Ovechkin's hat trick. I sat in the press conference, knew it was newsworthy, and sent it to Twitter on my cell. The reaction to the tweet was incredible: Dozens of people taking it as fact, dozens more wondering if it was a joke, dozens more looking for some sort of MSM confirmation, which naturally there wasn't until about 25 minutes later.

I think the best coverage of the draft and the free-agent frenzy was on Twitter. It's indispensable. Well, at least until the next innovation.

Sturm: I have always thought there was something better available than what we got the day after the game online. And now, I am happy to see that it is coming to pass. I think competition now makes the online game very enjoyable for the reader. Everyone is stepping up their game to keep their market share.

Heika: The technology to allow this flow of information is amazing, and it obviously is a significant improvement over how things were done even in the 1990s.

My biggest concern is the overabundance of information, and the fact we probably miss some big points because we're chasing things that might not be important. I think it also forces us to express opinions on everything, and because of that, we're becoming an over-opinionated society. Mix in the anonymity of voicing those opinions on message boards, and there certainly has been a loss of civility that has accompanied the increase in opinions.

You just wonder why people are getting so mad in a discussion over hockey games.

But, there's no doubt technology has been helpful for sports fans.

Among the sports blogging community there is a feeling of a double standard when it comes to citation by the traditional media. Bloggers quote and link to traditional sources daily, yet there seems to be a growing trend of news articles that fail to cite and give credit to the blogs they get their information from. Is there any sort of guidelines in the traditional media for following the "ethics of the internet" when it comes to linking and quoting online articles by blogs and websites?

Wyshynski: To be fair, blogs can be just as guilty, writing about stories that they seem to discover through osmosis or that come to them as if in a dream.

But yes, there is a problem with traditional media citing alt-media, without question. And from what I can tell, it's less an issue with disrespect than it is an issue with legitimizing a rival or appearing to have gotten "beat" by a story by a "competitor."

Bottom line: Cite your source, cite your inspiration for a story. Do the work well, or better, and no one's going to care who had it before you.

Sturm: Another great question. It should happen more, but it won't. Newspaper bosses are not going to help drive the stake into their own hearts. I think citations online are wonderful, and only help make the reader even smarter by reading a chain of stories to learn more and more. It is great.

Heika: I try to follow my own ethics as much as possible, but I think it's not possible to know what every blog is saying or who ``broke'' every story in today's media. If the team is announcing it, then I'll credit the team and not worry about who had it first. If it's original content, then I'll credit the source.

In fact, there will be times when I think I have the information (like with the firing of Dave Tippett), but it does not meet our standards, and I'll link to somebody's blog and say I believe this person is right.

The other problem is that there are only so many stories when covering a team or beat. If I'm working on a story on Marty Turco and one of the blogs posts a similar story three or four hours ahead of me, does that mean I'm stealing their idea or have to abandon my story? Likewise, if somebody on a message board or blog posts an opinion, and I have the same opinion, does that mean I'm stealing it?

I don't want to steal stuff from anybody, and I have actually changed what I was going to write if somebody else wrote it first. But I also know that if I had an idea in mind or was half-done with a story, then I need to go forward with it no matter what someone else has out there.

The old media-sports team relationship helped both sides; press received access and sports teams received free advertising in the daily paper. This was the "broadcasting" i.e. wide distribution model. The internet is user driven and tends to be more "narrow-casting" in which fans only visit the teams they care about. This is problematic for sports teams that wish to expand their market penetration by reaching out to new fans. The new media is great for making fans more intense but it might be less useful for growing a fanbase. Do you feel this is a fair assumption and how might this affect the growth of new media.

Wyshynski: I disagree with this, because I think blogs do well to expand the fan base. They make the game more approachable. How many people know Mike Comrie as Hilary Duff's boy-toy rather than as a former New York Islander? How many Penguins fans have told a friend about this hilarious Web site called The Pensblog in the last few years? How many fans in non-hockey cities come across a blog, start interacted and find themselves getting into the game?

Sturm: It is huge. And this is the next mystery to solve. Teams will still have to advertise to find new fans. Blogs and websites will not unearth new people to the product.

Heika: Wow, now you're getting too deep for me. I still think the team website is the best place to accomplish this. They do a great job explaining the game and making things easily accessible. I also think teams can do this by getting out in the community. But you're right, the people who seem to be the ones fully taking advantage of the internet are the intense fans.

Many teams have an automatic response when websites seek out credentials: "No access for websites on blogs, period." Do you feel that bloggers and internet writers should be given credentials to team events (games, press conferences, etc..) and what criteria should they maybe go through to be approved?

Wyshynski: Yes, completely, without question and absolutely.

The criteria question is the sticking point. For some events, the criteria can be looser: The NHL Draft, for example, or a regular season game. For others, with more limited seating for media and issues like space in the locker room for postgame scrums, it gets a little tougher.

Should criteria be based on traffic? Influence? Longevity? Should it be based on writing style? I'm working with the PHWA and a couple of folks with the League in the near future to help figure out what the criteria could, or should, be.

My mantra on this hasn't changed: If you're a blogger who has a desire to cover a live event and bring your readers that experience, you should have the opportunity to do so. There are always going to be exceptions, and there are always going to be situations where TV and newspapers are going to have preference. But to deny someone sight unseen, based on the fact that they choose to write independent of a big media company, or haven't had the chance to do so yet, is painfully thoughtless. Hockey needs all the good coverage it can get; it's been my experience that being in the press box, the locker room and the press conference can only make the coverage better.

Sturm: Well, unlike the internet, a press box has finite space. And for every great blog that lasts, their are 20 that come and go in the night. So, I think teams should open their eyes to those who have earned the access by proving that they are faithful and have a following. But, I don't mind the teams making those folks jump through a hoop or two on the way to being credentialed. It still must come with some inherent responsibility, so they must make it slightly difficult to acquire.

Heika: I'm all for giving credentials and I think the teams eventually will be, as well. But the team needs to lay down guidelines, and should be allowed to enforce suspensions, because there is a certain wildcard to the blogger-reporter right now. It's a process where both sides need to learn to cooperate.

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