Defending Big D sits down with three experts to discuss the changing landscape of sports journalism.
The topic of "new media" is one that has become hotly debated among journalists and bloggers alike, and just how we all fit together is under constant scrutiny and change. With newspapers being forced to embrace the changing landscape of how media is presented to the consumer and with blogs and niche websites becoming more prominent each year, it's a journey that is just beginning with both traditional media and bloggers still unsure of what the future might bring.
As a blogger and member of SB Nation, I cannot even begin to express the feelings I had when I learned that Defending Big D would be getting credentials for the NHL Draft. It wasn't just a big step for this website, it was leap forward in the fight to gain credibility among blogs and websites that worked tirelessly to provide the best content they could for their readers. While in Montreal I was surprised by the level of respect shown towards our small group of writers by the journalists in attendance, when I was expecting something much, much worse. So that got me thinking about what had changed in the landscape of sports media that while bloggers weren't exactly welcomed with open arms and a hug, we were at least shown a decent amount of professional respect. Three of four years ago this wouldn't have happened.
In my quest to analyze just how things have changed 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 also wanted to get the thoughts of someone who has been on both sides of the line, someone who was once a newspaper journalist and who now is a professional blogger. Incredibly, the first three I thought of and approached were all enthusiastic and eager to share their thoughts. In no particular order, they are:
- Greg Wyshynski, creator and editor of Yahoo! Sports' Puck Daddy, the most popular hockey blog on the internet.
- Mike Heika, Dallas Stars beat reporter for the Dallas Morning News and blogger on the DMN Stars Blog.
- Bob Sturm, host of BaD radio on 1310 AM The Ticket, the #1 sports station in North Texas. He is also a writer for Inside Corner, the excellent sports blog at D Magazine.
To the Dallas hockey fan, Mike Heika and Bob Sturm need no introduction. They are without question the top authorities in the DFW area when it comes to the Stars and hockey. If you are a hockey fan and you don't read Greg Wyshynski's Puck Daddy blog every day, then you need to start immediately. Having all three of these highly respected hockey writers and broadcasters agree to answer our questions is a big honor.
Greg, Bob and Mike were good enough to answer our questions on a variety of topics, covering the business of journalism, blogs, the internet and more. Part one of the interview is below and part two will be posted tomorrow.
Follow the jump for part one.
With newspapers and traditional news sources having financial issues, making cuts and deciding to reduce their coverage of hockey (such as the LA Times), some are blaming the rise of blogs and the internet for their struggles. Do you feel that traditional media should feel threatened by the online sports community, and is there a possibility a balance can be reached between the two?
Greg Wyshynski: I don't think traditional media should be threatened; I think they should be, and have been, challenged by the rise of the alt-media. Blogs have increased the immediacy of news (for better or worse), the depth of coverage and the need for analysis that speaks to issues fans really care about.
The fact that so many traditional media outlets have blogs, use social media and have embraced the blog communities around teams is a positive development. Is there a fair balance between the two? Not necessarily. There are problems with attribution, with mutual respect. But it's gotten ridiculously better than it was several years ago.
Bob Sturm: I think the newspaper world has been in big trouble for quite some time, and honestly, it is all their fault. It is tough to say it is because of blogs, though. Blogs are a relative new addition to the scene, and I think a very welcome addition. But, those of us who have no boundaries about how much we write on the internet, and can go on and on about a team or a topic for thousands of words are not the reason newspapers are in trouble. Newspapers are dying a slow death because they did not treat the internet as a viable option for their product until it was too late. Once they missed the original bus, and once they could not profit from it, they then gave their product away for free online and thus rendered the print copy a pointless expenditure to the new generation that did not need a copy of the Morning News with on the breakfast table like our parents did. Blogs can threaten the content, but I am not sure too many blogs have figured out how to make more than $50 a month, either. Newspapers are not enjoying their old profits because they lost their subscriber base by giving away internet content for free, losing classifieds and advertising to other media outlets, just didn't stay tuned with how the net is changing how we all live; and then the rest evolved slowly.
Heika: Well, in a competitive industry, the blogs do provide competition, so yes, newspapers are threatened in the sense that they have to compete to get as many eyeballs as possible. But I think the world of the internet, we share a lot of the same eyes, so there also has to be cooperation between newspapers and blogs.
I think a compromise can be struck. The model right now is everyone needs everyone. With proper credit, we all share similar information and try to have everything on our respective sites.
Are there reasons for optimism for older media models, such as print newspapers?
Wyshynski: As I guy who worked for a newspaper for nearly a decade, I refuse to believe newspapers are going to disappear. Even if every shred of evidence points to their demise. The notion that every motel in the U.S. not having ample copies of USA Today to hand out to guests is something I can't wrap my brain around. The people need their pie charts.
But who knows how the news will reach us in 10 years? Maybe we're all limited to just a Sunday edition. Who knows?
Sturm: I don't think so. The cows are out of the barn now. Just like radio, it is really the fault of the bosses of this industry who ignored the competition of the times until it was too late. I suppose there will always be a place for the newspaper on some level, but as far as enjoying the greatest sportswriting available, I imagine it will now move, as many of their best writers have, to the computer. The sportspage in the newspaper has become more and more wire content and less and less original content from the guys who are professional writers like Mike. I hope they figure out how to make the new model in the new age a workable one, because at the end of the day, most bloggers are not at practice and in the locker-room. Mike, is.
Heika: Well, I think there is optimism in niche paper products. I believe magazines will continue to flourish, because they provide detailed information for a specific group of readers. If newspapers are going to try to continue as the ``department store'' of news, I think we have to be more like ``daily magazines.'' We have to provide instant analysis and in-depth opinion. I think all the breaking news will be done on the web, but I do believe there could be a market for a paper product that gives readers something new.
That said, the model is different in different cities and with different age groups. Again, if we are giving away the analysis for free on the internet, then the paper product won't survive, in my opinion.
I think the biggest flaw in the newspaper system is the time and expense it takes to get a paper product to the consumer. If I file a story at 10:30 p.m., my first deadline, then it goes through an editor to a plate maker to a press, to a big truck and eventually to a delivery guy. That takes probably six hours and a lot of money in employees and natural resources (paper, ink, electricity, gasoline). Or, I can push a button on my computer and send it to everyone who wants it _ instantly and for little cost to our paper.
The internet system is clearly the better choice, but we have not been able to find a way to make significant money off of it. The sticking point in adjusting is that a two or three website staff that doesn't travel can make money, but a 50-man sports department that travels to every game probably can't.
What are the challenges with moving newspapers and NHL coverage solely to an online model?
Wyshynski: How to monetize it for a generation that's learned to consume news for free, and how to convince local advertisers that a Web site can have the same impact as a physical product. But the Web provides a freedom of form that the papers can't.
Sturm: I think it is tough to grow your sport if you are solely based on blogs like this one. These blogs are awesome for the diehard fans, but I think the biggest issue is that you don't stumble onto this while looking for a Mavericks or Rangers story, usually. In the newspaper, someone might read a Heika story because they had 5 more minutes at the bus stop or in the doctor's office and despite not being a big hockey fan, a person gives it a read. But, with the net, the niche content is readily available, but we all have our own paths on this huge resource, and most non-hockey types will seldom stumble on to a hockey blog and fall in love with the sport - I think.
Heika: Creating the revenue needed to continue to travel with the team. Macy's will pay a lot more for a classy four-page ad that execs can hold in their hand than they will for a pop-up ad on the internet. So, convincing advertisers that this new style of advertising will work is paramount to our future success. But while we were competing with maybe one or two newspapers in the past for advertising dollars, we will be competing with countless websites in the future (and competition typically means reduced prices you can charge for ads).
Newspapers had a monopoly of sorts on things like classified ads in the past, and now that ebay and Craig's List have entered the picture, we have lost a lot of revenue. The same thing could happen with advertisers.
But what our hope would be is that we travel with the team, and sell that as reason we can create (or maintain) more readers.
I think we also have a certain amount of brand recognition that should help us, but that will only go so far.
With many newspapers cutting down on their coverage of hockey and the local teams, is there a fear that lone beat writers will be spread too thin and won't be able to successfully cover their teams?
Wyshynski: Not sure if that's an issue in comparison with there not being beat writers assigned to cover the local team.
Sturm: Oh, yes. Competition is what makes writers great. One person on any beat means he cannot be beaten for most stories, because there is nobody he competes with. I think hockey is very close to that bad spot when it comes to that. This is a big issue. A Cowboys story has 10 people racing to find out what goes on. A Stars story can often be broken by the team on their own website, like when they hired Joe to be the GM. If I am not mistaken, they replaced their General Manager with a new one and then released the information before it was public information that they were in the process of doing that. Imagine the Cowboys pulling that off!
Heika: Yeah, I already feel the spreading thin part. While we have cut down our amount of coverage in the paper, we have actually increased our amount of coverage overall (at least as far as the Stars are concerned). So, that means a lot more writing for the blog, a lot more preparation for blog writing, and a lot more thought into trying to make what goes in the paper different from what goes on the blog.
It's a process, and I'm still trying to learn right now.
The good thing is that you definitely check in more frequently and try to update news as quickly as possible. That part of the formula means you are hopefully more plugged in and are giving readers more information more quickly.
As a follow up to that last question: with diminishing hockey coverage in local papers, teams are focusing more on their own online content and news. Do you feel that sports teams will allow enough criticism on their own team sites to achieve accountability in the eyes of fans?
Wyshynski: No, I don't unfortunately. Not to the level that fans have come to expect from blogs or traditional media outlets. In the end, the team Web site writing is somewhere between an extension of the team's marketing arm and well-mannered opinion/reporting. It's quality work, and frequently great reporting, but not exactly scathing in its critiques.
That said, the work team sites have done in bringing unfiltered audio and video to the fans is exceptional.
Sturm: As a guy who has written for DallasStars.com, they have never made me change one opinion. I believe I have been pretty tough on certain things the team was doing, and a few times actually expected someone to not run my story, but they did. So, while I am quite worried about this being an issue, my personal experience has at least told me that the guys at the Stars understand that it is important to allow opinions on their site that may not always be a pleasure to deal with.
Heika: As for the teams, that's an argument they have to battle. I do think the natural tendency is to go easy on a team when you are part of the organization. The other problem is that I don't travel on the same team plane, so I am not privy to some information (such as injuries or possible locker room problems). That way, teams have a certain amount of privacy and I maintain the ability to report anything I discover. If you travel on the team plane, you are going to have to edit yourself heavily. The team does not want to let all of its secrets out, so you then naturally have to sit on stuff that could be very interesting to the reader. That's going to be tough for a person who writes for the team, to pick and choose what should be reported and what shouldn't be.
With the FWST and the DMN now sharing coverage of the Dallas Stars and Texas Rangers, is there a concern this will ultimately have a negative impact on hockey coverage in the DFW area? Competition amongst papers traditionally increases resources, and now the DMN has no competition but the team web site in terms of player access and insider information. Does that produce any worries for the future? Do you feel that the news that ESPN is launching a Dallas-based website will ultimately be good for hockey coverage in the area?
Wyshynski: I'll leave the first few parts of this question to the locals, but I'll say this about the local ESPN expansion: It's only going to help raise the bar for everyone in the coverage area, and I'm excited to see the type of talent they can assemble in different markets.
But as someone who isn't exactly enamored with a lot of what ESPN does journalistically, the "ESPN-ization" of local sports news isn't exactly something I'm looking forward to.
Sturm: I may have covered more of this above, but I think it is a very big deal. It is bad news for the consumers that 3 of the 4 local teams are now sharing content between the two newspaper giants in this city. Monopolies are never good for the consumer, but I bet the teams love not having beat writers breathing down their necks anymore. On the other hand, they may also hate the smaller spaces in the papers, so I bet the teams are disappointed, too. More competition could swing this the other way, so Inside Corner at D Magazine and ESPN.com can only make it better.
Heika: I'm a fan of competition, and I wish the Star-Telegram was sending its own writer, but I do think the blogs help create competition, so that helps. I think ESPN-Dallas will be a good thing for everyone.
Do you feel all written hockey coverage will eventually be online a decade from now? What will the NHL media landscape look like?
Wyshynski: There's no way to predict what the media models will look like in 10 years, or least there isn't for a guy like who's still trying to figure out Twitter.
Sturm: I tend to think so. Luckily, the hockey writing online has never been better than it is right now. You can read about the NHL for hours and hours a day. It never ends. And in a decade, chances are it will be even better.
Hieka: I think a lot will be (or on your phone). I'm not a fan of Twitter, but it seems we're headed in that direction. Again, if we can somehow preserve the paper product as an analysis tool, there still is hope that a newspaper will be on your doorstep.
But, the bottom line is the internet makes more economic sense, so the internet will eventually win out.
This past week, Jay Mariotti blamed the online "blogosphere" for the unfortunate situation surrounding the Erin Andrew's video. Said Mariotti:
"But am I blaming bloggers for helping create the daily sex-and-objectification culture that turned Andrews into an ongoing peep show on their Web sites? Damn right I am."
While there is certainly a good number of websites and blogs that are far from credible, is it fair to pigeonhole every online blog and website with this same stereotype? What will have to happen for the traditional media, and more importantly sports teams, to realize they're not all the same?
Wyshynski: It's going to take blogs like FanHouse to stop hiring guys like Mariotti, whose approach and style is the antithesis of what that site was founded on. And for guys like Mariotti to click around their own House before throwing stones at another blog.
But overall, it's getting better. Not every blog is "chicks for clicks," just like not every newspaper is the New York Post. Eventually, we'll all figure that out.
Sturm: Good question, but the last people to admit that most of the blogs online are good and worthy of your time will be the old newspaper writers. Radio guys make fun of satellite radio for the same reason. It is a threat to his paycheck, so why would Mariotti do anything to legitimatize online people who are putting him out of business. Rather, he can take a run at some irresponsible guys on the net (which there are plenty) and paint everyone with the same brush. It is a straw man tactic, but many people will agree with him.
Heika: No, it's not fair. That would be like comparing the New York Times to the New York Post. Different businesses do things differently.
I will say that I do believe the overload of information (from Twitter to Facebook to blogs) has created a culture of consumers who want everything and want it now _ and that has deteriorated the standards that once were in place. The simple fact that you once had 6-12 hours to report a breaking story and now you have 6-12 minutes changes the information that readers receive.
As such, people in the media have to make some difficult decisions. A newspaper or news station with a long-standing history will probably err on the side of caution. But if they are continually losing readers to websites that are less cautious, the entire process starts sliding down the venerable old slippery slope.
As for teams and their treatment of blogs or websites, my guess is they will make reporters earn their credentials. How teams pick and choose will be very interesting.
It seems that bloggers in general get lambasted in the main stream media for lack of credibility. However, there is great stuff going on in the world of blogs; writing, analysis and research that is far beyond the scope of anything ever done in the mainstream media by mainstream writers. Why is this seemingly ignored by traditional media, and the narrative still revolves around "underwear and mom's basement?" To some, this is groundbreaking work that is going on.
Wyshynski: It's getting there. Keep in mind that the initial relationship was adversarial: A lot of blogs were born to tell the local media how much they suck.
The core issue for the mainstream media is accountability: Where does an aggrieved party turn if they're wronged by a blog? An editor? A publisher? Advertisers? The fact that so many blogs are getting aligned on networks and large media sites takes the problem out of the equation.
The "underwear/mom's basement" thing has just become the epitome of lazy criticism. You hear it, and you immediately understand the critic is coming from a place of complete ignorance and disrespect.
Sturm: Again, why would the competition ever admit that they are having their clocks cleaned? How many teams lie to their fans about their belief that they can win the Cup this year? It is the same principle. You must tell your consumers you are the best, even if you know the reality is not quite as rosy.
Heika: Probably the same type of attitude that makes a goalie never believe he has given up a bad goal. You have to have a certain amount of confidence that you are a leader, and newspapers have been able to fill that role for years. But I clearly think we have seen the humbling of newspapers in the last five years.
I truly believe that respect of blogs is currently there for most reporters and arriving quickly for everyone else.
Editor's note: Once again we want to thank Mike, Greg and Bob for taking the time to answer our questions. Amazingly this is just part one. Part two will be posted first thing Wednesday morning.