Wings Blogger Roundtable, Day 6

Update (5:01 PM): Re-reading the answers and it reminded me that I wanted to say it’s awesome that Ellen managed to  work “picayune” into her answers. - Matt

Update (2:39 PM): Somehow answers got mixed up and/or dropped. I’ve fixed this now. I blame lack of coffee this morning and some tinyMCE copy/paste bug. Thanks to @inhyung for pointing out the error as I was blissfully unaware… – Matt

Here’s the “Detroit media” edition of the roundtable. Thanks to everyone who participated! Enjoy:

The Detroit hockey media has been a favorite whipping boy of the Wings-o-sphere for years. Despite a wide range of outlets and a fanbase thirsty for any and all bits of information, the stories always seem to be the same, with the same boring quotes and same boring angles, to the point where it’s a standing joke. A common criticism of the beat writers is that they seem to avoid the tough questions. What does that mean for you? What do you wish they would write about? Understanding that these guys need to maintain a working relationship with the team, where specifically would you want them to push the envelope?

Michael PetrellaThe Production Line
With my job comes certain responsibilities and sometimes I have to do things/ask questions/give news that isn’t always easy to do/ask/say. And sometimes that means to MY superiors or to the network that I’m working for. It comes with the territory. Why should beat writers have it any easier? I’m sure the team (much like network executives) understand that it isn’t personal, and sometimes you’ve got to dig to get a little bit deeper. If the team is in any way dissuading the media that covers them from asking difficult or controversial questions to personnel, I’d be severely disappointed. Maybe that’s because I’m a member of the media (albeit, a different beast entirely), but putting restrictions on what is essentially an art (it’s supposed to be, anyway), is a lot more damaging to THE ART than any single line or article could be to THE TEAM.

I’d love if the Diggers got the chance to cut to the chase without fear or reproach or the death stare. Whether that means asking Chris Osgood why he feels entitled to run his mouth, or Ville Leino why he can’t back his up, or Jiri Hudler if he felt at any time that he was turning his back on his teammates, they can’t be afraid of showing the Wings — the organization or the players — in anything but a positive light. We’re all human. We all make mistakes, or say things we shouldn’t have, or wish we could have a real life do-over. And the Red Wings are no different. They’re big boys. They can say what they mean and mean what they say, but the fans would love to have the ability to have follow-up questions from competent people complete the story.

Casey RicheyWinging It In Motown

For me, I kind of wish you would see more of the “tough questions” from the reporters. Although you don’t get to see the questions they asked in the written reports, you can still tell by the responses from players and the coaches that they’re phrasing their questions in a more polite and less prying manner. But, that being said, I think there’s just also a different approach to the media in Detroit than there is in most other hockey towns. The Wings have had so much success recently that when there is something going wrong it’s viewed more as a hiccup than a major problem. I think it’s kind of a combination of the success of the team breeding very little controversy for the reporters to pry about and just a general…almost nonchalant approach from some of the media.

DrewNightmare on Helm Street

The “standing joke” is more true than you think. My buddy that works security always jokes about the exalted Khan(!) asking the “tough questions” to players whenever he is around. But honestly, the softball questions that the beat writers ask doesn’t really bother me… just look at the way the New York media gets along with the Rangers and their coach. I know that’s the complete opposite of the spectrum, but I’d rather have the media be too easy on the team than too hard. As long as they report the facts in a timely fashion, then they’re okay by me.

Ellen ManuszakBig Red Machine

This is an interesting question, and sort of tough to answer.  I think we’re aware that most hockey players like to fall back on standard explanations and cliches when they talk to the media.  But that doesn’t mean the Detroit hockey media can get away with a recap of canned responses and call that an article.  What I’d like to see is for the media to not just nod, write them down, and print them in the paper the next day.  Give me a little analysis, or criticism, or questioning to go along with it.  I was really starting to dig Chris McCosky at the News because he was fairly forward in offering his opinions.  Alas, he’s not the beat writer any longer.  I’m not asking that they be controversial or argumentative or gossipy.  I just want some actual research and reporting from time to time.

KrisSnipe Snipe, Dangle Dangle

I understand why the tough questions rarely get asked by reporters.  They need to maintain a relationship with the individual players and the Wings’ media team, so rocking the boat is a bad move career-wise.  In all honesty, I’d like the mainstream media to showcase the players’ personalities a little more.  Game recaps and other day-to-day pieces aren’t particularly interesting and I rarely even glance at them, but it seems like when they write about the players as individuals it’s always a hit.  I don’t know that there’s necessarily any point to pushing the envelope in terms of asking tougher questions.  The way I see it, as much as I would sometimes like to force the issue sometimes, when it comes down to it, these are professional athletes and they know when they screwed up or didn’t give it their all.  If they can’t figure that out on there own, pointing it out to them in an accusatory manner isn’t going to make any difference.  All it’s going to do is aggravate them and create a hostile environment.

George MalikSnapshots

As a preface, I’m answering these questions from what you might call a compromised position because I’m one of the few bloggers who’s a biased, partisan fan who walks around in Red Wings t-shirts, my Red Wings hat, owns Red Wings jerseys and would stand in line for an autograph from a current Wings player, but has wanted to work his way up to earning some sort of credential since the day I started blogging.

That might make me a sell-out because I’m self-censoring, but I very honestly was a sell-out from the get-go.  I make no bones about that, and I hope you’ll excuse me if my criticism isn’t pointed enough or seems to spare the cross-check.  I’ve actually worked as supplemental coverage to a beat writer and I’ve met most of the people that cover the Wings, as well as members of the Wings’ front office and PR staff, who’ve invited me to three summer prospect tournaments and are letting me come to training camp, so…I’m going to be polite.  If that makes me, in the words of Don Cherry, a “Sweetheart,” that’s okay by me.

I also I come from a very unique perspective because I’ve also never blogged without an editor or multiple editors paying attention to what I say and admonishing me if I go to far.  That’s been the case for four-and-a-half years with MLive, and the situation’s going to be the same at Kukla’s Korner.  I’m allowed to say 95% of what I want to say, but I can’t curse like I do in real life (when you’re a probation officer’s son, the vast majority of your first ten words were of the four-letter variety), I can’t just rip into people and I’m not supposed to set fire to bridges when I can avoid doing so.

Blah blah blah, yeah, I know, but I’ve had the goal of earning some sort of real access to a team and some sort of relationship with the Wings, and I’ve had an editor forever.  I’m not going to be mean-spirited or particularly pointed here.

(moving on to answer Question 1)

From my few times in the Wings’ locker room, I’ve learned that there’s no intellectual property rule governing the use of quotes, and that beat writers are under a tremendous amount of pressure to pump out a modicum of content before very strict deadlines and then move on to the next thing, and as they don’t want to miss out on anyone else’s scoop, they tend to move in packs.  If you’re interviewing a pivotal player, all of a sudden, there are five sound recorders joining yours in the proximity of that player’s face, and if there’s a quiet moment and a member of the coaching staff or a star pops up and is willing to do an interview–and the players are usually tired, sweaty and want to get out of their gear, shower and eat after practices or games, so you really are imposing on their home turf–bang, everybody comes together and tries to snag the important stuff.

The newspapers don’t coordinate their coverage on an, “I’ve got him, you take him” basis.  The writers want to get the important stuff down, file it while paying attention to word counts and what their editors expect them to stick to, and go home (or get on a plane) and move onto the next thing, usually storing up quotes from the players whose interviews they listened to for later use in a notebook or opinion piece, especially when they’re traveling, there are “slow days” or somebody made a comment that got them thinking (or a coach or GM fibbed about an injury or personnel move, because lying with straight faces is part of their job description because they have their teams’ interests to protect–let’s just say that when Mike Babcock says he hasn’t talked to a possibly injured player or talked to the team doctors, he’s probably done both)…

So repetition’s really the rule, even if you look around the league and read the coverage of teams that have half a dozen newspapers/websites following them, like the Maple Leafs, Flyers, Rangers and Canucks.

As for not going after the tough questions, when you’re dealing with sweaty players, coaches and management who watch their words very carefully, and PR people who understandably want you out of the room as soon as possible so their players can do their post practice/game stuff in privacy, and especially given that you have to talk to the players, coaches and management on a regular basis, you might not want to piss them off.  Some journalists ask more pointed questions than others, obviously, and some players are more accommodating to accepting criticism than others–and the Death Stare is real, from what I hear, very real, very intense, and very vicious at times–so there’s a tendency to not want to rock the boat.

Would I like to see more dedicated interviews, “getting to know you” pieces, and conversations with players who didn’t necessarily play a pivotal role in games, weekly, bi-weekly or monthly sit-downs with coaches or management, check-ups on prospects, pushing the envelope a little more in question asking and questioning coach/player/management decisions in general?

Yes.

Can or will people competing for the same eyeballs both online and in print, working under strict and incredibly difficult-to-make deadlines and word count limits (because the MSM’s editors tend to still believe that it’s about selling newspapers, even if that means cutting content from a column to fit in the ad for Larry’s Bowling Alley), and most assuredly feeling that their coverage will always take a back-seat to the Tigers, Pistons and the team fans will talk about in April like they’re playing tomorrow, the Lions, in no small part because even Michigan’s MSM outlets take their marching orders from their headquarters in New York and Washington, where the publishers still believe that in every American city, hockey should be treated like a borderline cult sport (if you’ve ever listened to WXYT, you’ll know that Mike Valenti and Terry Foster repeatedly insist that fans don’t want to talk about hockey on the radio), really be expected to push harder against their constraints, and work harder than they already do?

I don’t know.

Do you think there is some value in the Wings’ apparent short leash on the media in terms of attraction for players looking to come here and in terms of current players’ comfort here? There’s no denying that the players here have bright lights on them, but compared to markets like Toronto and Montreal, they seem to have a high level of privacy at the same time. The bright lights are shining in the Joe, not into their private lives and on their off-ice personas. Do you think if we got our way and the media went beyond cookie-cutter mundane stories, it would have an impact on the appeal of Detroit as a destination for free agents and as a long-term home for current players? If so, do you think the blandness of MSM hockey coverage in Detroit is an acceptable trade-off?

Petrella

It’s a really interesting question, because I’d never thought of this as an “angle.” If the Wings shorter leash on the media means that Detroit remains a destination of choice for free agents (obviously coupled with persistent success and loyalty), I’d happily take back everything I just said in Answer #1. Yes, I do like the freedom of the media to dig a bit deeper, but when it becomes DISTRACTION (like the way it ALWAYS does in Toronto or Montreal or New York), I’m happy to have a site that makes up stories about Brett Lebda in Las Vegas because we don’t have anything else to talk about.

Casey

I kind of like the fact that the bright lights are on the players for what they do on the ice, that’s where they’re supposed to be. I think the news reporters on the whole in the US (and Canada) have become far too interested in a player’s personal life. Prime example is everything that happened in the Tiger Woods saga. It became such an overwhelming topic that after a while you were just absolutely sick of hearing about his personal life and would have preferred to hear how he was working on his game instead. But back to hockey, I’m glad that the spotlight in Detroit is just on their on-ice actions because to me, anything after that becomes a circus and goes towards entertainment and not news.

Drew

I doubt the Detroit media has much impact on players coming here. The Detroit Red Wings franchise is a world class organ-i-zation and that is what brings the players to Hockeytown. Now, does media coverage (or lack thereof) fall under that scope? Probably to some degree – and if bland stories help bring in great players, then by all means, the MSM needs to stay plain vanilla with their coverage.

Ellen

I really do think that there’s a player benefit in the way the Wings handle media and publicity.  I think players must realize that they can come to Detroit and just play, and have the focus be on the game rather than their personal lives, the way the media in Toronto and Montreal like to dig in.  You’d have to imagine that those privacy walls are appealing.  Granted, I don’t think that it’s necessarily an “acceptable trade-off” to be fed picayune articles and coverage as a price for attracting free agents and keeping players long-term.  Again, I think it’s certainly something that is likely taken into consideration, but let’s go back to the first question here: reporters can still question and analyze, and not merely spit back all the lines they’ve been spoon-fed.

Kris

I guess it’s hard for me to estimate how much that plays a factor in decision making since I’m not a professional athlete.  I’m sure the relatively low-key atmosphere in Detroit doesn’t hurt the team’s chances at landing players (except for the guys who crave the spotlight, of course, but I’m not sure I want them here anyway).  If boring media coverage is a major attraction for players, then that’s a price I’m willing to pay for continued success.

George

I think that the above-mentioned note that the MSM–and by the mainstream media I mean the print, online, radio and TV outlets–treat hockey as an afterthought plays into the modicum of coverage, as does, for lack of a better term, a sort of Midwestern attitude that away from the rink, players are off-limits and that they should be allowed to live their lives in private, a few handshakes, short conversations with fans or autographs aside, play into the relative brightness of the media spotlight.

There’s also no denying that the Wings are incredibly protective of their players/management and do seem to place pretty strict limits on access (I’m not speaking from experience in this case) to ensure that there’s a hands-off atmosphere, but I think that’s an Ilitch organization-wide attitude, and I can’t say whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing.

I’d certainly like to get to know players better while maintaining that Metro Detroiter’s attitude that if there’s a line somebody doesn’t want you to cross in terms of privacy, you leave ‘em alone, and I don’t feel that we really “know” them as much as we could, but again, that depends on internal, external and editing-based attitudes as much, if not more, than the Wings’ policies or the lack thereof.  That being said, the more subjective European media corps have received OK’s from the team to have lunch with players, visit their houses, etc., so I don’t know where the concept of maintaining journalistic objectivity on the parts of the beat writers or their editors and outlets’ desires plays into the equation.

As somebody who’s subjective, I can’t imagine covering a team without any passion for what transpires other than to get, “The story” and to get that fired off as quickly as possible to capture web hits and newspaper sales.  I don’t know if that lack of vested interest in a team’s or players’ successes and failures plays into it.

I do know that this quip from the Denver Post’s Adrian Dater, talking about the NHLPA’s hiring of Donald Fehr, caught me off-guard and kinda stunned me:

“The reporter in me salivates at the prospect of a Bettman-Fehr showdown, just for the pure “How would it all turn out?” aspect.

But the hockey lover in me is already mentally preparing to be terrified in two years.”

When a reporter admits that he’d actually cheer for a lockout because it’s a good story…I dunno, to me, that tells me all I need to know about the very different perspective that the media comes from.

The Red Wings do take care of their players very well, and I do think that it’s incredibly important to players to know that they can play in a rabid hockey market whose media coverage is dialed back, and whose fans, at least from my experience, really are OK with a, “Hello” and a handshake or autograph in terms of their own off-ice interactions…

As to where the blame goes in terms of “blandness,” however, I don’t know.  I think we’re talking about a complicated equation instead of simply suggesting that someone’s lazy or don’t feel that the headaches involved in gaining access to a player, coach or member of the management on a given day isn’t worth the effort.

There’s a way of thinking in the ‘sphere that it’s good that the Wings don’t give out credentials to bloggers. The thought goes that if the Wings have the MSM following their direction to the degree they seem to, bloggers would completely lose their editorial independence. Better to be on the outside and say what you want than be on the inside and be tamed. But the recent credentialing discussion has me wondering: if the Wings had a open and permissive blogger policy like the Capitals, would you apply? If so, what would you look to do with your access? Would you see it changing your perspective on the team and individual players?

Petrella

I’m lucky enough to have been credentialed by the NHL — for the Draft in Los Angeles this past June — and I’d like to say that it was a very humbling and eye-opening experience. I’ve got a job, and talking hockey isn’t it (though that would be awesome), so I kind of took it as a once-in-a-while opportunity and made the most of it. I didn’t abuse the “power” that came with the access a laminate got me — but being able to ask Riley Sheahan a handful of questions was pretty damn neat.

Something I found fascinating at the Draft (and haven’t really told anyone else) was that I was in the room during an impromptu meeting of the Professional Hockey Writers Association — a lot of guys and gals that we all read on the regular. The complaints that they raised (some of them very much worth bringing up, others that fell into the “cry me a river” category) about the kind of access they have to teams and players and facilities made me realize that there will always be something that needs improving. Sure, most of these guys could take out their Blackberry and call Ken Holland, which is something we’d all love to be able to do, but they, too, feel like they’re stifled by rules or different teams’ dealings. Oh, and also. They effing hate bloggers.

Also, think about if the team offered credentials to bloggers — and they had the kind of access Khan and McCosky and Samuelsson have gotten in the pasxample is everything that happened in the Tiger Woods saga. It became such an overwhelming topic that after a while you were just absolutely sick of hearing about his personal life and would have preferred to hear how he was working on his game instead. But back to hockey, I’m glad that the spotlight in Detroit is just on their on-ice actions because to me, anything after that becomes a circus and goes towards entertainment and not news.

Casey

I think I would apply but only to obtain certain credentials. I don’t want pressbox privelages for two reasons: 1.) I don’t deserve them 2.) I live 10 hours away, it’d be a waste. I would mainly just want the ability to interview a player every now and then. We were fortunate enough to have the Griffins open their doors to us and it was a really neat experience because I honestly think that some of the players enjoy talking to a non-traditional news media writer. I think that interviewing a player or at least just being able to get a soundbite would be good because there are so many times that a question you’d think a MSM reporter would ask end up going unanswered. As for changing my perspective on the team, I don’t think it would change any. We’re fans that just so happen to have a platform to write and I think the relationship between me and the team would stay that way, as a fan. I feel that because I’m not directly involved with the team it allows me more freedom in what I write, and that’s something I really value.1

Drew

I think part of the reason that blogging has become so popular is BECAUSE we have the freedom to say whatever the hell we want (see what I did there?) about who we want in any way that we want to say it. I personally would feel a little weird if I knew that official Detroit Red Wings people were reading my stuff if I was blasting the team or a player about something and then went to them, hat in hand, asking for access to their players. I’m comfortable with my position as an on-looker with a big mouth. Would I apply for credentials? Maybe to get into a few games and talk to some people…but a blogger who takes himself seriously enough to try and get credentials probably has a Judge Smails hat and a pinky ring.

Ellen

Well first of all, I don’t live in Michigan, so that would put me out of being credentialed in the first place, but pretending that wasn’t an issue, no.  I would not apply.  I wouldn’t have the faintest idea what I would do with access.  I’ve had a few offers thanks to this blog to interview Brendan Shanahan and to hop on a conference call during the SCF this year, but I’m not a journalist, and those opportunities drilled home that fact.  It’s not a pursuit or goal of mine to have this blog be even remotely journalistic.  The origin of Big Red Machine was born of wanting to blather on about hockey, as an out-of-state fan, with others who are just as passionate about the Red Wings, and to offer my opinions.  I have neither a journalistic nor objective style of writing here, and I’m happy to admit that having credentials would be wasted on me and my blog.  To address your last question, we are of course, presented with an image of the team and of its players that is filtered through the PR machine.  Having that filter removed means that yes, my perspective would change in the regard that I would be able to develop my own impressions outside of what the media tells me.  But would it change how I write about the team and its players?  I like to think not.  Again, the purpose of my blog is to just voice my personal opinions, and to change that based on access would be dishonest.

Kris

One of the reasons I get most of my hockey news and analysis from the wide array of Wings blogs.  By and large what you see in the blogosphere is more interesting that what gets published in the Freep or the News because bloggers can say whatever they want.  If Petrella wants to make fun of Todd Bertuzzi in every post he writes, he’s free to do so and make us all laugh in the process because theoretically he never has to have an awkward face-to-face encounter with him in the locker room.  Or a dark alley.  Having access would change things.  It would probably be a lot of fun, but I think blog coverage would change in a way that would make it less enjoyable for the readers.  I want to be able to head over to one of my favorite blogs and see the latest ridiculous Photoshop of Brett Lebda as the Tooth Fairy or the crazy nicknames that have been created.  I’m not sure if I’d apply if the Wings had a blogger credentialing program.  If I did, it would mostly be to have the live game experience and be able to make observations about random things that are going on in the building, which is pretty much what I do on my phone when I buy tickets.  Putting me in the locker room would be a waste of time and space because I can promise you that I’d never ever ask a single question.  I’m way too shy to jump in there and start firing questions.

George

The Wings haven’t credentialed bloggers yet and I’m not sure that they will, me included.  I can’t blame them for being extremely selective, but I don’t know whether they feel that bloggers would either step out of line or would compete with the MSM–and it at least appears that the MSM isn’t too thrilled with the concept of sharing a press box who’s didn’t graduate from journalism school and isn’t objective, nor is the NHL enamored with the concept of opening up the press box to anyone who isn’t a member of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association…

I can certainly attest to the fact that I know who’s watching and reading when I write, and that it’s incredibly important to me to do all the professional stuff that credentials would require, but I also don’t think that it’s particularly difficult to not be mean simply because you can, refrain from making stuff up, making sure that you’re citing your sources, and, again, when I’m in the locker room, understanding that I’m on the players’ turf, and that it isn’t like Riley Sheahan wanted to stay in his sweaty, warm hockey equipment for another twenty minutes on the first day of the summer prospect camp to patiently answer everybody’s questions.  He went out of his way and not everybody wants to do that…

Which I guess is the other part of the equation.  It takes two to tango in many respects.

I fully respect the concept that many bloggers want nothing to do with credentialed access or modifying their content in any way, I certainly understand that interacting with players does change your perspective (it’d be pretty weird for me to buy a Thomas McCollum jersey given that I’ve met him a few times and he knows I’m his “go-to” guy when I walk into the locker room because he’s a fellow goalie and is very patient with a still-green interviewer), and sure, if it turns out that a fan favorite is a total jerk on an every-day basis, I’d have to bite my tongue, and all those factors, as well as the fact that it takes an incredibly long time to build up a relationship with a team and establish that you’re a professional who’s earned credibility and team consideration to be granted access to a place where very few people are allowed to tread…

But I would obviously apply and I’ve already stated that I’d like to talk to players who weren’t necessarily pivotal performers in games to gain extra perspectives, that I’d be interested in, if I was allowed, to let people get to know players a little bit better as people with off-ice interests and personalities, and I’d definitely want to attempt to establish some sort of monthly discussion with a member of the coaching staff or management about the state of the team, their concerns, prospects, etc.

In the end, to me, there are many, many more questions here than answers, and the more discussion we have about the concept of credentialing and how it would apply to the Red Wings and their media corps, the better, because we’re treading into uncharted territory here, and both we, the MSM and the team can only define that territory by exploring it.

I would like to believe that, one day, the MSM and NHL teams would come to the belief that journalists’ jobs are very safe–there’s something to be said for their incredible ability to generate huge amounts of content and their relative objectivity paints a picture of the team’s affairs that we simply cannot afford to NOT have, so in my opinion, the MSM would never go extinct or really be threatened by a credentialed blogger–but the concept of having supplemental coverage from a subjective point of view and a more relaxed and detail-oriented pace is intriguing, and I hope that, down the line, the bloggers who’ve established themselves as relatively professional, have established relationships with teams, and want to be credentialed can provide a counter-balancing subjective perspective on pro sports teams’ successes, failures, personnel and executives.  Are bloggers going to be an every-day presence, or will they join teams on the road?  Probably not, because most of us have “day jobs” that pay the bills and sure as hell don’t have the budgets afforded to beat writers.  But to come in now and then, as we can afford to squeeze out time and gas money to come down to a practice or three and attend some games to offer a uniquely subjective and passionate perspective?

That’s a fantastic idea, as far as I’m concerned, but again, I’m my own horse in this race, and I’m anything but a completely editorially or professionally independent voice.

Matt

This post is about the others’ opinions, so I won’t go in-depth here. For my part, I think Kris hit the nail on the head in her first answer:

Game recaps and other day-to-day pieces aren’t particularly interesting and I rarely even glance at them, but it seems like when they write about the players as individuals it’s always a hit.

That’s the big thing for me. The occasional “hard question” is nice, but better would be more frequent humanization of the players. I can watch them on the ice and draw conclusions on individuals that way, but to me knowing what they’re like off the ice is important. Otherwise, why do we need the media? Apart from comments on injuries and some quotes from coaches/brass, we can get what we need from what happens on the ice. Personally, I want a broader picture of the players painted. These are guys we’re going to be watching for years, so I eat up any and all details that go above what can be seen on the ice. Give us more please, media.

It can be done in a way that doesn’t compromise the guys’ personal life privacy. If a player’s a jokester or certain players seem tight or a certain guy’s something of a loner, or if a veteran’s taken a young guy under his wing in a particular way, I want to know that.

As for credentials, I can’t pretend I’d be able to do a beat writer’s job better than they can. That wouldn’t be why I’d apply. I’d rather leave them to their notebooks and recaps anyway. What I’d want is to be able to observe the team and fill out gaps in my perspective on them. And maybe ask a question or two if something came to mind or if I knew there’s something the fanbase would like to know, since the media doesn’t have a finger in that particular stream of thought from their high tower.