The MSM Vs. Blogger Debate AGAIN

In my real life I spend quite a bit of time on airplanes. I know a certain reader loves my travel updates letting you all know where I am when I am not in Toronto. I have a new theory that I have learned from my travels around the globe and it’s quite simple, the world is in fact very small. I came to this conclusion after being all over North America, the Caribbean and now various cities in Europe. While I recognize this isn’t the entire world and of course there are exceptions to my hypothesis, in general the world is small. Every place I visit is very similar. Yes there are unique cultures, traditions, history and in some cases wonderful architecture. However, no matter where I go I am surrounded my Starbucks, McDonalds, The Gap, Sephora, Apple and so on.

Why do I raise this here? Well, back in the day, it was very difficult to follow your favourite team from afar. Yes of course there were newspapers and television stations. However, a fan of say the Dallas Cowboys would have a tough time following the every day news of the cowboys as far back as some 10 years ago. If I were traveling like I am these days, keeping up with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Toronto Raptors or Toronto Blue Jays would be quite difficult. That is completely changed. Where we had to turn into ESPN’s the reporters to here what some of the best American reporters had to say on a big issue, we can now read that columnist on our laptops wherever we are. I remember being in college and going to Borders or Barnes and Noble with buddies to read all the papers they brought in from around the globe. The Toronto Star came in 3 times a week in Burlington Vermont.

My how things have changed since then. We know get news and opinions instantly. RSS, XM Radio, All sports radio, 24 hour sports television, text messages, BBM’s, emails and now twitter keep us constantly connected. Back in the day, there weren’t so many commentators either. Today, anyone (like me) can for a few bucks start publishing their opinions on the internet instantly. If that person knows anything about self promotion and search engines then they can get a following fairly easily. The pressure on those in the industry from idiots like me has to be quite intense. I mean whereas we always had to turn to a predictable group of experts, we are now turning to each other for opinions and expertise. This isn’t a bad thing. No matter what anyone says.

Back in the early days, there were message boards. In sports this was evident with trade rumors where anyone could report anything they wanted as fact. My favorites back then were the my mailman delivers mail to Cliff Fletchers vet and he says…… After that came the early stages of blogs. Then in hockey anyways, someone recognized the popularity of hockey amongst internet users and used the lockout to start reporting things he claimed he was being told by industry insiders. The wave took off and a cottage industry was born. Everyone it seemed had a blog.

So, when Eric Smith writes in his Raptors blog an article like he did today, ‘Mainstream Media vs. Bloggers it seems to me that Smith is misguided on a number of points and his opinion of bloggers is way too broad and in fact is based in the past.

“Again, some of those bloggers are better and more “professional” than others, but is their new-found credibility legit, and should it put them on the same level as those that are writing or broadcasting for TSN, Sportsnet, The FAN 590, The Globe and Mail, Toronto Sun, National Post, or Toronto Star?

In business there’s a line: “Buyer Beware” … and I think that could apply to this overall blog issue as well. ”

I love that Smith quotes the old legal doctrine Caveat Emptor- buyer beware. Smith asks whether a blogger’s credibility is “legit”? The buyer beware doctrine in many ways came with the question as to what the buyer knew or should have known, or what the seller may have concerned. The difference in Smith’s example, or the question that I am left with is, legitimate to whom? Who is the judge of this credibility? I don’t mean this negatively, but the judge and jury in this case is the public. What Smith or any other “journalist” deems as legit or credible is wholly irrelevant. As they say in business, the numbers never lie. Sports is an advertiser driven business. Newspapers aren’t being bought like they used to, their read for free online. An advertiser wants to place their ad where it is going to be seen by their target demographic. The internet is pretty damn good at telling advertisers whether or not they are getting a return on their investment. That blogs compete with the big boys for the advertising tells me whether or not someone is legit in the eyes of the almighty consumer.

Now, before you jump up and down, let me say that I fully recognize that just because someone gets lots of traffic or pageviews doesn’t make them credible. What it says is that people are tuning in. So the question is why are people tuning in if the person isn’t credible???? The medium of blogs is so popular that those in the mainstream are blogging all the time now. Why?????? Simple, it’s a more accepted form of communication these days. The younger crowd prefers the format. This has come to light for one reason. Those on the outside, sitting at home, as Smith points out have caused a major change in the industry as a whole. It’s undeniable.

“If you – as a reader – only care about checking out what everyone’s OPINION is … then jumping from bloggers to mainstream media guys is completely acceptable. It’s great to check out what everyone is saying about your favorite team or player, etc. However, if you’re reading blogs to get a game story or to look for breaking news, you’re not getting the full picture because, again, talking to the players, coaches, and so on before and after a game helps formulate how a story is written and it helps give credibility to what is written about why (or how) things did or didn’t happen in that game or practice or what not.”

Now you see, that is where Smith is totally off base. Sports bloggers around the world are connected. Their opinions are equally as valid as many of their MSM colleagues. We can’t included everyone in either the negative or the positive by the way. We can only talk in generalities. I know there are bloggers out there who write nothing but opinion which is rarely based upon anything factual. They’re the folks who call in to post game shows with crazy trade suggestions. What Smith is missing is just how much work running a successful blog. I am not suggesting that writing for a major paper is easy, but there is so much more structure and there generally is something else that is somewhat steady- a pay check. The great thing about most of the blogs that I follow is that they are run by folks who are passionate about their teams and their sports to put in hours in the day they don’t have. Most got started with no revenue. They started purely for the love of the game. They write because their fans. Some of the bigger blogs sites now have editors, most bloggers don’t. There is no story concept, there is no per Diem, there certainly are no editors. It’s think, write, review and publish. With little to no immediate pecuniary gain. If you want to go to a game your buying a ticket. Given the amount of effort required, the little pay off realized people who just want to voice an opinion generally stick to message boards. It’s a 30 second commitment. Blogging isn’t easy, it’s a big time commitment.

What people don’t realize is that people work their butts off to provide that product. Here with TSM, I am lucky. People in the industry reach out to me. I have yet to be turned down to a phone call, interview or email chat with someone in the industry that I want to talk to. I am not going to pretend for 1 second that I am connected so don’t get started. My point is that if I, the relatively new one to the party is treated that way, I have to imagine that the successful folks are too. So to suggest that just because someone doesn’t have a press pass means they aren’t talking to people isn’t fair either. It’s not all that hard to reach out to people, to ask questions in a respectful way and get some sort of answer that you want.

“Like it or not, “membership has its privileges” … and in this case … the privilege of being an accredited member of the media is that access to information, sources, and knowledge that Joe Fan doesn’t have.

Knowledge is power. ”

Yes, and the best thing about it is when people realize who has the power. The Washington Capitals figured it out very early. Joe Fan can earn the power buy being an active contributor. They were one of the first teams to have a blogging policy in which bloggers have pretty good access to the Caps. Lots of teams have caught the wave, and bloggers are becoming more and more accepted around all the leagues. The balance of “power”, if you will, is shifting. Smith doesn’t seem to realize that there is a difference between Joe Fan the consumer and Joe Fan who wants to be part of the discussion. This is quite surprising to me. Smith, whom I rather like, is the guy who seems to be all over the social media storm. He blogs, he tweets, he even has the daily tweet of the day on his radio show. He gets it. Or at least he appears to get it. I don’t know of any other broadcaster who is actively tweeting while covering a game on air like he does. Could you imagine Bob Cole or Harry Neil tweeting on HNIC? He clearly understand the medium.

You see, the world is small. The great thing today is that the number of voices we can listen to, our sources are unlimited. Personally, the reason I think that bloggers are so popular in Toronto (and I am here to tell you that across all sports Toronto is blessed with some of the best blogs in every league) is that there are so few analysts out there anymore. Instead what we have is newspapers and airwaves full of critics. Joe public’s opinion would be dulled if their was more balanced analysis out there. Instead what we get is a ton of nitpicking by a lot of talking heads. They remain entertaining, they are fun to listen to (some more than others depending on your preferences), but it gets tired because it’s hard being a positive critic.

So while I travel the world I check my tweetdeck, I look at my rss reader and I am able to read all the authors that interest me. It’s up to me what I read, where I read it and what I chose to share and with whom. The power has shifted. If you want more evidence just take a look at the changes in the Toronto Sports Media landscape over the last 12 months. Changes are made and we are told the truth, they are made for budget reasons. However the reason budgets have to be cut is because advertisers aren’t spending like they were, and one of the reasons for that is things like blogs, social media and other mediums being available to the consumer. So when Mike Toth is no longer on the Fan or Sportsnet, there is a reason. When Norm Rumack isn’t on the Fan anymore there’s a reason. When big changes are made at the Score, or Sportsnet there’s a reason. Yes, it’s budget related. It goes deeper than that.

For that reason alone, if I were on the Fan and my name wasn’t Mccown or I wasn’t on Hockey Central at noon I would be nervous. There’s a new sheriff in town and I have to believe part of his mandate will be to cut costs. He is going to have to balance the cost savings of change versus any potential loss in ears. This isn’t a knock on of the folks there personally, but it is what it is.

So, I really enjoy the work Smith does on the twitter, I enjoy the fact that he has adopted social media as the new medium of the day. I think he has painted with two wide a brush. I think for every joe fan/opinion only blogger out there, there is at least 2 people who are die hard, pore your heart into it, spend real time on their product blogger. I’ve seen it first hand in many markets and I can tell you I read a ton of them every day. The places we can now get our news and opinions are way more varied than they were in the past. That’s a good thing.

Eric Smith’s blog about mainstream media vs bloggers is here



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