The people have a right to know…

There’s been an uproar rippling through the Oilogosphere since Dave Berry of the website Covered in Oil was caught contravening the Edmonton Oilers policy on live blogging by media relations staff at the season opener with Colorado at Rexall Place Oct 12.

After being told to stop and being warned his press credentials could be lifted—he was working for a mainstream media outlet (Sportsticker)—Berry gave his account of events on CIO and made it clear he thought he’d been dealt with in a heavy-handed manner.

Berry accused the Oilers of favouritism and applying a double-standard, citing examples where OilersNation had done live blogs from Rexall Place without repercussions and had people with mainstream media credentials blogging—Jason Gregor and I were named.

In the wake of the fuss, I was asked by one of the partners who started OilersNation if I’d be interested in offering my take. A number of readers of this website also asked for my two cents.

Here it is…

Double standard?

As far as this specific incident goes, Berry is mistaken if he’s saying I’ve blogged live from Rexall Place. Not true. Hasn’t happened. I know Gregor did some live stuff during training camp and pre-season and has since been informed it’s a no-no.

The Oilers have agreements in place that ensure certain rights holders get first crack at events as they unfold live. That’s what rights holders pay for. The Oilers are well within their rights to insist rules regarding no live blogging be followed.

As a contributor to the Canadian Press, Team 1260 and Metro Edmonton, I’m accredited with the Oilers through the first two outlets. I’ve used quotes from players and coaches for items I’ve written for OilersNation, but I’ve never broken the live-blogging policy.

By the way, the majority of the quotes I use are from media scrums with players and coach Craig MacTavish and are available on the Oilers website within an hour or two after morning practice.

This isn’t a case of two OilersNation writers getting favourable treatment in the form of press passes while other bloggers are denied the same courtesy. Gregor and I are accredited MSM guys who happen to contribute to a website.

No cheering in the press box

David Staples at The Cult of Hockey in The Journal suggests the Oilers, all NHL teams for that matter, should recognize the ever-expanding impact of the internet and embrace bloggers.

I tend to agree, but it shouldn’t be a one-way street. The Oilers are running a business and selling a product. They decide who gets press credentials based on standards they set. Maybe anything goes on the internet, but that doesn’t and shouldn’t hold true for those entering Rexall Place through the press gate.

If you want to start a website and write whatever you want without signing your name to it, have at it. If you want to see how many times you can drop the f-bomb in a single paragraph, do it until you’re blue in the face. If your idea of blogging about the Oilers is to write about which players you’d most like to see naked, knock yourself out.

Just don’t expect JJ Hebert to issue you a pass and save you a chair alongside Terry Jones or Dan Barnes in the rink. And don’t shout indignantly about being discriminated against when he doesn’t.

It works both ways

There are conventions and a code of professional conduct that members of the MSM are expected to adhere to, and they should apply to bloggers seeking access by way of credentials.

You don’t cheer in the press box. You don’t show up at the rink wearing an Oilers jersey—any jersey. You don’t try to take photos of players exiting the shower on your cell phone because your site is “Hunky Oil.”

You don’t ask Ethan Moreau to sign a hat for you in a post-game scrum. You don’t tell MacT to “Gimme five” when he enters the press conference room after a big win. Bad form. If you think that’s a big, “Well, duh,” rest assured, these kinds of things happen.

Always, of course, there’s a question of content.

Contrary to what some MSM critics say, the Oilers don’t have Hebert and his staff dictating what does and doesn’t go in the newspapers and on the air. They don’t tell anybody what to write.

A particularly critical column or a story that puts the team in a less-than-positive light might earn you a sideways glance from a coach or a player, but I haven’t seen it go much further than that.

In any case, if you’re going to snipe away relentlessly, then you’d better be prepared to back up what you say or write. Beat writers and, to a lesser extent, columnists are in the rink day in and day out and if they’ve written “MacT is a bozo” in Wednesday’s editions, they better be there Thursday morning so he can have his say.

On the flipside, if all you want to do is cheer for the Oilers and re-affirm paragraph after paragraph that “Calgary Sucks” and Dion Phaneuf dresses funny, tap away. Just don’t show up at the press gate.

PR staffs of all NHL teams follow what’s written on the internet and it would probably be fair if Darryl Sutter inquired with Kevin Lowe or Steve Tambellini why their staff is accrediting a writer who just penned a seven-part series titled “Why Robyn Regehr Is An A**hole.”

The good, the bad and the ugly

Here’s some examples of items—I’m using excerpts from Covered in Oil but you can find similar stuff on any number of websites—you won’t see on sites run by The Journal, TSN, Sportsnet or MSM outlets.

If any of this was written by a member of the MSM, I doubt they’d have their credentials very long.

During pre-season:

“The Oilers’ first pre-season game against the piece-of-shit Canucks is tonight! Break out the popcorn and Jack Daniels because it’s being webcast on the Oilers’ site, too. As much as I like to rail against the team’s shameless plays for tax money and the general smarminess of Patrick LaForge, I have to give the team credit for recognizing fan interest in the preseason and providing the free webcasts. It’s especially nice for a dude 3,000km away.”

Pre-season entries vs. Florida:

“7:57 pm: If I spit on someone, do you think I could get away with blaming Jim Matheson?”

“8:19 pm: I want to have sex with one of Ales Hemsky’s passes. He just about put it through the legs of both a Panther and Shawn Horcoff to Visnovsky.”

“9:02 pm: Whoever the hell is the band that decided to cover “Message in a Bottle” should immediately be put to death by getting strangled with guitar strings. Douche bags.”

On Jarret Stoll:

“Anyway, you have to wonder what, if anything, LA GM Dean Lombardi is thinking here, throwing Jeff Finger money at a dude who spent most of last year putting his skates on the wrong foot and trying to order hot dogs from the bench, or whatever the fuck it was Stoll was doing to manage a whopping 15 points at even strength last year.”

There’s a lot of insightful, witty, biting, edgy and laugh-out-loud stuff on the internet, and much of it is being written by bloggers without any journalism training and without the benefit of a press pass. Some bloggers have no interest in having one and bumping up to the MSM that closely. Others want credentials and should get them. In the end, though, the Oilers have the right to make that call.

—Listen to Robin Brownlee every Thursday from 4 to 6pm on Just A Game with Jason Gregor on Team 1260.

  • As far as this specific incident goes, Berry is mistaken if he’s saying I’ve blogged live from Rexall Place.

    He never did. Although he did suggest that other accredited media have used their access for exclusive content for blogs they were not accredited for. This includes you, despite the "majority" of your quotes coming from media scrums available online.

    Gregor and I are accredited MSM guys who happen to contribute to a website.

    So was David.

    There are conventions and a code of professional conduct that members of the MSM are expected to adhere to, and they should apply to bloggers seeking access by way of credentials.

    You don’t cheer in the press box. You don’t show up at the rink wearing an Oilers jersey—any jersey. You don’t try to take photos of players exiting the shower on your cell phone because your site is “Hunky Oil.”

    None of this applies to David since he's actually a accredited member of the media, and wasn't wearing an Oilers jersey or taking nude photos.

    You seem to be confusing this issue as blogger-wannabe-journalist, which is adorable, but it makes you sound like a grandparent who can't set a VCR.

    The issue is that the Oilers exercised a double-standard, still acted like jerks when David co-operated fully, and then back-peddled and actually offered his press pass back when they were caught making up their "live blog policy" up on the spot.

    But yeah, thanks for the support.

  • RobinB

    jd: How am I raising questions about his ability as a writer?

    I used excerpts from COI because it's the website in question and because it's an example of the kinds of posts that would be deemed objectionable — no matter how well-written — because they don't meet the kinds of standards the MSM is expected to adhere to in using a press pass and getting access to the team.

    I don't run screaming and wheeping when somebody drops an F-bomb — like that never happens in an NHL dressing room — but at the same time I don't put it in my copy, either. And that holds true whether I'm writing for CP or ON.

  • jdrevenge

    I don't think swear words distinguish someones ability or inability to write an entertaining piece. The target market is different in the Oilogosphere and the Oilers shouldn't limit themselves to people that don't like to be offended and play it safe by picking up the paper.

    If you find his writing offensive and not within a certain mold that is mainstay reporting why read it? If the Oilers think that he could be writing something offensive about their team on their property its within their right to oust him. I dont think its fair, however, to raise criticism about his ability as a writer or the content of his private business (his blog).

    He is a good writer and Covered in Oil is one of my top five reads in the morning.

  • Dennis

    I'd like to believe that the most any guy writing something critical will receive is a sideways glance but there are so few critical things written about the Oilers that I really don't think we have a lot of examples.

    If moves like the Pronger trade and the souray signing can happen without anyone saying anything negative, I think that says the brass either has a significant hold on the local media and/or the local media only watches hockey games that involve the local team.

    I wasn't as outraged as most over what happened to Dave, but that's only because I Expect these things to happen.

    The Oilers control the message and if you happen to have a press pass and they catch you writing anything they decide is off the beaten path, this is what will happen.

    And I'm sure that every sports team would like to be able to censor things in this regard so in that respect, I can't blame them.

    But, anyone can blog from anywhere and it's not the place from whence someone blogs that's the problem, it's what they say.

  • I should add that I do see the distinction about live blogging and blogging after the game – I'm a bit confused though that Gregor was apparently told not to take it again, while this JJ fellow stood over Dave's shoulder until he took it down.

  • Chris! has a good post. I'd point out also that this site isn't exactly a bastion of good taste. I don't have any problems with that and I'm fine with the "If you don't like it, don't read it" way of thinking but I don't quite see the distinction.

    Hell, Vue probably runs some pretty objectionable stuff, if the free papers in Toronto are any indication.

  • DJ Spyn Cycle

    Dorito: I haven't any ass to cover (figuratively, of course), since I haven't been personally chided by the Oilers hockey club, however unprofessionally. But I'd be willing to bet some money there's a significant difference from the Oilers' perspective between providing between-period updates on games as they happen and providing up-to-the-minute updates from the press box when your press pass says you're there working for Organization A to collect post-game quotes and not blog on Personal Site B. That's all I was saying.

    It might be a technicality that landed Dave in, shall we say, hot oil, but I was just throwing it out there for your consideration. I don't disagree that the Oilers overreacted. And I think that's a f**king understatement. "Uh, stop blogging. And delete it. and LEAVE. Or ELSE." It's f**king retarded, as far as I'm concerned.

  • Interesting points. Lots to consider here, but two things jumped out at me off the bat:

    "The Oilers have agreements in place that ensure certain rights holders get first crack at events as they unfold live. That’s what rights holders pay for. The Oilers are well within their rights to insist rules regarding no live blogging be followed."

    Oh man, are the Oilers ever going to be shocked when they wake up and realize it's almost the year two thousand and nine and any dummy with a BlackBerry and ticket to the game can be curating a live-blog read by thousands in real time. In fact, why even pay to go to the game? Stay home and write it off TV. Bottom line is sports blog coverage gets read and read well. Trying to control the message is futile and pointless. From a business perspective, the goal should be to use emerging avenues to maximize brand exposure. How long until those rights holders realize they're wasting their money on the current "access" model?

    "This isn’t a case of two OilersNation writers getting favourable treatment in the form of press passes while other bloggers are denied the same courtesy. Gregor and I are accredited MSM guys who happen to contribute to a website."

    Dave was also an accredited MSM guy who happens to contribute to a website. What is the distinction you're making here? This comes off as an old guard vs. new guard statement to me, but maybe I'm misunderstanding.

    chris!

  • Hoos

    One of the biggest problems I have with the blogosphere is that not everything printed on the Internet is a blog. In fact, I've never looked at this site as a blog, but rather as an Oilers' News Magazine. There are some comedic columns, some insightful ones, and then the crap that Wanye comes up with on a daily basis. Oilers Nation is a lot like the Edmonton Sports Scene in my estimation, and some excellent reporters came from there into a more MSM role.

    But that's the difference … what kind of discourse does your site afford? Willis and Lowetide are good examples of bloggers that put forth legitimate, civilized discourse and in one way or another are rewarded for it by legitimacy, recognition otherwise.

    The problem with the internet is that anyone can write whatever they feel; and with blogging that information can go to anyone with the time and inclination to read it. But just because there is a desire there, does that make it just as serious or valid as the next?

  • doritogrande

    DJ Spin:

    But it's still exactly the same issue. It wasn't exactly what would be considered "live" but the game was still in progress. Does that not constitute broadcasting?

    I understand your angle, and I read that Gregor has since been told to 'cease and desist', but it seems like you're in ass-cover mode.

  • DJ Spyn Cycle

    I should point out that what Gregor was doing during the pre-seasons wasn't true live blogging.

    Jason was sending me updates which I was posting on his behalf at the end of each period, and though those updates were time-coded for what happened live during the game, his game-day posts were updated a total of three times: once at the end of the first, a second time after frame two, and a final time at the end of the game.

  • I like your objective analysis of the situation R.B., but it seems the Oilers PR has some sort of love/hate relationship with bloggers. Certainly there are some comments out there on the outrageous side, but anything "illegal" should be dealt with through the host of the server since anybody who is not "credited" with a press pass wouldn't be in the press box in the first place. But do they have the right to force someone to delete something off their personal computer? It wasn't a trademarked logo, copyrighted photo, or a plagiarised play-by-play – it was in his own words, something that could be achieved via blackberry or text message. I would understand if it was something that directly and intentionally stole something form rights holders.

  • NoPantsTuesday

    Good read. I've always been interested in the code of conduct rules in the press box and the locker room. But man, it would be hard for me not to cheer personally. Especially in yesterdays second period showing.

  • doritogrande

    Thanks for your take on the situation Robin.

    Hopefully we get the other side to the story, one from the Oilers perspective.

    In PM's defense though, the way he alleges he was treated by the suits seems less than ideal. That was the sticking point for me.