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.