Wanye posed the question of whether Oilers Nation should be more mainstream just yesterday, a question sparked by Robin Brownlee’s excellent article on bloggers and access a little over a week earlier. Over at Copper & Blue, Jaysen Knight has been writing a series exploring similar issues.
And those examples are simply a drop in the bucket – the same debate, in various forms, has shown up all over the internet, because media folks, bloggers and the organizations they cover all have skin in the game.
Fortunately, I’m not worried about covering the whole spectrum of new media vs. old media debates. I just want to post my answer to Wanye’s question: should Oilers Nation be more mainstream?
There’s A Professional Sports Media?
For starters, the idea of the mainstream media (MSM) is a pretty hazy one to nail down, and not one that seems to have much connection to actual professionalism. A CBC TV reporter who covers the Canucks also works as a commercial break entertainer for the team, while an Olympic reporter for the Vancouver Sun also writes fluff pieces for the IOC (thanks to Brent Wittmeier for those examples). Those guys are obviously mainstream, but professionalism – which would presumably involve some critical distance from the subjects they cover – is a lot harder to see.
For the Oilers, many of the key voices in the market are people who can’t be viewed as reporters no matter how bad the lighting is. Bob Stauffer works for the team, but is probably the most connected guy in town when it comes to “breaking” stories. Others – Dan Tencer and Gene Principe are the first two that come to mind –are generally regarded as MSM guys, but they aren’t reporters, they’re entertainers.
What I’m getting at here is that being mainstream only guarantees access, not objectivity. And even that bastion of access is starting to crack as the Oilers move to make their website the top portal for Oilers news, putting interviews with players and management on their website. It allows them to control the message, drive traffic, and perhaps unintentionally makes the media, which has always served in a gatekeeping role, less relevant as the gate gets more and more open.
What “Mainstream” Means
At this point, at least in the Oilers’ market, the mainstream media is a mixed bag. There isn’t a set standard of reporting – in terms of quality, objectivity, whatever – that everybody has to meet; the quality of a Brownlee piece, a Tencer piece, a Matheson piece and a Spector piece might be (and often is) wildly different, as are their respective vantage points.
The only thing that they all have in common is that they work for big, relatively reputable organizations – the wire service, radio, print, television. It’s not surprising that what they have in common is that link, because that’s what the Oilers have deemed important in handing out press passes.
Why Go When Where We’re Everyone Wants To Be?
Actually, I lied a bit in that last line: there’s something else all those organizations have in common. They’re all readable online. And one thing that pretty much every big news organization seems to want at this point is increased online traffic – the sort of thing that comes from good content, yes, but also from the sense of community and the unedited mix of insider’s and outsider’s perspectives available at places like Oilers Nation. There are good reasons the Journal has David Staples writing over at Cult of Hockey, good reasons that every major broadcaster has a Facebook page, good reasons reputable writers from all over are creating Twitter accounts, good reasons places like The Score hire bloggers and Sportsnet have a set of forums.
It’s because they want the kind of traffic and popularity that Oilers Nation has right now. It’s hard for them, though, for a lot of reasons. The kind of interaction that happens all the time at this website between writer and reader isn’t easy in a mainstream environment. In one recent example, Mark Spector (who had the advantage of being totally right) was on the radio talking about reaction to one of his Souray pieces, and rather than defend his point of view (did I mention he was right and it was easily defensible?) fell back on dismissing his readers as guys who work in fast food joints. It’s not an easy interaction for any writer (personally, I just try to remember that no matter what I write, somebody’s going to be irate) and I think it’s harder for professionals.
More than that, though, it’s content people are after. I think it’s fair to say that no other Oilers site offers the depth and variety of content that we do – the combination of insiders, stats and general wackiness. That’s why people read us.
So, getting back to the question: should Oilers Nation be more mainstream? Absolutely not. If there’s a quality writer that wants to write here, by all means add him, but there’s no point changing the dynamics of the site in the hope that the Oilers might decide to hand over a set of (for this operation) largely irrelevant credentials.