Blogs and Credentials: Part 2

This is the second part of a two-part series which is an attempt to bring to the fore the ins and outs of bloggers getting media credentials in the NBA.  The first part, found here, was a list of potential guidelines for bloggers looking to be credentialed.  It was partially an attempt to convey concerns that teams seem to have, evidenced in conversation with team officials, and partially an attempt to demonstrate that bloggers really do have ethics and a sense of responsibility.

Today we address the other side of the equation:  teams and their officials who make credentialing decisions.  This is a tricky matter for a couple of reasons:

1.  Teams make these decisions independent from each other.  There is no league-wide standard for acceptance or rejection.  This makes it difficult to pin down a target audience.

2.  I can talk to bloggers as a blogger, but addressing team officials requires a bit more presumption on my part.  I trust those team officials reading will approach the matter with a sense of charity from the other side of the gap, as will I from this side.

Despite these inherent difficulties, the reality is that too many opportunities are being missed through misunderstanding.  Part of that misunderstanding comes from lack of communication.  Hopefully these posts will provide an avenue for discussion that contributes to the bridging of that gap.

To that end, in my view both the NBA and the online discussion worlds would be better places if all NBA teams and their offices understood the following:

1.  “Bloggers just say whatever they please and have no accountability to anyone” is the exact equivalent to “NBA players are lazy, play no defense, and are only in it for the money”.

Some NBA players fit that description to a “T”.  Some bloggers do also.  But these generalizations are incredibly faulty measuring sticks by which to judge the whole.  People who hold the NBA stereotype haven’t looked close enough to see Kevin Garnett or even a guy like Ime Udoka play.  I wonder what the people who hold the blogger stereotype have actually read?  The truth is many, many bloggers take their work seriously and feel great accountability to their readers, the team, and to conveying what they see as the truth.  Bloggers may not have an official editor overseeing their work but those editors haven’t stopped certain mainstream journalists from printing outlandish things in the past.  Nor does a program director stop radio personalities from spewing all kinds of tripe.

One of the common arguments is that a team has more avenues of recourse and control with traditional sources than it would with a blogger.  Does it really, though?  You can complain to the editor or program director all you want, if that columnist or talk show host is producing ratings there’s no way they’re firing them.  Plenty of folks in those media have made careers out of being overly controversial and shocking.  If your local columnist decides that’s his path to glory, can you really pull his credentials or his paper’s?  Not a chance.  With a blogger it’s simple.  They step over the line or don’t follow the rules backstage they’re never invited back and they’ve lost all access.  Nobody has more disincentive to screw up right now than a credentialed blogger.

2.  Blogs have a distinct nature which is not duplicated by other media and cannot be duplicated by the team itself.

Blogs have elements of newspaper articles and columns.  To the extent that they post YouTube clips and audio feeds they also overlap somewhat with television and radio coverage.  But far too many people look at blogs as “Journalism Jr.” without realizing the element that makes a blog distinct from all of the above.

Quick…what do all of the following have in common:  YouTube, Wikipedia, iPod, iPhone, PC’s and Macs, World of Warcraft, Nintendo Wii, Google, Ebay, American Idol, Survivor, and all of the spin-offs, clones, and genres these things have spawned?  If you answered “User-Created Content” give yourself a pat on the back.  And it’s no accident that these entities have overwhelmed the modern entertainment market.  The capacity for user-created content is pretty much essential if you want to draw this generation of consumers.

If you’re an NBA team, blogs are your user-created content.  They are written by your fans.  Who else would take the time and effort?  They are consumed by other fans who then add to the mix themselves.  This dynamic does not happen in any of the other media we’ve mentioned.  Nor does it happen when a traditional journalist starts a blog on the side.  Nor does it happen when your team starts a blog from inside.  All of those latter forms of output are fantastic in their own way, but none of them duplicate the viral popularity of a well-run blog.

If you read over the list of entertainment titans above, you’ll see that the user-created aspects of these vehicles didn’t happen by accident.  They were intentionally planned for and supported.  In each case the parent entity provided space and a format for the content to flourish.  The wise NBA marketing and PR gurus would do well to explore ways to help their own user-created content to prosper as well.  You could literally spend tens of thousands of dollars on a team-created marketing campaign that would not be half as effective as a blog being done at no cost to the team by a third party.  How much, exactly, does issuing a credential cost?

3.  The blog format can take advantage of credentials in ways that other media cannot.

Briefly recapping something said in the blogger guidelines piece, the unlimited space format of a blog allows for more in-depth coverage and higher fidelity in interviews and conversations than does the traditional media format.  Your traditional media types have to get the most bang for their buck, interviewing the most prominent people and asking the hottest-button questions.  The range of a blog is exponentially larger.  A coach noticed my site-specific apparel the other day and commented, “You know what I like about dot-coms?  When you interview with them they print the whole interview.  You can say things exactly how you want to say them and they will show that.”  He pretty much hit the nail on the head.  For reference, here are a couple examples:

Interview with Trail Blazers COO Mike Golub Pt. 1

Interview with Trail Blazers COO Mike Golub Pt. 2

Interview with Chris Bowles, Trail Blazers Director of Player Programs, Pt. 1

Interview with Chris Bowles, Trail Blazers Director of Player Programs, Pt. 2

Note not only the comprehensive nature of these pieces, but the fact that they were conducted with people normally outside of the public purview.  Every such interview makes the fans of the team feel more “inside” and connected.  Which contributes to…

4.  Blogs are among the most recession-proof forms of publicity available.

It’s a fact of life that the popularity of most sports teams rests on their on-court performance.  When the team record is bad TV ratings, newspaper buys, and ticket sales generally sink.  Nothing will completely buck this trend but blogs tend to remain buoyant even in bad weather.  The reason is simple:  whether they’re celebrating or complaining, playing armchair point guard on the 60-22 team or armchair GM on the 22-60 squad, people love to talk.  No other media offer the kind of passionate (for better or worse) interaction that a blog does, 365 days a year, rain or shine.  Which leads us to…

5.  Blogs sell tickets and generate viewers.

It’s an audacious claim, one which I can only support anecdotally at this point as I don’t believe any studies have been done.  Nevertheless ticket sales for events thrown by Golden State of Mind have drawn hundreds and our own readers filled up most of a section at the Rose Garden on Blazersedge night last year.  But that’s only the crass, direct dynamic.  Blogs also generate sales and ratings by connecting people.  Interviews and articles are certainly one vehicle but basic human nature plays a part here too.  If somebody makes an assertion about the team, which routinely happens on blogs, they have incentive to tune in to see if their assertion proves true.  Everyone who made the counter-point does too.  Connectivity equals interest and interest equals viewership.

6.  Agreement or disagreement with assertions made in a blog are not the best criteria to judge its worthiness.

One of the common reactions to blogs from insiders is, “They don’t really know what they’re talking about.”  On one level this could be an argument for credentialing, to give a better view and thus generate better analysis.  But even leaving that aside, the old adage that all publicity is good publicity holds true here.  Most bloggers know there are gaps in their knowledge.  Those gaps simply leave room for more discussion and debate.  More discussion and debate are the key to prosperity not only for the blog but for the team it covers.

7.  “There are no means to differentiate between blogs” and “If we credential one we have to credential them all” are poor excuses for ignoring the potential of blog-generated publicity.

Apologies for being blunt, but these have the ring of excuses used to dismiss the entire medium.  If differentiation within a medium is impossible, why can’t any Joe run a newsletter in his basement and get a print pass, or any guy with a digital camera get a photography credential?

There are multiple metrics to measure the effectiveness of a blog.  Popularity is an obvious one.  Citations in other forms of media is another.  Size and vibrancy of the community surrounding the blog works also.  Tenure and frequency of posting vary from site to site (longer and more being better in general).  The instinctive measure is also one of the best:  You know the culture of your organization.  Do this writing and this community seem congruent with that culture?  When you read the work do you get the sense that this blog represents something integral and good about your team, its history, its fan base, and its passion?  Granted that’s a subjective call, but bloggers deal with subjectivity every day, as do public relations and marketing people.  It’s not a huge stretch from “Do you like that ad slogan?” to “Does this blog appeal?”  It’s imperfect maybe, but better than nothing.

8.  Blogs reflect a team’s fan base, and as such it’s incumbent upon the organization to be aware of them.

There was a time when any blogger would have been delighted to catch the attention of someone within the team hierarchy.  Those days are passing quickly.  This blog alone has had 450,000 visits and 1,500,000 page views since the season ended.  That’s in the off-season, for a small-market team that finished out of the playoffs at 41-41 and drafted 13th.   Increase that traffic with the advent of the new season and multiply it by the total number of blogs out there and you start seeing the scope of this medium.  I would venture to say at this point that if a team has nobody assigned to follow what is going on in its online orbit something is wrong.  If eyeballs are scanning team-related material 1,500,000 times in three months at least one pair of those eyeballs should reside in the head of somebody from the marketing or PR department.

This doesn’t have to be a complex process.  First of all, if a blog has grown big enough you will have heard of it.  You don’t exactly have to look on the 127th page of a Google search to find your guys.  If a name starts popping up in the online version of your local papers or on the radio or in print elsewhere, check it out.  Bookmark the ones that look interesting.  Then once a week scan through the main page of the blog.  Look for the attributes that are most valuable to you.  You don’t have to read every word to get a feel for the site.  If it’s interesting and shows promise develop a set of criteria under which you would credential an online source and see if this blog meets them.  Yes, it’s a time investment at first, but it’s also a repeatable process and the potential dividends could make the effort well worth it.

9.  Where did the “credentials are forever” idea come from?

There seems to be a sentiment about credentialing bloggers that once it’s done, it’s done…like letting termites into your house.  Where did this idea come from?  Teams are perfectly within their rights to issue credentials on a game-by-game or even trial basis.  Evaluate the work that comes from those credentials in the process of your weekly blog scan.  If it’s not going well, just don’t renew the credentials.  It’s that simple.  What recourse would a blogger have?  If he flames you openly in his blog he’s cutting his own throat, alienating you and half of his readership.  Plus he’s broadcast his failure for all to see.  Very few people with any kind of track record of decency would do that in any case.  And even if they did, there are almost no lasting negative effects of a relationship that doesn’t work.  The lasting positive effects of a relationship that does work are farther reaching.

 

There doesn’t seem to be much doubt that online journalism in some form or another is the wave of the future.  It’s become the wave of the present in politics and entertainment.  One wonders how far behind sports is.  It behooves teams and writers to get together early on this and begin to understand each others’ needs and boundaries.  Some frank discussion would help.

If any team officials would like to chew the fat over some of these issues or hear about our credentialing experience feel free to e-mail me from your team-based address.  I will be happy to discuss these matters via e-mail or phone.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

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