As you might have read in today's Oregonian piece about Blazer's Edge, the Portland Trail Blazers have decided to change their media access policy this season. Given the parameters and consequences of their new policy, we do not feel that we can participate in their media credentialing process with a clear conscience. Therefore Blazer's Edge is turning down their offer of a credential and pursuing other avenues of coverage.
In a nutshell, the Blazers are attempting to create a two-tiered media system. They are issuing some media outlets backstage-access credentials. Other credentials only allow access to a 200-level seat in the arena. Those who hold the latter credentials cannot interview coaches or players at the arena and cannot cover practices.
The justification the Blazers PR department has given for this policy has changed over the weeks since we first heard of it. Their initial explanation to us was that the locker room was getting crowded with all the requests and they were unable to grant backstage access to every "fan site" (as they termed it) so they would be issuing backstage access to none of them...as if they were unable or unwilling to differentiate between sites. Their explanation to the Oregonian was that they expect sites to "prove themselves", though not even the barest whisper of how that's accomplished has been forthcoming. (Simply put, there is no established process to do so.)
We could delve deeply into these explanations, asking why a site with a six-year running track record covering the team with backstage access, an unbroken publication history, and tens of millions of visits annually cannot be distinguished properly from every other site out there. One could also ask how journalists can be expected to "prove themselves" while sitting in a 200-level seat without access to interview opportunities. What, exactly, could be proved? Even if you take the organization's explanations at face value, this policy has issues.
But that's not the point. Creating a two-tiered media system is, in itself, a dangerous precedent, one that we don't feel comfortable participating in even if the organization deems us as being on the "right" side of the fence and gives us full access.
Three broad groups cover the Blazers at this time: traditional media (newspaper/TV), the team's own media arm, and independent sites like Blazer's Edge. Whether the organization labels the latter group "fan sites" (ironic to use that as a lesser term when the automated answering system at the Blazers office trumpets the "best fans in the world") or "non-deadline sites" (we belong to a prominent national network and have deadlines, which is why you see game recaps posted the night of the game and not days after) the practical effect of this two-tiered policy is to exclude all such sites from access.
The traditional media sources in Portland provide excellent coverage of the team. The organization's own media arm is excellent as well. Both entities make choices based on their priorities and aims. Those choices are valid, solid. Sites like ours make different choices, uphold different views and priorities.
Most of the time the differences aren't visible to the naked eye. Frankly, post-game quotes are post-game quotes, interviews are interviews. The set of potential responses from athletes and coaches is small. Except on the rarest occasions, no approach is going to unearth a heretofore unseen subset. Still, those occasions do surface. From time to time, Blazer's Edge has asked different questions, interviewed different people, looked at different angles than the norm. Occasionally we've gotten push-back on that. We figured that was part of the job and we stuck to our guns.
In a two-tiered media system in which independent sites like ours are systemically excluded from access, opportunities to see things through a different lens disappear. No site--traditional, independent, or team-sponsored--gives you a completely unfiltered picture. Your chance to wear a different filter while viewing the events backstage (to get a more complete picture) is being pushed aside. This is not being done on the basis of merit or public trust, but because of a blanket categorization that devalues diversity of view and assumes it's not important to you. Since giving you multiple viewpoints is embedded in our DNA, this is a system we cannot abide.
If "proving yourself" means traffic and credibility with readers, you will not find an independent site that equals this one. Its meteoric rise and sustained success are undisputed. If proving yourself means dedication, professionalism, and longevity, you can point to thousands of articles here covering the Blazers from every angle. Nobody in existence writes more than we do about this team. If proving yourself means adhering to high standards, quoting accurately and completely, demanding sources before a story is run, citing sources when you're building on someone else's material, we do these things scrupulously.
It's fairly clear that in this context "proving yourself" means none of these things. Instead it means sitting quietly to the side while other people ask questions until you rid yourself of anything distinguishable or potentially inconvenient.
We cannot and will not participate in that kind of process. We may be right or wrong in our opinions. Our view may be clear or fuzzy, just like anyone else's. But years of dedication, honesty, and excellent coverage have earned us not only a place at the table, but the right to exercise our voice at that table just as much as anybody. Personally I don't think our voice has been that radical, let alone damaging. But even if it were deemed so, it's still ours and we will not trade that for access of any kind.
Blazer's Edge will not participate in a two-tiered system based on type of site rather than a site's merit. Lest you think we're being self-serving in this, neither will we participate in a system in which we are the "token" independent site granted access, ignoring the fine work done by other sites of our kind with distinctive, important voices. If the word "media" is to have any integrity the criteria for access cannot be an arbitrary label, nor congruity of opinion with the people you cover. Qualification must be judged by quality of work and the trust readers invest in it.
That is why we are turning down the organization's offer of a media row "credential" that does not include access to players, coaches, staff, or practices. We will be willing to take up the discussion with them when the process for determining said access is clearly defined, reasoned, and opened to all kinds of sites...not just our site but other independent sites for whom I definitely do not speak but for whom this site will stand as much as it stands for itself.
What does this mean for our coverage right now?
Well, our "Media Row Report" format isn't going to look the same as it did, but don't worry. We're still going to provide you with timely post-game quotes. We're going to get in-arena reports too. (We're going back to our roots and having readers give us the skinny on the Moda Center atmosphere.) We'll still have recaps and extensive analysis, all the quality and quantity you've come to expect. All the basic parts will be there still. It'll be sorted differently but it'll be good.
We are also going to encourage you, our readers, to understand what I've said here, then to take it in stride and get back to what we're supposed to be doing: covering and enjoying the team. People always want "inside looks" at an organization. We've had plenty. You've just read about one of them. I, for one, think things work best when fans keep a decent distance and carry a little intentional innocence into the experience. It is not my intention to disturb that innocence or close the distance between you and your favorite team on our account. That would be betraying our mission, not fulfilling it. When somebody asks, "Are you doing Media Row Reports?" we need an answer. Since the Blazers' new policy was revealed in a newspaper article that was ostensibly about this site's success and its special place in the hearts of the fan base, a public explanation became necessary at this time. At this point I consider it explained and done. We'll be getting on with the season now.
This is my 5363rd post at Blazer's Edge. (I can't even imagine how many words that makes.) Back in the very first one, on August 22nd, 2006, I said this:
I love talking with others about the team and I hope the work reflects that. I don't get hung up on whether people agree or disagree with what I say, just that it sparks some conversation. I envision the blog being like the coffee shop (or bar) where everybody goes to talk about the day's news.
That vision has come true and the site has grown to places I couldn't have dreamed of 8 years ago. Through it all, Blazer's Edge has flourished by talking with you, the fans of this team, as we build community together around this central subject that has united Portlanders for decades.
We're going to continue to do that every day. We hope you enjoy it as always.