Responsibility in Blogging

This is sort of a PSA to any hockey blogger who cares to read. It’s some inside journalism stuff, so feel free to move along if this minutiae isn’t your lede.

Blogging is often a place to provide added analysis, arguments, pleas and an aggregated potpourri of the internets so you’re kept in the loop. Sometimes that requires actually talking to someone to enhance the story.

Sports blogging has found a way to find 10,000 niches in an individual sport or league, whether it’s the jerseys and logoswhat refs are officiating the game  or strictly how the farm system is faring.

Several of those blogs mix quantitative, qualitative and opinionated analysis. Some on a higher level than other.

Most sports blogs hone in on their favorite team, though.

There can only be so many fan blogs that aggregate what the mainstream media or team embedded media reports only to be “enhanced” with their own roasting hot takes. Some focus on the mix of People magazine meet TMZ aspect of the team but at least use its credentials to gather original reporting  to enhance the blog (and sometimes photos/videos) on their slice of hockey life reporting.

Blogs often critique player performances, propose trade scenarios and even have the open letter—a definite no-no on editorial pages because it’s basically a column. Don’t try to cheat.

Most of that can exist in somewhat of a vacuum, but certain blogs may need a question answered to give a fair analysis. You know, acknowledge that someone from the organization you are writing about is affected in all of this. Or that we can’t pontificate from the keyboard and may the internet kingdom hear all. (This entry is one of those pontificating blogs.)

I ran into that issue recently about the Washington Capitals decision to move its equipment sale and Fan Fest from a Saturday to a weekday.

The basis of the blog was going to be that popularity comes at a price and it’s difficult to make everyone happy. The solutions are few to make it better for everyone, including those working the event.

I needed to ask the organization why the move was made. The reason could be very different from what I thought the reasons would be and I’d have to start from scratch. You cannot assume what the answer is. That’s how you get sued.

However, I was asked not to contact the Capitals media relations department on behalf of the credentialed blog because they wanted to keep a positive relationship with the team. If you fairly offer critiques about player performance and front office decisions on players, coaches and prospects, then the marketing and fan experience items are fair game. Every event is a money-making opportunity for the team, even if admission is free.

Some aspects managed crowds better by allowing season-ticket members priority access to certain activations and the equipment sale.

I could have contacted the organization myself, but while my track record and reputation is good in several journalism circles, the Capitals media relations department has no clue who I am. Most Caps fans don’t know who I am either on here, or that they come here for news. This site is a hobby. Other sites were opportunities, even though as a professional journalist I should not be working for free, for anyone.

I asked the Caps PR twitter account about the change but I didn’t receive a response. It was a long shot but contacting them that way would get things in the open. Anything beyond that, phone calls, emails, I’d leave for something I’d be getting paid for.

Here’s what I would have asked:

  • Why was the Fan Fest and equipment sale moved from a Saturday to a Wednesday?
  • Depending on the answer, then I’d follow up with, Was it because the event tends to be crowded, verging on overcrowding, each year? (It’s held at Kettler Capitals Iceplex, where reminders are frequent to not stand or sit in the bleacher stairways because of the fire code.)
  • Did the Metro construction on the Blue/Orange lines happening that week affect the decision? (It would have proved troublesome on a weekend to get there for some fans.)
  • Is this a one-time decision or likely be repeated in future years?
  • Do you keep track of the crowd or attendance at Fan Fest? Has it increased or decreased or stayed the same each year?
  • If crowding continued to be an issue, would returning the Capitals Convention help lessen the crowd at Fan Fest?
  • Regardless, are there any plans or talk that the Capitals Convention to return? What would it take for that event to return?

That helps cover a lot of areas, helps build rapport with an organization giving you access and helps form an informed opinion. You don’t want to risk a libel lawsuit or even be forced to write a correction or retraction because you didn’t ask the source for their side of the story.

The organization can chose to not answer any and all requests (keep records), or answer some but not all, but it still helps with building a story. With as many national and international media properties cover NHL teams, a blogger or freelance request could seem like a headache to them that they can brush off. But you never know how many clicks certain posts can produce, so at times you have to at least acknowledge the request.

I blame some of my journalism brethren for a habit by columnists to creep into blogging. I’ve seen too many columnists in daily papers, mainly at smaller circulations, hypothesize and place blame on someone or something without asking the person they’re hurling suggestions (or blame, maybe even praise) to in 550 words. The best practice in columns is to ask that source of the issue what they think, even if it leads to an awkward conversation, to get a complete view of the issue. Your thoughts may change, maybe backing down from what you originally thought, but it makes a better piece.

Your source continues to trust you. Your readers continue to trust you. And that’s not something you can easily reacquire after it’s lost.