Monday, March 10, 2008

So About The Internets: Commentary on the Mavericks Blog Ban.

When I first heard the news, I was sad.

I didn't want to add Cuban to the running list of Top 10 Douchebags in the NBA for Hardwood Paroxysm (that's a whole other post on it's own). Luckily the head Maverick came out and explained his position.

But I'm still not satisfied.

It's funny, because I've surprisingly had more than one conversation about this topic. I was asked in New Orleans about it by a D-League exec, and then again by a Toros official. Now, there's a huge separation between the D-League and the NBA, obviously. Like, oh, say, an average of 15,000 people per game and billions of dollars in revenue. You know. If you care about those things.

But the question is one I've pondered over quite a bit. I've been inundated with journalist culture for the last 8 years. I went to one of the best Journalism schools in the country. The majority of my friends are either currently in, or at one time were in journalism. My wife's a journalism grad (double-major in English to be accurate; she's wicked smaht; and by "wicked smaht", I mean "brilliant yet underpaid" like all English grads). The blogs vs. newspapers debate is a fairly popular one in my circle. And I'm usually on the minority end of it as a blogger. None of this qualifies me as an expert on the matter in any way, shape, or form, but what else is new?

So the question that Cuban begs in his response over at MavericksBlog is if there is a standard that one can "differentiate between bloggers to the point where (one) should or should not credential one versus the other." Cuban says it's impossible. I'm not sure I disagree with him. With the world becoming smaller and one of the central tenets of a free internet being that everyone gets a say, how do you determine that?

On the other hand, there are certain obvious examples. I mean, I'm certain that the Mavericks press office has standards towards newspapers and whether they can get access. I'm pretty sure a high school newspaper isn't getting locker room access.

But the response I've always posed this question of how much access bloggers should have is this:

"It's not a question of 'if,' but a matter of 'how much'?"

And this is where, it turns out, Cuban and I agree. Towards the end of his post, he has this to say:

"One last little thought. Some out there will take this as my not "liking" blogs. Ridiculous. It's the exact opposite. What I don't like is unequal access. I'm all for bloggers getting the same access as mainstream media when possible. Our interview room is open to bloggers. We take interview requests from bloggers. I'm a fan of getting as much coverage as possible for the Mavs."

This will get glossed over in the questions of hypocrisy (which are valid, but untrue) and selective bias against the blogger in question (which are also valid, and are also probably a little bit true, considering the timing). But it's the central point, and one that bloggers need to agree on as we move forward.

Here's the thing.

If you ask me, should any blogger have access to everything that a reporter gets access to, my answer is no. Why? Because our goals are different, our readers are different, and our tones are different. For example, a newspaper would never post a phone call a reporter heard between a blogger and his mistress. It's not what they cover. You can use the words "beneath them" if you must. But it's not news. They would never post a tattoo of a ridiculous outfit, tattoo, or personal object. But us?

Oh, hell yes.

Now, this isn't exactly true, because I'm big on scruples, and if an organization is kind enough to let me in the doors, I'm going to respect that. I cover the Toros for the Austin Chronicle Sports Blog (note: not a job), but my credentials extend to HP. If I ask a question off the record over the Toros game, it's off the record. At the same time, you don't want that kind of access given to a lot of bloggers.

And not just on account of the odds of them posting something inappropriate. It's because a lot of blogs succeed as a result of the detachment. Actually, almost all of the blogs succeed because that detachment. It's an interesting dichotomy. Beat reporters routinely talk to the same guys over and over again, get to know them and their families, but strive to maintain a detached view of the team. A blogger has little or no direct personal connection with the players or personnel they criticize or applaud, but have a distinct bias they don't deny.

The point is that I believe there is every reason for blogs to be given access to team personnel. I have absolutely no doubt that if the Magic were to give Third Quarter Collapse access that they would be thrilled with the coverage. It's not like Ben Q. is going to go in and ask a bunch of improper questions. He's not going to turn around and rip the team unfairly. He's a fan, for God's sake. And giving him access is only going to provide another way for your fans to feel "involved" with their team.

On the flip side, there should be a separation. For starters, I think at some point there's got to be a level of integration, albeit on a sliding scale, for access between bloggers and newspaper guys. And giving mainstream media the "extra" coverage of being in the locker room with Dirk Nowitski's Dirk Diggler swinging back and forth will give newspaper folks the feeling that they have something more than bloggers. Good for the beat reporters. Bully for them!. Next, if you give bloggers access, but limit it, it's going to put the PR people a little bit more at ease. It's a transition-oriented move. It's a compromise. It means the PR folks for the team won't be running around their office screaming as though the bloggers have stripped off their clothes, covered themselves in warpaint, and started hacking players to death while asking for autographs. Finally, because there should be a line between bloggers and mainstream media. Bloggers should be able to cover the games just as much as newspaper reporters because as Cuban said, it gets a team "as much coverage as possible." There's no downside to having more coverage. But there should be a separation between newspaper access and blogger access, just like there's separation between what bloggers do and what reporters do. And the locker room is, in my opinion, a pretty good start for the line. Not so much for what it actually provides, but for what it represents.

This is a watershed moment for the relationship between the league and blogs. Even though Cuban comes out clearly in support of blogs being included in access, no one's going to read that part of it. In fact, the blogs are generally ignoring that point as well, and are coming out against him. The bloggers' quarrel is a valid point. That is, if Cuban is purposefully pointing out the Dallas Morning News blogger as retaliation, and using blogs as the scapegoat.

The issue this instance creates, however, is a lot larger. It's not like the Dallas Morning News is going to suddenly be without coverage of the Mavericks. But other teams are likely to use this as a precedent. Scarier, the league is likely to come out and formalize a policy. And I think we all know how that's likely to come out.

One of the best things about the D-League, and one I mentioned to President Reed in New Orleans, is the way they've embraced blogs as a means of building a grass-roots base for the minor league. The thing is that this feeling extends to the whole league. There are so many fans who live outside of the area, but still contribute to the team's corporate entity through various ways and follow their teams on the internet. And pushing blogs out is not the way to further welcome fans in.

So there should be a standard set. Not too loose, but not equal. Let's not go down that dangerous road of the phrase, "s______e but e___l" and demean, well, everything, but we're also not talking about civil rights here. There are things bloggers would want to know about that reporters don't care about, and vice versa.

The point is that we have to come to some sort of compromise or there's only going to be more vitriol spit by us at them, and more disdain tossed by them at us. And whether I'm talking about newspapers or the league, I'm not really even sure of myself anymore.

Either way, I hope Cuban, in a pretty clear attempt at punishing a guy and then making a subsequent point, hasn't just set back the medium by three years.

Oh, and 10 to 1 this standard doesn't apply to TrueHoop, though Henry will probably abide by it, because he's that kind of guy.

Add to Technorati Favorites