Wednesday, November 14, 2007
On MSM Blogs
For some time now, there have been discussions in the hockey blogosphere about the intersecting of blogs and traditional media forms. Eric McErlain has written guidelines for bloggers wishing to get press credentials from teams. He’s also been critical of the New York Islanders and their “Blog Box.” James Mirtle, who runs his own hockey blog as well as writes for the Globe & Mail
There have also been discussions on the subject throughout the Oilogosphere. I have recently written a few posts on the subject. So too have Tyler and Dennis. Many members of the Oilogosphere have worked for or are working in traditional media. The man I consider to be the Godfather of the Oilogosphere, Colby Cosh, successfully moves back and forth between the blogging and MSM worlds. Interestingly, in addition to writing their own blogs on the Edmonton Journal’s website, newspaper writers John Mackinnon and David Staples have started popping up in comment sections throughout the Oilogosphere. We have always linked to their posts, and now they are beginning to do the same. The lines continue to blur.
When is a website a blog? When isn’t it a blog? What are the qualities that indicate a difference to a reader? What are the basic requirements of a blog? Is there such a thing as an “authentic” blog? Does a blog have to be free and independent of corporate control to be considered a blog? Is a blogger who makes money a sellout? Can attempts by the Main Stream Media (MSM) to blog ever be considered authentic, or is “MSM blog” a contradiction in terms?
These are a few of the many questions shaping the current debate about traditional media formats like the newspaper, radio and television, and new media formats like blogs, wikis, and podcasts. I am very much interested in these matters, and not only because of my involvement with this site. This debate is part of a much larger issue, which is the effect that globalization, the information revolution, and the rise of the knowledge based economy is having upon our society as a whole, and traditional industries in particular.
As I am a giant nerd, these things pique my interest. I decided, therefore, to take a look at attempts by Canadian newspapers to operate their own hockey blogs. Their motivation in doing so is obvious: they want to stay relevant, and they want to continue making money. But have they been successful in their ventures? Can their blogs really be considered blogs? Will they get back the many readers they have lost, or are their attempts too half-hearted, too little, and too late? And so down the rabbit hole we go.
- The focus of the project was Canadian MSM blogs about hockey.
- I only examined the newspapers where there was an existing NHL franchise, as well as the two national newspapers.
- I did not look at any French language newspapers.
- I looked at one single month of activity, which was October of 2007.
- A spreadsheet was created, in order to compare, contrast, evaluate and illustrate the variety of ways these blogs were being utilized.
- I came up with four different categories that I thought best described and defined a blog. They were: content; creativity; community; design/functionality.
- I wanted to avoid making evaluations based on personal taste when and where I could, so I took out the “creativity” category, and avoided making any judgments on the look or design of the sites.
- In putting together the spreadsheet, I could of course not avoid making subjective evaluations entirely. In fact, the basic categories I came up with are in and of themselves subjective. But I tried to limit it where I could, and much of my thoughts about the categories and defining blogs came from independent sources, such as the Wikipedia entry on blogs, as well as an article from the Annenberg School for Journalism at USC. My goal was to save any personal comments I had on any of the sites for the “General Commentary” and “Summary” sections below.
- I ended up with fourteen sub-categories concerning blogs: type, creativity of content; frequency of new content; use of audio/video; use of images; rating (language, etc.) blogroll to other MSM sites/blogs; blogroll to non-MSM hockey blogs; backlinks to other MSM sites/blogs; backlinks to non-MSM hockey blogs; number of comments; RSS feeds/aggregators; ease of leaving comments; archives; tags/Categories/Subjects
- The newspapers I looked at were: The Vancouver Province; The Vancouver Sun; The Edmonton Journal; The Calgary Herald; The Ottawa Citizen; The Ottawa Sun; The Toronto Star; The Montreal Gazette; The National Post; The Globe & Mail; other Sun Media newspapers.
- The spreadsheet is broken down into four pages/tabs: B.C.; Alberta; Ontario; Quebec & National.
- Links to each of the sites I examined should be visible on each page/tab.
- Depending on the size of your computer monitor, you may have to scroll to the right, and/or down, to see all of the information.
- I believe I have succeeded in making the spreadsheet viewable to all, but editable only by me.
- I’ve never used Google spreadsheets before; if there is a problem, let me know.
- There are five blogs covering the Canucks, three at the Province and two at the Vancouver Sun.
- Orland Kurtenblog is very similar in style and tone to the non-MSM hockey blogs (which is no great surprise, as that is where they started). They have an actual blogroll, they play around with pictures and video, and the irreverence is in full gear. The only surprising thing about the site is that they don’t provide many backlinks to the non-MSM hockey blogs in their posts.
- I was very surprised to see that Cam Cole’s comments section was not moderated. Unfortunately, Cole has only posted three times, ever, on his blog, and his blogroll page is completely blank. He is not alone in that regard.
- There are five blogs covering the Oilers at the Journal, the most for any single newspaper. There is one blog covering the Flames at the Herald.
- At the Journal, John Mackinnon and David Staples have most embraced blogging. Staples has begun doing a daily round up of posts throughout the Oilogosphere, and has an expanding blogroll on his site. He has even used a photoshopped picture of Kevin Lowe, originally made by Tyler Dellow at mc79hockey.com, in a couple of his posts. Unfortunately, it is still very difficult to leave comments on Staples’ site. It requires a registered account and a password.
- Mackinnon has added a couple links into his blogroll (including a link to this site), and he references the Oilogosphere on his site. He has not, however, ever provided a backlink to any of the posts he refers to.
- In trying to determine the ease of commenting on all the MSM hockey blogs, I attempted to leave comments at each and every site. Even days later, the comments have not appeared on the sites of Dan Barnes, Curtis Stock and Joanne Ireland (I didn't go back and check any others beyond the Journal).
- Scott Cruickshank and Jean Levebre are posting regularly on Flames Insider. Unfortunately, leaving comments on their site also requires a registered account and a password. They also don’t tag their posts, which, without the aid of a search function, makes looking for posts based on subject or keyword very difficult.
- There are three blogs covering the Senators, two at the Citizen, and one at the Ottawa Sun.
- James Gordon has embedded YouTube clips into his site, and has a bunch of great photoshopped pictures scattered throughout his posts. I enjoyed this post on Nicholas Picholases. Unfortunately, in that same post, you can see that Gordon refers to a Sabres blog without ever actually backlinking to it.
- James Duthie’s posts read exactly like posts by Bob Mackenzie and Darren Dreger on TSN’s page, which is to say they read like word for word dictations of two-minute television segments. They even have that style of spacing that Mackenzie’s posts used to have (essentially one sentence paragraphs). His posts also use different fonts and different font sizes, which I’ve always associated with mobile blogging. I have no idea if that is why this sort of formatting inconsistency occurs (the same thing is occurring on some of the other blogs I looked at), but if so, he’s literally phoning his posts in. His first post on the merits of blogging is insightful, as I’m sure it is a sentiment shared by many members of the MSM.
- Chris Stevenson’s blog is—with the exception of Dr. Hockey’s fantasy hockey blog—the only hockey blog in the Sun media chain. Stevenson’s blog also requires registration and a password for comments, and features a comprehensive list of rules concerning commenting.
- There are two blogs covering the Leafs in the Star. The Star Sports Blog has not featured a post on the NHL since June of 2007, however, and therefore probably shouldn’t even be included with the other blogs I examined.
- Chris Young used to have a fantastic blog at the Star, but, sadly, it is no longer operating.
- There are two blogs covering the Canadiens in the Gazette. Mike Boone’s posts are fed into the Habs Inside Out blog, however, so you can see everything by going to just that one site.
- The Habs Inside Out site is far and above the best blog being run by these newspapers. In fact, it’s one of the best hockey blogs I’ve ever seen, period. There are a wide variety of posts—liveblogging, editorial, opinion, gameday, game-in-photos—and they are all composed in styles ranging from the professional to the completely irreverent. They run a “puckcast” that is available both on the site and on iTunes. They get a huge number of comments, and they aren’t moderated. The writers on the site participated with their readers in a social event called the Habs Fan Summit. The paper also updated the site as I was working on this project. They added more aggregators/social network options, as well as changed the design and colours on the site. Once they finished the upgrades, they posted on the changes, and asked for further feedback. Despite being a CanWest site, Habs Inside Out looks and acts nothing at all like its fellow CanWest hockey blogs. My only complaint is that I couldn’t access the comments in the archives section, even for the newest posts. That may have been something that was cleaned up with the upgrade. I haven’t had a chance to look at it again.
- The Globe on Hockey blog doesn’t even have a blogroll linking to its own internal hockey page. Instead, the blogroll is a standardized list of all the blogs on the G&M site, including Inside Energy and TIFF Tasks. Readers cannot search archives for old posts. Leaving comments is also difficult, as it requires registration and logging in with a password. Comments are also moderated.
I didn’t have an answer to the question “what qualifies as a blog?” before I started this project, and I’m not sure I have an answer now. I’m not sure I even wanted an answer to that question, as much as I just wanted to explore, record, and ruminate. As such, here are some final thoughts:
- There are obviously things that I expect from a blog. The categories and sub-categories I came up with demonstrate that. For instance, I am a strong believer in blogrolls, backlinks, and open comments. The first two affect rankings and search engine strength; all three demonstrate a commitment to collaboration and community. As a blogger, I am not perfect in this regard. I get lazy and don’t add sites to the blogroll, and I delete comments from commenters who I believe have gone over the top (don't even get me started on how I feel about the design and look of our site). But I don’t have an aversion to or feel antipathy towards bloggers and commenters on the internet. I also understand that if I want to be a successful and well-liked blogger, I have to put some time and work into building a blogroll, linking to other people’s posts, and conversing with people in the comments section. It’s how the system works, plain and simple.
- Or is it? On Colby’s old site, he didn’t have a comment section. Paul Wells doesn’t have one (nor does he have a blogroll). I think I’ve read the comments on Andrew Coyne’s site about five times. And yet I think of all three men as bloggers. Indeed, they are three of the most prominent bloggers in the country. Am I being unfair in expecting MSM hockey bloggers to do things that I don’t expect other MSM bloggers to do? Hmmm.
- It is obvious that there is a correlation between the ease of leaving comments on a site and the amount of comments that site gets. Habs Inside Out is a perfect example of this. The question is whether such a thing affects the overall traffic a site receives.
- Almost all of the blogs I looked at are written by reporters. These men and women see themselves as reporters, and view the world through the lens of “professional journalist.” Yet I’m willing to bet that the writers of most non-MSM blogs don’t see themselves in that way at all. I know I certainly don’t. I’m a fan who likes to write. I feel no professional obligation to be objective. My desire to be objective comes from someplace else, a philosophical commitment to rationality and reason. This difference between seeing oneself as a fan and seeing oneself as a professional journalist is critical in any understanding of the style and operation of MSM and non-MSM blogs.
- In the end, I still think of MSM blogs and non-MSM blogs as two different beasts, but maybe I shouldn’t. Maybe it should be as simple as good blogs and bad blogs. There are blogs I looked at during this project that are a complete waste of time. It’s pretty obvious the reporter has no interest in maintaining it, so why it is still in existence is beyond me. But a few of the blogs I quite enjoyed. They were funny, irreverent, critical, and creative. To be honest, I hadn’t really expected that.
- At the same time, it’s obvious where the strengths and weaknesses lie for both non-MSM and MSM blogs. Joe Posnanski discussed it at length in a post last week. There are certain things that an MSM blog will never do, certain words or suggestions you’ll never see on any MSM bloggers site. But the non-MSM blog won’t have that direct access, won’t get that inside story from a player or coach that explains a certain act or decision. I wonder, then, if long-term the most successful blogs won’t be the ones that straddle that line between MSM and non-MSM.
- “How to Give Blogs Credit: a Handy Guide for the Mainstream Media” by Matt Ufford.
- “Blogs to Riches: The Haves and Have-Nots of the Blogging Boom” by Clive Thompson.
- “A Blog for Baseball Fans Builds a League of Sites” by Daniel Terdiman.
- “Weighing the Merits of the new Webocracy” a debate between Andrew Keen and Chris Anderson. Podcasts of the full debate are here and here.
- “Unmasked & Anonymous: Answering Ethical Questions About a Blogger Named Eklund” by Greg Wyshynski.
Excellent work, Andy, and I can see that this took hours and hours and hours of work.
As I mentioned to you, the issue of commenting on our blogs at the Journal is a major problem for us.
At first, our blogs came without any comment buttons at all. People had to email us if they wanted to comment, then we could post the email. That was a huge frustration.
Now, with our new and somewhat improved blog tool, we have a "comment" button the size of a micro-dot, which announces to our readers: "We don't give a crap what you think."
But, of course, we, too, want to be part of "the wisdom of the crowd" and we also want to have successful blogs -- we're just like any other writers in that regard -- and one way to do that is to have a thriving comments section.
We all know how key the Letters page is in the daily newspaper.
Today, I am crafting an e-mail to our head office to complain long and loud about this teeny weeny comment button issue.
BTW, did you see the Journal's new dedicated page, Oilcountry? We took it over locally last month and have been doing a much better job of it. It's more of a site than a blog, though.
Cheers, David Staples, The Cult of Hockey
Look, ma! I'm a bibliography!
I've written a lot about this subject and read a lot about this subject, and kudos for an outstanding post. Really, really great read.
If MSM and non-MSM blogs are compared, I think what it comes down to are accountability and purpose. Blogging for NHL FanHouse, I have accountability to my corporate masters and to the standards and practices that keep me from using language that I, as a proud native of New Jersey, choose to use in everyday life. Same goes for a newspaper or other MSM blogger.
As for "purpose," that's something I've learned a lot about since I opened communications with some bloggers after bashing the "Blog Box" out of the gate. I was wrong to judge so quickly. I think the gimmick harms non-MSM bloggers who are fighting for access, but I think there are blogger who do an outstanding job and aren't interested in that access.
It's a large tent, and that's what makes the form so damn exciting to see grow. FanHouse is a good example of that: You have bloggers like myself, Eric McErlain and Mirtle who do the "pick up the phone" journalism thing; and Jes Golbez, Tom Luongo, JP and Earl Sleek who are more "fan's eye view" hockey bloggers. I think we're blessed with a lot of writing talent, and that speaks to what I think is your best point:
In the end, it all comes down to whether a blog is a great read or if it stinks. That applies to the MSM or a guy in his pajamas watching the Oilers game at home.
PS - David Staples called me the "funniest writer in the NHL" the other day, which for me means he has the best hockey blog since Al Gore invented the Internet.
That's a wicked guide/introduction/primer to the MSM hockey blogs, AG.
As to the meta-issue, I'm glad that you harp on the "community" issue. Something like Inkless Wells, with no blogroll and no comments, is really the exception that proves the rule. If someone thinks they're as insightful, funny, and interesting as Paul Wells -- and will post at least daily -- then they might have a slight shot at a relevant blog. If they're not, it won't happen.
Since you bring up Coyne, in fact the first iteration (or two) of his site was a behemoth; way more trafficked than other blogs on the topic -- precisely because he had lively unmoderated comments and a big ol' blogroll. There are at least a dozen political blogs I know of, that still exist, that were created by people who started as commenters at his site.
I also have no doubt that Staples' traffic has surged -- and beats the other Journal blogs -- because he has been engaging others.
All that said, I think you're right not to come to sweeping conclusions. You can no more pin down "blog" than you can "TV show" -- past the format similarities, it could be just about anything, good or bad.
Thanks to everyone for the kind words. Yes David, it did take me hours and hours to do this. So many hours :) But it was really worth it. As to the comments on your site, I'd suggest that the button size isn't really the problem. It's that you have to register an account and then login with a password. The funny thing is, despite you being one of the most open to interacting with the non-MSM blogs, your actual page is one of the hardest on CanWest to leave comments on. If you look at the spreadsheet I made with the Journal sites on it, you'll see that everyone else's sites only require a name, and then the comment sits there until someone approves it. I didn't even leave a comment on your specific blog, because you have too many filters for me to care. Some might say that I'm making too much of the registration and login component, because it only takes a couple minutes, you only have to do it once, etc., etc. But when I did this project, I just behaved the way I would always behave. For me, those couple extra steps are impediments not because of time, but because I find them insulting. That's just my thing, and may not be that way for others, but for me it says, "we want your information for our purposes, but we don't trust you enough to not control your comments." So I just never bother, and I usually don't bother going back to the site, either. As to your site, I don't know why the access to comments is more difficult than the rest. On Cam Cole's site I just typed in my name, put in a comment, and it was up immediately. And it's a CanWest site. So it can be fixed, and probably quite easily.
So I suppose the next step is for some MSM writer to put together his review of the non-MSM blogs.
I'll look forward to that in about 35 years.
That applies to the MSM or a guy in his pajamas watching the Oilers game at home.
Whoa. Do you read minds?
Here's something you don't read every day:
"The short version: our current server capacity has been overwhelmed by the number of new users signing up, and we're dealing with the problem as swiftly as possible."
They are obviously doing something very, very right.
That applies to the MSM or a guy in his pajamas watching the Oilers game at home.
For some reason, I fit into both categories.
Glad to see HI/O getting props on BoA. I've been a somewhat regular reader of BoA since Edmonton's Cup run.
Quick note: the archived comments (all of em) will return when we get the server upgraded to meet demand.
Speaking of blogs, why does David Shoalts want us to think about his ass? Thanks for ruining my day, DS;)
I think that Newsday beat writer Greg Logan's blog for the Islanders should be the template. It has been hugely successful. Last winter it was the most popular sports blog in the NY area, according to him ... and it's the freaking Islanders for crying out loud.
He throws in bits and pieces that he couldn't fit in his column. Breaking news on occasion as well.
Sometimes the comments section has gotten completely out of hand, with Ranger/Isles fans using profanity. Spammers also. At one point he got pissed off and decided that he was going to moderate them. He's backed off that now.
At times, he's been hammered by commenters for being a shill (rightly, IMO), and he took it very personally. I was impressed by that. (In his blog yesterday he let Ted Nolan and DiPietro quotes sell the Hempstead real estate plan, which is the smarter move) I mean I think that a guy like Matheson probably thinks he getting away with it, if a journalist has thick enough skin, this sort of instant feedback can only make them better.
He's also taken some criticism for deleting comments with rumours in them ... and stated the reason being that they were right, but he didn't want his paper being scooped before morning. In a peculiar way, I can agree with that, but mostly I just admired the honesty.
The way Logan (NOT a knowledgeable hockey fan, btw) is doing it ... this is what people want to get. Not sure if it's what most papers want to give, though.
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