The Hockey News’ Matt Larkin recently posted an interesting piece on the bitter rivalry between the “old guard” of the mainstream media and advanced stats bloggers. The discord between the two sides escalated this summer when several NHL clubs hired former analytics bloggers.
While the debate over advanced stats has been ongoing for the past few years, it’s just the latest skirmish in a decade-long feud between the NHL’s mainstream media (MSM) and NHL bloggers. Simply Google “NHL Bloggers versus Mainstream Media” to see what I mean. Be it hockey analytics, press box access or criticism of each side’s work, this conflict’s been going on for some time.
I’ve been doing this gig long enough to remember when this feud began. Hockey bloggers were a rarity a decade ago. If fans wanted to voice their opinions about all things NHL, they either went to message forums or (like me) start up their own website and hope to gain a following.
Hockey blogging was among the few good things to emerge from the season-killing lockout of 2004-05. During that dark winter, while searching for opinions on the lockout, I stumbled across bloggers like James Mirtle, Paul Kukla, Tom Benjamin, Jon Swenson, Eric McErlain, Jes Golbez, Greg Ballentine, Steven Ovadia, Mike Chen and many more.
Like me, they were NHL fans. They came from different walks of life. Some were already taking their first strides in journalism, while others were simply sharing their thoughts. All cared passionately about the state of the league, offering up interesting and well-written commentary every bit as worthwhile as that provided by the mainstream media.
Hockey blogging has significantly grown since then, adding many new voices and opinions. Some of those I followed in the early days are still blogging. Some moved on to other things, the void by their absence quickly filled by others in the vibrant hockey blogging community. Some have a strong enough following to make a living from blogging.
I also recall bloggers weren’t taken seriously by some pundits in those early years. It’s easy to understand why. Those in the mainstream media have journalism degrees. It took them years to establish themselves in their line of work. They work long, tiring hours covering the league, interviewing sources and compiling stories. They have a high standard of professionalism and responsibility to maintain. Their jobs depend on not just getting the story, but getting it right. They’re accountable to their employers and their profession.
Bloggers, on the other hand, are simply fans. Intelligent, often knowledgeable and articulate, most bloggers lack a journalistic background and are accountable to no one. They can say and do pretty much whatever they please.
Some bloggers haven’t helped matters by being antagonistic toward the mainstream media. I believe the main reason some pundits detest former blogger-turned-Oilers analytic expert Tyler Dellow has less to do with his work and more to do with his personality. On his now-defunct blog or his Twitter feed, Dellow could be quite caustic toward those he disagreed with. Though it ultimately didn’t hurt his reputation as a hockey analytics pioneer, Dellow’s work at times was overshadowed by his pissing contests with several pundits.
In my early years as a blogger I was also quite nasty toward journalists I disagree with. I received e-mails from a few of them taking me to task, not for questioning their work but for personally attacking them. Rather than simply disagreeing with them or offering a counterpoint, I often mocked their work, personalities and even their appearance.
In short, I was acting like an asshole.
Most bloggers I’ve followed over the years don’t behave like this toward the hockey punditry, but there’s several who do. It’s little wonder some in the MSM get testy when they’re criticized by these folks.
I’ve also encountered several bloggers dismissive of the mainstream media, considering themselves part of the “new media” poised to change hockey coverage forever. These same folks, however, rely heavily on the MSM for source material. They didn’t want to admit it, but they need the mainstream media. Without it, many bloggers would have little, if anything, to write about.
It’s easy to consider bloggers, especially influential ones, as “keeping the media honest”. That implies, however, the hockey media as a whole are misleading their readers with lazy reportage. That’s simply not true. Having worked alongside hockey beat writers at various NHL events over the years, I have considerable respect for what they do.
That doesn’t mean journalists are perfect or beyond reproach. Nobody is. Sometimes a reporter makes a mistake. A columnist occasionally allows emotion to cloud their judgment. There’s nothing wrong with bloggers pointing out their errors or disagreeing with their opinions, but that doesn’t justify tarring the entire mainstream media as incompetent.
Some pundits, of course, aren’t much better than their critics in the blogosphere. They can be just as venomous in their criticism of bloggers, often dismissing them as poorly-educated, sweatpants-clad losers living in their parents basement with nothing better to do than mock their betters on a blog.
Perhaps those journalists feel threatened by bloggers, particularly those with a measure of influence. Maybe they have low-esteem. Or perhaps, like some of their critics, they’re just jerks.
Despite the recent heated debate over hockey analytics, there’s been a cooling of this feud between bloggers and pundits. Over the years it seems both sides have largely learned to co-exist, even it’s still sometimes an awkward accommodation. There’s plenty of space for hockey pundits and bloggers on the internet to share their views and critique each other without unnecessary antagonism and suspicion. I’ve encountered folks on both sides (personally or online) who’ve been quite accommodating, or at least tolerant, toward each other.
Some bloggers have gone on to work in the mainstream media, while some journalists have started up their own blogs. Despite the disagreement between some on both sides over hockey analytics, a growing number of folks in the MSM have embraced advanced stats, while there are bloggers suspicious of “stats geeks”.
The method by which the mainstream media produces and distributes information is changing, but it remains the most important and effective means for hockey fans to follow their favorite sport. Hockey blogging is now a vital part of the NHL landscape, providing fans with a means to voice their opinions and interact with other fans.
Pundits and bloggers can disagree with each other without getting into personal attacks. While mudslinging might be entertaining to read, it often ends up eclipsing the interesting and informative work produced by both sides. These adversaries become known more for sniping at each other than for what they have to say about hockey.