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(Franck Boston/This image is property of Franck Boston)
(Franck Boston/This image is property of Franck Boston)

Usual Suspects

The battle over bloggers Add to ...

The second-guess season in hockey really never ends. What made this summer unique was the increasingly hostile battle between mainstream media and bloggers for authority in breaking stories. Now, questions are being asked as the 2010-'11 season revs up about what place will bloggers have in the media landscape this year. Some bloggers have said they deserve equal status with MSM in press boxes and in the dressing room.

The Vancouver Canucks, who are hosting a six-team prospects tournament in this city on Lake Okanagan, say they will grant equal credentials to approved bloggers. But there will be a strict code of conduct that they must follow. Should bloggers - a contrarian, independent lot - breach those conditions, the Canucks say they will pull credentials and deny access. In short, bloggers will be held to the standards of MSM when it comes to libel, slander, seeking autographs etc.

That might be a problem as "blogger" has come to be synonymous for bending the rules on sourcing or taking liberties with research. Others complain that bloggers hiding behind anonymity don't reveal their conflicts or connections to either management or players. Things that would never pass muster with an editor go viral on the internet.

Some feel that the threat of pulling credentials should suffice in keeping bloggers in line. Others, who note the lack of sourced material and accountability in many blogs, feel that more needs to be done. After all, if you sue a blogger for slander and win, what can you get? The person's computer? The lack of risk and absence of assets as compensation makes pursuing a blogger moot. Hit-and-run has been the tactic of many blogs floating on the edge of respectability.

Usual Suspects feels that if a blogger wants a place in a press box or dressing room environment there should be something more tangible at stake - say, a bond of $10,000 that a blogger would lose should a court or arbitrator find he or she broke professional standards or libel laws. Such a policy would sort out the valuable from the voluble in short order.

So would obliging bloggers to face their subjects from time to time. Taking shots at public figures from the grassy knoll and then sneaking away promotes a Dutch courage among many bloggers. It's a point of honour for most MSM to show up after a tough column and let the subject have his say in person. Having to look Roberto Luongo or Dion Phaneuf in the eye after a critical column about them might produce some sober second thought amongst the bloggos.

Blog Jam: Which should not be seen as an indictment of the blogosphere. Bloggers are the gypsy cabs of journalism. They'll pick up fares (stories) the mainstream guys won't touch. They'll drive to neighbourhoods that MSM avoids. Their custom cars stand out in a sea of conformity. As a former Toronto cabbie, Usual Suspects has a lot of time for them.

Their role model is baseball statistician Bill James, the original blogger. James did his groundbreaking statistical work in the 1970s and '80s, well before the advent of the internet itself, mimeographing his research sheets of the Baseball Abstract and selling them to interested parties (making him one of the few bloggers or ever make real money at the process). James revolutionized the way fans looked at baseball. After about 20 years of hoping he'd go away, Major League Baseball - in the form of the Boston Red Sox - finally embraced him.

James's analysis and insight was often peppered with highly critical assessments and cultural references. His columns had bite-- and impact. While some bloggers have been able to approach James's scholarship, most have evolved closer to a model that resembles Hockey Night In Canada meets TMZ. But the failures of some bloggers need not condemn the entire process. The question is where will it go next in its rivalry with MSM.

Naming Faves: A few of our hockey faves? Puck Daddy, Kuklas Korner, the Orland Kurtenblog, Rangers Goal Line Report... and that's in no particular order.

Whose Side Are You On: Speaking of reporting ethics - Working as a gonzo journalist for TV Azteca, Ines Sainz entered the New York Jets last week dressing room wearing... umm, provocative clothing. Really provocative-- at least, if you're one of the Jets' frat boys who made it very clear how they felt about Sainz. So clear that Sainz accused the Jets of sexual harassment.

Washington's Clinton Portis articulated the Porky's attitude on a radio show Tuesday: "You know, somebody got to spark her interest, or she's gonna want somebody. I don't know what kind of woman won't, if you get to go and look at 53 men's packages. And you're just sitting here, saying 'Oh, none of this is attractive to me.' I know you're doing a job, but at the same time, the same way I'm gonna cut my eye if I see somebody worth talking to, I'm sure they do the same thing."

Right. (Portis has subsequently withdrawn his ruminations.) The howling wolf routine from athletes is inexcusable. But it begs the question of what constitutes professional behaviour or appropriate dress when media invade dressing rooms. Sainz' working attire and modus operandi often suggest a warm-up act on The Gong Show more than a TV reporter. (Cabby on The Score treads the same fine line.)

Can a reporter who puts herself ahead of the story still ask for the protection of reporting standards? Without excusing the Jets' anvil chorus, can Sainz still expect the benefit of the doubt when her Charo act falls flat? Usual Suspects sees Sainz more as a standup comedian than a journalist. As such, she should expect that when her act falls flat, she'll be heckled and mocked. Straddling the line between comedy and journalism, Sainz faced a rude, unruly audience in the Jets that didn't give her act a passing grade.

The Jets behaviour was juvenile and unworthy of pro athletes. But if Sainz wishes the protection of journalistic standards she needs to act more like a journalist than a warm-up act on America's Got Talent.

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