Looking Into the Blog Box

This week the New York Islanders announced the start of the “Blog Box”:

We’re setting up a BLOG BOX in the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum – sort of like a press box, but away from the scribes and broadcasters because we know you want to cheer, shout, have a pretzel and enjoy the game experience on your own terms.

We will provide you with a media pass for a few games next season and a seat in the NYI BLOG BOX. You will also receive your own set of Game Notes when you enter the Coliseum Press Gate. All you have to do is bring your note pad and/or voice recorder and cheer as loudly as you want. After the game you attend, we will set up an area where you can toss a few questions at a coach or players, based on your requests and their availability.

Shortly after the announcement an interview was posted on Deadspin with Isles VP of Communications, Chris Botta.  Deadspin’s Will Leitch did a good job keeping it light, yet asking real questions and Botta answered all while not straying from the tone.

Reaction to the concept of the Blog Box has been mixed, and often from the same source.

James Mirtle, blogger and Globe and Mail scribe, was the subject of the Deadspin interview a couple of times.  Botta acknowledged a blogger in his position would probably have no problems being in the main press box.

Mirtle’s initial reaction to the Blog Box:

This is a step in the right direction, and it’s nice to see more NHL teams are making allowances for blog coverage, but you can certainly sense the organization’s apprehension here when it comes to putting “fans” in the actual press box.

Would he sit in the Blog Box? In a follow-up post he answers:

I will say this: The only reason I’d ever apply to go to the Blog Box would be to write about its existence (and maybe to have a pretzel).

Let’s put that on the schedule for 2007-08.

I think that’ll be the reaction from anyone outside of the metro area, those with mainstream media ties or any with previous press box experience.

Eric McErlain, who writes for his own blog Off Wing Opinion, along with AOL’s FanHouse and NBCSports.com, isn’t too thrilled about the idea:

I don’t know why anybody would apply for a watered down version of a press pass that only allows guarded access to Islanders players and staff and no access to visiting players at all.

He adds:

The Islanders idea is a press pass with training wheels. Then again, if I were in the shoes of Islanders Army or The View From Section 317, I’d give it a shot.

Islanders Army is exactly the type of site the Islanders are aiming for with this type of program.  Isles-centric and Murph gives off a pretty sane vibe.  Murph makes his intentions known:

Free tickets, pretzels and wireless on Wang? Sounds like a good deal to me, we’ll be sending in our application soon. We’ve got competition, the Islanders said they had 100+ applications already. This move is all about fan access and not some statement by the Islanders in the bloggers vs. professional press debate. I don’t think I’d want a real press pass anyways - being at the game and not being able to chant “Let’s Go Islanders” wouldn’t be fun for me. I might be able to bite my tongue for a regular season game, but if it was a playoff or Rangers game… no way.

So while bloggers like Mirtle and McErlain look to break the blogger-fan stereotype, Murph gladly accepts it, or at least the journalist-fan in-between that the Islanders have created for him.

The Islanders have made their own post about Blog Box coverage, including opinions like McErlain’s.  Murph responds to some of the negativity:

Nothing is stopping a more established and professional blogger from applying for a real press pass. It’s also not 100% fair to be judging the concept without seeing the final execution. I think the majority of bloggers would prefer the Blog box setup compared to rules and pressure of working with the professional press. I think the Islanders approach is good while it still can be improved over time.

This is one of those situations where everyone seems correct.  The Blog Box is innovative, limiting, encouraging, guarded and progressive.

The Islanders want to open up, make sure they get quality coverage from those with access, and not scare away the pros.  The pros, besides being protective of their turf, would like to keep their environment as professional as possible.  The bloggers simply want more access to the game they love covering, and to possibly get a different perspective on the game.

One audience that hasn’t been mentioned much is the audience of the selected bloggers.  Their reaction will be important as to how the Blog Box is accepted.  For it to be positive the bloggers must come through with some quality pieces (or why be in the box?), and the Islanders must be thick-skinned about any reasonably written criticism.  Readers will be looking for the honest opinions they’ve grown accustomed to.  The first sign of a censored blogger and the reputations of both the blogger and the program will be in jeopardy.

I’ve written some considerations for bloggers with press access before, but the Blog Box should be a bit more relaxed than some of my experiences.  Remember, just as important as covering the game on the ice, the Blog Box will allow its members to build relationships.  Think about both today and tomorrow if you’re one of those who chooses to participate in this program.  Oh, and lay off the beer.

While it would have been nice to see the Islanders take an open approach like the Capitals, the Caps are recognized as being an exception to what’s normally a closed-door policy.  Instead of moving idly about, waiting to see what happens around the league, the Islanders have decided to be pro-active.  It seems cautious, but it’s movement in the right direction and should be an interesting experience for all involved.

Posted by David M Singer on Jun 15, 2007 at 02:30 PM


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