Saturday, October 18, 2008

Petty power-trippers deserve an Oil embargo

He got treated like a petty criminal for the crime of loving his hockey team -- by some very petty power-tripping people.

All that young journalist David Berry, who writes for the awesome hockey blog Covered In Oil was ever guilty of was loving the Edmonton Oilers. Last Sunday, when he was in the Skyreach Centre pressbox in his capacity of working for another media outlet, the Oilers turfed him and shut down his liveblog of the Avalanche-Oilers game. Never mind that at least two regulars on the Oilers beat are routinely saving quotes they get thanks to having a press pass for mainstream media outlets for use on an independent blog. They're doing exactly what David Berry was doing -- using a blog to complement his coverage. Why are the Oilers and the NHL, which is supposed to have a uniform Internet policy for all 30 member teams, cool with one and not cool with the other?

At worst, this was just a simple misunderstanding. The CIO guys have explained that the Oilers didn't say that Berry could not post during the game. He should not have had to ask. He was a properly vetted, fully accredited writer who was using his best judgment. The control freaks apparently just couldn't handle it.

The Oilers organization should hear it over this gaffe. No less an authority than James Mirtle has said the team has the best blog community in the NHL:
"It's really not even close. There are a lot of Oilers blogs, but it's more the popularity and quality that exceeds other NHL teams." -- Edmonton Journal, Nov. 19, 2007
The Oilers ought to be embracing this Alberta advantage, not trying to nip in the bud. It's best to leave it open-ended why they would act in this manner (ageism -- Berry is in his mid-20s -- ignorance, arrogance, whatever).

The least the Oilers could do is be grateful that they have this fanatic following on the web. Covered In Oil's Mike Winters told the Edmonton Journal last year that they maintain the blog as a "kind of a love letter to Edmonton, a way of keeping in touch." One can only assume what it meant to Berry as a fan of the team to be so lucky as to get to cover the team as an adult -- and then to great treated in such a shabby manner.

The Oilers don't have to open up the gates to every Joe the Plumber with a Blogspot or a Wordpress account. The least they and the NHL could do, though, is be consistent with their policy regarding bloggers, so-called. As noted, if bloggers are persona non grata in their press box, then why are Robin Brownlee, a former Edmonton Sun beat writer and Jason Gregor, of the Team 1260 radio station, allowed in? Several sources say they often take quotes they could presumably only get thanks to their credentials and use them only on a blog, nowhere else.
Besides, by the Oilers' irrationale, if Covered In Oil is going to get the heave-ho, then no one in the press box should be allowed to blog stuff that they pick up once they're inside the velvet rope.

The funny thing about that. On my Google Reader, I have several sites that are compiled by a professional broadcaster or writer who gets his info thanks in large part to their jobs at another outlet -- the Belleville News-Democrat's Norm Sanders' Blues Note By Note, Kelowna Rockets play-by-play man Regan Bartel's Regan's Rant and Kamloops Daily News sports editor Gregg Drinnan's Taking Note, just to name a couple. There is also Coming Down the Pipe!, compiled by Guy Flaming and Dean Millard, media personalities in, wait for it, Edmonton.

At the heart of it, they each do it for the same reason. They have information that they can't fit into the news-hole or a live broadcast, but they know there's appetite for that info. The point is that the Oilers were wrong, and the NHL is wrong, to make an example out of Covered In Oil for simply trying to do its part for the team's fans. Would they rather have people flocking to an Edmonton Eskimos blog (if one even exists)?

And if the coverage is critical, so what? Did they not read the part in Will Blythe's To Hate Like This Is To Be Happy Forever when he argues that all game reports should be put together by people who are diehard fans, since they're likely to be the most honest? It's far better to be criticized than ignored.

Obviously, there are control issues for the teams. This isn't the first time a team or league has turfed someone who was blogging during a game -- a reporter from Louisville got the bum's rush during a NCAA College World Series baseball game a while back. It gets into the "any retransmission, without express written consent of Major League Baseball" issue.

Guess what, geniuses? A liveblog is not competition. It's a companion piece. It's the liner notes. Not everyone is going to read it, but those who do appreciate it when it's obvious some care and thought is behind it.

Out of 100 fans who want to follow an Oilers game, 95 to 98 will turn to TV, radio and streaming video. The ones who are checking a liveblog, to hazard a guess, probably have the TV on. They want to see someone else's impressions of the match, to see how it squares with their own. It's another way of enhancing our shared experience as sports nuts, and tough titty that the NHL cannot find a way to charge people $9.95 for that (if they could, they would).

Sites such as Battle of Alberta (glove tap to Andy Grabia for bringing this to our attention), Hot Oil, mc79hockey, and others, should have more. This should be meet with some form of symbolic protest -- one site suggested they all go dark for one week -- so the Oilers smarten up and swing with the times. Shame on them for not realizing what they have in the NHL's best blog community.

The bottom line, they did wrong by David Berry. Please go over to Covered In Oil and leave a comment in "solitarity." He was just putting his skills to good use and for that, the Edmonton Oilers tossed him out like a drunk who had micturated on the jukebox. That is not right.

(Update, 1 p.m.: It has been Deadspinned.)

It ends (Covered In Oil)


Andrew Bucholtz said...

Good post, Neate. Ridiculous move on the part of the Oilers. Live-blogging isn't threatening anyone's business: in fact, it probably helps create more interest in the team. Some people really need to join the 21st century...

Andrew Bucholtz said...

Oh, and by way of comparision, there are plenty of other franchises that are just fine with live-blogging. Queen's is one and Toronto FC is another. The Globe's Larry Millson has been doing a great job of covering their home games live all season long, and they seem pretty happy with the exposure. The Oilers should watch and learn. In the immortal words of Firefly's Mr. Universe, "You can't stop the signal!"

raventalon40 said...

I don't understand WHY they'd want to stop the signal. Any exposure is good exposure and we're not talking about Sean Avery business here - we're talking Oilers' fans loving every minute of their volunteer work: spreading love and cheer for the team.