Who Should Be Allowed in the Press Box?

Few people can argue that bloggers have added an intriguing dynamic to the quantity and quality of information we receive.  In some instances blogs have displaced traditional media outlets as the first stop for people in their quest for news and entertainment.

Many of these bloggers often act as reporters and columnists without the access to those they cover.  Because they have garnered some level of respect, the question has been raised as to whether bloggers should be allowed to cover events as credentialed reporters.

News bloggers have been given the powers of the press in many instances, including at the 2004 Democratic National Convention and the Scooter Libby trial.  There is even an organization whose mission is to ensure that bloggers gain access to press passes.

The world of sports, however, has been slow in granting credentials to bloggers.  Many organizations take the view that bloggers are nothing more than fan boy geeks whose comments lend little to the discourse of covering the team.  There is no doubt there are plenty of those sites out there, but there are others who seek to use their blog as more than just an electronic forum of criticism.

Part of what I hope to accomplish here at Sports Media Journal would require access to the press box.  In an attempt to bring you the “behind the scenes” of press row I would need a press pass to it.

There have been efforts to change the conventional thinking about sports bloggers and press credentials.  Eric McErlain at Off Wing Opinion has worked hard to draft guidelines that would allow bloggers in the press box.   His efforts worked out so well that he is now fully credentialed by the Washington Capitals.  Last month the New York Islanders made news by announcing that they will be allowing bloggers to cover the team for the 2007-2008 season.  The Arena Football League will also look to credenatial bloggers for its championship game.

I was interested in getting people’s opinions as to whether they feel sports bloggers should be allowed in the press box.  The recent SMJ poll gave us mixed results.  Deadspin, one of the largest and most visited sports blogs, was adamant in its desire NOT to seek press passes.

What better place to seek out opinions on the issue than from the sports media itself?  The best place to do this is at Sports Journalists.com.  Reporters of all skill levels post and read industry opinions under the guise of general anonymity.  I decided to post the question about bloggers in the press box and the response was, to say the least, enlightening.

Here are some of the comments.  First, those who support the concept of allowing bloggers in the press box:

Any blogger or community reporter belongs in the press box if they have a legitimate reason for being there. It’s not a daily newspaper reporter and television hack box – it’s a press box.

Why not have some of these bloggers that run sites that get many more hits than some of the papers the journalists represent get?
Some of these bloggers reach far more people than the journalists from smaller markets.

Why deny them the chance to get in the box and relay that info to the masses? Especially if more and more people are looking to blogs for info nowadays? It just seems like the right thing to do.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but don’t teams and/or leagues control press box access? If a team or event thinks the bloggers they credential can help reach its fans, then why would it give a flying f*** what any “legitimate” journalists think? After all, don’t we “legitimate” journalists get credentials because teams, in their heart of hearts, believe we’re giving them free publicity, even if it isn’t exactly what they would write?

When it comes to the issue of bloggers in the press box, to me it comes down to readership and credibility. My site certainly has more readers than the sports sections of many of the credentialed papers covering a given team, so I don’t see any reason why we shouldn’t be given credentials. We don’t need them, but if we wanted them for a particular reason, it shouldn’t be an issue.

Perhaps the word “blogger” is the problem. Maybe a sub like “independent journalist” would be better. (That could cover freelancers, too.) Honestly, I would guess that most of us wouldn’t notice where the person next to us was from as long as that person appeared to be working, and wasn’t there making an ass of himself or herself.

Now those who are not too keen with the notion of bloggers in the press box:

I say hell no to the question. There are already far too many loser fan-boys who get their crusty fingers around credentials and then in turn fill up press boxes and clog up locker rooms and make the job of those of us who are actually working ten times harder than it needs to be.

I have an NFL beat. If I ever get a call from the team’s PR people telling me I have to stand in the concourse next season because the PRESS box is full of fan-boy bloggers, I’m gonna quit my job and become a farmer.  Just because you understand HTML and have a website no more makes you a member of the media than dispensing Tylenol to my wife makes me a doctor.

There is no reason any blogger needs to be in the press box unless his blog is connected with a legitimate media outlet and he agrees to adhere to the same journalistic standards as all of the rest of us. I’d even go so far to say the blogger must also be getting paid for blogging because that would eliminate about 95 percent of them right off the top.

We should be making our newspapers and newspapers’ websites THE NO. 1 SOURCE FOR BOTH BLOG READERS AND NEWSPAPER READERS (i.e. blog during, and immediately after the game – brief, quoteless recaps or short opinionated pieces; and for the morning paper run feature-ish and reaction-type pieces about the game and its players, including quotes and stats).
Do both those things and “real blogs” (i.e. those of banged out by basement dwellers) become less relevant, other than to rant, rave and cheer in an unregulated fanboyish manner.

There is one point I would like to make in favor of newspapers that I haven’t really seen anyone discuss. There is a sense of “trust” that the general public does have with newspapers. While there have been arguments of specific incidents to say that the media is no longer trusted by the public, I do not believe that people trust bloggers over traditional media.

The majority of them are poorly written by people who love the sound of they’re own keyboarding. They’re an exercise in literary masturbation.

There were over 200 posts in relation to this topic.  Read them all here.  (Reader beware…there are some bitter sports journalists out there.  Not all comments are suitable for all eyes.)

What’s my take on the issue?  I fall in line with this post from Sports Journalists:

I think I would allow a blog in if it was real journalism in the blog. Can bloggers be journalists? Yes. Are all bloggers journalists? No. It is a matter of definition. If the blog is an economic enterprise (trying to make money), like rivals/scout or the blogger is actually doing professional work while blogging, I say let them in. But, if it is a fan site where a guy doesn’t adhere to journalistic standards, then I don’t think he she it should be allowed.

I firmly believe that a great majority of bloggers do not wish, nor need, press credentials.  These fan sites have a place on the web and are quite entertaining.  Their work does not rely on access to the team. 

For those sites, however, that are attempting to compete journalistically with traditional media outlets, there should be some consideration to allowing them in the press box.  However there needs to be criteria set on deciding who should get such access.  Off Wing Opinion is on the right track.  The decision should be left up to individual teams. 

What the Islanders are doing is realization that bloggers can play a role in covering the team.  I hope more teams follow suit and view bloggers (in some form) as potentially valuable club resources.

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