I'm not sure what really possesed me to reach out to do a Q&A with the Buffalo News Sports Editor. I think I was on Twitter one day and everyone was going crazy about something Bucky or Sully said about the Sabres. I think I was just curious as to how The Buffalo News Sports department viewed bloggers and how they envision the future of online sports coverage. So, why not find out from the person at the top of the sports department? I decided to send an email to Lisa Wilson, who took over the sports section of the Buffalo News back in May, about answering some questions about the paper.
She was kind enough to answer a bunch of questions about the blogsphere, the future of TBN's online section, Bucky Gleason's popularity, bloggers versus mainstream media and much more. Hope you all enjoy.
Q1) How did it feel to get promoted to Sports Editor and then, two weeks later, be named on a CNNSI media power list?
A1) It’s a tremendous honor, and truly a dream come true. Hard work and faith have taken me places I never could have imagined.
Q2) How do you feel about the online sports page for The Buffalo News?
A2) I think we’ve made some upgrades over the past couple of years. The content is better organized and easier to find. We used to get several calls asking about high school scores, but now readers can click on buffalonews.com early in the night and find out scores because they get posted to the Web immediately. That’s quite an improvement.
Q3) As the sports editor, are there new ideas that you want to incorporate into the Web coverage or do you think things are fine the way they are?
A3) I’m pleased with our Web coverage, but I’m always looking for ways to enhance it. Take high school football for example. We do a great job with PrepTalkTV, but I’ve learned that people can’t get enough video highlights, so we’ve added Plays of the Weekend. We post three or four top plays and get readers involved by asking them to vote for their favorite.
Q4) It seems pretty obvious that most print outlets are trying to make the transition to online media. How do you feel about the industry going more in that direction and what sort of ways has TBN gone about doing that?
A4) A little sad, obviously, coming from a print background. It’s hard to imagine a time when I won’t be able to pick up a newspaper and read it. But everything evolves. I’ve encouraged our writers to build their brand by blogging, live chatting (and now video chatting), tweeting, etc. If you build your brand, readers will find you, no matter the format.
Q5) Can you see a future in which TBN will start charging a fee to read articles online? I know that Newsday has gone that route.
A5) Sure, I can see that, especially if other newspapers have success with it
Q6) Last year, TBN made efforts to cut down on the number of degrading/disparaging comments that some readers would make on stories and blogs. The publication was one of the first news outlets to do such a thing. How do you think the whole process helped or hurt readership?
A6) I applaud our editor, Margaret Sullivan, for her decision to make readers register and use their real names when leaving comments. There were certain stories I refused to read online because I knew the comments would be nasty and out of line. Now that people have to use their real names, the conversation has been much more civil. I don’t think it hurt readership too much because the majority of people visit our site for its superb journalism, not to leave mean-spirited, anonymous comments.
Q7) In January of this year, TBN produced a great retrospect video of Super Bowl XXV, which ran for about 10 minutes. Do you think the department should do more videos along those lines, especially when you consider that Buffalo is the only two sport town without a TV sports affiliate and that channels like ESPN don't give the city that much air time?
A7) Absolutely. Like all newspapers, we are doing more with less these days, but we will find the time for those sort of projects.
Q8) I read that Sabres Edge has had over 3 million hits since its inception in 2007. Why do you think the blog has been so successful? Also, do you find it strange that the BillBoard blog, which I'm sure does well because of the love for the Bills, has been behind the hockey blog in terms of hits?
A8) I think Sabres Edge has been successful because John Vogl and Mike Harrington never stop posting breaking news and interesting tidbits that keep readers coming back for more. I think Mark Gaughan, Rodney McKissic and Jay Skurski do the same with the BillBoard blog. I don’t think it’s strange that Sabres Edge has gotten more hits than BillBoard, considering the Sabres have had some success in recent seasons while the Bills have endured a long playoff drought. But it will be interesting to keep track of the numbers if the Bills keep winning.
Q9) I've heard Jerry Sullivan mention on the radio that he's not a fan of the way TBN has covered the NBA. I know that we don't have a pro basketball team in Buffalo, but growing up there, I always found that younger people really enjoyed the NBA. How come TBN doesn't cover the NBA as much as Jerry thinks they should?
A9) One thing The News assured itself of with my promotion is a sports editor who enjoys the NBA as much as Jerry. I’ve always thought we should do more with the NBA, only now I am in position to do something about it. Of course, as I type this there is no end in sight to the lockout. One reason we’ve downplayed the NBA is because “nobody cares about the NBA in Buffalo,” or so people believe. I don’t think that’s true at all. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve struck up a conversation about the NBA with somebody I’ve just met. We’ve also had to cut back on NBA coverage because the Sports section has gotten smaller in recent years. Whenever we get squeezed, the NBA is among the first things to go because we don’t have a team. My goal is to stop that from happening as much.
Q10) I wanted to switch topics to the blogger vs. mainstream media relationship. As a blogger, I've never understood why it seems like bloggers and the mainstream media have to be at each other's throats when it comes to sports coverage. How do you feel about the blogsphere?
A10) I don’t think sports fans will ever get their fill of sports talk. Bloggers give them many more options. That’s important. I’m with you on not understanding why the mainstream media and bloggers have to be at each other’s throats. Each writes about sports, they just go about it in different ways. Bloggers write from a fan’s point of view. Journalists have to be objective and distance themselves from the team. Even columnists, who are paid to have opinions, need to maintain a certain level of distance. A columnist could never end a column with “Go Sabres! A blogger could write that and nobody would give it a second thought. I’m sure readers can appreciate both styles, so why can’t we?
Q11) Twitter seems to be a great tool that many sports journalists are using. I know Mike Harrington has over 3,000 followers, and I feel that being on the site has really increased his visibility amongst his readers. However, I know that Bucky Gleason and Jerry Sullivan aren't fans of the site. Do you think they should embrace Twitter and have you ever thought about making them sign-up for it?
A11) A lot has changed since you first posed this question. Jerry Sullivan and Bucky Gleason are on Twitter. So is John Vogl, another Twitter holdout. I never thought about making it mandatory for our writers. I simply stress the importance of social media and let them come around on their own.
Q12) Because Mike is so visible on Twitter, he'll always take the time to speak to readers and bloggers about what is happening in the sports world. Frankly, I think it has slightly helped the relationship between Buffalo sports bloggers and TBN. Do you feel it's important for both entities to have a decent relationship?
A12) It’s definitely important for both entities to have a decent relationship. I think it would help to clear up some of the misconceptions each side has about the other (i.e. #feces). I’ve had productive exchanges with some of the bloggers. It’s not hard to find common ground: we all love sports. It’s the reason we do what we do. #whycantwebefriends
Q13) There's always been talk amongst bloggers that they should be allowed in the press box. Do you think they should be allowed that right?
A13) One of the criticisms of bloggers is that they can write whatever they want without having to answer for it, unlike beat writers and columnists who have to go into the locker room day in and day out. Allowing bloggers in the press box and granting them locker room access would put an end to that. But teams have limited space in the press box and there probably isn’t enough room for accredited members of the media and all of the bloggers out there. So where do you draw the line? Who gets a pass and who doesn't? If you can’t accommodate all bloggers, it’s probably best not to accommodate any.
Q14) Since the Sabres had a blogger summit, do you think TBN sports department should have their own blogger summit with bloggers or better yet, have a gathering with readers at a bar? I mean, radio stations like WGR do it to meet listeners, why not your staff?
A14) That’s an interesting idea. I’ll file that one away. I think it’s important to connect with readers in as many ways as possible.
Q15) As I alluded to earlier, a number of Sabres bloggers tend to not like the opinions from The Buffalo News when it comes to the Sabres. The person who gets the most flak seems to be Bucky Gleason. Personally, I don't have a problem with Bucky's writings or takes. I think he does a great job of keeping the audience informed with the league happenings. However, a large number of bloggers have been very vocal about his columns. Here is an example of what some bloggers have said about him:
"It's bad enough that his columns are one-note. But Gleason's behavior at the Sabres press conferences over the past week have solidified the fact that he's an idiot of the highest order."
"As usual Gleason goes over the line with his arguments in a distinct effort to belittle his audience. It’s a nasty habit that doesn’t help drive his point home at all. In fact, it turns off the reader to the point that most people fail to even consider what he is trying to say."
"The thing is, no one has a bigger audience as a hockey commentator – print, radio, television, or otherwise – in Western New York than Bucky Gleason. I feel ridiculous asking this, but has he forgotten who his readership consists of? Why, as a columnist for the Buffalo News, would you want to provoke Buffalo sports fans? I don’t understand."
As the Sports Editor, does this ever concern you? I know that every columnist in America will get their fair share of complaints, but there seems to be a large contingent of bloggers who don't like his takes. Also, are you concerned that in the social media world we live in, some readers, who may feel indifferent about Bucky, could be influenced by a number of different blogs about him?
A15) Honestly, this doesn’t concern me at all. As you said, every columnist gets a fair share of complaints. Complaints mean that people are reading, and that’s what counts.
Q16) What is a bigger concern for the mainstream media, players breaking their own news (IE: Drayton Florence annouing he re-signed with Buffalo on Twitter) or when team reporters break news like the Sabres did when they re-signed Marc-Andre Gragnani?
A16) I can’t say one is a bigger concern than the other. They are both huge concerns. Both scenarios add to our competition. Since we always want the story first, we have to be mindful of both.
Q17) With the success of bloggers like Bill Simmons, do you think there would ever be a place where someone like him (A fan of the teams) could write for TBN or any other major newspaper?
A17) Maybe. I couldn’t envision running a blogger’s take with our daily coverage. For example, we wouldn’t run a blogger’s column with our Sabres coverage. We have our own beat writers and columnists for that. But we have a Sports Talk page every Sunday that enables fans to voice their opinions through Letters to the Editor. Blogs are a lot like Letters to the Editor. Is there opportunity on that page? That’s something to think about. Of course, all letters are subject to editing, and the same would apply to blogs. That could be a deal-breaker.