We are a society of principle. Prideful and willing to take what we consider ours and bitch until we get it. You are hoping what you get will eventually change your life for the better, however, sometimes, the reward isn't what you thought it would be. It is like being a kid and begging your parents for a new car. You keep harping that these purchases will change your life. Johnny next door has a new car and is getting chicks at school because of it, why can't I? Your parents say you aren't ready and you pout and continue to beg for it. You go from the wanting it for the fun of it to wanting it out of principle. You deserve it! Your parents finally give in. You get what you want and you celebrate for a day. Maybe a week. But there's a problem. You can't drive worth a damn and everyone at school has a car now so it's not so special.
That's how I feel about the Sabres and blogger access.
Don't get me wrong, I think the Sabres have great intentions in trying to help out bloggers and we want the help... but it just seems like something is missing. I know some are really happy about it. Heck, we have some writers on this site who are liking this and I completely understand. It feels dumb for me to question the worth of access because I was one of the many who wanted it. Looking back, I think, for me, it was mostly about just wanting respect from teams and mainstream peeps. When you hear all the jokes about blogging from your basement and you're being told you can't put two sentences together, you grow a HUGE chip on your shoulder. Give me access or give me death! That was probably the main reason why I put up a stink when I didn't get the invite for the first Blogger Summit. In the end, though, maybe I was just demanding access for all the wrong reasons.
It just feels like we are going into year two of a relationship without having slept with each other. Neither of us is really saying what we want out of this relationship because we are too shy. We're still feeling each other out, but at some point, someone needs to just make a move.
Allow me. There are two kinds of bloggers, super fan bloggers and aspiring journalists. I think the Sabres have done a decent job in helping the latter, but the super fans seem to be left out in the cold a little.
Do super fan bloggers really want to ask Ted Black when the Sabres are firing Lindy or trading Derek Roy? Probably not.
They started blogging because of the love they have for hockey and the Sabres, not because they wanted to get hits on their site or because they wanted to be in the press box. The Sabres did right when they let Katebits and Heather B. ride around in limos with Sabres players. They are super fans. They love the players. They hate when people shit on the team or fans. I don't think aspiring journalists will be all "OH.MY.GOD" in a limo with Ville Leino because the first thing they teach them in college is that journalists are objective, not super fans. It would be cool, but would it be something they would remember for the rest of their lives? (Editor's note: Using my Bucky Gleason-like hindsight, I'm actually NOT that excited about riding in a limo with Ville Leino. Turns out he's bad at hockey. Heh. -HB)
Super fans? YES.
The Sabres should try and do more stuff like that for fan bloggers. Have them follow Thomas Vanek to some homeless shelter or a kids hospital and write about it. They want to hang out with the players and write about them in a non-journalistic way, focusing on things other than stats. I also think they should be somewhere different if they attend a game. Put those fools somewhere where they can actually cheer. I know, they're just going for free instead of covering a game, but so what? Limit it to 3 times a year. I'd pay good money to party in a blogger box. It beats writing a recap. (Editor's note: I would kill to have gone on some of the hospital tours with Jordan Leopold. KILLED. Sabres, if you ever need someone to hang with Jordan for a day, I will come out of retirement. -HB)
That's what fan bloggers want.
They don't care about the size of their readership, really. I know that sounds harsh and I probably shouldn't be the one projecting this, but I don't think they want to be the voice of the fans about things like game presentation and Derek Roy's on-ice performance. For super fans, blogging seems to be more of a "ME! ME! ME! FUN!" proposition. They are doing it for themselves. For fun. They want to enjoy themselves, not be Mike Wallace. They want to write when they feel like writing. They want to write a lot when things are great and try to find ways to still like the team when things are at their darkest. They are fans and that's how most fans are.
As for folks who want to make a career of writing? I think they want what the Blogger Summit had. Reporter-in-training situations where they can ask questions that are professional but also a little different.
(Side note: Stop grandstanding because you asked Ted Black what you thought was a tough question because it is not cool. Don't be a fan of yourself. I know it is exciting and you can get caught up in it, but act like you have been there before because you have. Also, the whole "We better do something with this access" is being blown out of proportion. Blogging isn't all about access. It is about your ability to write from your heart in a way that will keep people coming back for more. Editor's note: Amen to both of these. -HB)
So what does this all mean? The Sabres should study what each blog brings to the table and then differentiate what kind of access they get. Create separate events/access for super fans and for aspiring journalists. It really is black and white when you think about it. (Editor's note: Yes! I understand why the Sabres used the number of apperances in the press box last season to determine who's getting increased access this season, but it does leave fan bloggers who don't want to sit in the press box and write game recaps out of the equation completely. There are many fan bloggers who are happy to be used for fluffy PR purposes - like I said, I would LOVE to have had the opportunity to write about Jordan Leopold visiting hospitals in an elf costume at Christmas time - and the Sabres are missing the boat on them right now. -HB)
I've always been a cynic when it comes to working relationships between teams and media outlets. It dates back to the late 90's when WNSA always seemed to defend the Sabres because John Rigas owned both entities. I remember watching Fan TV and Hockey Hotline and whenever someone called in to complain about the ownership, the hosts' faces would freeze and they'd either cut the guy off or just go on to the next caller without acknowledging the previous caller.
On the other hand, at that time, WGR didn't seem to give two sh#ts about who they pissed off from the organization. You could totally tell that WGR/Chuck Dickerson went out of their way to trash the Sabres/Bills when they didn't have their radio rights while WNSA seemed to coddle them. For this, I've always been cynical about flagship stations and stations without gaming rights.
I think if you get too close to your interview subjects or team officials or to each other's cash, your opinion gets softened. Last year, when the Sabres and Bills were suddenly reaching out to bloggers, I got soft on the teams for a month or two. I wasn't sure if I should be attacking them as much as I did in the past because they were giving us all these goodies. Would we not be allowed to go to the Bills jersey unveiling if I bad-mouthed Ralph Wilson? I got paranoid. Obviously, the Bills and Sabres probably didn't care much, but it took me a month or so to adjust.
I remember Mike Schopp writing a piece last year when the sale of the Sabres was going down. He mentioned that he was called upstairs into a meeting with the fine folks at Entercom about something he wrote about the Sabres not being committed to winning under Golisano. I can only hope Schopp told them to kiss his ass.
Now you have Sabres/Bills employees with their own shows?
I'm not faulting WGR for it because it is additional programming that isn't costing them a dime. The main reason why sports radio in Buffalo can't go local more is because it is not economically possible.
This makes WGR the most dominant enterprise in Buffalo for sports. I spend 5 minutes a day looking over TBN's site and then I'm done. WGR is going to be on for 12 hours a day. In most markets, a network affiliate like SNY or YES or NESN would dominate because TV is the bigger medium, but because local TV sports coverage is pretty much 7 minutes a day, WGR takes the cake as king in my opinion.
As for this 10am-12pm show... I don't know. I've always thought most of the broadcast crew on Sabres games was a tad biased. I mean, that's how it is for every sports team. There were so many instances last year when Kevin Sylvester found some sort of excuse for why the Sabres got their asses kicked. I just don't think Sylvester will go on the radio and talk about why Derek Roy needs to be traded and whether this season is do or die for Ruff and Regier, do you? Because of that, I'm a tad skeptical about it.
When it comes to mainstream coverage, I've always been big on being unbiased and not being a cheerleader. I'm old-school when it comes to this. I cheer enough for the Bills and Sabres. Why the hell do I need the media to do the same?
Hold teams accountable and be dicks to them when they suck.
But hey, I've always found that Sabres/Bills fans want cheerleaders and positivity from outlets, so what do I know?
Also, what the hell are you going to talk about during the offseason on the Sabres show? WGR has a hard enough time finding interesting content/topics during the offseason (see: animal drafts) because it is only a 2 sport town. Hell, I can't find many things to blog about, hence Game of Thrones recaps, the What if? series, and 6 pieces dedicated to media in 10 days. I know a number of fans can listen to hockey/football coverage 24/7, but I can't. I don't care about Shawne Merriman's OTAs or some 19-year-old Sabres prospect tearing up the OHLBFLK Alaska hockey league. Alas, some people do and those people matter more than I.
As for John Murphy's new show, I know a number of people love him. I don't really know much about his POV because you can't really get much from a sports anchor who does 3 minutes of sports every night. I don't remember him on WBEN - everyone says it was awesome radio - and I usually don't listen to Bills broadcasts. So, we shall see how his show works out.
But again, it really isn't about the individual, it is about who is paying the bills at the station. I'm sure tons of players will be on it since it is coming from the arena or training camp. Hardhitting or just fluff? Commercial for team or regular WGR content?
First it was flagship stations, now it is team owned broadcasts? While I think WGR has been more fair and balanced under Pegula, it sounds too controlling in a media market that doesn't have many options to begin with.
(Note: This is mostly from a sports POV, as I don't read much of anything news/region related in The Buffalo News or any other Buffalo outlet)
I've heard all the stories about people reading their morning paper with their coffee and donut. You know, those stories about Grandma sitting next to a fireplace or dad reading it in front of a TV after a long day's work. I do not have any of those memories. You see, my parents are from Italy and couldn't read English so there was no point in having the paper in the house.
As I've said numerous times, I got my sports fix from TV and radio and the only time I ever thought about the paper was when the TBN guys were on Empire or WGR. If I went back in time and tried to get into sports again, I'd be more inclined to go with writing because it seems like the medium that allows for the most creativity and subjectivity, however, I just wasn't exposed to it as a kid.
I believe people who still get the paper in Buffalo are mostly over 40. Younger folks seem to get their news off the web. Obviously, TBN knows this and that's why we are going to be getting a paywall come the fall.
Everyone knows newspaper sales are going down across the country. TBN peeps can say their subscriptions are going down because of population loss in the region, but what is the excuse for the metro areas across the country who are still maintaining their population? In my opinion, the people who get the paper are either older folks who love the feel of it and aren't technologically-savvy or people in areas like NYC and LA that rely heavily on public transportation, who need something to read on the subway. Buffalo's population dwindling, but it is still a region that contains a number of older people. TBN is also in a media market without a sports TV affiliate which gives them a little less competition.
It will be interesting to see how well the paywal works out. I know a number of Buffalo News haters will stage their own Boston Tea Party, throwing TBN papers into the trash and declaring that they'll never buy it....but I think some will cave in. If it is something like 10 bucks a month, what the hell? I'll buy. I do think it is odd that it is cheaper to just buy a Sunday subscription/digital subscription than it is to buy just a digital subscription. Sounds like they are trying to boost paper sales rather than try to maximize the online product. (Editors note: I would guess it has something to do with them still making more on print advertising - especially in Sunday's paper - than online advertising. Until they really figure out how to monetize online advertising, they need to sell papers. Something like that. -HB)
People still want to get their news from reporters who are with the team on a daily basis and columnists they have been reading for the last 20 years. Fan sites like this one are still unknown to many people while everyone knows TBN. If you walk down Delaware Avenue and take a poll, everyone will know Jerry Sullivan and Bucky Gleason. Mention a bunch of different bloggers names and you'll probably see some quizzical looks. I think people involved with blogging and Twitter can sometimes get stuck in a bubble and forget how many people's opinions are not represented there. If we based everything on what our Twitter feeds say, WECK would have bought out WGR and Bucky Gleason would be flipping burgers. But neither of those things have happened because we are the minority. (Editor's note: Alas! -HB) Will it change 5-10 years from now? Yes. But for now, we are still kind of an unknown.
Even though I think a paywall can work, TBN needs to add some stuff to their site. I'm only going to get it because I can spare the money and I'm a big fan of Jerry Sullivan. Frankly, I can live without Sabres Edge and the other stuff. You can't just charge people after giving them free content. You have to offer more. TBN needs to take some of this new revenue and put it back into the product.
Some suggestions: fan forums (Two Bills Drive is a traffic monster and I think TBN should get a message board like that with each reporter getting his own section), a reporter Q&A section, daily podcasts (think the first 10 minutes of PTI and pick two reporters out of a hat), daily videos (the SBXXV retro video was great, but no one cares about Mark Gaughan doing a stand up outside of the stadium after the Bills sign Mark Anderson. Also, broadband video is the future. People are watching videos/TV shows on their computer more than ever before. TBN and other sports outlets in Buffalo need to get on that. Of course, since it took most of them 5 years to get on Twitter, broadband will probably get noticed around 2020), 1-on-1 interviews, fantasy sports leagues with readers and reporters, and maybe hiring a Bill Simmons-type blogger.
OK, the latter won't happen.
More importantly, be interactive. That's what the Internet/social media is about. You can't just put your newspaper online and call it a day. The paper and the online world should be run as two different entities because you have two different audiences.