Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Wherefore Art Thou Blogger?

I have recently had reason* to consider my purpose in blogging. The doldrums of the off-season being fertile ground for such existential soul-searching.

At the risk of being self-indulgent, the reason I started blogging was because I often found myself with extra stuff to say about hockey after making my daily rounds of the on-line hockey world.

Additionally, where some fans might be able to go out to a bar (if not the game itself) and be surrounded by other fans with whom to discuss the game, as a fan of a team that resides 1,000 miles from where I do I would often end up watching on TV (God bless NHL Center Ice!) by myself - particularly those 10:30 pm (local time) starts out on the left coast (my wife having wisely gone off to bed). So, bereft of co-hort with which to discuss the game in person, blogging became my outlet.

As blogging in general (and sports blogging in particular) has grown from one of those rest areas (where you can pull over and stretch your legs, but there aren't any facilities) to a full-service rest stop (with the gas station, truck wash, diner, McDonald's, Starbucks, Cin-A-Bon, convenience store, massage parlor, etc) on the road to journalistic relevance, the most consistent question raised by the card-carrying members of the fourth estate is whether or not, by virtue of the fact that independent bloggers are not beholden to the time-honored traditions of journalistic integrity (not to mention editing/showing any aptitude at all for the English language) that they are, blogging is a legit extension of journalism.

The question, really, is: what is journalism?

Is it an expression of opinion? Is it reporting a representation of fact? Is it the contrivance of reality? Is it the contrivance of the perception of reality?

Does the absence of accountability to a higher authority automatically mean the independent blogger has no integrity?

Does the presence of accountability to a higher authority automatically mean the journalist does have integrity?

Our position here at HTP is that we can not offer better coverage of a team than the professional writers (like Michael Russo, whose coverage of the Wild - and the NHL in general - is comprehensive and indefatigable) do. I don't have press credentials, I don't have any access to the players, coaches or management - I don't even live in the same state! When I'm looking for game info or quotes I go to Russo. I see no value in simply duplicating what he and his hard-working colleagues (like John Shipley at the St. Paul Pioneer Press) produce. And that certainly wouldn't satisfy my initial goal of giving me a cathartic outlet for my own thoughts vis-a-vis the game.

Is that just an attempt to reconcile the lack of accountability? "If it's my opinion, how can it be wrong?" I'd have to say that's probably part of it. And I don't sit around thinking: "If I had an editor would I still write this?" as I'm typing a piece. So, yeah, that could be a strictly self-serving attitude on my part.

On the other hand, I understand that, as the blogosphere starts to garner a greater and greater percentage of the consumer's attention that means their publications are getting a smaller and smaller percentage (there being only so much of that attention to go around). So, for someone who has made journalism his profession, I can see where the emergence of the blogger is a threat to that profession. (That's the main reason you're unlikely to see ads on this blog.)

In trying to respect the job that the professionals do, am I nonetheless hampering those professionals' ability to continue having a job in the first place? I simply can't imagine that I'm shunting a lot of readership away from Russo (or Shipley, or McKenzie, or Kukla, or Eklund for that matter). But, what if a local newspaper - struggling to sell in the first place - doesn't agree? That's a real concern for us, to be honest. If the Strib came out and said "We have to lay off our sports desk in part because the blogging community has stolen enough of our thunder that we can't afford to keep paying them..." I'm really not sure what I'd do. (I harbor no illusion that HTP has any kind of effect on overall subscribership at the Strib or the Pio. We're talking hypotheticals here.)

In closing, is there a space in which HTP can operate that serves our own cathartic purposes without co-opting the work that the actual professionals do? I believe there is. I will continue to try to voice HTP as though we're just two fans standing around in the break room at work, talking about last night's game. This isn't a First Amendment campaign. I just want to talk some puck.

I think I can speak for WRT when I say that doing this has supplemented our hockey experience. So, thanks for a fun year, and for reading - all the available resources.


*That reason being USA Hockey Magazine's article "Evolution of a Revolution" (by Ricki Dugdale, August, 2008 issue) in which HTP was listed as one of the (ten) "top hockey blogs found on the Web today." WRT, THO and I are extremely honored to be mentioned in the article at all, let alone on that particular list of other people whose work we admire so greatly.


DP said...

existential soul-searching.

In the blog world that's called Navel Gazing. Keepp up the good work

Kirsten said...

I'm glad you're sticking around, Nick. I enjoy reading your stuff.
As for the papers,I disagree with Russo sometimes and don't usually read his blog, but my family gets both the Strib and the Pioneer Press, so I read those in print and read all the blogs online. I like seeing multiple takes on things, and the bloggers can write about things that can't be printed, and do fun pieces with photoshop, contests, and emotions. I think there is a place for both in the world.