Thursday, February 25, 2010

Rambling Thoughts on AMERICA! and TBN

I just tweeted this without really thinking about it: I love Ryan Miller, I love the United States, but I admit, part of me really wants Toni Lydman to come home with the gold medal.  I did clarify in a later tweet that I'm not really cheering AGAINST the United States - I'm surprised actually at how much I've enjoyed watching them play considering I was not the least bit excited about them coming into the Olympics - but I would be perfectly fine with Finland winning the whole thing.  

I'm sure a lot of people don't understand that but here's the simple truth at the center of the issue: I love Ryan Miller.  I'm really glad he's a Sabre, I hope he's a Sabre for a long time to come.  As I've said before, I'm really proud of what he's done in the Olympics so far.  He deserves every bit of attention he's getting.  But I love Toni Lydman.  If you asked me who was more valuable to the Sabres, of course I'd say Ryan Miller.  But if you asked me who I favored more, I'd say Toni Lydman.

I was resigned to the fact going into the Olympics that the Sabres playing on European teams weren't going to get much attention from The Buffalo News, but as far as I can tell, they haven't gotten any at all.  I totally understand why Ryan Miller is THE local story.  He plays for the United States.  He's the face of the Sabres franchise.  He's a goalie, and his contributions to the U.S. team have been crystal clear.  But I cheer for Henrik Tallinder, Toni Lydman, Jochen Hecht, and Andrej Sekera from October to April or May every year.  I don't suddenly not care about them at all because they're not American.  Tallinder's had an awesome season - completely rejuvenated and an important part of the Sabres success so far - and he was representing his country for the first time in the Olympics.  You're telling me there's no story there?  Really?  Come on.

I've been pretty disappointed with TBN's coverage all the way around.  Internet coverage has grown by leaps and bounds just since the last Olympics.  It's nearly impossible to make it to the prime-time broadcasts without knowing what's going to happen.  By the time the local newspaper hits doorsteps the next morning, readers have read or watched countless interviews with the medalists.  It's definitely a different challenge for a newspaper today than it was four years ago.

TBN seemed to have the right idea, setting up an Olympics specific blog and Twitter feed but then they plugged in... Bucky Gleason.  Really?  Their solution to coverage was to ramp up the online material - a fabulous idea - but they went with the one guy on staff who seems to hate the Internet and the interaction with readers that the Internet brings.  Okay then.  I mean, listen, I have my issues with Bucky, but I think I'm being pretty objective when I say that he's shown no skill for or interest in blogging and that his Twitter is obviously something he's been forced into doing.  I just do not understand that decision at all.  Mike Harrington spent 10 or so days covering the World Series (admittedly a smaller event than the Olympics) and cranked out a huge amount of material for the Inside Pitch blog, his Twitter feed, and the newspaper, all of it at a high quality.  He's usually entertaining, he throws out information that a lot of journalists might overlook, he includes little photos and videos, and crazily enough, he actually responds to readers.  And he works on the hockey beat so it's not like Bucky has a huge advantage over him in regards to relationships with the hockey players involved in the Olympics.  So you look at those two guys and you go with Bucky?

I'm sure there's probably some politics involved.  Columnists always seem to get gigs like this, and TBN seems to hold Bucky in very high regard.  (I don't understand either of those things, by the way.  It seems like if you need someone to write a lot of material in a short time you'd go with a beat writer, and I think TBN is highly overvaluing Bucky.)  But as someone who reads the paper, it doesn't make any sense at all.  From my point-of-view, it seems like a huge mishandling of talent, and I think it's hurt their coverage.  Harrington would be blogging and tweeting the heck out of everything as opposed to Bucky who's only personal insight into Ryan Miller's Olympic debut was, "Ryan Miller pitching a shutout through two periods vs switzerland."  Thanks, Bucky.  That's earth-shattering news considering a large number of us were actually watching the game at the time.  He wrote one really good column about how hard it was to describe how beautiful Vancouver is, but even that's a sign of how much he doesn't get - or doesn't care to get - new media.  He could have been posting photos of the views and mountains to his blog or Twitter feed for the last week and a half.  

I can't imagine that Bucky is too dumb to figure this stuff out so I'm going to assume he just doesn't care.  And if that's the case, he should stop getting plum assignments like this, at least when the majority of the coverage is going to be online.  I don't know if TBN genuinely doesn't understand the difference between what someone like Harrington (or Keith McShea of the terrific Prep Talk blog) does and what Bucky does or if they just think Bucky's going to magically come around on the whole internet thing if they keep pushing it on him, but either option makes me question how on top of things they are and how dedicated they are to providing me with the best possible coverage.

This is not at all where I intended to go with this when I started, but the bottom line is this: If Harrington were in Vancouver, I'll bet I would have gotten my Henrik Tallinder story.  In the end, I think we can all agree that that's really the most important thing.

15 comments:

PKB said...

I get that you feel as though the country with which a Sabres player competes for shouldn’t take away from the support you have for him and that’s honestly a fair point but how... how can you love Toni Lydman more than Ryan Miller right now? It shouldn’t be a competition for who you’re supposed to like more and I don’t mean to set it up as such (you started it). I’m mostly just curious about what you find so appealing about Toni and Hank. Hank cracks jokes and I appreciate that but Toni seems to have about as much personality as vanilla yogurt. Help me understand.

Heather B. said...

Help me understand.

PKB, I don't think I can. It's just a personal preference, something about Toni that strikes me and always has. I think he's funny and self-deprecating, I find the position he plays more interesting than that of forward or goalie. I don't know. I guess I'm surprised at how stuck on that people are getting considering that I've said many times in the past that while there are better players on the team, I like guys like Toni and Jochen more. Again, I'm not cheering against the United States. I think it'd be a great thing for Ryan's mindset to go into the last stretch of the season having just won a gold medal. But I won't mind if Finland wins at all because I really like Toni. I guess I'm not sure why that needs an explanation all of a sudden.

I'm sorry I muddied the waters with that because my point really was just that I would have liked to have read something about the European Sabres at the Olympics since there is some local interest with them, but maybe I'm in the minority there.

Anonymous said...

Would easily agree that TBN's coverage of the Olympics has been dismal. Might I also add that the CBC coverage (not unexpectedly) has been SO biased and so negative toward the US that I simply had to stop watching it as an alternate to NBC. Too bad because it eliminated the opportunity to watch a lot of things live rather than tape delayed for prime time.

Heather B. said...

I didn't mean for that comment to sound as defensive as it might have, but I'm just not sure you can always quantify why you love something, especially in comparison to something else. The Sopranos is a well-written, well-acted, well-produced show, but when it's all put together, I don't like it. It just doesn't strike a chord in me the way something like say, Friday Night Lights does. I respect it, I'm glad it was there to open doors for things like The Wire, but I love a lot of "lesser" shows a lot more.

An interesting thing about using NHLers in the Olympics is that they're not unknown amateurs who have suddenly burst onto the scene. I've watched most of these guys for 7 months or so out of the year for a number of years. I already have established feelings and preferences for or biases against them. While it was not really the point of the blog entry at all, I do find it a little puzzling that I should re-shuffle those preferences for two weeks because some guys are American and some guys aren't.

amy said...

I get where you're coming from, Heather. Ryan Miller is the "it" darling of these Olympics. And it's only fair that the News pick up that ball and run with it. And on the days of reduced support for all levels of editorial, but especially sports, it's easy enough to pick up a wire story about Ryan Miller and call it a day. But like you pointed out, I'd love to hear about the other Sabres in Vancouver. How are Hank, Toni and the rest enjoying their Olympic experience? Or is there an agreement that TBN will catch up with these guys once they're back in Buffalo, thus allowing Bucky to focus on other things?

And I'm in the boat that Lydman does have a personality, he just hides it very, very well and will surprise us all by letting it out someday.

One of the things I was thinking about w/r/t Bucky and tweeting is that if he's tweeting from a phone via text, he may have a limit on what he can send from Canada because it costs more? Maybe that's why we just have one-way "the sky is blue" type tweets.

Anonymous said...

Great post Heather and spot on. Bucky's online coverage is a dial tone.

Harrington rocks the interesting, insightful and supplemental info that makes his reporting unique in this oversaturated media culture. His W.S. coverage even inspired me to join Twitter, for which I am otherwise way too old and boring.

However, my guess is that after baseball and some hockey, he probably wasn't sad to avoid the travel.

Mike said...

Great job of summarizing why I never bothered to follow Bucky on Twitter. I think (or at least I'd like to believe) that people were only interested in a "let's stop and look at the car crash" kind of way, and in that aspect, Bucky did not fail to deliver.

Steve said...

Much as I would love a US/Canada rematch in the finals, I'm actually rooting for Sekera in the semis tonight. Maybe if he helps Slovakia beat Canada, then Lindy will stop making him sit in the press box.

Anne M said...

I totally agree that non-Ryan Miller Sabres at the Olympics have been ignored by TBN and that is a shame. I'm glad for the stories about Ryan--it would be wrong to not do them. But it seems like there might be opportunity to sit with Hank or Toni and get some non-US perspective as well. It makes me wonder what kind of editorial strategy there was for this trip. Seems like they should have planned for certain types of stories, but we haven't seen them. Vancouver is beautiful (but also has homeless people) is fine, but not exactly ground-breaking, you know?

You're so right about Bucky's online problems, too. He tweeted on Sunday (or maybe blogged) after the US-CAN game that he was tired and done! You know what, buddy? You're at the OLYMPICS in your capacity as a professional sports writer. The US men's hockey team just beat the heavily favored Canadians, on the shoulders of your local team's star goalie. The best you can give us is "too tired, talk to you tomorrow"? REALLY? Sometimes I have to keep working when I'm tired, Bucky! I find it disappointing and sad that apparently he didn't even get a shot of adrenaline after that game.

joe said...

As much as Bucky's tweets on the amount of money he paid for laundry have bee uninteresting.

I think you have to understand that the audience is different when it comes to writing about the Olympics then it is about the four major sports. There's a reason why ice dancing had a 13.0 on NBC against MSNBC's 14.0 for USA vs Hockey in Buffalo.

My older sister watches the Olympics and lives in Buffalo and couldn't tell you sh#t about the Sabres.

Sorry, but not that many people care about Toni Lydman and his Olympic dreams. The Olympics are about the kid whose 16-years old and has trained all his life for this moment. It's not a knock on Toni, it's just that the audience becomes broader.

He's written 3 articles related to hockey and his story on Miller's preview was very informative.

As for the Harrington and Bucky's Comparison. I like Harrington, but for an event like the Olympics where you're going beyond the score and diving into an athlete's personality, you need a columnist.

Heather B. said...

Wow, lots to respond to.

One of the things I was thinking about w/r/t Bucky and tweeting is that if he's tweeting from a phone via text, he may have a limit on what he can send from Canada because it costs more?

Amy, as reluctant as I am to give Bucky any credit at all, that is a fair point. And if he's tweeting from a non-smartphone that could somewhat explain the lack of replies to others on Twitter. (Because we can see him but he can't see us and by the time he can see us, the topic at hand is done.) But for some messages, he could have easily replied once he was on a laptop. And if TBN is scrimping on phone charges, Twitter probably wasn't the best venue to go with. Maybe the powers that be don't understand Twitter either though.

However, my guess is that after baseball and some hockey, he probably wasn't sad to avoid the travel.

Well, he needs to get his lazy ass in gear then. :P (Seriously, that's a fair point although I feel like he hasn't really done much traveling at all with the Sabres this season. I'm too lazy to check that out right now though.) (I could give you a huge spiel about TBN's handling of the hockey beat but I'll leave it for another day.)

Maybe if he helps Slovakia beat Canada, then Lindy will stop making him sit in the press box.

Hee. I would love that too. (The not-sitting-in-the-press-box part. And heck maybe the Slovakia-beating-Canada part too.)

He tweeted on Sunday (or maybe blogged) after the US-CAN game that he was tired and done!

I didn't see that, Anne, until now but it was on the blog. But yes, that's pretty sad. He obviously knew enough to know he needed to put SOMETHING on the blog but didn't care enough to make it anything of substance. To me that's almost more galling than if he'd just ignored the blog completely.

My older sister watches the Olympics and lives in Buffalo and couldn't tell you sh#t about the Sabres.

Your sister is one person though, Joe. I get what you're saying, but TBN is constantly bragging about how many page views Sabres Edge gets. There are a lot of people who care about the Sabres in Buffalo. And if you think hockey fans would be interested and the general fan would't, THAT'S WHAT THE BLOG IS FOR! The blog shouldn't just be a reworking of everything that's in the paper. What's the point of that?

Heather B. said...

(Sorry. Needed two comments.)

The Olympics are about the kid whose 16-years old and has trained all his life for this moment.

Part of my problem, I guess, is that I really would have handled the entire coverage differently. There's such an oversaturation of stories about the 16-year-old kid and people like Apolo Ohno, Johnny Weir, Lindsey Vonn, and Lindsey Jacobellis that there is virtually nothing Bucky Gleason - or any local reporter - can say that I haven't heard a million times by now. (And some times it feels like that's barely an exaggeration.) If I'm using AP stories, that's where I'm using them. What the local guy CAN provide me is access to anyone at the Olympics with local ties and yes, that includes European Sabres. He can give me something on those stories that no one else can. I think Bucky should have been at every U.S. hockey game. I think he should have spoken to the other Sabres at least once if not a few times. Maybe it's an overly provincial way of covering the Olympics but again, there's so much media coverage now that I think it would have been the best way to cut through the noise of the other coverage.

As for the Harrington and Bucky's Comparison. I like Harrington, but for an event like the Olympics where you're going beyond the score and diving into an athlete's personality, you need a columnist.

I think you're highly overrating the value of a columnist. Columnists are in a dressing room here and there. Beat writers spend almost every day of their working lives with athletes. To consider them incapable of grasping someone's personality or mindset based on their position is crazy. I think it's all about the individual writer.

And again, one of my primary points is that when you're centering so much of your coverage on the Internet, above all else, you need a guy who understands how Internet media works. That's not Bucky. Bucky might be the WORST guy in the TBN sports department for that.

Sara said...

I meant to comment when this post initially ran but forgot until just now. Sorry, crazy weekend.

News columnists have always gone to major events such as the Olympics rather than beat writers. Why? There will be dozens of news stories on the wire, but columnists can focus on the athletes will ties to the area. Such as Ryan Miller, yes, but also Lindsay Vonn, for one. Not disagreeing that we could have seen more on the other Sabres players in the Olympics, but Miller is easily the Sabres most readers are interested in hearing about. The Sabres are also only one part of what Gleason is expected to cover at the Olympics, so while Harrington's expertise might weigh heavily there, he has no edge in the rest of the coverage.

Regarding the News' decision to send Gleason rather than Harrington -- you have to remember, the News is a unionized workplace. You suggest sending Harrington instead, because he's better at social media. Which, true. But as we've all seen in recent times, unions are not known for their willingness to be flexible with job duties.

At some point they'll have to be, because the News can't continue to be so slow to embrace new media trends.

Heather B. said...

There will be dozens of news stories on the wire, but columnists can focus on the athletes will ties to the area... The Sabres are also only one part of what Gleason is expected to cover at the Olympics, so while Harrington's expertise might weigh heavily there, he has no edge in the rest of the coverage.

This is more an issue with newspapers in general, I guess, but I just don't understand why a columnist has to do that. Again, if you're expecting a lot of coverage to me it makes more sense to use a beat writer. There's a column in today's paper about Ryan Miller but it's written by Jerry Sullivan. Bucky couldn't write two pieces for today's newspaper? The hockey guys on the road by themselves do it all the time (while blogging and in Harrington's case, Tweeting) and they do it on deadline. Based on its content, the Miller column could have been written a couple days ago.

I understand columnists ranking higher or being considered better at certain things is just part of the newspaper industry (and this is probably a whole different blog entry) but it's something I don't understand and never have especially in terms of travel. Sully's column on Miller is very, very good - as good as anything Bucky's written in the last two weeks, I think - and he wrote it from Buffalo. Fair warning, if and when Bucky travels to the playoffs over one of the beat writers, I'm cracking skulls.

Regarding the News' decision to send Gleason rather than Harrington -- you have to remember, the News is a unionized workplace.

Oh, sure, I get that. Like I said, I know there's all kinds of behind-the-scenes stuff involved in decisions like this, stuff that we have no idea about. In an ideal world, however, I'd like TBN to provide the best coverage and to me, in this case, that wasn't going to come from Bucky Gleason.

Sara, I realize I kind of jumped off your comments and rambled into totally different areas. I know you're not really saying Bucky is awesome (though if you are, don't tell me :P). Thanks for the comment! Please feel free to respond if I misunderstood or misconstrued something.

Sara said...

Oh, no, you raise very valid points. I've been in the newspaper biz for several years now and everything you've said goes to why the industry is in the situation it is. I just thought it should be pointed out that it's not that the News actively decided to send the less new-media-savvy reporter/columnist to the Olympics -- the News just did what they've always done. Because of union stasis, lack of forethought or laziness? Reader's choice, I suppose.