Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Bloggers Rule, Journalists Drool: Serious and In-Depth Thoughts

I've been trying to avoid Bucky Gleason as much as possible the last year or so, but his most recent column just happens to touch on something I mentioned in passing in my last blog post.  I said that I didn't think the Buffalo News had enough smart talk about the NHL and things that, as boring as they may be, have a huge influence on how a team functions: the salary cap, arbitration, revenues, that kind of thing.  Bucky's whole column is a mess ("Here's a bunch of guys who were good at some point in the last three years.  It was/will be a HUGE MISTAKE to not sign them!"), but the part I have a beef with is this:

Evidence [that expansion has worked] can be found in the salary cap, which is tethered directly to revenue. Many were predicting a $6 million decrease for this season after the economy tanked, but the cap actually increased by about $2 million.

This isn't entirely false.  The salary cap is tethered to revenue.  But it's not really true either.  Based on revenues alone the cap probably would have gone down.  Those predictions weren't wrong.  The reason the cap is going up is because the players' union elected to approve a 5% inflator.  Moneys the players put in escrow in case the actual revenues didn't live up to the projections are being used to push the cap up.  In fact, this is the second year where the cap would have gone down or stayed flat had the players not elected to use the inflator.

Now, is all that tough to explain to a casual fan?  Yeah, maybe, especially in a newspaper column where space is limited.  But there's a difference between simplifying something for the average reader and simplifying it to the point where it's just not true and is, in fact, kind of wrong.  If Bucky can't accurately explain how the cap works, then he shouldn't use it as support for his opinion.  Especially since once you inject the inflator into the conversation, I think you have a debate about whether an increased cap is really good support for the argument that expansion has been successful.  When I read the above excerpt my immediate response is to wonder if Bucky even knows how the cap works or what the inflator is, and that's not a good thing.  Either he doesn't know, he doesn't care to explain it, he's incapable of explaining it, or he's choosing to ignore it because it doesn't fit in with his argument.  Again, no good options there.

I once complained to Mike Harrington that TBN doesn't do enough behind-the-scenes talk, again things like the cap, RFAs, arbitration, that stuff.  He told me that the average person doesn't want to read that stuff, that when the sports department has tackled stuff like that, there's been a lot of disinterest.  I think that's crap.  It's a part of sports.  More and more, it's a huge part of sports.  If you're going to write about Tim Kennedy going to arbitration, or the Sabres taking Patrick Kaleta to arbitration, or suggest that the Sabres buy players out, or talk about cap hits vs. actual salary, and whether and when the Sabres make a profit then I think you have the obligation to make sure your readers know what that stuff means, how it works.  And if you don't think it'll fly in the newspaper, then put it on the blog where the more hardcore fans will find it.  Sabres Edge shouldn't just be a regurgitation of what's in the newspaper and a lot of times, especially in the off-season when there are no game blog or links lists, that's what it is.  Yes, there are a lot of casual fans in Buffalo who just want to know when the Sabres sign someone.  But there are a lot of smart fans who are willing and able to dig in more.  I think the ever-increasing popularity of writers like James Mirtle proves that.  I mean, it's totally crazy but maybe if TBN raised the level of conversation, they'd be surprised at how many fans joined them. 

The bottom line is that when I read local fan-written Sabres blogs, I feel like they have a better understanding of how the NHL works.  I feel like I'm reading smart, informed, thoughtful writing from people who have actually watched a hockey game or two recently.  The season before this last one, I sat in a Sabres chat and explained to two TBN staff members why exactly Tim Connolly wasn't eligible for an incentive-based contract under the current CBA.  Today on Twitter, atleast ten people who I follow questioned whether Bucky knew what he was talking about regarding the cap.  The only good analysis I can recall reading recently in TBN is Harrington's column on the current NHL no-name goalie trend.  It's smart, well-written, and is actually based in the reality of the last few months in the NHL.  Why is that so hard?  Why don't we get more of that?  I don't get it.  For me, TBN is rapidly losing ground to bloggers even though we're supposed to be the lazy, irrational, uninformed ones.  They have the access and for that, I'll stick around.  But more and more, that's about it.

And for the love of all that is right and holy in this world, SHELDON SOURAY SUCKS AT HOCKEY NOW!  Give it a FREAKING rest!


James W said...

I think that is an excuse from someone who isn't motivated to write articles like you talk about.

They'd rather do the stuff that they like and is easier for them to get into.

Dave Davis said...

Well done. I enjoyed this.

When discussing acceptance of blogs, I think a major obstacle is that the mainstream media world hasn't been willing to make the effort to differentiate between the good and the bad. But that tide seems to be starting to turn.

Meg said...

I think that a lot of fans are interested in things like RFAs and the salary cap. Or at least they would be if the Buffalo News wrote articles about these subjects that explained things clearly and correctly which integrated insightful analysis about how said things affect the Sabres. Bucky never does that and I'm not sure if it's that he's simply incapable or if he just decided it's not worth it. Either way, I think it's a disservice to the readers.

Anonymous said...

I've learned more about the game from blogs than I ever could have from the mainstream media.

Anonymous said...

Well done, I think you are on the money (pun intended). I think the Snooze heads for the lowest common denomination when they get to matters financial. It helps structure your fantasy team, but it is lazy in reporting. Your take might yield more knowledgable fans, but mainstream media doesn't want to make that investment in their consumers.

Vanek's Hair said...

Thank you for the final sentence about Sheldon Souray. I can't for the life of me figure what the attraction is to him. He's old, beaten up and tremendously overpaid.

Phil said...

I agree with Meg's point about fans being interested with down and dirty details if they write about it and I think your citing of James Mirtle's ascendancy to hockey journalist celebrity is a spot-on example of why it's true. In his columns for the Globe and Mail, Mirtle cites a myriad of stats to point things out like the rise of the European goaltender, the art of being a defensive forward, or explaining the intricacies of the CBA.

People want to read about it because fans don't like being left in the dark when things happen, and yet the Buffalo News is content to leave fans in the dark anyway. They tout that the traffic to Sabres Edge is breaking previous visit records, but are people staying to read the material or coming in and leaving once they realize there's nothing of substance?

Bloggers don't have that air of condescension toward the fans, the mainsteam media (ok, sometimes, maybe heh), or other bloggers because we are the fans and we write what we know the fan want - details, explanations, etc etc. It's too bad that of all the writers for the Buffalo News, only Mike Harrington has a Twitter account to inteface with fans with to get a feel toward what we want in content. It seems as though the sports department as a whole just doesn't give a s***.

Heather B. said...

Thanks, guys. I have to admit, I was a little worried people would come along and say, "Nah, we actually don't care about that stuff at all." Heh. Glad I'm not alone!

Perfect example today actually. A lot of people I talk to on Facebook, Twitter, other blogs, and hey, even a few in real-life, are kind of freaking about the Sabres electing to take Patrick Kaleta to arbitration. If TBN had its crap together, someone would attempt to talk to the Sabres about it and not only report it but explain what it means and why a club might elect to go to arbitration when they usually seem to want to avoid it. (I'm guessing it has something to do with eliminating the possibility of offer sheets from other GMs while the two sides continue to negotiate, but that's just a guess.) But no one will and we'll all sit here and wonder what's going on.

Vanek's Hair, I was on the anti-Souray bandwagon before Bucky even when public with that notion, but yeah, I do not get it. You'd think the fact that his current team put him on waivers and no other team in the league made a deal for him might say something.

rossmillsap said...

I liked the post, good on you for bashing the so called reliable news streams which are weak. But hey, if you think that's bad, I don't even right for a newspaper and they bring news articles when it comes to hockey to me to see if they really tackle the main issue. Sadly, most of them don't

amy said...

Excellent write up, Heather.

it's totally crazy but maybe if TBN raised the level of conversation, they'd be surprised at how many fans joined them.

This part stuck out like a sore thumb to me. TBN is claiming that by changing the comment policy on their website that the level of discourse will be raised. That street works two ways. Sure eliminating anonymity will eliminate some of the childish behavior, but at the same time, the News needs to step up to the plate and look at whether there needs to be a change in the type of content provided. To paraphrase a movie, if you build it, they will come (and that works for both audiences and advertisers).

On another point, Sabres Edge is working towards being more than just a regurgitation of the print edition (interview audio is a nice touch), but adding exclusive online only content appears to be contrary to where many newspapers see their strengths. TBN is going so far as to run a series of articles that are promoted as print edition only. If they're taking this route, its going to take a lot of mind changing on the parts of the higher ups in order to create in-depth online only content.

Shelby Rose said...

I agree about Sabres Edge re-hashing the same things that the actual newspaper contains. I go on there to see if there's any inside scoop, not to read the same crap over and over again. Mike Harrington may be the only sports journalist I take seriously in this city, John Vogl as well.

Heather B. said...

Amy, I do like the audio interviews. Actually, there were a few times during the playoffs when Sabres Edge came through with some good audio when we got bupkus on the TV postgame, if you could even call it that. My comments on Sabres Edge were perhaps a little harsh. During the season I think Mike in particular does some really good things with it. I'd just like to see *more* and more different stuff.

You bring up a good point though with the print-only/online content thing. I've heard there was some displeasure within the union about the blogs and how they've created more work with no boost in pay etc. So there's probably a lot going on there behind-the-scenes. As a reader it's just frustrating because I think the hockey beat could be so much MORE with some tweaking.

Anonymous said...

Very well written article that hits directly on why I can not and will not read Bucky Gleason. Simply put; he is writing for himself and his own agenda and not for the reader. He will write whatever is neccessary to support his point. Sad really...I really miss Jim Kelley!

Anne M said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anne M said...

I think it's probably true that casual Sabres fans aren't all that interested in the details of the CBA and the related implications. There are obviously many fans who ARE interested in that, but they are probably in the minority as far as TBN readers go. So from TBN's perspective, I kind of get why they don't do those kinds of stories. They have to use their limited space for the stories that are going to appeal to/get page views from the broadest range of readers and they can't worry too much about the readers on the fringe (who will still read the other stuff anyway). The Globe & Mail is a major metro paper and no doubt has way more readers who are hardcore hockey nerds than TBN, both in real numbers and in terms of percent of overall readers. I'm glad they have that audience because it provides the information for those of us who are interested and want a reliable place to get it.

The problem I have with TBN isn't that they don't do these stories, it's that they wouldn't be able to even if it made business sense. The writers lack the information and apparently also the drive. As James said in the first comment, they aren't motivated to write these kinds of articles and it seems they aren't motivated to seek out the information necessary anyway. And really, why would they be? They all continue collecting paychecks for their mediocre work, so what's the motivation to do better?

Chappy said...

And for the love of all that is right and holy in this world, SHELDON SOURAY SUCKS AT HOCKEY NOW! Give it a FREAKING rest!

No one will give it a rest until he is claimed on re-entry waivers.

Someone will take a crack at 2.7M when he hits waivers again. New Jersey, I'm looking at you.