18 April, 2014


From the Author of Gabby, a First-Rate Take on New Media and Hockey

A reporter of Tim Leone’s accomplishments and stature doesn’t need any advice from me on how to tackle a story, but when he interviewed me last month about bloggers and their role in covering the Caps, I emphasized the importance of talking to Off Wing Opinion’s Eric McErlain. With my Sunday morning diner coffee in Hershey yesterday I read Tim’s sprawling, superbly structured and top-notch overview of new media and their impact on covering hockey in his paper, the Patriot News, and McErlain is one of two star commentors in it. You, too, should read ‘From the ice age to the new age: Capitals on cutting edge of revolution in media.’

If you don’t know already, McErlain is the fella who really got new media a VIP invite to the Capitals’ party. He pioneered the presence of bloggers at Caps’ games, beginning his blog in 2002 and being not only the first through the credentialed door but also the drafter of the seminal blogger’s bill of rights, which the Caps use to evaluate individual requests for creds.

In Leone’s piece McErlain offers numerous important, big-picture observations about the rise of new media in Washington, and its impact on broadening the appeal of hockey here.

“If anything, the rise of blogging has shown that there’s a tremendous amount of talent and interest in the game that simply didn’t have an outlet because of the limitations of publishing technology. But that’s all in the past now, and the playing field has been leveled forever. The game and sports journalism are all the better for it.”

A second star performer in the feature, which when joined by a sidebar piece on the Capitals’ remarkable web coverage of the team commands fully four pages, is the Washington Post’s Tarik El Bashir. To his credit Tarik frankly acknowledges the awkwardness and uncertainty in the early days of the Capitals’ experimenting with broadening media access, and it’s a recollection that rings true.

“We were kind of like, ‘Oh, my goodness, what’s going on here? Are these guys going to take our jobs?’ But three, four years into the experiment, we all coexist. They do their thing, I do my thing.

“We’ve kind of become friends with them. They link to my stuff. I link to their stuff. They sometimes use a level of snarkiness and opinion that I can’t get into my stuff as a reporter. I read their stuff, and I enjoy it.”

The relationship between old and new media today on the hockey beat in D.C. truly is one of the most rewarding aspects of pursuing the coverage that we do. We aren’t just friends as Tarik noted but supporters of one another’s work. In so many respects bloggers are pursuing different coverage angles from conventional reporting, and I think they deserve credit for showing deference to their professional colleagues in print and broadcast who need timely access to athletes. The dichotomy is healthy, our co-existence at training camp and on game nights now is seamless and in synch. All the credit must go to Leonsis and his team’s communicators for their faith in the experiment.

The descriptions of individual D.C. hockey blogs are another strong-suit in Leone’s piece. Japers’ Rink, he notes, started by attorney Jon Press, “is a phenomenal aggregator of Caps-centric news and analysis spiced by opinion bon mots and reader posts.”

I especially appreciated how Leone referenced an important moment for hockey in Washington during a Redskins’ game this past season. He noted that when the Burgundy and Gold got throttled by Dallas in their final home game NBC’s Al Michaels took note of the conspicuous enthusiasm for the Capitals in the football stadium that night. Michaels isn’t just any TV sports talking head, and when he got a bit of ‘Ah so what’ from his booth-mate Chris Collinsworth he pushed the matter more pointedly. Visiting media just driving through town for a single game couldn’t help but notice the change in passion here. Something special really is happening. And Leone draws the conclusion — correctly, I think — that the Capitals’ investment in new media has played a role in it.

As you might imagine, Capitals’ owner Ted Leonsis has a few important things to say on the matter as well.

“Getting the newspaper 24 hours after the trade just doesn’t cut it anymore. The news is out, and the analysis has already been done in other media forms.” Leonsis goes on to tell Leone that in order for the Washington Post to survive “it will have to become a web/print company rather than a print/Web company.”

I loved being in Hershey and encountering this terrific read, which warmed me well on a dreary January day, and the Capitals’ owner made a point of lavishing praise on our remarkable partner in the American League.

“The excellence with which that [Hershey] organization is run,” Leonsis said, “washes up on us.”