I spoke with Kevin Allen, President of the Professional Hockey Writers Association of America by telephone recently and detailed our conversation here where at the time I asked if he could answer a few questions regarding the Hockey media business and the Islanders coverage for everyone.
1. What would be your advice to aspiring writers who would like to become members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association of America who would like to cover hockey as a career and how should they get started?
Allen: Presently, membership to the PHWA is determined by each local chapter. The writers in each local chapter set standards for inclusion into our organization. The reason for the differing standards is simple: the media situation on Long Island where few writers actually cover the team is far different than it is in Toronto when the press box is always full. Our organization is open to bloggers, provided that the local chapter chairperson is comfortable that the blogger covers the team in a professional manner. Some chapters are more open to bloggers than other cities. For national bloggers, the PHWA Executive Board makes the decision about whether they are accepted into our group.
2. What can you tell the fans about being President of the Professional Hockey Writers Association and what the job function requires?
Allen: I coordinate the balloting for the post-season awards, and I interact with the NHL with regard to the media regulations. If our writers have issues regarding access, for example, I’m the point man to discuss that with NHL. Over the years, I have fought for writers who were denied access. Issues are different every year. A few years ago we were fighting for wireless internet in every building and now we are discussing why the NHL wants to put all team media guides on CDs. Essentially, if you are included in our group, the PHWA stands up for your rights.
3. It seems we have many professional media doing blogs of their own, some in the newspapers that employ them but other media on what seems fan websites, do you think this is a good thing moving forward or something that only clouds the question?
Allen: It doesn’t matter whether it is good or bad, because this is the wave of the future. The internet has changed politics, the economy, global communication, the movie and music industries, and of course it has changed journalism. The craft of journalism is now interactive, and mainstream journalists now have to blog to keep up with the times. This is a world where people have come to expect instant news and microwave analysis. I don’t like it because it leads to far too many errors in judgment. But this is journalism today so I do what I must.
4. Any thoughts or impressions on the Islanders blog box program after year one and if you feel this is something other teams should look to do moving forward with even Caps owner Ted Leonsis having a blog where he does an excellent job sharing with the fans even though he is not a professional hockey writer?
Allen: I’m surprised more teams that are starved for media attention don’t do more with bloggers. I think Ted Leonsis is a forward thinker, and he has the right approach. I think his fans appreciate that he expresses his feelings in a blog.
5. What I find interesting is when the Islanders announced the blog box program some wrote about the fan/bloggers cheering for the team and maybe wearing the team colors during games, however what I notice in the work of many of the professional media the next day is they seem to do a lot of cheer-leading for the teams they cover as well in their space as they hype the club or rip them with the same passion the amateur fan writer would do. It's seems only natural long-time reporters of one team become fans and want that club to win so what's the real difference aside from the credential and the writing skills that separate the two?
Allen: I don’t agree with you that journalists generally end up being fans of the team. I’ve been writing professionally for almost 35 years and what I see is journalists always rooting for what serves their best interest. Most of us root silently for an interesting storyline or for an early end to a playoff series so we can go home sooner than expected. Most of us are usually happy when a very quotable player has a big game, because we know he will give us good verbiage to work with. Occasionally, I see journalists cross the line, but not often. I do agree that journalists often write from the fan’s perspective in that they try to anticipate what the reader wants to know about the next day. And their job sometimes is to dissect team happenings so that also can sometimes read like fan perspective.
6. I found it disappointing newspapers and hockey media websites that forced the Islanders to turn to fans and create a blog box to increase coverage because many claimed not to have revenue to provide regular coverage still found room in their budgets to come and report on the bloggers themselves when the program started, begging the question if they cannot afford coverage and daily Islander blogs in their papers why are they using their budgets to cover the fans?
Allen: I have no idea how to respond to that, other than to say that the newspaper world is now in crisis mode as it tries to make a determination about how to adapt to the changing marketplace. Most major newspapers have had significant buyouts or layoffs.
7. New York Islander Fan Central in one aspect of it's coverage looks at professional hockey writers/blogs and comments on the article only when it's from what we consider is the professional media (newspapers/established hockey websites Espn, THN ect) but what I encounter a lot of in my research are a lot of writers where it's very tough to determine who are the professionals vs those who in many cases do quality work but may only be writing/blogging, so how do I best go about setting guidelines to follow for my readers with regard to content here?
Allen: It will always be a judgment call going forward because some bloggers do this full-time while others do it as a hobby. People tell me that page view statistics can’t be trusted so there will be no help there. If it were me trying to decide who was worth commenting on, I would simply use my own standards of professionalism. Is this person fair in their analysis? Is their analysis layered in its approach. If someone writes, “this is a joke” or “the people running this team are morons” I tend to dismiss their writings. But if they write ‘This team has $1.45 million left under the cap and that means they still have room to add a stay-at-home defenseman. These are the players that can be had for that amount….’ then I tend to view that person as a professional blogger. I judge blogs on the depth of their perspective. I despise blogs that simply act as rant forums. Good Grief, when did sports become such a forum for hate and anger?
8. In my hockey research I have noted a lot of articles in general where it seems the unbalanced conference schedule combined with many papers like the Los Angeles Times outstanding writer Helene Elliott no longer able to travel for Kings coverage has created what seems an information void to where many writers do not see some teams for four of five years and have to work off past impressions. As an Islander fan I have see many articles out of media websites like SI/Tsn ect along these lines, how does this improve moving forward with a situation that only seems to be getting worse that began in many markets with the lockout ?
Allen: I agree that Helene is outstanding and that readers would be better served if she were traveling, but most elite hockey writers know just as much about the West as they do the East and vice versa. The NHL Center Ice is package is under $150 for almost every game. I don't travel as much as I used to, and I still feel like I know league. I guarantee you that Helene knows plenty about the Eastern Conference and Boston Globe reporter Kevin Dupont knows the West. New York Post writer Larry Brooks always writes from a national perspective. The schedule makes it difficult to see as many teams live, but it's still possible to know what's going on.
9. What are your thoughts on declining media coverage for the Hockey in New York market with the Times (who's blog has more coverage of European hockey) not even sending a writer to attend Scott Gordon's press conference after a thirty year relationship with the team going back to writers like George Vecsey to the Daily News and New York Post that at best has limited select home game coverage with no Islander blogs in those publications to supplement a lack of print coverage?
Allen: As I said, it’s a changing world and right now newspapers are trying to figure out how to survive. Editors are simply making guesses about what should be covered, and hockey isn’t a high priority. Often times, editors make decisions based on their perception and their perception is often colored by TV ratings. As we all know, hockey falls short there, although it has improved.
10. Living in New York, I always read folks in the hockey media write about this being a big hockey media market, but I have to ask what is a big about a media market when the Florida Panthers come to town with writers from the Sun-Sentinel, Miami Herald & Palm Beach Post meanwhile when the local clubs travel to Sunrise many New York editors simply let the AP cover the game because year round baseball dominates the back pages to a point even during the hockey playoffs in New York City television ratings for NASCAR, golf and poker repeats outdraw hockey which Richard Sandomir in the Times, Bob Raissman in the News and Neil Best Newsday report about with virtually no full back pages for hockey any longer?
Allen: No matter how many reporters cover the team, New York remains a major market because of the number of people who care about the teams there. We may wish hockey had better ratings, but it would be worse if New Yorkers weren't helping those numbers
11. Finally of course I have to ask what's your take on the Islanders splitting with Ted Nolan and will the media give a club that has made four playoffs in the last six years that were in a playoff spot most of last season (and competitive in the division) until four hundred man games lost to injury finished any chance at all of making a run at a playoff spot and more under Scott Gordon?
Allen: I believe the Islanders have a shot as long as Rick DiPietro remains healthy, but I think it will be an uphill fight. The Eastern Conference is more forgiving than the West right now. But the Islanders didn’t do enough this summer to assure that it will be a lock for them to make the playoffs. The read around the NHL is that Scott Gordon was a good hire.
Once again I would like to thank Mr Allen for going out of his way to answer our questions.