Blogs, Credibility and the NBA

Kurt —  February 18, 2008

Sparked by emailed questions and conversations with people in the business of NBA information, I’m using the All-Star Break to look at some bigger picture questions about NBA blogging. Today’s topic: How credible are blogs? And how NBA teams are dealing with them?

It’s the first question asked about bloggers, the first charge thrown out by those criticizing something written on a blog — what makes this person credible? In the case of an NBA blog like this one, why put any credence in what I write? What other NBA bloggers write?

I asked that question of Clipper Blog’s Kevin Arnovitz and his answer matches my own thinking — obsession-compulsion combined with the ability to work the TiVo rewind button. I’ve said before I could never do this blog without my DVR. Plus I went to the old John Wooden Basketball Camp for two straight summers as a kid, so that should count for something, you’d think.

Tom Ziller of Sactown Royalty (and AOL FanHouse) gives better-phrased version of a more common answer I often give:

What qualifies me is the same thing which qualifies the newspaper’s beat writer or the national columnist: I watch the games. I pay attention to what the players and coaches say. I understand the league. The great thing about new media and especially the blogdome: It’s all meritorious. We’re obligated to read the beat writer’s take (especially in one-paper towns), we have to go through him or her to get the info. You don’t have to read the local team blogger. If you do, it’s because you appreciate what they do and gain something from it. Having an audience, that vindicates your opinion, I think.

The Lakers have some great beat writers in guys like Mike Bresnahan at the LA Times and Kevin Ding of the OC Register. But you don’t have to go through them to get the information. You don’t have to take their word for what Phil Jackson or Luke Walton said after practice. Instead, you can go to Lakers.com and watch the video posted of those interviews after practice.

And in a world where there is more access like that, fans are looking for something different when they read up on a team. That’s at the heart of why Arnovitz said blogs are both credible and popular.

Blogs are filling a vacuum with more concentrate in-depth analysis of the team. Beat writers suffer from the constraints of their media. Once upon a time — before Tivo, before the internet — if you went out to dinner at 7:30, or had an evening class, or worked nights, then you missed the game. When you got out of the restaurant, maybe you’d be lucky enough to catch the score on the radio. Otherwise, you’d have to call a friend, get thirty seconds at 11:28 p.m. on your local news, or wait for the thwack of the paper on your driveway the next morning. The sports section was the only place to get any detailed description of what happened, and for that, it had intrinsic value. But these days, you can get a live box score and even a play-by-play rundown of the game instantly. By the time the beat writer finishes his recap, the dedicated fan is already informed of the game’s general narrative. If he saw the game live or on television, the beat writer doesn’t really add anything other than a pat quote from a coach or a couple of players. What the fan wants to know is *why* the defense fell apart in the second half. Who was slow on the defensive rotation? Why did the zone fail? How did the opposing PG manage, time and time again, to penetrate without resistance? But the beat writer can’t do this — or isn’t allowed to, or doesn’t care to. The rare exceptions are pros like Brian Windhorst at the Akron Beacon-Journal, who does a stellar job of breaking stuff down. But most beat writers either can’t or refuse to inject the kind of subjectivity that would elucidate the game for the loyal fan.

I think in Los Angeles, for all the media attention paid the Lakers are given, that vacuum of analysis is seems even larger. Outside of Frank Burlison at the Press Telegram (who spends the vast majority of his writing on high school and college) there is precious little insight onto the Xs and Os, the analysis of the NBA game and players. The soap opera is the focus — not a shock for a bottom-line driven media where drawing a large audience is all that really matters at the end of the day.

For the readers, from what you said when I asked you, credibility is something is earned. And in today’s crowded media marketplace, that is true for the columnists at ESPN or the NY Times or the LA Times as it is for bloggers. Commenter Underbruin summed up many commmenter’s thinking when he wrote:

I feel that trust can be earned pretty quickly. When I read a site that makes a fair amount of sense in its visible front-page posts, that gives me a good reason to believe it’s worth at least coming back to check out again. I don’t feel specific institutions such as print media automatically deserve more or less trust than a blog. If anything, they sometimes have financial concerns that make them less trustworthy because they have to keep in mind that the team is their ‘meal ticket,’ so to speak.

Clearly readers did not equate with credibility was access — it wasn’t handed out with media passes.

Still, getting some of that access matters to many bloggers, both for what insights might be gleaned being that close, and as a matter of respect. But teams are not sure how to deal with bloggers, and the level of treatment varies from city to city. Golden State has been receptive to bloggers (of course, Golden State of Mind has put together events that helped fill seats, and money always talks).

One interesting event has taken place the last couple of years in Atlanta, where the Hawks hosted a “bloggers night.” For one night, bloggers of the Atlanta Hawks (who should be pretty happy the last few days) got a chance to sit in on press row. Micah Hart, manager of Websites for the Hawks (and Thrashers of the NHL) explains the night and adds some perspective.

We have done Blog Night the past two seasons (and once so far with the Atlanta Thrashers, with their second night still to come). My rationale for doing it is with a team like the Hawks, we lack for national coverage because we have been so bad the past several years. I/We want to get more people talking about the team (good or bad), so I am hoping that by doing these kinds of activities it will inspire more of our fans to take an active interest in following the team.

I thought both years Blog Night was successful. In terms of how we decided who to invite – last year we basically cast a wide net, inviting any local bloggers (hawks-related or not) to come out and join in. This year, we were a little more selective, but that’s more because there are more Hawks bloggers out there now. We had about 10 people each year, which I thought was a pretty solid turnout. And, most importantly, the amount of posting these bloggers have done on the team seems to have spiked afterwards, which is really what we as the team were hoping to get out of it.

In terms of access, the Hawks have been pretty careful about doling it out. The bloggers were invited to listen to the coach’s post-game presser live, but not ask questions. Also, as it turned out, I got to take them into the locker room to talk with Al Horford, which I think everyone got a huge kick out of.

I don’t think you’ll see us giving credentials to bloggers any time soon, but that’s a PR decision, not a website one…. I do think it will happen in time as blogs become more mainstream.

Brian Kamenetzky from the LA Times Lakers blog has season media passes (which he puts to good use) and he adds some thoughts to this:

Some teams are more progressive than others in terms of recognizing the role of the blogger, though I understand the need for quality control. In terms of providing regular access, it does make sense for teams to be discriminating in which outlets they’d let in. Not all sites are created equal. It would be smart, though, for teams to differentiate between those independent sights with a well-established readership and reputation for quality content and provide access to those writers.

I have not personally ever asked the Lakers for access or an interview (other than questions sent to Ty Nowell, the guy who oversees content on the Lakers Website). There are really two reasons for this. First, this is still a hobby to me, I have a family and a job that take priority in my life. I can’t skip work to go to practice, I’m not going to go to a ton of games whether I have a pass or not because those are nights away from my kids.

But the second part is this: What can I do with a pass that would add to the insight of this site? Going to practice, scribbling down the same quotes as everyone else and putting them up here with some witty commentary is not adding to the understanding of the team or the game. We’ve got good beat writers doing that already. What I picture doing is more stuff like the Henry Abbot True Hoop interview with Kurt Rambis, which gave some interesting insight into the triangle and the Lakers thinking. (Although, I would have had to ask about growing the moustache back.)

As passes become available to bloggers, we need to ask ourselves how we are using this passes. What are we doing that is different and special? How do we not become like the media we think is often lacking?

Maybe as long as we’re asking those questions, we stand a better chance of keeping our credibility.

Kurt

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23 responses to Blogs, Credibility and the NBA

  1. kurt, I’ll tell you why I joined your family a few years ago…
    like most of the family, we are all die hard Laker fans, and have been for years, generations, some go back to Magic’s era, some maybe back to Jerry West and beyond.
    for me, there’s no other sport that comes close to the fanaticism I have for the Lakers, I watch every game, whereas in other sports, I might watch a game or 2 all season.
    when the Lakers run ends, be it in the finals in June, or a first round exit, no matter, when it ends for the Lakers, it more or less ends with me. I might watch bits and pieces of the rest of the playoffs, but not with any passion, mostly I pass on it though.
    so, what happens, sports wise, after that?
    nada, nuthin, big zero!
    baseball, in the early part of the season…booooring.
    especially after coming off of the playoff intensity of Lakers post season.
    talk about a drop off.
    then, the same thing happens in the news coverage, I used to pretty much be exclusive to the LA Times, reading every day’s Laker report, game stories, etc, then when the season ends, man, so does the coverage.
    I usually go through some kind of withdrawals, espcially because the off season should not be the end of news, we were looking for ways to improve the team, through trades, whatever, and I wanted to read about that.
    then I stumbled upon your blog one day, and “viola!” ureaka! there it was! Laker stories, coverage from summer league…and while it wasn’t refreshed daily, it was often enough for me.
    thank you for that.
    now, you know you are going to have your hands full this off season, this season has brough record numbers back to being Laker fans, starting with the weird off season, the emergence on Andrew, trades for Trevor and Pau, and the emergence of Mitch being the GM of the year!
    however it ends this year, you know it’s not going to die down right away, these fans are gonna want MORE!
    be prepared for a busy off season Kurt!

  2. I’m a national pro basketball analyst who does lots of radio around the country and contributes to the NBA’s official magazine.

    “Bloggers” are not all one person. I don’t think anyone can say that ‘bloggers’ will “all” have credibility just like “anyone who starts a website” doesn’t necessarily have credibility either. Some bloggers will be smarter than others. Some know the game better than others. Some analyze stuff better than others. Everyone can try to do it. The good ones will generally get more popular and get some respect. The crappy ones generally won’t.

    ForumBlueandGold is an example of a blog that people like and respect, because it’s well-done.

  3. Hi Kurt,

    We depend on an entire professional community who are PAID for sports perspectives. Great bloggers may well be recruited into that PAID community or supported by that community-and that is OK, but FB@G is a forum for a PAYING community of almost fanatical amateur fans with the freedom to express their own analyses.

    What you and others are providing is a perspective that can’t be bought:

    “First, this is still a hobby to me, I have a family and a job that take priority in my life. I can’t skip work to go to practice, I’m not going to go to a ton of games whether I have a pass or not because those are nights away from my kids.”

    That really says it all.

  4. 3. I will say, I wish I could get to more than a handful of games a year. I used to split season tickets with a few college friends, but when the family thing started taking priority with us, we had to walk away as a group. I do miss those days.

  5. By the way, along the same lines as this post is an interesting interview with Will Liech of Deadspin on SI’s Web site today. Here are a couple of highlights, and the link:

    The fans are now smarter, they have a lot more access and savvy. I feel like if you work in the world of sports, whether you are a player, a coach, or a media member, you tend to think of sports as being more important than sports actually is. And I say that as someone obsessed with sports and who watches sports all the time. But I think the average person recognizes at the end of the day: I will step away from sports now. I think the average fan does not get into the morality plays. The thing I have tried to do with the site is say, ‘We all love sports, we are obsessed by it, but it is still just sports.’ Which is why when people ask, “Well, how are Ben Roethlisberger [drinking] photos newsworthy? Well, they are as newsworthy as a football game is.

    One of the exciting things about Deadspin, and what I tried to capture in the book, is that kind of wall used to be there. Now we (fans) decide what we want to know. We don’t always need that wall anymore. I’m not saying down with the mainstream media. I just think there is an adjustment that had to be made regarding what is off the field stays off the field and let’s just talk about the glory of the game. That is not how people react to sports. People react to sports as entertainment because that’s what it is. Whatever fans find entertaining is what counts.

    http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2008/writers/richard_deitsch/02/10/leitch.qa/index.html

  6. Wanted to point you to two articles at Hoopshype, one interview with Jordan Farmar and one All-Star article with some details regarding Kobe’s injury:

    http://hoopshype.com/interviews/farmar_barrigon.htm

    http://hoopshype.com/articles/allstar2008_friedman3.htm

  7. Great article, Kurt.

    I’d like to add that access isn’t everything. As soon as your credibility (and/or future meal ticket) starts to depend on access to a team or a player, it becomes hard not to think about that anytime you write something that might be even a little negative. (I’m thinking about self-censorship, but I’m sure each level of boss looking over your shoulder makes it worse.)

  8. Some of the bloggers have better info than traditional media, while others use tainted information from these media sources. Case in point is yahoo. Yahoo quotes the Chicago Tribune on the Lakers getting Caron back:

    http://sports.yahoo.com/nba/rumors/post/Caron-Butler-returning-to-Lakers-;_ylt=AoHb_TP0xLBbmqeo4thSVBW8vLYF?urn=nba%2C67283

    Lakers and Wizards fans who read blogs understand that this won’t happen:

    1) Washington must have hired Isiah Thomas. No way will they let him go with Gil coming back from injury soon. Caron is a steal at $8.5 mil a year. They are playoff bound and ready now. They will be tough with their big 3 healthy.

    2) The Lakers would be worse off in this trade. LO is playing the best he has played as a Laker. Caron will not fit the system. He needs the ball in his hands to score.

    3) Caron cannot replace the defensive skills of LO. A purely talented rebounder. Alters shots with his length. Besides, were any of you impressed with Butler’s defense as a Laker? I know I wasn’t.

    4) Washington will not pay the additional assets to get LO (Sal + 15%) and will not find another team to involve in a trade.

    What has happened to mainstream media? Before they used to report on the news. Now they just make it. And in some cases, they make it up.

  9. I started a long response to your first post on blogs,then thought better of wasting your time. But there are 2 observations I’d like to offer on why Basketball Blogs are so popular.

    1)Media writers have evolved into gatekeepers of info,deciding what the public should know.(Amount of space alone forces them to decide ,just as much as any bias,pressure,economics,etc.) Whereas fans(from fanatic) want to know everything. A Blogger has far fewer space limitations and offers far more access to diverse sources. The comment about Kobe’s late-night dinner in Boston would never have appeared in any traditional media article. Yet everybody who was reading you knows about it and prob talked about it w/a few friends,co-workers and so on…and so on…and so on…

    2)Media accounts of sporting events have become very conventionalized. Brief recap of game,mention of couple players who did well-or poorly-a short summary of why successful-or failed(couldn’t stop screen/roll)and a few qoutes. W/out the time or space constraints faced by traditional media,Bloggers can offer detailed analysis and thoughtful opinion. Much like the old columists used to do.

  10. Access can be a Catch-22, though. You want access so that you can ask, and write about, the tough questions. But if you ask, and write about, the tough questions, you risk losing access. (Not personal experience, just what I am guessing based on observations of those with “access.”)

  11. I have always been one to patronize any source of analysis I could find when it comes to basketball (and especially the Lakers). I’ve spent much time scavenging mainstream sites for nuggets of information and mainly to get a feeling for how others view the Lakers and other NBA situations that arise.

    I have to say that the difference that struck me immediately when I first came across FB&G was–believe it or not–the rules for posting. If you take a look at any of the comment trails following a post/recap on ESPN.com, SportingNews.com (etc.), you will encounter a lot of nonsensical ranting and swearing with the occasional thought-out response.

    Of course, this is probably not quite as often the case when dealing with other blogs along the contextual lines of FB&G, but it *does* end up making an appreciable difference from a vast majority of the analytical sources available to us.

    By extension, I see a starkly different crowd patronizing FB&G: well reasoned and friendly individuals who form the kind of community that any involved NBA fan should seek to be a part of. It is this aspect that I believe lends this blog the credibility that other sources seem to lack, in my eyes.

    The community contribution (the thread following each post) almost always ends up surpassing the reading volume present in initial posts. And with the exceptional quality of the community present here, it’s like getting to read a myriad of well-constructed articles all placed into a pot and cooked up into something that I’m always able to enjoy for hours.

    Your involvement, Kurt, places that last vital peice of the puzzle in place. Each blog entry is well formed, providing plenty for the rest of us to chew on. But then when we respond to it, you respond *back*, making for a most satisfying experience (even in just viewing your reparte with others). It ends up generating a symbiosis between a well managed blog with informative posts, and an involving community response.

    That, my friend, is credibility.

    (Ack, sorry about the essay)

  12. credibility is overrated – every blog starts out with a base, then builds it up as long as the blogger decides to be truthful. besides, i check more than one post, as do many others here, so nobody really gets fooled – again, they may fall for it once, but I for one am not going to stick around to hear the blogger cry wolf twice more.

    as for non-news items, such as insight and breakdowns, credibility goes down the drain fast once some knowledgable surfers start to chime in. so again, no need to worry about credibility – if the guy doesn’t know what he’s talking about, soon the blog will be abandoned.

    as much as I love this site, it only takes two or three blunders for it to lose credibility. the fact that it doesn’t take just one blunder has to do with the credibility it has built thus far nd the fact that the community built isn’t something i’d like to discard. however, i’ve been part of enough blogs to know that even those things are far from rock-solid grounds, and i’ve even seen communities successfully move after the blog that founded the community was tainted.

    now, as for passes and bloggers being treated like journalists… the thing is to remember your roots, i guess. know why you were able to get that pass in the first place, enhance it but don’t deviate from it…

  13. continuing:

    the use of such passes, fitting to FB &G would be to have breakdown of practices! i’m only half joking, as i have never played competitive basketball beyond intramurals. also, who plays well in practice, who seems to be more of a leader, a clown, and many other things could enhance understanding of the game.

    for example, if i knew Mo matched up well against Kobe in practice, that may give me something more than i’d ever know. also, if you were to report that Lamar can hit 3’s with relative ease during practice, nearly matching sasha or vlad, then i won’t be as critical about him launching them ;)

  14. 1. One thing I really miss is covering the Summer League in Long Beach. It looks highly unlikely that I will be able to get to Vegas this summer for that league. Not that the Lakers team will be very interesting, save for the one second round pick they have that is likely to fill out next year’s roster. But I have to say, if you are an NBA fan and can swing it, go to the Summer League.

    11. Coop, can’t say it enough, it is the community that has come up around this blog that is what makes it so much fun for me. And drives me to do a little more and look a little harder at things. If I’m wrong or miss something, you all are on it fast. You inform my opinions. Bottom line, around here you have to be able to defend what you say — me or anyone. If you say Odom should come off the bench you have to be able to articulate why, and that’s really more than I ever imagined.

    12/13. I know credibility is everything, but all I can promise to do is my best and to try to be open minded. I don’t know everything, I can just try to know my limits and try to learn. That really happens every day around here.

    As for what happens in practice, even those with media passes only can attend the last 5 minutes of practice. You only get to see so much. You can ferret out some info, I imagine, but it’s not about observation.

  15. The problem is how do you avoid being co-opted w/inside access? Suppose you get to attend morning shoot arounds and you learn a player has just had a horrific fight w/his girlfriend and he’s mentally wasted and the last thing on his mind is playing basketball. Do you include that tidbit on your pre-game blog? An assistant coach lays out the strategy for the next nights’ game. Just the sort of thing every fan would love to know-as well as the other team!
    Practicality dictates access would not be used for pre-game analysis,except in most general terms,but instead would be a great help in explaining what happened. But the realities of keeping access will cause self-censorship,leading to whether knowing stuff but not using it is better or worse than not knowing.

  16. yeah, too bad that we really don’t get the kind of ‘access’ we actually want. i guess if it’s the last 5 minutes, i don’t think it really matters much at all…

    14 – no doubting your effort here, esp considering this isn’t a paying job. actually, this being a ‘hobby’ also lends some credibility too.

    anyway, i’m happy with what we’ve got. maybe in a few years, when bandwidth isn’t a problem and when people become as MOV savvy as they are with JPG’s, people will regularly post clips to supplement their points and arguments. that will be the next step… but come to think we haven’t quite reached the still photo stage here either ;)

  17. “What can I do with a pass that would add to the insight of this site? Going to practice, scribbling down the same quotes as everyone else and putting them up here with some witty commentary is not adding to the understanding of the team or the game.”

    Exactly! This is why i will always come to sites like this and clipperblog. It has nothing to do with “access”. It has to do with the fact that you and kevin have things to say that are so interesting to me that the other places don’t. You aren’t providing talking points for me to spew at work. You are providing stuff for me to think about. It really comes down to that. Your posts plus the comment section are something the MSM can’t even hope to replicate. I love the internet.

  18. Since I won’t be around to comment before or during the game this evening, let me share a few worries about these young Hawks who already know how to get off the ground–they’ve got a leader.

    They’ve just met up with a California mountain tested dive bombing condor with a mean streak–the Bibby bird–to lead the pack–and he’s already done some practice flying in formation with them here in El Segundo.

    The FAA got so frightened at nearby LAX (hearing about Hawks and a condor out of season in El Segundo) that they closed down the airport for a few hours to preclude the risk of bird strikes–just in case.

    Half of the former Atlanta flock from a few weeks ago have already migrated West and North to Sacramento–but they appear to be Hawks that have lost their way.

    Adding that nasty little Bibby bird condor to the remaining core of Atlanta Hawks could be bad news to Bobcats and Bulls. The Bibby bird used to hover over Sacramento, and the Lakers have felt his wrath.

    Fortunately, Bibby hasn’t taught those Hawks to speak condor quite yet, and the Lakers should be able to keep them confused and grounded at Staples.

    I’m predicting a Laker victory–but it won’t be easy.

  19. LA Times saying Bynum is on schedule, but Ariza is gonna miss 8 more weeks (probably wouldn’t be back to 1st or 2nd rd of playoffs)

    http://www.latimes.com/sports/basketball/nba/lakers/la-sp-lakers19feb19,1,2524081,full.story?ctrack=1&cset=true

  20. Coop,
    “…scavenging mainstream sites for nuggets of information and mainly to get a feeling for how others view the Lakers and other NBA situations that arise.”

    An interesting point here is that I find the mainstream media seem to do better in the smaller cities like Salt Lake. I have found they often have more opinions and Laker comments when the Lakers are going to play their team than do the big city papers. They seem to have a closer relationship with their readers and respond to more arcane interests while big city papers/TV publish “just the facts”.

  21. Ahhhh! Those Shaq – Kobe discussions seemingly will go on forever. Here is a very good analysis of their careers, along with Tim Duncan and Labron James…

    http://www.probasketballnews.com/friedman_021508.html

  22. 18

    I am glad that Bibby is out of Sac. Sacramento doesn’t need him or his dime posse anymore. Him and his posse have literally been banned out of 3/4 of the night clubs here.

  23. (22) I was trying for humor. What’s about this “dime posse?”

    Sactown didn’t mind him leaving, but he may be a godsend to Atlanta. He wowed them with his first practice.

    After the Lakers, the Hawks head for Sacramento . . . . . .