You'll never believe what the story of the day is. Between an 11-game winless streak, a coaching change, major injuries and inconsistent young players, the Islanders have a lot of on-ice issues right now. They received more coverage on WFAN today than they've probably seen in years. But it wasn't related to anything on the ice. Not related to any of the above or anything like:
- Lightning Mattias Ritola was suspended two games for his leave-the-feet check from behind on Matt Moulson last night. [FanShot discussion here]
- Update: Jon Sim has been returned to Bridgeport
- Veterans Radek Martinek, Doug Weight and Zenon Konopka were given the day off. [Isles]
- If you don't get the MSG pregame, 7th Woman posted the Howie interview with Garth Snow about Gordon, Capuano, and where they go from here.
Blake Comeau was again quoted by Newsday with a line like this: "[Capuano's] a players' coach for sure," said Blake Comeau, who never quite warmed to Gordon's ways. "He wants guys to go out and use their hockey vision and their hockey sense." Needless to say, Comeau has much to prove after the change.
Nope. It was none of that. What has consumed Islanders fans throughout the land today -- and I mean in every forum you can imagine; my inbox and Twitter overfloweth -- has to do with the revoking of credentials of one of two (by my count) external writers who cover the team on the ground on a near-daily basis. One is behind a paywall that is mostly accessed only locally; the other, now revoked one is free, depended on by many fans around the country, and to make the drama ever richer, is a former employee whose steadily souring relations with the club have played out in public over the last 12+ months, eroding what was once (and still may be, when this resolves) a mutually beneficial relationship.
As if this franchise needed another source of bad publicity and fan uproar during an 11-game winless streak right after a coach's firing. As if they needed another way for national writers to pile on like they eagerly do whenever the Isles fill the archetype those reporters have for them thanks to the last 15 years. (And not to pile on your depression, but tomorrow WebBard has an epic post -- which predates this drama -- asking questions about the franchise culture for the past 15 years.)
I don't know what public or private action or words got the Isles to pull what Puck Daddy correctly called "the nuclear option" on Chris Botta, but I do believe a larger lesson remains, even in this digital age:
Don't pick a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel.
Without knowing the full details, I'll just say this: Coming from a PR background (although not in sports), I would have many, many, many shouting matches behind closed doors with a writer before I went with the nuclear option. I'd think first about what value his/her access provides but then also -- to get to that "ink by the barrel" thing -- I'd think about how, even if I felt severely wronged, choosing the nuclear option would rally fans, the writer himself, and all of his colleagues around the continent to his defense. And that's exactly what happened. Botta's decision to "close" IPB in response created immediate buzz -- and created a myriad conspiracy theories around an organization that doesn't need anymore shaken confidence. Now today there was the lengthy Botta interview on WFAN in which he came off well and fans and reporters backed him up, and tonight even Versus -- these are the NHL rights holders who recently said a blogger should apologize for asking legit questions of Campbell, remember -- is going to have him on their "Overtime" program tonight. [Update: Re-opening, Botta posts links to the WFAN interview as well as other notes on the drama.]
People have told me and posted around here that Botta's tone has turned personal lately, and that complaint or the "he's making himself the story" complaint may have merit, given last season's trade deadline complaint and the recent complaint about being declined for an interview. (Note: If you couldn't listen to WFAN [listen here], I summarized some of Botta's explanation of that in this comment in the other thread). But the rule in PR is like diplomacy: Engage your foes, get ahead of the story, don't let them dictate terms, don't take away their incentive to give you a fair shake or at least air your side of the story.
In other words, it doesn't matter what a writer has done to fuel bad publicity, deserved or not; the wrong reaction can make the publicity worse.
The Approach Here
On this site, I make a general habit of staying out of "BLOGGER WARS!!!1" and blogger v. MSM fights. I have some strong opinions about news and organizations' adaption to new media, but I figure most come here for hockey talk and don't care about people in an industry fighting amongst themselves. I know it turns me off right quick. (A pet peeve/turn off of mine is when a writer constantly talks about how important (s)he is or "as I first told you on Date X." So I try to keep industry talk and jargon to a minimum.) Further, by entertainment preference and by schedule it's much easier for me to focus on the hockey side of things rather than get caught up in all the external issues that ail the franchise we follow.
However, obviously people here are free to discuss what they like and dislike about Botta's coverage -- people feel very passionate about it and I don't censor opinions. But just to be up front with you: I tend to stay out of those threads because I will only look either protective of "one of us" or petty/jealous of "a competitor," depending on my response. (Some see that Botta has said nothing but kind words for this site and given it publicity, so of course we'd defend him; others see us as a competitor not wanting to jeopardize our own access, so of course we'd say whatever the team says. Meanwhile, I see this place as a fan site with the occasional use of access but a whole lot more focused on enjoying what we call entertainment. So we'll say what we want, agree/disagree when we want, and pick the topics that make doing this worthwhile.)
Hopefully all this blows over or finds resolution, no fans lose their access to info, and we can one day look back on and remember when with a laugh. Because even though this offense-challenged 11-game skid sucks a whole helluva lot, analyzing that sure beats analyzing the team's media policy and those who cover it.