Links: The Bloggers Unite!

by March 18, 2008

by Lang Whitaker

Today, a bunch of bloggers are throwing down the mouse. And they’re aiming at Mark Cuban.

Last week, Cuban made news when he announced that bloggers — specifically Tim MacMahon from the Dallas Morning News — would no longer be allowed in the Dallas Mavericks’ locker room.

On his blog post explaining the policy, Cuban wrote…

“Prior to last week, I had no idea this person’s primary job at the Morning News is to blog. I hadn’t seen or read it. He was just one of the 4 or 5 people from the Morning News in the locker room post game.”

Let’s stop there. To me, if you work for the biggest newspaper in Dallas and you’ve been reporting on the Mavericks, but Mark Cuban still doesn’t know who you are, something’s not right there. Mark Cuban is wildly plugged in and gets Google alerts, and if you’re supposed to be providing cutting edge reporting on the team that he owns and obsessively follows, and Cuban still doesn’t know who you are, then perhaps your blog isn’t providing anything different than Mavs fans can get elsewhere. And if that’s the case, then maybe you don’t need to be in the locker room.

But it’s not just MacMahon, because Cuban has banned all bloggers. Cuban states his case for banning bloggers thusly…

“Unfortunately, there isn’t enough room to allow any and all bloggers in the locker room. There also are no standards that I have been able to come up with that differentiate between bloggers to the point where I should or should not credential one versus the other. My experience in reading blogs has favored bloggers not affiliated with major media companies, but that could be my unique bias.”

He goes on to add…

“…its an issue of fairness. As a blogger, and someone very familiar with bloggers and the blogosphere, I recognize that a fair policy would apply to all bloggers. There is nothing superior about a blog produced by someone in the employ of The Belo Corporation. So there is no reason to give them preferential treatment. Where there is physical room to fairly credential any and all bloggers, Mr MacMahon is welcome. Where we can not accomodate all bloggers, he will be excluded.”

First of all, Mark’s being a bit disingenuous here, saying “there isn’t enough room to allow any and all bloggers in the locker room.” I’ve been to almost every arena in the NBA, and the Mavs, far and away, have the biggest locker room I’ve ever seen. You could fit a nation of bloggers in that locker room. During the 2005 NBA Finals, there were about 200 people in the Mavs’ locker room. Space really isn’t — or at least it shouldn’t be, unless all bloggers weigh 800 pounds apiece — an issue in the Dallas locker room.

Cuban’s real issue seems to be a problem of understanding, meaning he’s just not sure which blogs should be fully credentialed and which blogs should not be fully credentialed. So, instead of sorting this out, he just shut the whole thing down. You are a person who makes your living writing on the internet? Well, you’re not allowed into our locker room. Sorry.

Doesn’t sound fair, does it? Well, it may not be a fair policy, but the thing is, it is a policy. Mark Cuban owns the Dallas Mavericks, and if he wants to exclude a potential source of free information and publicity about his product from fully covering his product, that’s his decision, and it’s completely his right to make that decision.

The thing is, Mark seems to want to have it both ways. He also writes…

“When I told the newspaper we would no longer allow their blogger in the locker room (he would still have access to everything else), they got upset. They took the path that their live blogger was no different than a feature article written on a website. They used Marc Stein of ESPN as an example. I explained to them that Stein not only wrote primarily features on ESPN.Com, but also was a TV commentator, and those two elements of his job differentiated him from what their blogger did. Do they not know the difference between a blogger and someone who actually writes feature articles on a destination website?”

So if this MacMahon guy wrote a ranking of teams for, then he’d be allowed into the locker room?

Being real here, the main difference between MacMahon and Stein is that Stein’s articles are seen by exponentially more people than MacMahon’s articles. That’s partly a function of Stein writing for, but it’s also because Marc Stein has been doing what he does for a long time and in doing so has built a following of readers who trust his reporting and opinions.

And if Mark Cuban banned Marc Stein from being able to interview players in the Dallas locker rooms, the Mavericks would probably not get as much coverage as every other NBA team. As a businessman, Cuban realizes that would be bad business, so he built himself a little escape clause to allow internet writers with an audience into his locker room.

For Cuban, the easiest thing to do in all of this is to use a wide brush and ban all bloggers. And that'[s disappointing, because Mark Cuban usually does the smart thing, not the easy thing.

Seems to me that the smart thing to do would be not to paint yourself into a corner with a broad, vague policy, and instead evaluate each credential request on a case-by-case basis, the same way NBA teams do for every other credential request. That’s the way it works, and it works that way for a reason: because it works. If I ask for a credential for a Knicks game and say I’m a blogger and write for a blog I started two weeks ago on blogspot, they’re not going to give me a credential. Not because there’s no accountability and no eyeballs on my site, but because there’s no upside for the Knicks to let me in the arena. Same goes for the Mavs. They don’t have to allow anyone in that they don’t think is going to benefit their organization.

And now there’s a new wrinkle. Today on his blog, ESPN’s Henry Abbott announced that he’s on his way to Dallas to try and cover tonight’s Lakers/Mavs game. I like Henry a lot, but this just seems like he’s trying to antagonize Cuban and the Mavs.

As Cuban wrote…

“One last little thought. Some out there will take this as my not “liking” blogs. Ridiculous. its the exact opposite. What I don’t like is unequal access. I’m all for bloggers getting the same access as mainstream media when possible. Our interview room is open to bloggers. We take interview requests from bloggers. I’m a fan of getting as much coverage as possible for the Mavs. What I’m not a fan of is major media companies throwing their weight around thinking they should be treated differently.”

If Henry were still doing TrueHoop on his own, this would be a different story, just as it would be different if he regularly traveled to the biggest games in the NBA and blogged about them. But now he’s got ESPN behind him, and they’re throwing their weight around, apparently thinking they should be treated differently.

There a lot of ways to handle not being allowed to cover a story, but making yourself the story? Probably not be the best option.

To me, the best option seems to be to accept Cuban’s decision, regardless of what you think about it, and if you’re a blogger who covers the Mavs, stop covering them. The only sure way to make Mark Cuban change his policy is to show him that his product is worse off without bloggers there to cover it.

UPDATE: Been emailing with Henry Abbott this afternoon, and he wanted to clarify that this isn’t some full-time jack move from ESPN, trying to be all corporate-y. (Which I was kinda hoping it wasn’t.) Henry writes…

For the record, as I have told Mark Cuban, I’m not into getting myself, or Tim McMahon in. I’m into getting bloggers who are good at what they do in. And if this were about ESPN throwing its weight around, I’m sure I could call some boss, who could call some boss, who could call people at the NBA and at the Mavericks, and there would be some way to get me in to that locker room. I’m sure I could be on assignment to write a feature or something tonight, and get in that way.

And then what’s the point of that? I flew all the way down here just to get credentialed for a game?

Instead, tonight there will be several bloggers here, as it happens. My thought is that if Tim McMahon is the only person who ever gets banned, then the powers that be might be able to convince themselves that this is some Dallas issue that Cuban is handling maybe a little clumsily, but what’s the big deal. But if it’s McMahon, and Andrew Kamenetzky, and Henry Abbott, and hopefully more and more to come — then hopefully it’s plainer than ever that this is not a reasonable policy. Especially as more and more independent blogs are becoming important, and more and more newspaper writers are blogging. I just see it as straight strength in numbers, as a way to get some focus on the issue. I’m the guy who is lucky enough to work for ESPN, so it only seems fair that I should pitch in too. But it’s not a corporate play. It’s me traveling to draw attention to something that I think is bad for bloggers. (ESPN’s role here has been to spring for the last-minute plane ticket, for which I’m grateful.)

But look, the bottom line is this: my self interest is not in getting into the locker room tonight. If all us bloggers get locked out, frankly, that might be the best result, long-term, for bloggers. My self interest is to have the medium I work so hard in — blogging — taken seriously. Flying down here was the best way I could think of to try to show that giving us “press passes with training wheels” is just silly.

And you know what? I hope that what we’re doing here today helps some SLAMonline bloggers in the long run, too.