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Breaking the ice (cont.)

Posted: Monday October 8, 2007 12:30PM; Updated: Monday October 15, 2007 1:45PM
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Isles owner Charles Wang has taken plenty of hits in the press, but he's not afraid to take a few  more from bloggers.
Isles owner Charles Wang has taken plenty of hits in the press, but he's not afraid to take a few more from bloggers.
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During the season. Gallof and his fellow bloggers will be answering questions themselves. Stephen W. Dittmore, an assistant professor in the College of Business, Management and Economics at East Stroudsburg University, was at the Coliseum interviewing the bloggers as part of a study on blogs as a form of organizational communication and how sports organizations use the Internet.

Botta admits that he is making up much of this on the fly and he not-so-jokingly says that many of his colleagues around the NHL think he has lost his marbles. Four months ago the NCAA banned a Louisville Courier-Journal reporter from covering the NCAA baseball tournament because he was blogging during a game. But on Long Island, Gallof and Tom Liodice, who blogs under the title The Tiger Track, provided running commentary during Saturday night's game.

"I felt somewhere between a fan and media," said Ken Rosenblatt, a 34-year-old writer/editor who is the proprietor of the Islanders Outsider blog. "It was like we were special guests in some way. It wasn't just like being a fan."

Indeed, the group was a hybrid of ardent supporter and civic journalist. Many of the bloggers had writing backgrounds, but most had never been in a pro locker room. Certainly, they dressed differently from members of the press. Four of the bloggers wore Islanders jerseys, Karl proudly carried an orange purse with the team's logo on it, and all were encouraged to cheer or shout if they wanted. Botta said the Blog Box will be open for every home game this season and that he expects it will be at capacity on some nights while other games will draw just a handful.

Campoli said he did not know anything about the Blog Box before meeting the bloggers, nor was he apt to read sports blogs, but he liked the idea. He also respected that some of the bloggers went right at him. "I think it gives fans an opportunity to ask educated questions and see different sides of the players," he said. "In a way, it advertises our game."

The Islanders insist they won't censor the bloggers. "The only censorship is nothing profane," Botta said. "If they want to go off on a trade or a signing we make, they will. Thankfully, the team is owned by a person [Charles Wang] and run by a general manager [Garth Snow] enlightened enough to understand this is a good thing. Hockey and the Islanders need people talking and writing about it."

Botta said when he told Wang there was a good chance that some of the bloggers would be critical at times, the owner was practical. "He said,'We'll get beat up in Newsday and by Larry Brooks in the New York Post, anyway, so what's the difference if we get beat up by another 12 people?'" Botta said.

After the game the bloggers were escorted into the Islanders locker room, where Botta told them they should feel free to request any player for an interview. His only caveat was that he wanted the bloggers to let the print press and electronic media ask coach Ted Nolan their questions first. The bloggers did not have access to the visiting locker room, at least for this game.

"It was pretty much what we expected," said Botta, who offers an insider's view (albeit through dark blue, orange and white-colored glasses) on his NYI Point Blank blog. "These are good people. We didn't do background checks, but we're fairly confident none of them have records. You could tell some were very comfortable coming downstairs after the game, some were a bit nervous. I found a lot of joy in seeing how much some of them really appreciated being part of it."

The Blog Box members acquitted themselves well on Saturday. They were smart and impassioned. A couple of plucky souls asked pointed questions of Campoli, including whether he was worried about losing ice time to Bryan Berard, a free-agent defenseman who is expected to be signed after a training camp invite/try-out. The recaps the following day were an interesting mix of fandom and reportage. "I thought their questions were good," Campoli said. "Very educated. It was just like another interview from a professional writer."

"We don't really know protocol and I think we wanted to be respectful," says Michael Schuerlein, who writes IslesBlogger.com. "We didn't want to step on anyone's toes and be frowned upon. We were just guests. Eventually, I think we will build relationships."

It will be interesting to see whether the increased access makes it harder for the bloggers to be critical. Every blogger outwardly cheered or clapped for Islanders goals except for Gallof, who offered slight fist pumps. "I do feel responsible to some degree not to exploit the access that they have given us," said Rosenblatt. "I certainly would not want to deviously portray anyone in a bad light just for the sake of saying I saw this."

The NHL does not require its players to meet with bloggers, but one can easily imagine a player confiding in a blogger if he thinks the blogger will be more favorable to him ... or if he is simply a fan of the blog. The Washington Capitals have been among the most progressive sports franchises in this area. Eric McErlain, whose informative OffWingOpinion blog is one of the most trafficked in the sport, was granted media credentials by the Caps in November 2005, the first blog recognized by an NHL franchise. Last year McErlain had press credentials for the entire season, and the Caps have credentialed other bloggers for certain games. In an effort to expand eyeballs beyond television, the NHL signed a deal with YouTube in which the league provides game highlights and behind-the-scenes features and user-generated material. "Players will say they don't read stuff on the web, but they do," Botta said. "If one of the bloggers writes something critical, you better believe I'll hear about it. And that's when this journey will truly be unveiled."

Botta admitted he checked the blogs at 2 a.m. on Sunday morning before he went to sleep. Some of the bloggers filed that night. They've been asked to file at least once a week, providing the Islanders with rich user-generated content. But what of Campoli, the first NHL player to hold a post-game briefing consisting only of bloggers? Is he curious enough to head over to the Blog Box to see what they are writing about him?

"You know," he said, with a smile that indicated he had already made up his mind. "I just might do that."

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