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Avast Beat Writers, There Be Bloggers in the Michigan Pressbox! (Part 1)

Friday, November 20, 2009 , Posted by Christopher Byrne at 9:54 AM, under , ,

Tomorrow. the Ohio State Buckeyes travel to Ann Arbor for their annual love-in with the University of Michigan Wolverines. Although the game does not have the national impact is has in years gone by, it is still the "big game" for the schools and their respective fan bases. As such, the media from the two states will be there in force to cover the game. And sitting beside them in the press box will be credentialed bloggers.



Gates Open to Bloggers: The University of Michigan has a Progressive Program That
Allows Bloggers to Be Credentialed for Game Coverage. Photo courtesy of Howard Zryb.


How could this be? How could bloggers be credentialed to cover a major school like Michigan when every time you turn around you see the NCAA and major college conferences like the Southeastern Conference seemingly missing the boat on new media? These were the questions that came to mind a couple of months ago when Charles Bloom, the SEC's Associate Commissioner for Media Relations, showed me Michigan's policy during a pre-game press box discussion.

The policy was intriguing to say the least, so like Michael Moore might do in his movies, I set out to find out the story behind the story. But instead of looking for Roger or trying to find ways to infuriate the right wing of this country, I wanted to find out more about this sea change in a major college press box.

My first stop on the telephone expedition was Michigan Sports Information Director Bruce Madej. Madej has been in working in sports information for 30 years or so, and the conversation might be unnerving for someone with the pre-conceived idea that old-timers like him could not possibly get, or even embrace, the concepts of new media. But even if Madej had trepidations about the role of new media, a perfect storm blew them away.


"We were facing a serious coverage problem," Madej (pictured left) said in a telephone interview. "The Ann Arbor News ceased publication this past summer, so there was no local media outlet with dedicated staff covering the teams the way they had in the past. So we had to think about new and different ways to reach our fan base."

Madej knew that one way to reach the audience was to reach out to a hugely popular blogs that followed Michigan football, including mgoblog.com and umgoblue.com.

But what was it about these blogs that made them credible in the eyes of Madej? Was it the traffic they received? Was it the way they covered the schools? Were there other intangibles?

The "intangibles" question is important because the intention of the Michigan policy is very different than the way the SEC and their legal counsel were looking at the policy. For example, the policy states that that the web site had to have auditable traffic of 25,000+ unique visitors a month.

The SEC does not have policies like this at a conference level, but the member schools like a lot of aspects of the policy according to Bloom. The question is if the schools were going to adopt such a policy approach, would these numbers have to be hard and fast limits so they could not be accused of favoritism.

Madej views it differently, as he knows that a credible site, especially one in the growing stages, would be hard pressed to reach a monthly audience of 25,000 unique visitors a month.

"These are more guidelines than hard and fast rules," said Madej. "It really is a subjective process when you come to the bottom line. We need to look at factors that include whether it is a full-time endeavor or a "fun" thing they are doing. Are they writing credible pieces or just rehashing game stories?"

Does this mean that any blogger can just request and expect a credential?

"No," says Madej. "We want to see their level of commitment, so we go through a process. Initially, we will invite them to press conferences and open practices. If they do come and do provide coverage, we know that they are more serious than someone who just wants to get access to the press box and play reporter for a day."

So what about the bloggers who do have the access? What is their view? What makes them different? How did Sports Illustrated's Richard Deitsch play a pivitol role? We look at that in Part II of this story.

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