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Bloggers get suite access at the ballpark
The bloggers got to interview Washington Nationals interim manager Jim Riggleman and some of the players and general manager Mike Rizzo and team president Stan Kasten and other team officials. The bloggers got to watch the Nationals beat the Milwaukee Brewers in their own bloggers suite - "the first of its kind," Kasten proudly proclaimed - and, of course, they will blog about all of it.
No question, Sunday was Bloggers Day at Nationals Park, the second of the year. The first was last month. The Nationals are not the first sports team to reach out to their blogging community, but they are making a marked effort.
"They're clearly a presence on the Web, which is clearly a presence in our lives," said Kasten, who pays close attention to things written and said about his team. "They are out there doing things. I think we're all better served when they have as much good information as they can have."
In an ever-changing communications landscape, what constitutes "media" might mean different things to different people. Twitter? Facebook? Blogs? Bloggers aren't going away. Individual bloggers might leave the scene, but others, like sprouting mushrooms, pop up to take their place.
No longer a curiosity and hardly a passing fad, bloggers have gotten the attention of the teams they write about. So what to do with them? Is a blogger day or two enough to make them feel validated by the so-called establishment?
"I don't know if we've gone too far or we haven't gone far enough," Kasten said. "All of us in sports are learning, feeling our way through these developments. A year ago we didn't do things like this. A year from now we'll probably have a better fix on what's appropriate or what's not appropriate. We're trying to figure it out."
Credibility and integrity are becoming priorities, and gaining increased access is an issue. Dave Nichols (Nationals News Network), a founding member of the D.C. chapter of the Internet Baseball Writers Association, is lobbying for postseason awards voting, the perennial turf of newspaper writers.
"No one is gonna fire me," said Charlie Fliegel, founder of Nationals Review. "But at the same time, it's our personal responsibility."
Almost all of the 16 bloggers who showed up Sunday brought notebooks and used them. One of the deeper-thinkers and a big numbers guy, Steven Biel of FJB (Fire Jim Bowden - a shout-out to the departed Nationals general manager) toted a laptop. Many had recording devices and cameras. Blogging has become a sophisticated mixed-media enterprise that runs counter to the popular stereotype. Although that didn't stop Brian Oliver, another brainy guy, from cracking that "all the mothers' basements in the area are empty right now."
Oliver, who lives with his wife, runs the respected if not revered Nationals Farm Authority, which tracks players in the team's minor league system. He frequently leaves his house and visits places like Harrisburg, Pa., and Woodbridge, Va., home of the Potomac Nationals, talking to players as well as team staff members. A congressional analyst for a company that works with the Air Force, Oliver is thorough and detailed, providing not just opinion but information hard to find anyplace else.
Which begs a question.
"Yeah, I'm a blogger," he said. "But someone said it perfectly. I use blog software. I'm probably more of a niche than anyone else."
As the name of his blog would indicate, Biel occupies the more "acerbic" (Oliver's word) wing of the blogosphere. A political consultant, he doesn't mind taking off the gloves. "But it's about having fun and making it a little more fun to follow the worst team in baseball."
Despite their contrasting styles, Oliver and Biel are friends who collaborate on podcasts. They represent the variance that exists within the blog culture. So does Mike Harris, a former sports editor of the Richmond Times-Dispatch who does freelance writing and editing and is trying to get an online sports section off the ground.
"Blogging is not journalism," he said. "Blogging is a form of self-expression. I still do journalism. I also blog. It's not the same thing."
Yet Harris, who lives near Richmond and at 53 is practically a senior citizen among bloggers, admits he can't help but try to "stick to journalistic principles" in his blog, NationalsFanBoyLooser (don't ask). He was the first to report last year's trade that brought Josh Willingham and Scott Olsen to the Nationals. He got a tip, made a couple of calls "and put my reporter's hat back on," he said.
Patrick Reddington, who writes under the pseudonym Ed Chigliak on his Federal Baseball blog, said he thinks the writing is improving on blogs.
"There are so few [other] writing opportunities," said Reddington, who drove down from northern New Jersey. "I think people who would be writing at other jobs are picking it up. We're getting a better level of writer."
Reddington is a freelance writer and works in a pharmacy. Cathy Taylor, aka "Miss Chatter" on her Just a Nats Fan blog, works as a systems administrator at The Washington Post and said she focuses more on the video aspect than the writing. She said the whole blogging thing started when she started writing about her efforts to meet childhood friend Gary Bennett, the former Nationals catcher, "and then I got sucked into baseball."
Blogging takes up anywhere from a few hours a week to what Jeff Saffelle ("Screech's Best Friend") calls a "full-time - albeit nonpaying - job" that often keeps him and his wife, Sohna ("The African Queen"), up to 4 a.m. writing and editing video for their Nats320 blog.
"It's a passion for us," he said, hardly unique in that regard.
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