A Cuban standoff: Mavericks’ Mark takes on the bloggers

A blog, we all know now in this Internet age, is the work of someone decidedly unprofessional. Typing away off the top of his or her head. Clad in sweatpants or pajamas or a bathrobe. From a computer in the basement. Better yet, to stay true to the cliché, from a computer in Mom’s basement.

A news story or a column on the website of a daily newspaper is, by contrast, an act of journalism. It is thoroughly researched, aggressively reported, stylishly written and carefully edited, all according to strict standards of ethics and — in the case of hard news — objectivity.

(A “post,” by the way, is the most highly evolved form of electronic communication possible, combining old-school values with new-millennium technology and currently available only on MinnPost.com. For purposes of this discussion, we will set aside, ideally on a pedestal, the concept of posts. After a moment of sufficient awe and reflection, that is.)

Ongoing blog-vs.-reporting battle takes new turn
The battle between blogs and news reporting, between new media and old media, took a surprising turn earlier this week, when Mark Cuban, owner of the NBA Dallas Mavericks, announced through the team’s PR staff that bloggers would now be banned from the Mavericks locker room. This ban would apply to both pre- and post-game access periods that are mandated by National Basketball Association media policies and is driven, the team said, by the limited amount of space it has to accommodate media requests.

The Mavericks made it clear that this new rule applied only to those media types who blog exclusively; a sportswriter who covers a game for his or her newspaper but also blogs for the paper’s website would not be affected.  Ditto, apparently, a broadcast journalist who has a blog on his station’s Internet presence.

The reaction in the blogsphere was immediate and harsh.

Already lugging around a Yao Ming-sized insecurity chip on their shoulders, many sports bloggers resented what they saw as second-class, backhanded treatment. Some quickly accused Cuban — the NBA’s highest profile franchise owner, a “Dancing With the Stars” contestant and an inveterate blogger himself — of the highest hypocrisy.

The odd thing is, the blogger who seemed to trigger the Mavericks’ new policy was Tim MacMahon of the establishment Dallas Morning News. McMahon had written about a fan’s new website, which is dedicated to seeing Mavs’ head coach Avery Johnson ousted from his job. The team’s announcement came a few days later, at which point McMahon blogged:

“I’ve managed to cover dozens of Mavs games over the last few seasons without seeing/causing a major overcrowding issue in the team’s spacious locker room. To my knowledge, this policy won’t affect any other credentialed media member who regularly attends Mavs games.
 
“The Bad Boy Pistons had the Jordan Rules. These Mavs have the MacMahon Rules. I guess I could consider that an honor, but I’d rather just keep doing my job and providing our readers as much interesting Mavs information as possible.”


Basketball beat writers face array of access issues
Disclosure time: As vice president of the Professional Basketball Writers Association, I’m smack in the middle of this. The PBWA’s primary reason to exist is to maintain access and fair treatment of reporters who cover pro basketball, particularly the NBA. In the two years I served as president of the organization (2005-07), I dealt frequently with practices and policies designed to limit our access to players and coaches for interviews, along with serious real-estate issues as teams moved media seating to the rafters or corners of their arenas to create more pricey VIP tickets.

One of the PBWA’s challenges has been to sort out legitimate media in whatever form — newspaper, magazine or Internet — from the fanboys on their couches. When in doubt, we have gone with a liberal interpretation of who is and who isn’t a “writer.” So the PBWA already is on this case, appealing to the NBA media relations department to vet the Mavericks’ unilateral rule.

Now comes the irony: Just a few days after the policy was announced, Cuban blogged about blogs on his blog. He had some insightful things to say about the “Me too! Me too!” mentality of established media in jumping on the blog bandwagon. As desperate as they have been to retain readers (and “monetize” the Internet while adhering to their old business models), they have overlooked a serious downside to the rush to be trendy.

 A two-headed downside, in fact: Letting their credibility be dragged down to the level of those clichéd guys in bathrobes, while lending legitimacy to that vast group of bloggers who do not practice journalism — or adhere to its purported standards.

Cuban wrote:

“Consider this a rule in marketing that could be added to my Startup Rules. Never, ever, ever consider something that any literate human being with Internet access can create in under 5 minutes to be a product or service that can in any way differentiate your business.”


He went on:

“If I were marketing for [the New York Times], I would be doing everything I could to send the message that ‘The NY Times does not have blogs, we have Real Time Reports from the most qualified reporters in the world.’ …’


(Actually, “posts” has a certain ring to it. But we’ve already got dibs on that.)

Mark Cuban mixes old-guard, new-guard views, too

Bottom line on this: Cuban, in his blog, shows himself to be the innovative, forward-thinking entrepreneurial billionaire that he is, a guy who made his fortune off Broadcast.com before the original dot.com bust and someone who, if he cared to, could impart all sorts of marketing and branding lessons to mainstream media.

At the same time, he is as protective in his views toward coverage of his core business as any of the old-time suits.

“Remember, there is TV and there is HBO,” Cuban wrote. “A blog is a blog is a blog.”

To his credit, he doesn’t claim to be a legit journalist. And he favors T-shirts and jeans rather than a robe and slippers.

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