When I started a Gopher football blog in 2007, shortly after Tim Brewster was hired by the University of Minnesota, one of the questions that I was asked by a friend of mine, and one of the most die-hard Gopher fans I know, is "will you have any special access to the program because of your blog?"
My answer: Absolutely not.
Sports Information Departments, specifically our very own UMN SID group, have been very progressive in allowing bloggers to become credentialed for sporting events. Matt has been a press box dweller at The Bank, as has GN at both The Bank and The Barn. Additionally, GoAUpher recently covered the women's Frozen Four representing TDG in the press box.
Even with SID's allowing bloggers more access, we don't have the sources, the resources, or time that newspaper writers and sports-talk folks have.
Look, nobody is complaining here. We're fans. We're bloggers because we love the team and, possibly, because writing for a blog allows us to justify to ourselves, and hopefully our spouses, the inordinate amount of time, and money, we spend on our Gophers. The fact that we can get into the press-box, a post-game press conference, or on the field before and after games is gravy.
And this, my friends, is what separates us from the paid media. We aren't paid. We are grateful for the access we are granted and we do NOT feel we deserve more than we are given.
As bloggers we have non-writing, non-Gopher related jobs that pay our bills. We don't have time to chase down leads. We don't have time to show up to practice facilities to try to get an interview.
Neither side is right or better.
Beat writers recount facts and dig for angles. Columnists take and angle and form an opinion. Sports talk jocks form opinions and conduct interviews with people who may or may not agree with their opinions, but who certainly have some sort of angle.
And then there's the bloggers.
Fans first. Writers second. Hopeful for our team's future. Grateful to have a platform to write about our team. Excited about the access which we are granted.
In the case of our recent coaching search, which resulted in Richard Pitino being named men's basketball coach, as always you've got writers and jocks fighting for sources and angles, and you had bloggers searching for their own niche into the story. It took only four days for the paid vs the un-paid sides to diverge. The emergence of two distinct opinions about how the coaching search was going became clear, and those opinions fell very sharply along that same paid vs un-paid line.
It started with Judd Zulgad bemoaning the fact that Norwood Teague wasn't offering enough information about the search process just four days after Tubby Smith had been fired. Seth Kaplan, a producer for Fox 9, agreed saying "Not talking to the media until a hire is embarrassing and a mistake. Get out in front of it."
The rest of the paid media followed suit. The consensus seemed to be that Norwood Teague must be screwing this up, and the reason for the consensus was because they weren't being told otherwise by Norwood himself.
The blogging community had a very different opinion and began responding on Twitter. Yours truly immediately began a twit-debate with Seth Kaplan. When I had to leave the conversation because I had to attend a meeting for my paying job, GoAUpher picked up the debate with Seth. Others got involved in other debates, and I am sure there were countless others that I have no clue about.
That day, just four days following the firing of Tubby Smith, it became abundantly clear: the paid media felt they deserved more info. What was interesting about what the felt they deserved... they were asking for it in the name of the fans and the boosters. The fans and the boosters deserved to know more.
Meanwhile, the bloggers and Twitterers, the fans themselves, the ones who aren't paid for what they do, were glad that Norwood was holding his cards close. After all, the absolute mess that was the football coaching search that eventually ended up with everyone loving Jerry Kill, was handled in the open and received huge amounts of criticism.
My opinion all along: Norwood owes the fans and boosters nothing but to make the best hire possible.
Now here we are, a day after finding out that Richard Pitino will be the next men's basketball coach at the University of Minnesota, and the same paid media who were criticizing how Teague handled the process, are criticizing the hire. Pitino is too young. He doesn't have enough experience. He was only hired for his last name. He might end up being okay, but he wasn't the guy they wanted. It will continue to go on in the coming days.
Was Richard Pitino Teague's first choice? Probably not. But was the first choice(s) really available?
Did Norwood Teague hire the best fitting coach that was available? I, for one, firmly believe that he did.
In the end, what matters is that the Gophers got their coach, the people who pay to go see the new coaches team seem to be reasonably happy, the local paid media has already done their job by forming an opinion and throwing rocks, the national paid media seems to have a very different opinion than our local media, and the local paid media will go back to the name calling, calling us "rubes" and "Kool-Aid drinkers" for liking the hire.
Just ten days after Tubby Smith was fired, once again, all is right with the world.