I wasn’t the only one thinking about taking this season in a new direction, because my editor at Inside Hockey decided to do the same as well. He’s re-branding the site, giving it a face lift and asking the contributors to up the ante on their work. There will be no more game analysis stories (thank goodness), but more substantial content moving forward.
On Monday, I had no idea how to spin this season for hockey content. I’ve watched a lot of the traditional guys try to steal my ideas because they need those hits to their sites just as much as we do. So I’m not revealing what I’m working on, because it’s a dog eat dog world and I don’t like when people steal my idea and publish it before I can.
Sometimes it’s that one question I ask that makes the difference in what MSM is going to publish…that question that I don’t have to publish the answer to for another week. That’s the difference, they need to publish that information ASAP. I don’t.
It’s keeping that in mind that I’ve decided to move my content in the direction that gained a lot of loyal followers…the human side of the story. Monday night, I went to see Howard Shapiro (author of graphic novel “The Hockey Saint”), Puck Daddy (aka Greg Wyshynski) and John Branch (NY Times Pulitzer Prize winner and author of “Boy On Ice: The Life and Death of Derek Boogaard”) and they basically gave me enough to think about as far as what type of content I want to do this season.
There will be reviews for both of their works in the upcoming weeks, as well as interviews and quotes from Monday night’s event. But I’m not stopping there…there were a lot of topics of interest that were brought up that I wanted to further investigate…topics that fans are ultimately interested in.
I’ll be going back to doing my growing up hockey pieces. While I was talking to Dainius Zubrus the other day, what started off as a simple question turned into a … you did WHAT this summer? I actually had to end the interview to tell him I needed to do further research on this and then come back to him, because it was such an intriguing subject matter that it was worth expanding on.
By the next morning, I knew exactly which direction to take the article. I think this new direction will be the direction Zubrus would be happy with. It’s also the type of article that will teach a few things to hockey fans.
I will say that I’m not one to finish an interview and admit to the person that I need to do further research before continuing, but a lot has changed since my surgery last October. I’m not going to fake knowing everything. If I don’t know, I’m going to do my homework and go back to the player later. It’s not like the article has a deadline.
Because Inside Hockey is still undergoing its change as we move from one server to another, I’ve been publishing my IH articles here so that it gets out there on a timely basis. After all, when we go live, no one cares what happened in the preseason.
I’ve had this opportunity during the server change to go through my archive of articles stretching back to 2008. As a writer, I’ve been able to see how I’ve perfected my style and become a better writer. I was able to revisit so many interviews I had done over the years, especially the ones that meant something in the grander scheme of things. More importantly, it helped me to rediscover the things I had no recollection of after I lost the majority of my memories after my surgery last October. Revisiting my own work has helped me find my way back to hockey.
Going down memory lane has helped me be present. It has helped me to create goals for myself this season, as well as look into discovering new ways to cover this game…like being more open to connecting with fans. I’ve been on my guard these last 7 years with fans because in the past I’ve had problems with fans stalking me and my family. But I’ve found that being on my guard with fans didn’t help me. It put a wedge between me and my reader. The first part of my career, I wrote for the players and the NHL, not the fans. My target audience was reading.
Over these years, some fans may have come across my work because a player tweeted an article of mine. There were fans that said they didn’t like my style of coverage, and I didn’t care one bit. Why? They weren’t my target audience. They never were unless I told them they were.
But that was the old me. I think probably one of the best things that has happened to me in this lifetime so far was losing the majority of my memories. Why? Because it means I get to start on a clean slate. Even though I struggle daily with memory issues and putting the pieces back together to try to understand who I am now, I did spend much of last season studying life and human nature.
As much as we try to put devices between us and the person sitting next to us at the dinner table, I have had to take a step back and rediscover how to connect to the people around me. From connecting with the player answering my questions, to getting what he says to connect with the reader, to connecting to my readers…it is my responsibility to put the actual human person in there each step of the way.
One characteristic my media friends tease me about is the fact that it seems like everyone knows me and I know them. I could be standing there at a NHL event and person after person comes by and says hello. But it’s only because I’ve been to so many different NHL events over the years that I’ve been able to go around and meet other reporters and people working in the NHL all across the league. Many of them, especially the Nashville, Boston and Flyers reporters have become good friends…and I’ve never stepped foot in their arenas.
I spent a lot of time branching out beyond my beat to meet people from all aspects of this job. From the NHL office next door to the blogger that just got his first credential to a game, to everyone in between, I tried to meet as many people as I could…even though it takes a while for me to warm up to people. I know there are some media people that just don’t like me at all, but I’m still nice to them. They have their own reasons for disliking me. I don’t dislike them. I treat people how I want to be treated. I say hello to that person I know says shit about me…or I tell them I enjoyed their article (because I really did)…or I bring treats with me to share with everyone that passes by.
You can’t make everyone love you, but it doesn’t mean that you can’t show them respect. You get back the respect you give out. Even if the respect does not come from that person, it will be from others.
On Monday, I did things I don’t normally do…I networked. I talked to writers and fans. But more importantly, I exchanged business cards with them. [Out of the 1000 cards I’ve had for the last 7 years, I’m finally giving them out.] Yes, this is stepping out of my element, especially since I gave my card out to fans…I don’t normally do that.
This season, I’m even assisting people who are writing books and doing research on X subject matters. Not too many people can enter into Devils territory, so if they need to get information from that stronghold, then I’m happy to assist because that’s what good people do when a friend sends someone who needs help their way.
I decided to make my Twitter public again during the season, because my goal this season is to reach 10,000 followers…and I’m not going to buy dead accounts just to reach that number like some people do. I want to gain that following based on my own merit. That means I need to focus on creating qualitative content.
There are a lot of avenues to covering hockey that I’ve seen crop up. There are the game to game analysis. There are the TMZs. There are the ‘new media’ way of doing things. There are the traditional ways of doing things. Then there are the ‘respectful’ way of doing things…as in the content you produce gains the respect of others.
I know which avenue I’m choosing this season.
By January, I’ll be giving this site a face lift of its own…something that has been well overdue and 7 years in the making. There was a time when Devils players used to tell me they only read my blog. They never read Inside Hockey unless I directed them to the story from the blog. What does that all mean? I’ll be cross-promoting like I used to do.
One of my former editors used to tell me that he was amazed at my ability to promote my work. They saw the numbers come in and were constantly trying to mimic what I was doing, but were unable to amass those same numbers.
The trick wasn’t in promoting myself, it was because I did not limit my readership to just one or two teams like most writers do. I talked about a lot of different things in hockey. I made friends with other team reporters. An interesting article, especially one that concerns their team while visiting in NYC, helps bring a variety of hockey fans to your content when they spread the word. Most hockey fans read a variety of hockey articles across the board, especially if they need to stay abreast on hockey matters around the NHL.
Don’t just talk about your team. Talk about all of the teams as a whole. My biggest fan base are Devils fans. Second? Nashville Predators fans. Third? Rangers fans. Dallas Stars fans are steadily growing, too.
That latter part has a lot to do with going out to Dallas while Jaromir Jagr was playing there. Now that he’s with New Jersey, a lot of those Dallas fans have followed.
As you flip through the content here, you’ll see I cover it all. I don’t limit myself to just the Devils. There are a broad range of topics to cover under hockey, and I like to cover the topics that interest me.
Another thing I do outside of the internet is mentor up and coming hockey writers. Some have gone on to work for the NHL. Others have gone on to become editors in chief of their own successful hockey sites.
So with all that being said…this season will feature different and new content. The best of the old will return. Trivia will also return with fun prizes. And fans…you’ll be able to contribute more in your own ways. You’ll find out about that soon.