Post-Awards Musings 6/27/11

Since I spent some time mentoring one of my younger colleagues who was new to the whole “NHL Awards” experience, I had to teach her a few things that I learned over the years while covering the NHL.  This wasn’t anything anyone ever taught her or even bothered to mention to her while covering the game.  But these are my tricks of the trade.

1. An AGENT is your best friend.  You want to know the tricks of the trade?  If by chance you are on an agent’s radar…good things can come your way.  Need an interview with one of their clients that doesn’t need team approval?  Go through the agent.  Need one of those fun interviews or an interview with a player from a team you don’t cover?  Go through the agent.

Keep in mind, if you want to keep this connection on a good working based relationship you have to help promote the agency and their other clients as well.  Case in point, even though The Puck Agency and Norton Sports have a few Devils clients, I also work to promote their other clients and endeavours such as Brooklynite Hockey, Make My Day Monday, Cam Janssen, Pekka Rinne, and Dustin Brown to name a few.

What’s also great about having an excellent relationship with agents is that when they start a new venture to help boost their client’s image, sometimes they’ll take you along for the ride to help you boost your career even further.  They’ll even recommend you to bigger outlets to HIRE YOU or send some work your way. 

It’s all about helping each other out.  Who knows…they may even break the biggest news of the year to you before anyone else knows about it.

But the only way this works…you can’t go in trying to break stories or weasel stories out of agents.  It’s not how it works at all.  It’s all about telling the stories about their clients that they want out there.  It helps boost their client’s image, as well as the agency’s.  This is a relationship you always have to work on to make it better than it was the day before.

2.  Letting the SPONSOR find you.  A little unknown fact is that this blog is sponsored.  Who helps sponsor it?  Well, I like to keep it on the down low.  But you’ll see that I’ll promote their product and events every now and again.  It’s how it works in this business.

You get free stuff (which I pass along to fans), and exclusives long before the general public can get their hands on it. 

It’s a misnomer to believe that you should go looking for a sponsor.  You never know who’s watching.  Sometimes it’s best to let the sponsor come to you.

3.  Develop PLAYER relationships.  This is one of those ‘on the fence’ topics, especially if you’re a woman discussing this.  I don’t normally let current NHL players have access to me outside of an arena.  They are not allowed to contact me at all.  Only former NHL players can have my phone number or email address.  Why?  So I’m not accused of ‘getting players phone numbers.’ 

This is a bit sexist since many men in the media have phone numbers of the players they cover.  The media ‘assumes’ things if it’s a woman trying to exercise that same privilege.  The only safe way for a woman to do this is if the player is retired.  The rules change.

Developing a relationship with a retired hockey player not only allows you to get a different vantage point on hockey, but it also allows them to educate you (as well as the reader) on things that we just don’t think about when it comes to hockey.  They are the experts. 

The way I understand hockey at a much deeper level comes from the retired players.  Pat LaFontaine, Eddie O and Glenn Anderson gave me plenty to think about when it came to the development of young hockey players.  You just don’t know what you can learn from the retirees…but it sure seems like they know more than the guys currently playing the game. 

With age comes wisdom…

You’ll also find that retired players are more apt to talk to you about hockey than current players are.  Why?  Because they’re not bombarded with fans asking for autographs and such.  Retired players take the time to talk to you.  I always appreciate their insights (and Stanley Cup picks) more than anyone else.

4.  TALK to the NHL office.  Something that kind of surprised me is that Winter kept pointing out to me that everyone knows me.  I walk up to someone from the NHL office…I usually know their name, their job description, etc. and chances are they know who I am too. 

We discuss upcoming (unpublished) events that only the people going know about.  They also give me the heads up on where we need to go to get better vantage points to do our job.  Favoritism?  No, not at all.  Knowing WHO to talk to, and what to ask (and they answer) is what it’s all about.

Developing a relationship with the NHL office is very important in covering the NHL.  It’s probably one of the most important things.  If you’ve got a good, solid relationship with them…chances that your credentials are revoked are pretty slim to none.  After all, you’re just doing your job.

Now, I do have a bit of an advantage over most of the media.  I work next door to the NHL office, so the second they say X player is at the NHL office/store, I get a time and head over to find out what’s going on.  A lot of times you can find out where a player is going in free agency just by faking a coffee run to the NHL office. 

Brad Richards…oh, they told me all already.  Everyone else is just catching up…almost 2 months later.

5.  Make MEDIA friends.  No, I’m not talking about blogger friends.  I’m talking about friends that cover all walks of the media spectrum for the NHL.  They’re the same guys you see lurking around at all of the events.  In a way, it’s a circuit.

I make sure to introduce myself to people at each of the NHL events.  After a while, you tend to see the same people around.  The NHLPA sends the same guy…the Bruins send the same people…ESPN sends the same guys…you get to know these faces.

What’s also nice is when you befriend the actual guys from the team websites, you get in on special exclusives with their team players, as well as emailed and text messaged stuff that you can’t get anywhere else.  YOU are given an exclusive heads up before the rest of the world finds out. 

It helps to befriend these guys because you’re helping them get the word out, and they’re helping you inch ahead in your own career.  It’s kind of nice to say the least.

6.  Do your own unique thing.  Everyone has their own uniqueness to writing and covering the game.  Personally, I hate doing the same article that everyone else in the media is doing.  So I try to do something different.  I try to talk about growing up hockey, or controversies that crop up in the NHL.  I like to do feature pieces on an individual or on a certain topic.  For me, it helps me understand the player better, where they’re from, what kind of environment they came from, and how in the world they ended up sitting in an NHL locker room.  Seriously…I want to know how it happened.

For me, I like to talk about people’s dreams and how they made them real.  I love talking to players about their childhood and their homes.  I love asking them what it was like.  I want to know what their dreams were.  I want to know how they got to where they are now. 

That’s always been my unique approach to hockey.

If you’re doing what everyone else is doing, why do you think they would go to your site to read what the beat writers have already written?  It just reads the same.  There’s nothing different about it. 

What people need is a fresh take on the game, as well as the players playing the game.  They need someone that buys into the way the team does things, doesn’t judge, but can see what would be the next best move for the team.  There are fantasy requests (Jaromir Jagr on my home team would put a smile on my face), and then there are innovative approaches like taking a look at a high school coach and seeing how his coaching skills netted players that went on to the NHL and captured gold and silver medals in the Olympics and 2 Stanley Cups in consecutive years…and then realizing…that’s the kind of coach your team needs…one that breeds and develops winners.

That’s how you stay ahead of the curve.  But it also helps when you’re learning about the game you’re covering directly from the coaches, players and alumni.  Soak it all in like a sponge…they are your professors of hockey 101.  Don’t ever assume you know all about hockey, because I’ve found that there’s more to this game than just a game.

7.  Use your ASSETS.  I may get chirped about this, but being with a catalog model this past week, I’ve had to teach her a few things about being a woman and having a career.  It is a FACT that women that are attractive get ahead in the workplace faster than their unattractive colleagues. 

Nobody likes to hear that, but it’s true.  You can’t get around it.

If you are attractive, you’re going to get ahead.  You have to use that asset to boost your career.  It doesn’t mean sleeping around with every John, Jack, Jake or Jackass out there.  If you start doing that, well…you’re put in a certain category you won’t be able to get out of and no one will respect you.

Opportunities seem to blossom more for those that are attractive.  Use those opportunities to boost your career further.  Know what you want and seize the opportunities.  They will come to you on a silver platter.  You won’t have to work as hard, but you’re still going to have to work to show that you’re not just a pretty face (or dumb).  You have to prove to everyone that you know what you’re talking about.  You know what you’re doing.  You are not one of ‘them.’ 

It takes one bad seed to ruin it for everyone, but sometimes the good seeds will blossom into someone strong that commands the respect of others.  It takes a lot of convincing to show that you’re worthy.  Once you’re able to convince them you know your stuff and you’re not one of ‘them’ then the opportunities will come abounding. 

You have to work the assets you have.  Even if it’s not looks…use your smarts or your personality to impress others.  Use your drive and passion to prove why you deserve to be given an opportunity.  Show them why you are a unique individual.  Show them what you bring to the table that is different than everyone else out there.  That is how you get ahead in life.

You have to remember that there are a lot of people vying for that one seat.  Why should they pick you over everyone else?  What have you contributed?  What can you contribute to the hockey realm that will make them a better enterprise?

8.  BE ETHICAL.  You want to know why some people get denied credentials? 

1) They’ve criticized the GM;
2) They’ve criticized the team;
3) They’ve written for fan blogging sites;
4) They’ve written for a fan blogging site that has had questionable material.

I’m going to talk about the 4th one…I know there are fan blogging sites everywhere.  I tried to write for one..ONCE.  When I saw the feedback (and I know who wrote it), I said this wasn’t for me.  It was a good thing I had such a bad experience with that site.  I was pushed to other more credible sites that offered me the opportunity I was looking for…to cover the game from the press box. 

When you write for a fansite that does not adhere to the rules of ethics from the hockey writers association nor do they adhere to the rules of conduct for reporters…you’re not ever going to be in the press box.

I don’t have one editor…I have several.  On this site and Play Money, I am the editor.  BUT both sites need to come as close to adhering to the rules of ethical conduct because the NHL and the New Jersey Devils read those sites.  I have to stay within the rules. 

When there’s a fan that writes questionable, even derogatory material for these fan sites, it reflects badly upon YOU…even if you didn’t write it.  The way the NHL and teams view it is…”oh, it’s that site.”  You are grouped in with all of those fans that want to write about the game they love…but they’re sure as hell not going to credential you or your site.  It’s just a fan blog.

Even if you are trying to be as professional as you can to prove your worth, one bad article published on that site by someone else could reflect badly on your image that you’re working so hard to create. 

Trust me, we have a list of sites we don’t go to because it’s become a collective of bad writing from fans that don’t know what they’re talking about 80% of the time.  But we give them props for trying to write about their passion for whatever team they’re cheering for. 

So if you really are serious about being a sports reporter…write for sites that have a solid reputation in the NHL…and have credentialed beat writers and editors.  Learn from them.

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