'Net losses

The Baltimore Sun

Late last year, I attended a conference on blogging - the first of its kind that I know of - and the closing keynote speaker was Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks.

Cuban is a versatile guy. A businessman extraordinaire, he has made billions in computer/digital/information technology. A rabid sports fan, he owns a fairly successful sports franchise. Being light on his feet, he did better than OK on Dancing with the Stars. And with a keen appreciation for the information free range the Internet has become, he's a celebrity blogger (blogmaverick.com).

In November, addressing a pretty eclectic crowd of folks who blog on all sorts of topics (sports, politics, parenting, you name it), Cuban sounded like a digital Thomas Paine.

"Blogging is a way for the truth to come out," Cuban said earnestly. "Blogging is a way for alternative ideas and opinions to come out. Blogging is also a way to create a forum so that people can exchange ideas."

Don't be so impressed that I recall that. I was there for Cuban's remarks and generally remembered his lofty appreciation for blogging, but I had to track down that portion of the actual speech on the Internet. Unlike my own, the Web's memory is remarkable.

So it came as a shock when a couple of weeks ago, Cuban made news by banning the only blogger who covers his basketball team from the Dallas locker room. The blogger works for The Dallas Morning News, the city's major newspaper.

In writing about the ban, the Dallas paper noted that the blogger - who has apparently been doing this since 2006 - had, on the day of the ban, criticized Mavs coach Avery Johnson.

Cuban, in response, said he had just become aware of the reporter's job and that his decision was not rooted in retaliation but that to allow one blogger in the locker room (regardless of affiliation) meant having to allow all bloggers. And that would be unworkable. The ban, in Cuban's view, was a gesture of fairness.

And to be fair to Cuban, the blogger was still permitted access to other areas, the press box and news conferences. But clearly, the locker room is the place to approach players, the stars of the show, so the ban effectively inhibited the blogger's opportunity to do meaningful reporting.

Obviously, I can't read Cuban's mind, so I am not going to call him a liar on the fairness issue. So, I'll call him what he clearly is on this point.

Stupid. Or silly. Or hypocritical.

Pick one or more.

The digital medium is quickly becoming a preferred way to distribute information in the 21st century. Cuban tried to further his rationale for the blogger ban by differentiating between writing features for a "destination Web site," say ESPN.com, and blogging, even for a major news organization.

That's a little like saying a news story becomes a news story at 800 words or some other arbitrary point.

Cuban has a point in that the universe of people who consider themselves citizen journalists is growing exponentially, and clearly not all are entitled to the privileged access that legitimate news gatherers have enjoyed. But deciding who gets into a press box or a locker room or a presidential news conference has always been an issue of logistics. The call usually is based on the applicant organizations' reach and credibility. But again, that's always been the case whether we're talking about newspapers or magazines or electronic media.

The bottom line is that digital journalists, bloggers included, are quickly becoming more a part of the reporting landscape. Like everything else in the Web 2.0 world, it has its challenges. But some sports organizations, specifically in the NHL, have recognized and begun reacting to it in positive ways.

On the other hand, guys like Mark Cuban would prefer to just make speeches about it.

bill.ordine@baltsun.com

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