As the August doldrums of the NHL offseason wear on, it is a good time as any to take a step back and look at other aspects of being a fan of the New Jersey Devils. For today, let us look at the state of media coverage of the team we all support.
We are effectively dependent on some medium providing us the news of the team. Whether it is something as simple as lines from the morning skate or practice, updates on injuries, or bigger stories involving player transactions, negotiations, and other parts of the business of the sport. Those who have the access to get quotes, have sources provide information, and relay that to the larger audience play an important role. How can we say we are fans of the Devils if we do not know what is going on with them?
Of course, media is not just the news itself. There are also editorials, viewpoints, analysis, debate and discussion points, and opinions that all fall under this particular umbrella. With the growth of social media and the concept of a personal or professional brand, personality is more crucial than ever. While the personal mixing in with the professional may rub people the wrong way, that is largely seen as a feature as opposed to a bug. After all, wouldn’t you want the information from someone you feel like you know than just a name on a paper? Well, I do not care, but I’m not representative of the common fan either. In any case, media coverage can encompass a wide net. Even for something as specific as the New Jersey Devils.
While it is in one of the largest metropolitan areas in the world, the Devils have had to compete with so many professional sports teams for attention, nevermind two older hockey franchises that play in NYC. For a variety of reasons, the larger hockey media tends to treat the Devils as an afterthought compared to other teams. There is a real feeling that the Devils have not always received the respect that other organizations may have received. But the good news is that having all of that is more of a luxury. Thanks to the sea changes in media driven by the Internet and social media plus the continued support from more local media, coverage of the Devils has become more robust for the fan. It would be great if the NHL Network or a national paper gave the Devils some attention (hopefully positive attention); but it is not as desired as it may have been, say, 15 years ago.
To that end, let’s review the current state of media coverage.
The New Jersey Devils fan has been fortunate over the past decade or so. Some history for the sake of perspective is important. Whereas some teams saw coverage cut or limited due to business decisions by outlets in various markets, the Devils have had at least two papers covering them closely. And the reporters themselves were quite good. Longtime beat reporter Rich Chere provided the news at The Star-Ledger. Over at the Bergen Record was Tom Gulitti. Both were the ones to be pulled into the Internet age as their reports became posted more online at NJ.com and NorthJersey.com, respectively.
The big leap forward came when blogging really took hold in sports in the latter half of last decade. I have an obvious bias for it, but I really think this caused a huge impact. Anybody could - and still can! - do it. You do not need to be an expert or get certified by some manner. You just need the time, the effort, and something to say. Fans, like myself, started blogs to have their say about what happened in Devils games, what’s happening with the team, and trying to find out what they should do instead. If you don’t have a voice in the larger discussion, then you absolutely can (and still can) have it through a blog. The media businesses saw the proliferation of blogs in various areas, with some becoming significant enough to warrant press access or even lead to a business (SB Nation is an example of this). This was a clear sign of change, and sports writing had to change with it. It was not an easy transition, if only for reporters used to writing by set deadlines then realizing they had to put up their work closer to when the news hit and more often than ever.
When In Lou We Trust started in 2006, NJ.com did have a Devils blog of sorts. Eventually, NJ.com/devils became the place for Chere’s posts and articles. It effectively became a blog and it was good enough for news. Chere’s But the breakthrough came with Fire & Ice, which was formed as a blog for Gulitti’s reporting. Gulitti took the opportunity and additional work needed to make the blog function like one. His style was somewhat terse like Chere’s, allowing for informative, just-the-facts posts that clearly stated what needed to be stated. Posts were quick and throughout the day. No disrespect to Chere, but Gulitti was on top of this. He just understood how blogging worked. It quickly became the most important blog and up-to-date source of Devils news. I’d like to think his work helped make Chere’s work later on as well as other reporters. Fire & Ice also even had comments, which were popular to a fault. Communities did form but with a lack of moderation and control, they were often nasty and usually not worth anyone’s time. Except for when someone had an honest question and Gulitti would actually respond. If the site had a mod, it would have been the perfect beat reporter blog. Again, Gulitti just got it. And he continued to get it as he joined and utilized Twitter much in the same way that reporters used it.
Despite all the nonsense Gulitti had to put up with comments at F&I and on social media when he became active on Twitter, Gulitti kept providing the news, the quotes, the stories, and all the must-know information without talking down to or belittling or ranting at the reader. Gulitti set a standard and the fanbase was better for it to a degree. As a result, Fire & Ice under Gulitti was a crucial, must-visit-regularly site for the Devils fan up until 2016 when Gulitti took a job with NHL.com, which is where he is today. That year was a big one for change in media. Chere also retired from the Star Ledger and NJ.com in 2016.
Fortunately for the Devils fans, the papers - rather the companies that owned them - did not let the roles fade into obscurity. The Bergen Record moved Andrew Gross, who covered the Rangers and hockey for over 15 years, to covering the Devils as a beat reporter. As for the NJ Advanced Media (The company that owns the Star Ledger and NJ.com), Chris Ryan was brought aboard to replace Chere. That Gross was the Rangers’ beat reporter led to some friction, but this largely went away from most fans when they learned that Gross was not that different from Gulitti. But he had a similar mindset and work ethic as Gulitti. Gross was just as active on Twitter and his reports had a similar, informative style. Not as often, but that may not have been his fault. Changes to NorthJersey.com - especially when it became a part of the USA Today Network - led to Fire & Ice not being a must-visit, every-day site. The layout was not as good or straight-forward, the archive went away, more and more the important stories ended up on the main NorthJersey site or their Devils section outside of the blog, and the smaller updates (e.g. so-and-so is a scratch) were available more quickly on Twitter anyway. As for Ryan, he has been more active on his site with posts intended to stir up discussion amid the other work that beat reporters do. It’s actually refreshing in that is not the click-bait or outrage-bait that has undercut the media in other fields. They’re just attempts to have something doing when the news is slow. He’s been more than fine and he has remained at NJ.com.
Not so for Gross. During last season, he took an opportunity to become an Islanders beat reporter at Newsday. The changeover took place in March. Replacing Gross is Abbey Mastracco. Given she was thrust into the end of the 2017-18 season and the Devils own offseason this summer has been very quiet, a lot of her attention has went to baseball - the other sport she reports on. I do not follow baseball, so I cannot tell you whether she is or is not particularly good at it. I had no issue with what she wrote for the Devils so far. She has a lot of experience at beat reporting like Gulitti and Gross did, so I’m confident she’ll do a good job. Unfortunately for her, the once-mighty Fire & Ice blog is not as easy to access, the archive is completely unavailable, and a lot of the main stories just go to the Devils’ section of the NorthJersey.com site. That’s not Mastracco’s or Gross’ problem; that’s all the fault of the people who made it that way when the site went onto the USA Today Network.
In the middle of these recent changes, a third person has emerged as a beat reporter - or at least something like that: Leo Scaglione Jr. (@LeoScaglioneJr) Per his own profile, he has contributed coverage for the Isles and has written for the Hockey Journal (usually the NY Hockey Journal). But a lot of what he has done last season has been Devils-based. He is in the press box at the Rock like a beat reporter. He gets quotes and joins media calls like a beat reporter. He has the same sort of info that you would get from a beat reporter. If he is not technically one, but he’s close to it.
The larger point is that the Devils still have three beat reporters (or two beat reporters and a beat-like reporter) who are professional, they are not inflammatory, they are not fans or haters (that would be unprofessional), they are supported enough to cover the team by their organizations, and they put out the information first. Would I like them to ask more direct and constructive questions at times? Sure, but that’s an issue throughout all of sports media so I would not pin that as their fault. This is very good. Between the three of them alone, the Devils fan knows that their favorite team is being covered and covered well. Having three alone is a big benefit as there is no “one voice” for a team or a company to easily control. It is better, I think, than what other fanbases have. Follow them and be nice to Ryan (@ChrisRyan_nj), Mastracco (@AbbeyMastracco), and Scaglione Jr. We should hope it continues and support them as necessary.
Other Online Coverage
There are other online sources of coverage of the Devils, more from an editorial sense.
The newest one is part of one of the more exciting developments to sports media in a long time: The Athletic. New Jersey on its own in sports is not big enough to warrant its own group. But the James Mirtle-led effort has provided a writer dedicated to the Devils: Corey Masisak (@cmasisak22). Masisak’s articles have been insightful, interesting, and even analytic enough where it would fit right in on a site like this one. Although we’re effectively amateurs as fans with a ton to say, and he’s got more professional experience. When the new season starts, I’m curious to see whether he will have original reporting to work with or if he will do that. Even if he does not and continues what he has been doing, it’s worth the time and money for the Devils fan to read Masisak. He’s a relatively new voice on the scene and its a very good one. As a whole, the serious hockey fan should absolutely check out The Athletic. The regular pieces from Tyler Dellow (ex-analyst from the Oilers, one of the early adopters of blogging about hockey analytics) and prospect guru Corey Pronman alone are worth the subscription fee on top of what Masisak does. If you want other sports, The Athletic has jumped in feet first into most of the major sports from football to baseball to soccer. Whereas SB Nation is a network of sports blogs mostly driven by fans with loads of content, The Athletic is a network of more experienced writers putting up articles and coverage with loads of content. They continue to grow and they should be the dominant brand in online sports media in due time.
No, The Athletic did not pay me to write the previous paragraph. Although I am not above accepting money if they’d like. I think Mirtle still has my email address.
The other main online writer for the Devils fan to follow is Todd Cordell (@ToddCordell). Hockeybuzz has not had a good reputation online as it has been infamous for outrageous trade rumors that did not happen. But they have put together a set of solid writers for other teams. Todd Cordell is one of them. He’s not totally focused on the Devils. He also covers the Flames and he does analytic consultant work with the Saskatoon Blades. But he frequently writes about the Devils, often with an analytic bent. He also has been doing it for a while. Ignore the Hockeybuzz base; Cordell is worth the time as well.
While not necessarily a writer, another online entity has also emerged in recent years: The Devils Insiders (@DevilsInsiders). Dave Turner and Jeff O’Connor started with the intention of a daily podcast all about the Devils. While not necessarily daily, they are chock full of reactions, news, and they have even worked with the Devils organization for a couple of interviews. They have been prolific on Twitter, where they just recently noted changes among the scouting staff. That’s the kind of info that would come from hardcore fans who really pay close attention. They’re great, they’re worth your time.
As far as other blogs and networks, there are a few. Dan Rice and Alex Chauvancy appear to hold it down at The Hockey Writers. Nick Villano apparently is running (or at least he’s really prolific) at Pucks and Pitchforks on the FanSided network. The Devils Army Blog also remains active. And this does not include the still very active communities at r/devils, NJDevs, and HFBoards. While those are message boards and similar to that, they represent the community and discussion happens involving the fans - they’re on the peripheral of what media is. They’re certainly great for pulling info quickly for discussion.
There’s also this one. Your mileage may vary, but I think it is great. Seriously, we are just a collective of hardcore fans with a lot to say about our favorite teams. We are not insiders. We are not reporters. We are not in the press box. We write about the news, we react to what happened, and we analyze it as most sports fans do for all kinds of things like loads of words in a post in August about the media coverage of the Devils. Which followed 6,000+ about the Devils’ shootout attempts, a third part of a three-post series. We may not have the expertise or professional background. But that’s the benefit. With blogs and message boards and social media groups and sub-reddits and such, you just need to have something to write and put in the work to write it. Good, justifiable, and somewhat decently written (I admit my flaws at this) thoughts, opinions, reviews, previews, and analysis eventually gets noticed. And so I am grateful that you continue to notice All About the Jersey, especially as we enter ten years with SB Nation in November and twelve years of existence in October.
The larger point is that for the fan, there’s no shortage of online writing and communities for the fan to take part in. And the best part is that if you do not like any of it, you can start one yourself. Start that blog. Find that platform you want to write or speak about the Devils. The opportunities remain available. It’s out there if you actually want it.
Speaking of opportunities, the growth of sports media online, especially on social media, teams in all sports recognized one. Rather than go to a trusted reporter or media group, the team could just simply provide some of the news themselves, put their own spin on it as needed, and at the same time continue have their name get out there. This has worked for many teams and it does not appear to be ending anytime soon. The NHL as a league was faster on the uptake, as their main site has had staff writers - like Andrew Gross - on their site for years and years. The New Jersey Devils jumped into the wave of social media - especially Twitter - and eventually honed their own media game to provide news themselves.
On the NHL side, the staff writer that focuses on the Devils is Mike Morreale (@mikemorrealeNHL). I like Morreale. He is active in covering news for the Devils as well as others, such as the recent World Junior Summer Showcase. He regularly contributes to the site’s draft coverage as well as other features. While he does work for the NHL, I get the sense that if he were to breakaway to work for outside media organization that covers the Devils or hockey, then the transition would be smooth. As with the beat reporters, Morreale keeps things informative and through following him on Twitter or his work at the league site, you’ll get more than just occasional Devils coverage. While one could argue that other teams get more attention from the league and their media properties, the Devils are not totally ignored.
As for the Devils themselves, their website is more informative than ever. About a decade or so ago, the site was rather plain with respect to information. Their social media was driven in part by volunteering fans and interns. Now, it is a bigger deal. On their site and their social media work, they do report out news of sorts. Again, news that is generally favorable like signing a new player, where they also conveniently provide most of the terms of what that signing cost. There are three main accounts on Twitter, their most visible social media platform. First, the team has their own official Twitter account that occasionally breaks news (@NJDevils) in addition to their official website. Their Communications department as their own Twitter official account that breaks other kinds of news (@NJDevilsPR). Their most visible person is their in-house reporter, who is very active on social media and appears before and in-between periods at the Rock: Amanda Stein (@amandacstein).
Stein is the most visible if only because, well, she’s a person. I don’t know who actually runs the team’s accounts; they represent a group. They also stick to what is news or, in the case of the NJDevils account, promoting themselves as a team should on a social platform. Stein uses social media like it is intended. It’s not just her giving out information on lineups and in-game updates, but also what is she doing and where she is and what is going on and such. The personal is mixed with the professional. For this and other reasons related to just human nature online, she gets plenty of flak and is not always well regarded among the fans. I think a lot of the criticism is nonsense. If she writes something unrelated to the Devils or something you don’t like - especially in the offseason, then so what? It’s not hurting anyone or the business of her employers. It’s no different how we all have our personal social media accounts and we go on about non-Devils things all the time. I can see how it rubs people the wrong way at times and I d but I have the same three words in response: Deal with it.
That said, I have a larger concern about Stein, the team accounts, and, to a lesser extent, Morreale. Or at least with their roles. A lot of the news and coverage of the Devils involves information that does not really require independence. Whether someone paid by the team or an outside company states who is or is not out of the lineup or informs us of a trade is immaterial. And the fans, I think, understand that. However, if the news is not so favorable looking for the Devils or the NHL, then you’re not going to get the full or even any story from them. Why would we? They work for the team or league; they’re not going to put up anything that could make their organizations look bad. The benefit of Ryan, Mastracco, and Scaglione Jr. (and other reporters not working for a team or the league) is that they are not part of the New Jersey Devils or the National Hockey League. They could and likely will report on developments that are not always positive or neutral for the Devils or NHL. This is important for the fans who want to know what is truly happening. Could you imagine if the main media source was owned by the Devils back when it came out Vanderbeek and his group had to sell? The official accounts and the like certainly did not say much then. Would we even get the full story as it happened? I think not.
Additionally, the Devils - as with any sports team - does have control over who they give access to into the press box and into the locker room for coverage purposes. There is such a thing as maintaining a professional relationship with other outlets. Ryan, for example, is not going to write a whole bunch of fake news and then expect to still be treated with respect. Likewise if someone else comes into the locker room and asks a lot of tough questions in bad faith. That would be one thing. But over recent years, teams have hired their own in-house reporters and their own coverage that they effectively control. If their coverage is more popular or the fans figure they trust the team or league more than the media outlet, then who needs the outside outlet that may have written that not-so-favorable thing about them or is not framing things as they like? They would have more juice to pull access, which hurts the larger media coverage of the team - even if the impact on the fans is not so readily apparent. I admit this is veering into paranoia; there is no indication the Devils would go down this path. However, other organizations are more interested in controlling the message and could generate the juice to do this without a whole lot of outrage. Sure, blogs like this one may have something to say - but we’re not in the press box and our influence is limited to who read us - and that’s assuming they even agree. The larger point is the Devils have the ability to close out coverage, which would definitely be bad.
For now, the situation is more than fine. It’s great for the Devils that they have their own in-house reporter and their very active team social media accounts. Morreale is a very good staff writer at NHL.com. The Devils’ official website is worth viewing once in a while. The fans have more coverage to take in and enjoy. This is good provided that the coverage provided by Ryan, Mastracco, Scaglione Jr. and others are also popular and consumed by the fans. I would just keep in mind that if Stein or the team tweets or writes or says something about the Devils, then they’re representing the organization - that is their priority.
We have (at least) three beat reporters at games, we have the team providing coverage of their own, there’s a staff writer at NHL.com that tends to focus on the Devils, and there’s plenty of online writing about the Devils that’s worth reading - occasionally based on what is reported. There is quite a lot there for the Devils and it is robust. It is currently a positive situation for the Devils fan, whether you just want to know the latest news, live updates, quick reactions, or if you want a deeper analysis. If you’re on Twitter, then you can get all of this in a quick, 280-character or less format too. And if you want a community to join, there are plenty of them. If that is not enough and you want to put your own opinions and spins on things, then you can absolutely still start your own blog, your own podcast, your own video channel, etc. The Internet is still a fertile ground for this sort of thing, even as sports media has made it more of their business.
The old days of hoping an article in the local paper has what you want to know about the Devils are in the distant past. The current age is good for the Devils fan. While the issue of not getting a lot of attention in the larger sports market in NYC and in the larger hockey media may remain, it is not as important as it once was. There are reporters focused on the Devils, the Devils have their own staff, and there are plenty of places online that are about the Devils. The Devils organization does not seem to be at odds with the media outlets, so there’s no concern there. While I’d like it if sports reporters in general ask more direct questions, the beat reporters are not just extensions of the franchise they are writing about. This all mitigates the lack of “mainstream” coverage. As far as I can tell we have what we really need and want and none of the people doing this are a pain or intentionally trying to bait people for attention. I think we have it pretty good as Devils fans when it comes to coverage.
There is one major aspect I did not cover here: the broadcasts. But there is a lot more to say about that and I will go into that tomorrow. What do you think of the media and coverage of the Devils as of now? What do you think could be improved? Please leave your answers and your thoughts about the media that covers the Devils (in a respectful manner, this isn’t going to be a trash-fest) in the comments. Thank you for reading.