In another installment of interviewing unique Wild fans, today I'm talking to Joe Bouley, Managing Editor at Hockey Wilderness, the SBNation site covering the Wild. Joe has been running the ship at one of the most popular Wild blogs out there for a few years now, and was gracious enough to chat with me in his parent's basement.
Ben Remington - Thanks for joining me Joe, hope your holiday season is going better than this Wild season.
So you're the head honcho at SB Nation's Hockey Wilderness, one of the original and most popular Minnesota Wild blogs. But first things first, how did you get into Wild blogging?
Joe Bouley - My story is weird. I wasn't a journalism major, never worked for a paper and certainly never thought I'd enjoy writing as a hobby. All my past writing was for homework and whatnot, and none of that was actually enjoyable. But I stumbled across a Facebook group of Wild fans that basically just shared thoughts on a forum. This was early Facebook too, and this forum was highly disorganized. I would offer my own thoughts on the team, mostly in despair as these were pre-Parise/Suter years.
From there, I'd offer my thoughts to my friends on Facebook after watching Prospect Development Camp. One of my friends mentioned that I should start a blog, but never took it seriously. One of the guys I conversed with on the FB Wild forum announced that he was a new writer for this site called, "Hockey Wilderness."
I mostly didn't care to start reading the site until Mike Yeo's first season, and joined the game threads. Parise and Suter were signed, and a lockout got me on HW more frequently. After a couple fan posts in the offseason of 2013, and a management change, former managing editor Emilie Weiner asked me to write for the site. Funny enough, that was when Giles left HW for greener pastures haha.
Anyway, I wrote a weekly article, and offered to help Emilie with editing duties as well as game recaps. That was a lot of fun. Emilie announced she was leaving the site immediately following the playoffs, so, you know, when the Wild played the Blackhawks, and I took over after that with Tony Abbott.
Almost 4 years later, I guess you could say things are getting pretty serious.
BR - Ha, pretty serious indeed. So from humble beginnings to the Head Cheese with Tony in a somewhat short period of time, that had to be a trip. What's it like being at the helm of a site with that big of a following?
JB - In a nutshell? It's exciting. It's not always easy or fun, but exciting. HW offers our writers not just a following locally, but also access to a large network of sister sites that feature equally great content. It also offers our own readers a place to air their own analysis in the Fan Post sections. Overall, our site is a place for fans to be with other fans. Being at the top of that to help cultivate writing talent, monitor traffic numbers and create new ideas for the site is a lot of fun. And none of it would be possible without the support of the staff I have.
BR - So speaking of that staff, there are probably opinions of your site out there that are maybe a little misunderstood, or perhaps completely factual. What do you think about Hockey Wilderness right now, good or bad?
JB - What have you heard out there? Because I know what I've heard.
BR - Well, there's been some pretty public criticisms of HW out there, and whether it's fair or not is more of an opinion than anything, so what's your opinion? I'm not trying to stoke any flames, but what do you think HW brings to the Minnesota Wild media world?
JB - When we took over we made a conscious decision to incorporate more statistical analysis including fancy stats. Now, our first few articles about numbers were essentially just reporting the numbers, and that kind of article is 1) tough to write, and more importantly 2) painful to read. So we made some changes to the way we approach writing. It's been the modus operandi of the site: if you have a take, make sure it's supported.
And stats are the single best thing to support an opinion because they are based on fact. So, if you think Ryan Suter is a power-play black hole, then finding point production rates per minute, shot metrics, maybe even determining the percentage of shot attempts are blocked or miss the net completely can help make your case. (I wrote that article, by the way, find it on Hockeywilderness.com)
But not everyone was sold on fancy stats. It likely turned some people off to the website, as well as forced us to become so entrenched to defend the numbers' legitimacy (and also the basis of our work) that we got defensive.
It was probably wrong to get so defensive to the point we became condescending, but it also doesn't mean we were wrong.
We campaigned for good players like Jared Spurgeon, Nino Niederreiter, and Jason Zucker. We others looked at size, plus/minus, or a certain attitude about playing defense.
We've made a few blunders. We endorsed the mostly failed Sean Bergenheim experiment and stood tall behind the Martin Havlat trade, and even had to wait a really long time for Chris Stewart to show that he was the player we thought he was.
It also hasn't been all fun and games as managing editor either. For some time we locked horns with former HW editors, rival websites -- for no good reason either -- and even beat writers along the way. I've had to deal with the brunt of that and smooth things over. Some people I probably won't speak to again and some I've attempted to extend an olive branch to. I can accept my hand in part of the mess that has been the Wild blogosphere, but I also want to get past it. This season has been pretty good in that regard as the drama is pretty low. That said, for anything I have done, I'm sorry.
But it's not lost on me that reputation, credibility and relatability is the name of the game. I appreciate all of our loyal readers and podcast listeners. And for those that have stopped coming by, I hope you come back.
However, I think we have a solid staff that does great work, and we attempt to cover Minnesota Hockey from the Minnesota Wild, its affiliates, and know down to the five college teams with some dabbling into MN HS hockey.
BR - Well I appreciate you being honest in your assessment. While I think everyone with an opinion has jousted at times, including myself and some of your writers, I've never taken issue with it, because I know what you guys are doing, stats or otherwise, comes from a position of intense passion for the team and covering the team. That's what I think makes bloggers special versus other fans, and not that we're all better or smarter, I think that's been proven false at times haha, but that we devote so much time and energy into covering the team.
I'm not saying that sometimes bloggers don't go a little overboard on things, but it can also be misunderstood too. What are your thoughts on bloggers on the whole, whether it supports or denies the stereotype?
JB - We're dudes -- even the women bloggers -- just living in our mom's basement eating chips and salsa (cause F*** Cheetos) looking at spreadsheets, while stealing other people's work.
But seriously, I've met some really great people that all have a passion for the sport or maybe just their favorite team. They put in a lot of time for research or watching games (sometimes as much as 4 times. Could you imagine watching that Wild/Blues game from earlier this season 4 times because you knew you had a way to better understand the game?), effort, and have almost no inside knowledge to write smart, compelling articles on a daily/weekly/bi-weekly/monthly basis. All while working a full-time job that pays the bills.
If there's anything with whole blogger stereotype that rings true it's that they are unpaid or underpaid mightily for what they put into it. So, when a certain baseball writer receives essential flak for a hatchet job article from bloggers, the issue isn't because they are jealous but that a person writing for a major paper wrote a mostly crap article, somehow has some more credibility, and was actually paid for the 800 words in a column. That columnist was paid to write a terrible article, while the blogger spends the spare time they actually have trying to write good content and create a site that people want to go to.
That's not a slight on beat writers or columnists, or whoever writes for a major news source. There a plenty of great writers out there that put in long hours, loads of effort, and churn out good, solid material. But the whole blogger thing is ridiculous when these people consume so much time and effort tearing down people that don't do this for a living.
And really all we want in our writing is to be recognized for the work we do.
BR - I think that's a fair request, for bloggers to be taken seriously for the work they put in. I think the issue is there are some bloggers, who despite putting in some time, don't take it as seriously as others in terms of research and creative thinking, and they've fed into that stereotype, and worse yet, have made it harder on the rest of us. I think that's a little unfair though, especially in the Wild blogosphere.
JB - Well, there are always going to be bad eggs, no matter the industry, but to paint bloggers with such a broad brush is unfair.
Hell, in the industry I work in a few too many bad eggs ruined it for us. How many jokes do you hear about waiting for the cable guy?
BR - Haha, and I'm sure cable company employees feel about the Jim Carrey movie "Cable Guy" what Minnesotans feel about the movie Fargo too.
I think you're right about there being bad apples in every industry though, we've all seen it. What do you think needs to happen, from a good apple standpoint, for "bloggers" to gain more respect or footing in sports media? Or should it always be more of a case by case basis?
JB - Probably not what we have been doing at HW and picking fights on Twitter. That said, it is difficult to get a chance when say the team, like the Minnesota Wild, no longer credentials blogs. The most we could do is attempt to prove we are capable by covering minor league teams and showing we can do the job and be professional.
That said, I think it’s odd that the Wild shut that down. I mean, any media, really, is free publicity and marketing. And with blogs, specifically SB Nations and Hockey Wilderness, we offer a site that engages fans with real-time discussions and written content. Why the Wild wouldn't want to keep essentially a free and clear path to passionate fans to help market events and whatnot, is beyond me. Who are the people that show up to Prospect Camp? Who shows up to the open practices, or watches the NHL Draft? It ain't casual fans. It's the people writing the blogs or newspaper articles and the die-hard fans that consume it all.
So I guess, long story short, we have to do what we can to prove ourselves, but we must also be given a chance, because I can see non-traditional media being a platform for essentially free marketing to the most passionate fans of the base.
BR - I think you're right about all of that, and I share your frustrations. I think you're right about the die-hard fans, too. It's such a small percentage of overall fans that are taking that much time out of their day to write these kinds of things or to read as much as some very engaged fans do.
It's really remarkable to me, even being one of those people, that some folks spend so much time on a hobby such as this. At the same time, we also can't touch the level of commitment of the career beat writers, and we've got a great group of those in this market. What do you think HW and even other blogs do or try to do to set themselves apart from traditional media?
JB - Well, and my current job and home location doesn't allow me to be at the arena 41 nights out of the year, so I have other issues outside of those that I brought up. It's the principle of the whole thing.
We at HW set ourselves apart from other media outlets by taking a more analytical approach to things, but have tried to muse and write with those numbers in an understandable fashion.
Other blogs have their own focuses. Some just do postgame articles and reaction. Others attempt to break news and do what beat writers do. That's more difficult to do if you're now alerted on every single tweet from every single NHL Insider. Some just try to aggregate any and all articles written, which serves a purpose too, and others try to be just an outside view of things from a fan perspective. All that is great and part of a healthy blog sphere, and really, in a symbiotic media environment that includes the papers. So, finding a niche is difficult, but when done right, I think everyone can do a great job covering the team on all sides. It doesn't have to be "either or."
Where do you think bloggers should sit in the grand scheme of sports media?
BR - I'm with you, I think that bloggers have a place. Michael Russo even mentioned this on a podcast before, bloggers write things he either can't or doesn't want to. I think statistical analysis and prospect coverage are great examples of something that's not only tough for mainstream media types but also lend themselves to the Internet forum better.
Also, I like our ability to have fun too. Not that beat writers can't, but I think since we're held to a different standard so we can be a little more entertaining than the beat writers with things. I'm not sure if that hurts our cause, but it's a reality.
JB - True. Very true. We can do articles like, "Which Wild players are most like Bond movies?" and things like that.
BR - Yeah, exactly. I think more entertainment is a niche that's underserved. That's why I did satire for so long, and I think it was well enough received.
JB - What's your take on podcasts? Should it supplement your writing, or be something totally different that can be featured on its own? And if you blog, is a podcast a must-have?
BR - I honestly try to separate them as much as I can, with the realization that it's nearly impossible. Podcasting allows you to go off the cuff a bit and articles are more research, more structured.
I don't think they're too tied together, you can do one without the other, but I feel like podcasts from folks who cover the team, in some capacity, have a little more credibility. I think the struggle for those kind of podcasts is to be entertaining while throwing a lot of expert information out there.
JB - We attempt expand upon our articles if they were big features, but like Giles and the Goalie, we like to have a bit more fun, or even get a bit ranty. The Hockey Wilderness Podcast has actually been a great vehicle to meet many of the people we know and consider friends.
BR - Luckily, Giles and I have been very lucky in starting a pod from nowhere and getting a ton of amazing support. It's still crazy to think that we have fans. Like, I have people who are actually fans of me. It's bananas.
JB - I'm with you there.
BR - Yeah, along the lines of that we've made many friends recording as well, even more so than writing.
JB - May not have wide spread name recognition, but it's cool to meet readers and listeners who enjoy what you do.
BR - What's your thoughts on Wild fans, inside and outside of our blogosphere bubble? I've certainly had my...opinions…haha. What do you think?
JB - Hahahahaha!!! Haha haha!!!!
Well, they certainly are there. I guess what bothers me the most is how the Wild have pandered and placated to fans so much that fans now feel incredibly entitled. "State of Hockey" was nothing more than a genius marketing ploy by the Naegele ownership group. Yeah, Minnesota enjoys hockey, but it's often given fans a license to discredit fans from Florida, Texas, or California, like "hockey doesn't belong there." to which I say: "If we were gatekeepers to the game we enjoy, the league would have never moved into the main four professional team sports scene. It would have remained a regional niche sport, and likely folded up years ago. Expansion to big market, many in the south, is a good thing, and those fans are just as passionate about their teams. We shouldn't act like we own the game or are the only knowledgeable fans out there.
That and "Let's Go Wild" needs a beat change. No reason it's "Let's go Why-old" and five claps like other two syllable words such as "Bulldogs, Huskies, Beavers, or Gophers." Make it three beats, and a very definitive 3 syllable, "Let's. Go. Wild" like the Blues, Kings, or Bolts do.
BR - You're speaking my language.
JB - I knew you'd like my take, I've listened to your podcasts. You and I are in lock-step with those opinions.
Overall, I love the Wild and think Wild fans are great most of the time, but it's easy to see that we're not the best hockey fans in the world.
BR - Haha, yes, I have made my opinions known on many of those exact topics.
Finally, is there anything you'd like to say, as Head Honcho of Hockey Wilderness, either to your fans now, or fans you may have lost at some point, or fans you hope to earn someday?
JB - It's over now?
I guess I'll finish with this: Hockey Wilderness still is a web destination where you can consume MN Wild centric content and converse with other fans of the team. It's a great place to be a part of a Wild fan community.
For me personally, the work/blog balance has been more difficult in years past, but I'm committed to getting back into the swing of things as we continue to work through the season. Let's hope this Wild team gets on a roll where they play well and rattle off some wins.
BR- Well I can't thank you enough for your time, Joe. Hopefully your readers enjoyed the brief look into what it's like to be the unique kind of Wild fan that you are. Thanks.
JB- Haha, no problem at all.