Blogging is a tough thing. Since I've been involved with it since 2003, I've seen many, many great writers come and go. One of the writers that has been around as long as I have is John Fontana, our writer from the Tampa Bay Lightning site Raw Charge. Fontana has been a part of the sports blogging community basically since it was born and we're thrilled to have he and Cassie McClellan covering all things Bolts.
Since the Winter Olympics are in full swing, I figured a hockey blogger would be one of the better choices for better know a blogger this week. Little did I know that John isn't a big Olympics guy (mostly due to his boycott of NBC). Regardless, let's get to know John Fontana.
Tyler Bleszinski: You recently surpassed six years blogging. How do you keep going when many burn out long before that time?
John Fontana: There are a lot of times where I did burn out, or let myself get distracted to the point I barely wrote anything for weeks on end. Having down years with the team is another aspect that just beats up on you. You wonder why you do it. You really have to be dedicated to do it. Not just that, but you have to enjoy doing it even if the dividends aren't coming to you in a timely manner. Enjoy the writing, or the frustrating research to get certain stats and finding quotes you vaguely remember, enjoy the rapport with the few commenters that show up, all while trying to look past readers who get personal in their disdain for your opinion.
I have always loved writing, and having that one topic (the Tampa Bay Lightning) to be dedicated to has helped a lot. I've been really lucky, especially this last year, to have an incredible co-blogger in Cassie McClellan. Having someone to riff ideas off of really is helpful in getting creative juices flowing, or to get a debate going that inspires to keep going.
Having a goal to work for is also an important part of things. Aim for milestones or achievements. But be dedicated to doing it.
Bleszinski: What's your favorite part about being a part of SB Nation?
Fontana: There are so many things to love... I can't give an absolute favorite. For instance, my co-blogger and my site regulars are a fantastic aspect to have with the site, and make me want to keep coming back. The game day threads at Raw Charge may get off topic at times but we have a lot of fun in there and I like thinking of everyone who shows up as friends.
I greatly admire and appreciate the rest of the hockey community on SB Nation and the people I'm working with (other blog managers and their staff). We can all have biting humor and try not to take things too seriously. I think it keeps us all sane at the same time (by being insane and trying to make each other laugh when we're busy debating any given topic).
Of course, there's also the aspect I'm getting more respect in general from the powers-that-be of the sports world and not being looked past as another Joe-Average-who-blogs. It may come off as pompous that the respect is one of my favorite things with this network, but it's true. Some of our managers are still working for that, and all I can tell them to do is to keep doing what you're doing and to reach out to not only those directly attached to your team, but to your sport, and also to the rest of the local blogosphere in your area.
Bleszinski: You cover a team in a smaller market that isn't exactly known as a hockey hotbed. How difficult is that at times and what do you do to combat that?
Fontana: At times it can get frustrating, especially when you're on the outside, looking in for coverage about things going on with the team and hoping that someone in the mainstream media is going to be more up-front covering an event or a happening. It's frustrating a as a fan when that doesn't happen, and more frustrating as a blogger who wants to report on that event when the mainstream looks the other way with it and you don't have access to cover it.
For example, there was an incident this summer where the three top prospects of the 2009 NHL Draft (John Tavares, Victor Hedman and Matt Duchene) were in town on the same day, for joint workouts and more intimate interviews with the Lightning. There was absolutely no coverage of this happening until weeks after it happened. You wouldn't know it was going to happen unless you had been reading third party media sites or message boards (the mainstream media treated it as barely a blip on the radar).
But, as you know, this is the role that we're here to fill. If someone else isn't covering or shedding light on it, why don't we? Of course, you have to have your foot in the door to have access to something like this... But it's also a necessity to cover these aspects or at least make mention of them to the fans so they know it's going on. We have to be that valuable missing information that the beat writers were complacent in reporting.
Bleszinski: Is that the most challenging aspect of blogging for you?
Fontana: Not trying to be complacent on my own with information? Yes. Or I fall into a trap talking about news and observations about the team in private with others and being content to keep it there. "Yeah, yeah, I know this, I know this and everyone else should by now" is a negative attitude to have as a blogger. There is stuff that seems mundane in reporting or repeating, but there are things (established facts) that you cannot not repeat for the sake of informing your readers. If you are satisfied in personally knowing something that has been reported through the mainstream and other blogs, or personally arguing with a friend about one thing or another about your team - you're seriously dropping the ball with what you could and should be writing about.
Bleszinski: How'd you become a Lightning fan?
Fontana: Well, 1992-93, I was still basically a kid (8th grade) and the Lightning were playing in their first season. You had that newness hype surrounding them, and of course there was the strangeness (all the rules that seemed so foreign because me and friends didn't know them)... I also had an older Canadian couple take over the neighborhood baseball card shop where my brothers and friends and I used to hang out. They happened to be involved locally with hockey - selling gear from there store. They helped feed our interest in the sport and encourage us. So our ignorant interest manifested in different ways, some kids went on to play street hockey and real hockey, others tried to find out more about the Lightning, and some (me) did both. I grew with the team.
Bleszinski: I'd ask your favorite Lightning moment but since the team has won one Cup, I'm guessing most can assume what that moment was. Instead, I'll ask who your favorite Lightning player is and who your favorite all time player is and why?
Fontana: That's a tough one... I think I would have preferred it if you asked me my favorite Lightning moment besides the 2004 Cup championship.
My current favorite Lightning player is probably Vincent Lecavalier, simply because I've basically grown with him. We're the same age or there about... While I respect the hell out of Martin St. Louis and see bright things for Steven Stamkos in the future, Lecavalier's been someone reliable to root for for a very long time with the Lightning.
And to be honest, an all time favorite player is hard for me to mention. Most of my favorites are still playing. I'm not endeared to historically great players (Howe, Lemieux, Gretzky, Orr, etc) that the traditional fanbases grew up with. While I respect those players, to call them overall my favorite just wouldn't be right. I don't really, truly have one. There are so many talented players that have passed through this league and all of them have their own strengths and weaknesses and points to endear them to you. It's like that with all of pro sports for me.
Bleszinski: The Olympic hockey tournament is going on right now and has been pretty exciting. Two games yesterday in particular, the Switzerland and Canada game and the Slovakia and Russia game have been highlights. What do you think is going to happen now that we've seen the teams play a few games?
Fontana: I have to be honest that I have not been that involved in watching the Olympics (I'm boycotting NBC for personal reasons - Partly because they canned Conan. Jerks...) though I have followed online reaction to what has been going on. I also saw a good bit of Canada/Switzerland after I learned the game was tied after two periods (shocking news).
But I'll tell you what, I'm going to make a prediction anyway. We're going to see... more games! I guarantee it. And in the end, someone is going to - and this is going to knock your socks off - win a medal. Not just one team, but three of them! Those medals will go to the first, second and third place teams... It's really crazy but I'm certain it's going to happen. I'd put money on it. (What a cop-out in making a prediction, huh? )
Bleszinski: Any bitterness that several key Lightning players were shunned in favor of others on the teams? I'm thinking mostly of Canada.
Fontana: Steven Stamkos, Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis were three key omissions from Team Canada.
I'm not bitter so much about it, not as much as other fans at least. I do find it an odd decision that borders on poor character judgment to leave St. Louis off the team. He brings more to any team than just on-ice dynamics (character, attitude, leadership). The problem is that Team Canada was drawn up where size seemed to matter more than what a player brings in overall effort. Martin St. Louis has a ton of different things but size is not one of them.
The team is stocked with talent, there's no question, but there seems to be an emptiness about them as well. I can't say St. Louis would have filled that emptiness, but he may have muted the air of entitlement that I did see during the Canada/Switzerland contest on Thursday night.
Bleszinski: Tell me something about yourself that might surprise your readers and give us some insight into your personality.
Fontana: I never make a big deal about this because I try to keep focus on my writing, but I lost my hearing when I was 18 due to a medical condition I have. I'm deaf, but use a variation of the Cochlear Implant to hear. I'm able to enjoy a lot of typical sounds and listen to music, but I'm crappy with conversations and that makes me come off a little anti-social.
There's also the fact I've been covering sports online - besides blogging - for a while now. I used to run a baseball related web site catering to ending use of the Designated Hitter. "Abolish the Designated Hitter from Major League Baseball". It was a rinky-dink site but it did get my name out there in the sports world and filled a niche. It was featured in ESPN: The Magazine during the early part of this decade (but in a detrimentally described "Weakest Links" section of the magazine http://espn.go.com/magazine/vol4no10pulselede.html?POLL84=800000000000000000000000000000000000000000000 ) and it got me quoted in a September 2004 edition of USA Today... right smack dab between the likes of Tony LaRussa and "Crash" Davis. Basically I grew up on NL baseball,. That was what inspired the site - I didn't care for the AL game. I still don't even though I live in an American League market.
Bleszinski: Thanks so much for being a part of SB Nation. We love having you.
Fontana: And thanks for having me. I know I really should make requests like this in internal communication, but please consider adding an open bar to the staff lounge. We'll use it responsibly, honest!