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Thoughts On A Fan's Relationship With The Media

Greg Brady vs. Karina
Greg Brady vs. Karina

When I first moved to Vancouver and tried to follow the Maple Leafs I turned to the Internet instead of newspapers and TV because traditional sources were no longer as easily accessible.  I used to get up in the morning and go to the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star and Toronto Sun to get my national news and then Leafs coverage/GTA specific news.  Gradually this shifted - and it permanently shifted for some reason - during the Oilers' run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2006 when I discovered James Mirtle's blog which later turned into "From the Rink" and now a job as a beat writer. The coverage of the Final by Oilers fans was light years ahead of what I could get from the sites listed above and on the news.  Now my first stop is PPP where I find all of my Leafs news. I still frequent the Globe and Mail for national news but I almost never go to or anymore.  When it comes to sports coverage, my preferred sources are always blogs.  And that seems to be becoming more and more the norm.  Even my relatively technically illiterate husband prefers blogs to traditional media for his Canucks news.

The mainstream media have taken notice of this shift and are trying to engage hockey fans like us.  Each major newspaper now has a "blog" for their sportswriter - even if it is just them posting their newspaper articles on the web - and, as far as interaction goes, the comments are heavily moderated.  By far the best step the MSM has taken in trying to engage younger fans who get most of their news from the internet is having their writers join Twitter.  It seems like all of the major reporters (even Duthatschek) are now on twitter and things like television coverage of the trade deadline have already become outdated because twitter has the news first. Personally, real time updates available online in short message form have been a big step in sports coverage.  Sure, there's still no analysis but I almost like that better since what the MSM tries to feed us as "analysis" ends up being, so often, biased and not supported by facts anyways.  Of course, twitter has its drawbacks. I'm not sure if this is because fans have unreasonable expectations for what our interaction with these MSM writers should be or if the MSM writers don't have a clue what they're doing.

What am I talking about?  Well, over the past year, as twitter has gained more MSM members and really become alive in terms of the NHL, there have been a number of eye opening interactions that have me wondering what can  be done to improve the situation.  My own personal experience was with Greg Brady of AM 640.  He made a particularly sarcastic tweet about Luke Schenn's poor play to which I had a knee jerk reaction.  I told him that "reporters like him are why so many Leafs prospects get run out of town and then turn into all-stars".  In the end, he called me retarded, I took exception, and wrote a letter to his editor.  Now this one, I can take some responsibility for, it was an overblown reaction, although you would expect someone whose job only exists because people like me listen to him to have more respect for the fans he deals with. 

Some other examples?  How about this exchange between Damien Cox and a few of our locals?

DamoSpin Why do deals always have to be judged as win/lose? Good deals are win/win. This one looks like a classic lose/lose.

DamoSpin @DownGoesBrown Awww. And why do they have to keep score? Can't everyone just get a participation badge?

HBAdventure   @mlse @DamoSpin high pick is useless because it's not in skates and holding a stick yet?

DamoSpin @HBAdventure Useless now, for this season! How can I spell this out any clearer? Geeeeezzzz

Then there were some interesting tweets around the pre-Olympic trade deadline,  regarding a possible Kovalchuk trade.  It was really hard to track this info down, but big thanks to chillin411 who did some amazing XML research for me.  Falconer18 of SBN's Birdwatchers Anonymous tweeted something a full day before the deadline about Kovalchuk looking like he was being traded to LA.   Bob McKenzie's reaction to this rumour set of a bit of a war between him and PPP:

TSNBobMcKenzie You know what I think of these rumors of the LAK on verge of getting Kovalchuk? Total BS. Some interest but fit isn't right at this point.

TSNBobMcKenzie Reading comprehension: Last night's report, which I said was bogus, was that deal was imminent with Kings. It is not imminent with Kings.

mlse @TSNBobMcKenzie Reading Comprehension: 'close' is not 'imminent' just like Jokinen deal was 'close' Monday when you guys were reporting it.

TSNBobMcKenzie @mlse Close, imminent, whatever. It was neither last night. Certainly not with L.A.

mlse @TSNBobMcKenzie Original report said 'close to being done' not 'all but done'. Words have power. You know that.

TSNBobMcKenzie @mlse Here's what was reported last night: Sources rumbling a deal is nearly complete that would send Atlanta's franchise player to Kings.

Anyways, more of this continued until McKenzie closed with this:

TSNBobMcKenzie When u r in biz as long as me u will realize only scorekeepers r readers/viewers. RT @mlse: @kausatoday 10, me 1, @TSNBobMcKenzie 0.

TSNBobMcKenzie@mlse IF I were keeping score u would lose 5 pts for staunch defence of bogus story. LOL. It's never about the media. Serve your audience. 

I see a huge difference between the quality of interaction between Brady, Cox, McKenzie and various fans who have messaged them.  While McKenzie gets obviously annoyed, he remains relatively respectful in his tone, although he still fails to give PPP the credit for naming the exact players involved in the trade while Kevin Allen merely reported the team that to which Kovalchuk was going.  McKenzie, for all of his arrogance, never reverts to the grade school antics of Cox and Brady.  Maybe the difference is soley because of the individuals involved - there are reasons that McKenzie is (relatively) respected in the business more than Cox and Brady.  However, the overall quality of this interaction is pretty poor with a lot of belittling coming down from the MSM members and sarcastic frustration coming back from fans.  This could just be growing pains as eons of barriers between reporters and their audience is broken down. Rather than having a "letter to the editor" that may never even reach the reporter, we have real time, off-the-cuff interaction which is much more raw and real. 

So what's the point?  I think that pretty much everyone agrees that we're entering (or maybe we're even already deep within) a new era in sports coverage and I'm wondering if there isn't some way of making the transition smoother.  I certainly don't enjoy being called a "retard" by someone who is paid to cover my favourite NHL team.  I'm also pretty sure that Bob McKenzie doesn't enjoy being questioned/called out by an anonymous blogger on the internet.  What we need is some sort of partnership between fans/bloggers/MSM so that we can all get the kind of coverage that hockey deserves.

When I started compiling the information for this post, I thought I would find nothing but obvious support for my original thesis that the MSM needs to wake up and realize that they don't work in a vacuum anymore, that they are now more accountable to their readers than ever before, and need to adjust their ways in order to maintain readership.  But by reflecting on my own experiences with a bit of time and distance and seeing more examples of these run-ins on twitter I think the solution has to involve us fans/bloggers.  It's not enough anymore that we can change our reading habits so that our source of information is mainly from bloggers because while some teams, like the Islanders and Capitals, are accrediting bloggers and giving them access to their teams, people like Cox, Berger, and Simmons still have access to the team that none of the bloggers will get.  James Mirtle's appointment as the Leafs' beat writer for the Globe and Mail has been a great boon for this site because of things like Mirtle's mailbag (Editor's Note: Mirtle's been busy and he lost an entire mailbag to Nibbles. He sends his regards) and his willingness to engage with fans on twitter because of his experience as a blogger. 

But how many writers out there cover the Leafs?  Having a working relationship with one of them has already proved invaluable. Imagine if we could have that kind of working relationship with the majority of media who cover the Leafs.  We still wouldn't get all the answers we want - for instance, I once asked Mirtle if he could investigate why Wilson feels that the Leafs cannot do a slow re-build like LA, and Mirtle informed me that information like that is nearly impossible to get out of MLSE, even with his contacts - but at least we could ask some questions and get some reasonable answers.  We, as fans, could also find out why certain things are done the way they are and what kinds of questions are asked by the MSM for which they are stonewalled.

This all comes back to a way to establish less antagonistic interaction between the MSM and fans like us who are plugged in.  My idealistic self fantasizes about some sort of summit wherein bloggers from the most respected and visited sites sit down with MSM writers and actually hash out some guidelines.  But expecting some structure like that is completely naive and probably wouldn't help anyways.  Unfortunately, we can't change how the MSM react to us by enforcing some direct rules that threaten their employment.  We can wait for a new generation of MSM to come in - those who are already familiar with the world of bloggers and have respect for those who have chosen to keep their day jobs but still provide coverage of something they are passionate about in their spare time - but that will take a full generation of sports writers.  I think what we have to do is set aside the frustration we feel at those who have been in the business so long and earn their respect.  If, rather than have a knee-jerk reaction to Brady, I had thought out a response that calmly explained why I disagreed with his criticism of Schenn, I could have earned a bit of respect from Brady.  With 3,150 (the average number of distinct visitors to PPP on any given day) people taking that approach, we may be able to finally earn some respect as a group.  It requires setting aside pride and frustration that has been building up for years.  If there is any way to improve coverage right now, this is the only solution I can see.  What are your thoughts/opinions?