Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Nine Tips for Media Types

I really appreciate the quality of the comments on this site, they often make me stop and think.

Case in point: The feedback on my Cox post deserved a response and my comment mushroomed into this (rather long) post.

I think we'd all agree that there certainly couldn't be much more Leafs coverage. There are upwards of 30 reporters covering the Leafs. To put that in perspective, the entire media contingent covering Queen's Park (the Province of Ontario's legislature) is just 31 journalists.

In addition to having their own TV channel, the Leafs are the lead item on each and every TSN and Sportsnet broadcast. Each paper has columnists and staff reporters covering the team. There are lunch time radio broadcasts devoted to all things blue and white. And then there's the comments at the Globe and Mail, filled by people who seem to spend more time complaining about the amount of Leaf coverage than they do cheering for their own teams.

So the quantity is unarguably there, but the quality side seems to be a bit lacking. How hard is it for a reporter or editorial staff to use a search function to scan the NHL CBA? How many times are reporters going to miss that both Tucker and McCabe have NMCs? If the media are unsure about a no-movement clause, why not phone the NHLPA, the agent or ask the player? Isn't that one of the benefits of being a trained professional with full access to sources?

That said, I do feel some sympathy for the media who cover the Leafs. There's so much media competition in this town (and with this team) that I can't imagine the pressure they're under from their editors and producers to cultivate sources and land big scoops.

I think this combination of editorial pressure and competitive media marketplace is the big reason that Cox has been publicly fellating JFJ in so many of his columns. Cox knows Ferguson will eventually land on his feet in the NHL and, if Cox has laid on enough adjectives, he may have cultivated an inside source in Ferguson - one that will be very helpful in fueling Cox with plenty of material for his faux-indignation-fueled tirades against MLSE.

That or Cox is looking to land his next book deal and has JFJ in his sites (admittedly, Cox did file a pretty solid piece in yesterday's paper).

Still, given the pressures and competition, it's hard to believe the amount of misinformation, poor fact checking and general lack of imagination that permeates so much of the Leafs media coverage. I'd like to think with their access, the reporters who file day in day out on all things Leaf might be able to come up with something more compelling then who's wearing the red jersey at practice, fake trade rumours or faux panic over the lack of formal job interviews conducted by MLSE.

Rather than just bitch and moan about the state of Leaf coverage and without much thought (like most of my posts) here are 9 ideas, off the top of my head, that I'd love to see followed-up by those who cover hockey and/or the Leafs:

  1. More first person source reporting. This was one of my favourite articles last year - a Brian Burke first-person diary during the trade deadline. Could we get something similar from anyone at MLSE? Please? If not, I'd settle for any first-person insight at the GM level.
  2. Use your access to really take readers behind the scenes. The consensus is the Leafs need to hold on to their draft choices and draft wisely. Can fans maybe get a profile (or two or three) of the Leaf scouts that will be helping make the decisions on draft day? What gems have they discovered? What do their peers on other clubs think of them? What's the hierarchy in the scouting department and how do draft day decisions get made? Maybe a day in the life of a Leaf scout...or a day in the life of a top OHL prospect. Gare Joyce's work on this was great stuff and surely demonstrated there's an audience for it. Wouldn't it be nice to get a bit more on these kids than Don Cherry and four or five of the top ranked 18 year olds passing around a microphone during a 45 second spot on HNIC?
  3. Stop telling us what Leaf fans think. Leafs Nation is not a homogeneous entity and does not think with one mind. Even if Leaf fans did all agree, would anyone care? Moreover, it's a lazy literary device at best and completely misleading at worse.
  4. Help the fans get insights from the coaches. The Leafs have the worst PK in the league and it's killing them. When was the last time anyone saw an interview with the special teams coach, or even with Maurice, where the Leafs approach to the PK was analyzed? What's working, what's not? Compare and contrast the Leafs' approach by interviewing special team coaches on more successful clubs. (And it doesn't have to be just the PK. There's the whole issue of zone v. man-to-man defence; team toughness/ use of enforcers; the shoot-out; power play; adapting to opponents; etc.)
  5. Less of the trade rumour BS. Before the trade deadline there were, what, maybe 4 trades in the NHL? Yet every columnist weighs in with trade rumour after trade rumour, none of which come true and none of which advance a story of any relevance. (And can someone fine Dreger every time he uses the questionable at best "Sources are saying..." approach. If he had to put a twoonie in a jar for every time he used it he could make a hefty-donation to a worthy cause.)
  6. More long form player profiles please. Joe O'Connor has being doing this masterfully with retired players over at the National Post, why not do it with the current or retired Leafs? (Or how about an update on Boyd Devereaux's record label?)
  7. Help demistify the CBA. This is one of the best posts I've seen on the matter, it's by a blogger and it's over a year old. Why can't newsrooms create similar content? How about top 10 CBA myths (e.g. players with NMC can't be bought out; injured players don't count against the cap; etc.). Since the signing of the CBA has the frequency of offer sheets to RFAs increased? What steps can clubs take to protect their RFAs (e.g. team initiated arbitration)? With Wellwood and Stajan as the Leafs main RFAs, what odds do agents and other insiders give that another club will tender them a contract? How does the fact that the Leafs traded their second round pick to Phoenix for (gulp!) Perreault, limit their ability to tender RFA offer sheets?
  8. More on the Big Picture. Where does Leafs management sit on the the Moneyball vs. "Intangibles" spectrum? I've read great stuff about the San Jose Sharks and Columbus Blue Jackets innovative use of statistics. What are the Leafs up to? What do they make of this? On another topic: how does player development work, why is Buffalo so amazing at it and what are the Marlies doing to help develop Leaf prospects?
  9. More on the Business of Sport: What has the impact of moving the farm club to Toronto been? What do players who played both in St. John's and at the Ricoh think of the move? Crunch the numbers - what has it meant for the salary cap being able to send guys across the street? Has it had any impact on the Leafs ability to recruit and retain management? With precedents in Chicago and Philadelphia is this a model we should expect to see more of? How does the Leafs system compare with clubs that don't have their own AHL affiliate? On-glass advertising, are the Leafs for or against? Same goes with advertising on jerseys, where does MLSE stand?

As Leaf/hockey fans, I'd love to know what stories do you think we're missing out on and what type of coverage would you like to see more of?

If you were the editor/producer for a day what would you tell your reporters to work on?

Are there any guys out there who stand out? Anyone a must-read for you?

7 comments:

  1. Wow, fantastic post.

    A comment on this one:

    Stop telling us what Leaf fans think. Leafs Nation is not a homogeneous entity and does not think with one mind. Even if Leaf fans did all agree, would anyone care? Moreover, it's a lazy literary device at best and completely misleading at worse.

    I'd add this: If you insist on telling us what Leaf fans think, you have to actually talk to real fans. With names and everything. No more references to your mythical "inbox" full of comments that you never quote or otherwise authenticate in any way. Real people. This means you may have to venture into the stands or even, god forbid, a sportsbar.

    And no cherry-picking the fans that agree with your point of view. No more visiting some random web forum and finding a one-line quote by "LeafsDude69" that supports your contention that Leaf fans are delusional. Yes, if you look hard enough you can find fans who believe anything. That's meaningless, and it's lazy. Stop it.

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  2. AWESOME.

    All of those are great story ideas and would be better than anything that has been written by any of the 30 journalists.

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  3. really nice writing, and thanks for adding me on the blogroll (even if I don't come here often enough)

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  4. beautiful post man. exactly what the leafs media scene is missing. keep it up.

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  5. hebsie9912:46 pm

    I know this seems unlikely, but a big part of what makes a team work or not is the politics in the room. It was very enlightening to hear about the Corson, Tucker, Green clique a few seasons back, and how Gary Roberts was so instrumental in counter-acting their negative forces. Makes you appreciate how much the loss of Roberts meant to the team.

    I know all the reporters know a lot more about how the players interact with each other but do not report it. I also realize they fear if they do report it, they will no longer get access to the players.

    But still, it is a huge part of the Leafs story that gets unreported. How are Stajan and Steen and the young guys viewed by some of the veteran's? How are veterans like McCabe, Kaberle etc viewed by the younger guys? What is the real sotry going on with team dynamics. That is what i would like to see.

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  6. Paul Steckley1:00 pm

    Excellent post, Mike!

    I do disagree with you about the quantity of Leafs coverage, though. Personally, and this undoubtedly qualifies me as a rabid fan, I'd like to turn to any newspaper in town, on any given day, and see a minimum of 10 pages just on the Leafs, with another 5-6 pages on the rest of the league. I want to know anything and everything that's going on with the team. I want to know who wore the red jersey at practice, what the drills at practice were, who sneezed, coughed, or limped off the ice, and everything else that happens with this team. Make me feel like I am living a dream and am actually part of the Leaf organization on a daily basis. I was hoping for this kind of coverage from LeafsTV but have been disappointed to date.

    However, I will agree with you on the quality issue. It astounds me to read or view a report prepared by an alleged professional, published or broadcasted to millions of readers or viewers, with wrong information about the CBA. Correct facts should be something we expect, not hope for, from our news sources.

    Your point about the competitive pressure in the Toronto market is precisely why we will always be exposed to opinionated columnists who prefer bravado to logic and the unending stream of trade rumours, prognostications, and simple shots in the dark. The key to selling any product, including sports news, is to make the consumer believe they can't live without it. With intangible products such as news you accomplish this by stimulating the public's interest and the easiest way to do this is by controversy. Spark a debate and you've instantly captured the mind of your intended audience. Don Cherry has made a successful living doing just this and for many hockey fans his Coach's Corner segment is a weekly can't-miss. It doesn't matter that he seems incapable of completing a sentence or presenting any idea in a logical manner, he sells his goods as well as anyone else on television.

    I think all of your suggested topics are fantastic. I doubt we'll see too many of them show up in the daily newspapers though. Reporters have article quotas to fill and some of those ideas would take weeks, if not months, to properly research and write, as well as requiring page space to print. I can't see any editors assigning a reporter to a story that most likely takes the reporter out of their normal publishing cycle or would require the sports section to be doubled in size.

    I'm afraid you're just going to have to quit your day job and start producing those articles yourself.

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  7. Once again, thanks for the really interesting comments.

    DGB - how did you know I use Leafdude69 when I email Cox, Berger and Simmons? I'm going to have to come up with a new name...totally agree on citing fan sources when reporters claim to speak for Leafs Nation.

    I'm surprised to admit this, but I actually agree with Paul that I would have the appetite for more Leafs coverage so long as it was pure reportage and not the silly made up conjecturing of Darren Dreger.

    Hebsie99 - I'd LOVE to know what's going on in that room, in the coaches office and in the executive suites at MLSE. It's a shame that reporters have to put on-going access ahead of telling it all. But as it is a business, I understand why they're worried about burning potential sources...

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