Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Seal is for Marksmanship and the Gorilla is for Sand Racing

Estragon: I can't go on like this.
Vladimir: That's what you think.

Last week Hockey Night in Canada reached out to the Blogosphere, inviting Tom Benjamin, Greg Wysnyshski and Paul Kukla to appear in place of the usual suspects on the "Hot Stove Lounge" segment.

For some reason, prior to their interview with Ron McLean, Scott Morrison, managing editor of Rogers Sportsnet, weighed in with the standard reservations about these online blogger types: bloggers passing themselves off as NHL insiders coupled with the lack of professional accountability means confusion for hockey fans. The only thing lacking from Morrison's paint-by-numbers intro was a warning that the upcoming bloggers were likely to appear pant-less via satellite from their mothers' basements.

Unsaid by Morrison was what type of warning the CBC should post to their screen before the likes of Al Strachan and Mike Milbury speak, or how Don Cherry goes to air on a seven second tape delay so the CBC can excise any of Don's more, um, creative commentary.

Morrison's solution? Some sort of Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval on blogs.


Morrison does raise a good point about accountability, it is absolutely essential in gathering and transmitting quality information and building any type of a readership or following.

Sometimes that accountability is immediate and interactive: as is the case with almost every blog where communication is two-way, transparent, and pretty much instantaneous.

Sometimes accountability is re-active: in the case of Howard Berger, it took a law suit from Sean Avery to reveal that Avery did not in fact trash talk Jason Blake about his cancer. Team 1040 in Vancouver The Province terminated Dave Pratt's contract when bloggers pointed out he borrowed some content originally penned by Rick Reilly (of all the sources to rip-off, that's like an aspiring jewel thief getting busted for robbing a dollar store).

And sometimes accountability can wait: say for example when Howard Berger files a somewhat made up report about the Leafs hiring a new executive; Bruce Garrioch's files any story that involves the word "trade"; that time Steve Simmons broke news that Mats Sundin required career threatening hip surgery; or when Oilers reporter Jason Gregor cribbed some content from Sports Illustrated.

Frankly, the concerns about professionalism and accountability coming from Morrison are a bit rich as they were expressed the same week that Sportsnet ran a clip of one of their reporters using an umpire's least favourite ten letter word. The widely distributed video is the epitome of professionalism (at least none of the panel giggled) and the video clearly displays the Sportsnet brand seal of approval.

Morrison will be pleased to know that the reporter in question, Roger Millions, didn't pass himself off as an insider, but he has been suspended for a few days by Executive Producer Mike "Tell him I'll throw him $50k and an EP credit" English. That said, Roger Millions' punishment is a strange form of accountability when you consider how many people in the chain of command made an error in letting that tape get to air: editors, runners, directors and the producer of the segment. but it will be interesting to know if Morrison agrees with his employer's decision not to take any disciplinary action against Millions or any of the crew responsible for that wonderful ten letter word being broadcast on the air.

Beyond Hindsight: Re-examining the Record

There's at least one another form of accountability that Morrison didn't touch on that I'd like to add and that's re-visiting the public record.

When the Sharks came flying out of the gate to start the season, Todd McLellan was routinely celebrated by sports journos around the NHL. Implicit in much of this coverage was the questioning of Ron Wilson's effectiveness as a coach in San Jose, especially his handling of Patrick Marleau and the Sharks' failure to make any headway in the post-season.

McLellan certainly got Marleau going, but the Sharks are down 2-0 in the opening round of the playoffs. If they're eliminated by Anaheim, does anyone want to guess at the over under on those same reporters filing some sort of clarification re. Wilson v. McLellan? I'm going to go out on a limb and guess the opening line starts at 1 1.5 and doesn't move much.

Sticking with the west coast, when Kyle Wellwood started the season with 11 goals and three assists in his first 20 games he was the talk of the league. Many reporters, seeing Wellwood's hot start, openly spoke about the Leafs' mistake in waiving him.

Unfortunately for the Wellwood booster club, the hefty Canuck centre went on to record just seven more goals and six assists in his remaining 55 games, finishing the season with a disappointing 18G and 9A good for all of 27 points. It's called regression to the norm and most blogs saw it coming.

Since accountability is such a big deal for the media, I'm looking forward to the many columns and hours of air time that will be dedicated to pointing out Wellwood's decline.

Seal of Approval?

As for Morrison's assertion that the average viewer needs some sort of pre-approval filter or seal of approval to better discern quality on-line materials, I'm not so sure. Is it really that difficult to separate the good stuff from outlandish content like, oh I don't know, rumours of Malkin being traded to the Kings?

In the age of twitter and instant access to information the application of a seal of approval seems so web 1.0 (if not earlier) to me.

Perhaps Morrison should dust off his Amiga, fire up his 2400 baud modem and surf the net for himself. He might learn that the average consumer doesn't need a "Toronto Sun" logo to know their content is weak. By consuming just one or two pieces from the likes of Simmons and Loewen the average reader will pretty much know all they need to about the quality of the content under that banner.

Consider that the Toronto Star's seal of approval fell on Garth Woosley's latest gem of a column stating that Brian Burke is like Harold Ballard. Sure he is.

I mean, they're both carbon based life forms. They both have a surname that starts with "B" (wait, this is uncanny). They both like the media spotlight and they both work for the Maple Leafs (how has no one noticed this before?!? Get me 500 words stat!).

It's not like one is a widely respected hockey man who helped build several successful franchises, won a Stanley Cup and is heading up a nation's olympic hockey program and the other was a bit of a crank who did time in jail for tax fraud, estranged key players from the franchise, swung some of the worst trades in hockey history, sold or destroyed most of the franchise's historical monuments, never came close to post-season success and paid out an undisclosed sum as part of a sexual molestation charge.

No, as per Woosley, Burke and Ballard might as well be twins.

Woosley also claims "Ballard can still be found at the root of many of the problems that have plagued the franchise for its past 42 years in the Stanley Cup wilderness."

Yup, that's right, a man that's been dead for 19 years, that's seven general mangers, two owners and eight coaches later - is certainly at the root of the problem for the Leafs - if by root you mean the far distant, disconnected past.

I Don't Want a Seal, I Want Someone to Ask a Decent Question

The only thing professional sports reporters offer that blogs, message boards, and twitter feeds can't is access to the players, coaches and executives of the NHL. Surely there's rich, rewarding content there just waiting to be mined; however, as technology lets the fans listen in to each post-game media scrum and press conference, it's become quite clear that most reporters can't or don't know how to mine it. And until they learn to do so, a mythical golden seal isn't going to change anything.


  1. I'll keep it short and sweet: Great post, mf37.

  2. Pat Verbeek8:17 am

    Brilliant as always!

  3. Awesome.

  4. Nice work, but usually an over under wouldn't be a whole number so that there isn't a push.

    ie. the over under for total points scored in a football game would be something like 57.5.

  5. So we'll set the line at 0.5.

    And let's not forget the latest installment of responsible journalism: suggesting that Burke tamper with Tavares and that Tavares should hold out for Toronto.

    Good thing there are journalistic ethics preventing them from advocating breaking the rules...

  6. Karina11:15 am

    Wow. Excellent post, mf. I'm tempted to dig up Morrison's e-mail address and send it to him.

  7. MF: Thoughtful, very interesting, funny, and extremely well-written post. Kudos, good sir. This is simply tremendous.

  8. I think one point behind all of this is quite simple... Main stream media (MSM) is in a mode of self-preservation. Being part of the media myself (not sports thank god), I see the huge decline in numbers in this industry. When people talk about the record industry, movie industry hurting or bleeding out, most forget how poorly the magazine industry/journalism is who are and have been also on life support for a long while now. The threat of online bloggers is real and the problem is not as much as content or bloggers ability but rather the golden question has not been answered yet: How to make money from it.

    They can't seem to find a way to generate or compete without not making money. Ad rates for online newspapers/magazines are based on hits and time spent on that page. Based on this the rates are not great and thus they cannot generate enough ad revenue.

    I always argue, if the content is good... where is there a problem. Perhaps some have become complacent and the "good'o'crap" is nothing but crap to a more apt readership.

  9. two thumbs up, and a Barilkospehere seal of approval!

    that should be enough for Morrison me thinks...

  10. Chemmy - Can you tell that craps is the only gambling I do? Thanks for the advice on the over/under. I may have re-set it too high at 1.5

  11. puckbuddy - I hear you. I've been wrestling with a large, mess of a post on the issue on advertising, revenues, blogs and the sports media for about three months now. It's sorta sprialed out of control...if I can tidy it up I'll likely cross-post it at PPP.

  12. Mabel2:15 pm

    Wonderful, sharp analysis, as per usual. Though, if I can make one request, could your next post focus on this Burke and Ballard story? They are both male, and from North America. Why hasn't anyone in the blogosphere dealt with this before?

  13. daoust2:53 pm

    fantastic post MF. well done.

  14. "I Don't Want a Seal, I Want Someone to Ask a Decent Question"This subhead, like the rest of this post, so damned spot-on. There is so much they could ask that doesn't elicit a response like, "I felt good. Confident."

  15. Another great post MF. It's obvious that the MSM is critical of bloggers because they seem them as rivals. Add to that is the fact that many in the MSM are lazy and sloppy. They are stuck in the "meet the deadline" cycle which favours quantity rather than quality. That is not to say bloggers provide quality either though I always find it here.

  16. Great post MF.

    One quibble - it was not the Team 1040 who fired Total Pratt, it was the Province. Ol' Leather Pants' bloviating is still endured by 1040 listeners every drivetime (and often simulcast on Scott Morrison's own Rogers Sportsnet).