A Tough Weekend For The Mainstream Media

This past Saturday morning I got up a little after nine (those of us without kids can sleep in more than others), and after finding a show worth having on in the background I checked my email and then headed over to Twitter to see what was going on in the world. I would love to be able to say that I started a pot of coffee or made some breakfast first but that's how I used to start my day; now it's straight to the iPhone to see what I missed while I was asleep.

There wasn't much of note in my email but Twitter was abuzz with a story from Roy MacGregor on The Globe and Mail website about the current state of sports journalism. Given the type of people I follow on Twitter, a large number of bloggers, I had an idea of the tone of Mr. MacGregor's story, but with the discussion going on I felt I should at least give it a read. The story was about what I'd expected, nothing in sports journalism is as good as it used to be and the journalists themselves aren't to blame, but rather editors whose "obsession with 'content' has meant next to no time for substance" anymore. To me it felt a little like an old man shaking his fist at a cloud.

In the story Mr. MacGregor longs for more "storytelling", which I think can and should have a place in journalism as opinion pieces but its importance in daily reporting is exaggerated in today's world. Fans have a level of access today to the games we love that couldn't have been dreamed of even a couple of decades ago. We can download audio of daily press scrums almost instantly. We have multiple television and radio stations that report on our favourite teams. And most, if not all, games are televised. All of this means the fans have access to all the same information as the reporters with "access", which makes creating the narrative unimportant. We don't need journalists to weave stories so we can imagine what kind of player Taylor Hall is, we already know what kind of player he is.

A journalist ahead of the curve would have figured this out by now and would be less concerned with getting a quote from a player and more concerned with the content of their stories. In other words the part where they tell the reader what is actually happening in the games. As more fans realize that the narrative is nothing more than elaborate storytelling it will be the journalists that understand and have embraced the new era of journalism that will survive, while those that long for a time that has already passed will be left behind.

Had it just been a journalist who didn't understand that the world has changed I might have been tempted to let it go but instead, before the weekend was over, I would come across another story written my a member of the mainstream media that left me shaking my head. Like Mr. MacGregor's piece, this was also found on The Globe and Mail website, this time courtesy of Allan Maki who had taken a look at the Oilers tremendous start to the season (this was actually posted Friday night but I didn't come across it until two days later). I was unfamiliar with Mr. Maki but found the following is from his biography at The Globe and Mail:

Allan Maki has been writing on sports in Western Canada and around the world since 1979. During that time, he has chronicled Stanley Cup finals and Grey Cups, Summer and Winter Olympics, the 1980 Miracle on Ice, the 1989 Super Bowl riot, the 1989 earthquake World Series and hockey-playing bears from the Russian circus.

Allan is a multiple National Newspaper Award finalist and was named 2001 Sportswriter of the Year. He has appeared on dozens of television and radio shows, authored Pro Football’s Greatest Stars and is a member of the Football Reporters of Canada Hall of Fame.

Mr. Maki has been writing about sports since around the time I was born and has been nationally recognized with an award. And yet his report on the Oilers early season success reflects work done by someone who has not only failed to watch the games, but who is unwilling to do even a little research to confirm the facts in the story. The quotes that follow come directly from that story.

It hasn’t been that great. In 12 games, Edmonton has scored a modest 28 goals. The top line of Ryan Smyth (11 points), Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (11) and Hall (nine) has been clicking nicely, thanks to Smyth’s leadership and finishing touch around the net. Shawn Horcoff (seven points) and Jordan Eberle (10) have supplied a useful second line.

How much effort would it have taken to determine the Oilers line combinations this season? The first result returned using Google to search "Edmonton Oilers line combination" sent me to the Oilers website where the information clearly contradicts what's in the story. And with the press coverage that the Hall/Nugent-Hopkins/Eberle line has gotten I'm surprised someone who writes about hockey would have even had to do that much.

But after that, the drop-off is steep. Sam Gagner has yet to score. Neither has Magnus Paajarvi nor Ales Hemsky, who is still looking for his groove coming off a shoulder injury.

Correct about Gagner and Paajarvi but saying Hemsky is "still looking for his groove" seems a little off to me considering he's been out of the lineup since the first period of the second game. One could argue that Mr. Maki is technically correct here, that Hemsky hasn't found his groove as a result of the injury, but by not mentioning that he's been out of the lineup at all, and given the errors in regards to the line combinations, I'm not sure that Mr. Maki even realizes that Hemsky is injured. At best it's an odd omission, at worst a terrible oversight.

Not only has Khabibulin posted a mighty 0.98 goals-against average (best in the league); he’s pumped up the Oilers’ confidence and covered a myriad of miscues. Not bad for a 38-year-old guy coming off back surgery and a DUI stay in Arizona’s Tent City jail.

Much like the error with Hemsky this again could be considered technically correct but is at the same time incorrect. Khabibulin had back surgery in January 2010 meaning he was coming off back surgery to start last season not this season. Having played a full season (47 games is a full season by Khabibulin's standards) since having surgery I find it difficult to understand how anyone would think he's still coming off surgery.

In all, Mr. Maki's story is just over 400 words long and contains three errors that are glaringly obvious to anyone paying even a little attention to the Oilers. I don't expect Mr. Maki to be perfect, I'm certainly not, and I don't expect him to know the Oilers inside and out but as a professional I would expect him to check his facts before publishing a story. Between one member of the media who doesn't feel that a simple fact check is a good idea and another that doesn't understand what exactly his job is, it wasn't a good weekend for the mainstream media.

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