Ask The Toronto MSMer Bruce Arthur Part 1

by TSM

You asked, Bruce Arthur answered. So long, I am breaking into 2 parts.

Here we go:

Hey Bruce, what sports have you played in your life and to what extent?

Tried most things, but was best at basketball, on account that I was tall — high school only, which tells you about how good I was at everything else. Was still playing until I had kids, and also had ankle surgery; hope to play again. My other goal is to break 60 on a par-3 golf course. Career best, at Dentonia in Toronto, is a 63, but haven’t played golf since the kids were born, either.

I know you are a big fan of the tennis player Marat Safin, who is now a politician representing Vladimir Putin’s “United Russia” party. My question is this: why do you think that no-one has confronted Safin about the fact that he represents a party that jails members of the opposition and kills journalists? It seems that most journalists find it cute that he’s “political” yet fail to recognize what his politics really are. Along with that, do you think it’s fair to criticize Tim Thomas for silly and childish Facebook comments and yet fawn over someone (Safin) who actively represents a system which commits human rights abuses?

Pretty ridiculous linking of questions, but here goes: First, if you read about Russian politics you know that the regime is tightly controlled at the top, and Russian society is largely corrupt and anarchical. I don’t know what Marat Safin is trying to accomplish; I just know he was the most fascinating athlete I ever covered. As for Tim Thomas, he and his team went into the tank around that time, soooo …

I’d be curious to know if Bruce has any aspirations to write a fiction novel. I think he’s the best sports writer in Canada. I’m not an expert, but I think he has the chops to do something like that.

Very kind words. I’d love to tackle a book, but I’d go non-fiction first, and probably only. Fiction seems very, very difficult — God, naming characters, much less creating realistic ones — and I don’t have any practice writing it, or extra time right now to do so. I turn all sorts of writing over in my head, though. With three young kids and my jobs, I don’t have time for any sort of book, since if I do one I’d really want to do it right. I have an idea for a non-fiction book that I’d be quite passionate about, but it would take a lot of work. And with three kids under three and one and a half jobs, I just wouldn’t be able to do it justice.

There is a perception that (Toronto) sports writing has traditionally been a bit of an “old boys club” but that blogs have had a democratizing influence on sports media in general, and Toronto in particular. As a younger member of the media, has it been your experience that there is a division between the veteran sports writers and the younger crop? Can you share any stories of being welcomed (or shunned) by established writers during your way up?

I haven’t experienced any division personally — there are a mix of personalities and approaches, but I’ve learned an awful lot from people like Cam Cole, Roy MacGregor, Stephen Brunt, Michael Farber, Steve Simmons, and many, many others. A lot of people have been very generous with time and advice, and in this business you spend a lot of time with guys in bars, or in press boxes; it’s all a learning experience.

That being said, I’m IN the media. There are a lot of people in my business who dismiss blogs, for their own reasons — me, I find it as lazy, as a practice, as bloggers decrying the entire MSM. There are some bloggers in Canada right now who deserve serious platforms, and I hope they get them. The democratizing effect exists, and I believe that the power of idea and expression exists regardless of platform. Not everyone does.

When are they going to update your beardless picture?

I have a long, long list of things to do, and that’s on it. I just keep forgetting. It costs money to do — there’s a real artist involved, in Quebec I think — but if you’ve kept the same changed look for a certain amount of time, they’re cool with it. I have, but again: I forget things. I will make a note right now.

Do you see traditional print media eventually dying a horrible death and everything moving to strictly online?

I think some aspect of print may survive, but the shift towards online isn’t stopping. I prefer to imagine newspapers existing forever in some glorious golden world of lawns and paperboys and sunrises, but the sands are shifting, and some things will get buried. Some people are gleeful about this, which strikes me as really stupid and/or selfish, since good reporting isn’t free, and newspapers do the best job of it. But there you are.

Bruce, I want to know why no one calls Brian Burke on his BS. Right after the trade deadline he threatens to impose a “trade freeze” on the Maple Leafs 10 days before the deadline. That’s crap. A question should have been posed: You mean to tell us (the media) that you would turn down a deal that would clearly improve the fortunes of your team based solely on principle? Yet the MSMers swallowed it like they always do.

Um, . Ninth paragraph. And others scoffed at that idea, too. Lots of people. I’m not sure what you’re reading, or watching, or listening to. Brian Burke has been heavily criticized in this town, and the way he has chosen to deal with some of that criticism hasn’t really helped. Some people report what he says, and some people opine on it.

if you could cover any sports story from history, which one would it be?

Just about anything involving Muhammad Ali. The greatest sports stories ever told.

Do you think the convergence between sports writers and radio/TV stations is good for the consumer?

Complicated question. Depends how you feel about the sports writers in question, really. If you love a guy’s writing more than his broadcasting and he stops writing to do TV or radio, then probably not, and that’s already happening. There’s certainly a possibility of conflict of interest, once Bell and Rogers officially own the Leafs; I’ve been very careful to avoid any change in how I approach my job, or even the appearance of it, and I know others have too, but so many sports journalists work for Bell or Rogers in full- or part-time capacities that there’s a real chance criticism of the local sports teams could be muted; if not overtly, then through an unspoken chilling effect. I hope it won’t happen, but it’s going to be impossible for everyone in the media to avoid completely.

What is your favourite sport to cover and why?

I love covering different sports for different reasons. Love writing tennis, because we’re in a golden age and it’s boxing without the blood; that might be my favourite, when it comes to Federer/Nadal/Djokovic. Love writing basketball, because of the personalities and athleticism and skill; love hockey for the speed and intensity and beauty of it, and the passions it inspires; love football for the ferocity and precision and outsized stories; love baseball for the little things, and the deceptive complexity.

The shared aspect is I love writing big games, with big stakes. The Olympics, for instance — man, the pressure those people are under, the one chance they have, the world watching: it’s hard to convey how much fun that is to try to capture. I’ve only done Beijing and Vancouver, but I don’t plan on missing another one. Someone once told me the Olympics are also the Olympics of sportswriting, and I’ve found that’s true. My first Olympics I worked about 17 hours a day for three solid weeks, and wrote one column after leaving the bar about four drinks in because I got a call at midnight. Ate two chicken sandwiches, drank some water, filed at 4am.


photo from here

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