Seen & Heard – Weekend Edition

photo: Adelaide’s awesome new free parking/bike lanes

 

by mike in boston – hatemailaccount at gmail com

 

 

The Sports Media Bubble

 

We’re in the dog days of summer and there’s not a ton going on right now. One thing that is happening more often is that the people we discuss in this space write to me to take issue with something, or to clarify their side of things, or to correct factual mistakes.

 

I mention this because a lot of readers have correctly alluded to the sports media bubble that seems to exist in Toronto. The bubble is that nearly every media member belongs to either Rogers or Bell in some fashion, and you can go a whole day on TSN radio or the FAN hearing only members of the same tribe discussing each other’s work. For example, the way Rogers covers the Jays is by interviewing the same Sportsnet employees over and over again. The same is true for the way TSN covers the Leafs … it’s one TSN personality after another, with a few TSN affiliated newspaper people mixed in. This creates an echo chamber, where certain opinions quickly get crystallized into consensus simply because those are the only opinions being discussed.

 

In the days before media convergence you could count on a range of opinions from the media and not have to think about which giant company was signing the paycheques. But now both teams live in their own bubble. When I reply to people who write to me I try to give them the perspective of a listener/reader who is not in that bubble. It can be really hard to get one’s point across, but I’ll keep trying. This leads me to a few things I want to discuss this week.

 

Is there still a market for feature writers?

 

The Score (not owned by Rogers) fired most of their writers this week as they moved to focusing exclusively on real-time  updates for their wildly popular mobile app. Baseball fans will remember that the Score brought a bunch of Jays bloggers under their umbrella several years ago and gave them a much bigger platform for their writing. Sports on Earth — a Grantland-like venture by USA Today and others — also fired most of their writers this week with many of the people in question finding out via Twitter.

 

Many of the writers for both sites will get snapped up by existing media outlets no doubt. The worrying trend is that companies are getting out of the feature-writing game. Why? We can blame this on Twitter or on the fact that people don’t care about in-depth work anymore, but that rings hollow to me. Most of the statistical revolution we are seeing in sports is driven by in-depth analysis and discussion. A more plausible explanation is that in the current age of advertising you need a lot of clicks to generate revenue, and long pieces don’t generate enough hits.

 

If true, this is an example of the advertising model being broken, not the content. As someone who grew up reading long pieces and still spends a lot of time doing so, this worries me greatly. One only needs to look at the recent lead columnists for the major papers to see the harmful effects of this “click first, think later” strategy. Cox, Kelly, and Simmons have all resorted to shameless trolling in their recent writing. It’s hard to imagine the now retired Stephen Brunt writing the kinds of pieces these guys have been producing. Somehow he managed to generate quality columns week after week. But I guess that was before the current digital age, so maybe he would be no better than the others today if he were still working as a journalist. (Arthur seems to be the only one who has resisted obvious click-bait, but we’ll see how long that lasts in his new job.)

 

Media on Media Crime

 

Andrew Walker appeared on Toronto Mike’s podcast this week. It’s worth your time to listen to it. I’m not sure how Don Kollins feels about his talent doing this kind of “off-script” appearance (Brady was on a past episode) but as a listener it’s great to hear these guys talk about their jobs in a more casual setting. The most noteworthy part of the discussion was Walker ripping Marty York. On Twitter York has been going after Walker for a few weeks now, and Walker took this opportunity to fight back.

 

I’ll be totally honest with you, I am too young to remember when York was a respected member of the media. Most of my life he’s been this odd character working for fringe outlets or in an adjunct role. I’m not exactly sure what his beef with Walker is, but it’s pretty clear to me that if York were working at a major outlet he wouldn’t be hounding a fellow media member the way he has been.

 

The same phenomenon was at work in this tweet from Al Strachan

 

 

Strachan used to be a personality on HNIC and a regular hockey columnist at the Sun and other papers. Like so many, he had issues with Brian Burke, but was otherwise relatively controversy-free. It was very odd to read these very personal blasts from Al against Rogers’ Moore. One explanation is that Strachan is friends with the recently fired Don Taylor. Another is that he has a past issue with Moore. A third explanation is that, like York, Strachan sees public attacks on media members as a way to insert himself into the conversation. It worked.

 

I’ll bring this back to my point about the media bubble. Strachan and York are on the outside of that bubble. Many of those on the inside produce terrible work on a day to day or week to week basis. It wouldn’t be crazy for either of these men to ask himself, “why not me?”

 

As someone who needs to produce a column most weeks, I’m very grateful for these outbursts. But as a listener and a reader I’m not especially impressed by personal attacks. I would rather hear criticisms of the quality of people’s work. (Mirtle is the only media member who seems to care about holding his colleagues to professional standards). But most of what we get these days is unprovoked attacks or one side accusing the other of being a shill.

 

 

Quick Hits

 

Dan Snyder – owner of the Washington NFL team – gave an interview recently where he claimed to have immense respect for Native Americans, and that the Redskin name was not in any way a slur. Here is an excellent reply by the National Congress of American Indians. I can understand not wanting to change the name. But every time he opens his mouth to tell us that it is not a slur he reveals himself to be just another bigot telling historically oppressed minorities what is and is not offensive to them. It’s embarrassing.

 

Rick Westhead is settling in to his new role at TSN and delivered a good piece on the ongoing efforts at unionization in the CHL. I don’t have a lot of opinions on this subject, but it seems clear that the leagues are making more money than ever before and this might change what they owe the players. I think partial university scholarships are a good idea, especially since most of these players will eventually need another career.

 

The NCAA/O’Bannon ruling came down yesterday. I have not had time yet to fully understand its nuances but this appears to pave the way for some kind of profit sharing between the NCAA and its players. It will be really interesting to see if this finally demolishes the facade that college sports are about amateur rather than professional sports.

 

Low Hanging Fruit

 

  • Go to TSN.ca and try to find Westhead’s article without using the link above. I spent 5 minutes before giving up. They claim they are redesigning the site and that can’t happen soon enough. It’s a bloated mess that obscures rather than highlights its original content.

 

  • Nice to hear Tim&Sid back together. That’s all.

 

  • We’ve heard a ton of the B team on the FAN – Wong, Rusic, Ennis, Sammut – this summer. Has anyone stood out to you as the obvious next in line for a promotion? Ennis seems to be getting the most airtime, but I could be wrong about that.

 

  • TSN’s iApp lets you listen to feeds from any of their other stations. This is a well designed feature.

 

Thanks for reading and commenting,

Until next time …

mike (in boston)

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