Passing the Torch On the next generation of columnists

<span class="entry-title-primary">Passing the Torch</span> <span class="entry-subtitle">On the next generation of columnists</span>

by mike in boston / @mikeinbostonemail

 

Job Opening: Head Opinionist

 

I am going to give credit to Richard Deitsch for the term “opinionist” since that is who I learned it from. Some use it to refer to people who mostly dish out hot takes. I’m not using it in a that sense, or in a pejorative sense at all. I just mean people who are primarily paid to give opinions and generate discussion.

 

As a teenager there were three people whose opinions drove the sports conversation: Stephen Brunt (Globe), Steve Simmons (Sun), and Damien Cox (Star). Recall this is a time when papers were still the top of the food chain, and the sports media world was much less fragmented. Brunt delivered the more intellectual and cultural approach to the sports issues of the week. Simmons and Cox competed on the day to day front, with Simmons being more of a generalist and Cox being a frequent and loud voice on the Leafs. Of the three he is the only one to have generated his own counter-blog. (RIP Coxbloc)

 

Simmons is the only one who has kept roughly the same role over the last decade, with Brunt leaving the Globe for a “choose your own adventure” position with Sportsnet, and Cox moving from being a lead columnist at the Star to a lead panelist on Sportsnet’s HNIC then on to lead co-host of PTS and now on to a next chapter that is yet to be announced.

 

 

Jonah and I disagree on many topics but the one thing about which we could not agree more is the tragic misuse of Brunt by Sportsnet during the Scott Moore era. Brunt’s best asset is his writing. This is not to disparage his other talents. It is a statement about “surfacing” value for the audience. There are a ton of people at Sportsnet who do (or could do) features on the Jays. Same with the TV hits at sporting events. There are also lots of people who could be #2 on the Jeff Blair Show. They wouldn’t be as interesting as Brunt but given the low value of that timeslot, returns would not be greatly diminished.

 

By contrast, if Brunt were writing 40 weekly columns a year people like me would be flocking to .ca to read them. Some folks might even stick around to watch a few videos and click on some ads.

 

 

Instead of proudly displaying that they have the best sports writer in the country, Sportsnet has gone in the opposite direction with Brunt. He was part of the bi-monthly, then monthly, and now shuttered Sportsnet Magazine. His columns and stories were published alongside transcripts of PTS interviews, Brady & Lang debates, Ken Reid opinion pieces and a slew of other concepts that were tried before the magazine was ultimately was shut down.

 

His writing in 2017 dwindled to a disappointing 11-12 articles (going by his author page). Rather than being part of the week to week sports conversation, several of his articles were bunched together followed by months of silence. He wrote 3 articles about Conor McGregor v Merryweather, and a few companion pieces to his video profiles on the Jays. That was almost half of what he wrote in all of 2017. His entire 2017 writing output was around half of his 2016 output. (That’s not a criticism of him, for the record. Everything good comes to an end some day.)

 

Rather than spend this entire column whining about the loss of Brunt’s superior writing I thought it would be good to highlight the work of the person who has stepped up to fill the void he left. However I can’t think of who that would be.

 

So here we are in 2018: Cox has an undefined role, Simmons is in his 60s working for a paper that may go bankrupt shortly (or undergo radical changes), and Brunt has effectively retired from being a columnist.

 

My question is this: who will fill these roles going forward?

 

An argument can be made that Dave Feschuk has moved into the Cox role at the Star. His articles occasionally generate a lot of controversy, but I’m not sure he has the capital yet that Cox had in his prime. He also has to compete with Bruce Arthur for columnist mindshare, and the two often cover the same topics. At the Sun, there are no mid-career people whose opinions are prominently featured, so even if the Sun survives I’m not sure who will drive the sports section 5 years from now. And the Globe? Well, Cathal is their only true columnist and was writing about TIFF this summer. You can draw your own conclusions on how they see the future of their sports department.

 

Perhaps this whole line of inquiry rests on a false premise: no one will replace these people, because the market doesn’t really want this kind of sports personality anymore. It’s a point worth considering. It certainly fits with my own reading habits. Between blogs, Twitter, national writers, and the locals most of my reading needs are met. However ultimately I don’t agree that the marketplace will exist without head opinionists ten years from now.

 

As much as specialization has changed the marketplace, the majority of sports media consumers are light and conventional eaters. (Leave aside live sports. That’s a different topic.) The average sports fan doesn’t read a dozen articles a day or listen to more than a few segments of radio or watch more than the highlights or intermission panel. If that’s true, then who informs the opinions of the average consumer? The mainstream slots are still the ones driving the conversation because that’s, as the expression goes, “where there fish are”. That means the lead columnists at the papers, the afternoon drive radio hosts, and the supper hour TV talking heads still have the largest audience and are for that reason the most influential.

 

If you don’t believe me look at people like Skip Bayless et al are whose opinions are often laughably uninformed or obviously disingenuous. Readers can dismantle those arguments in seconds but those people don’t have the same reach. This means the backlash mostly preaches to the choir while the “hot take” purveyors still control the pulpit.

 

As such, I see the role of prominent opinionist enduring for a while longer just because that’s how most people get their sports news. If so, then it is in all of our interests that interesting people take over the most important slots when they come available.

 

Over to you: Whose opinions do you care about? Who do you see stepping into the big roles over the next 5-10 years? Is the era of the opinionist over?

 

Polls

 

Forget about sources of opinions that you think are garbage. Just think about places you go and hear/read opinions that you value (regardless of whether you agree). Where do those tend to be? Note: I’m leaving Twitter off. I’m also restricting this to mainstream outlets since those are where the head opinion positions have traditionally been. Again: not which place you like most; not the place with the cleanest interface; just where you get opinions that matter to you. You can use “other” to submit anything I missed.

 

 

 

The Replacements

 

With the above topic in mind I also took a look at other influential/visible sports media positions that have changed or will change over the next while. I am not including newsreaders/highlights-hosts since I don’t consider those to be jobs where opinions matter. If you want to debate that point then take it up in the comments. (Note: some of these are not “official” replacements but just the people who have picked up the slack).

 

PAST:

 

  • Kristen Shilton replaces Jonas Siegel as TSN Leafs reporter

 

  • Ron Maclean replaces Strombo as HNIC host

 

  • The combo of Rob Longley and Steve Buffery replace Bob Elliott on Jays coverage for The Sun (1+ years ago)

 

  • Overdrive replaces Dave Naylor’s afternoon Drive Show (2 years ago next month)

 

  • Brunt leaves PTS, disrupting the McCown-Brunt-Cox line-up (2+ years ago)

 

 

FUTURE:

 

  • Don Cherry will eventually retire and the most influential hockey opinionist position will be vacant. (Bruce Arthur has the best idea for his replacement: Brian Burke. This is a genius idea.)

 

  • Dave Hodge is done as host of The Reporters. The show is one of TSN’s few high profile studio properties, so it is bound to be rebooted with a new host.

 

Let me know if I missed any important ones in the comments.

 

Recommendations

 

I enjoyed this piece by Luke Fox (SN) on Babcock’s recent scrutiny by the local media.

 

Ben Nicholson-Smith (SN) has some good news for people who think the Jays might be in a position to reload for a pennant run in 2019.

 

Interesting article by Postmedia’s Michael Traikos on Eric Lindros and how he would fit in today’s NHL style of play.

 

Josh Lewenberg (TSN) has a very enjoyable look back at the origins of the Drake era with the Raptors.

 

CBC Sports has a clean new look, and also a pleasant story by David Alter (CP) on changes to Morgan Rielly’s off-season workouts.

 

Finally, Postmedia published an (uncredited) story on Marcus Stroman’s twitter tour of his new home. “His pants are also organized, with a rack for light denim and a separate one for dark.”

 


 

thanks for reading and commenting,

until next time …

mike (not really in boston)

COMMENTS

WORDPRESS: 40
  • comment-avatar

    Readership is up over the last few months thanks to some posts that drew a lot of attention. We will continue to allow anonymous commenting but recommend that folks who participate in the comments section take 10 seconds and register for an account. No personal info required. This just helps avoid multiple people posting using the same name. 

  • comment-avatar

    Another well thought out piece that offers the readers much to mull over.
    Again, thanks for the fine work.

    Regarding The Reporters, Hodge left after TSN cancelled (or reformatted if you buy the company line) the show; so I’m not too confident that the Network will provide a suitable platform for new talent anytime soon.

  • comment-avatar

    Thanks for all your hard word MIB. I know I’m probably in the minority but I didn’t mind Damien Cox on PTS most of the time he did bring his own style to the program. Even if he rubbed some the wrong way unlike Steve Simmons, very knowledgeable in wide variety of sports.
    Most print media people have there own flair and they just can’t seem to find the right style to fit into radio.

  • comment-avatar
    McIvor 11 months ago

    You can expect to hear an announcement about JPA’s role with Sportsnet soon enough…

  • comment-avatar

    …right after the Vendetta announcement?

  • comment-avatar

    JPA would be great. He’s very charismatic and would be a welcome change from someone like Zaun or Dirk Hayhurst.

    I rarely listen to the FAN anymore because Blair’s coughing and Vendetta name-dropping like a fanboy basically nauseates me. Is Vendetta still on a lot?

    In terms of the above column. Here are my thoughts.

    1) Kristen Shilton is spectacular. I love her work. I find it comes across much smoother than Jonas. That said, I like Jonas on the radio. He’s a snarky little fella and I like it. The fake feud between he and O-Dog is wonderful radio.

    2) Overdrive replaying Naylor is the best thing to happen to TSN 1050. What does Naylor even do anymore…except for bad commercials and talk about the failing CFL.

    3) I was back in Toronto last weekend and caught an episode of Tim and Sid. This is terrible terrible terrible television. I used to like them so much on the FAN. It’s said both of their careers appear to be derailing in front of our eyes just due to a simple move to TV.

    4) Todd Shapiro and Dart Guy. We need more of this. I love listening.

    5) Great to see Kayla Grey (Pardon if I spelled it wrong) on Sportscenter. At least TSN understands diversity and inclusion. Maybe the FAN could learn a thing or two from them.

  • comment-avatar
    Original Mitch 11 months ago

    Personally I think JPA has already demonstrated through tweets that he can’t be objective towards the Blue Jays and will simply fall in line with literally the rest of the sycophantic Rogers gang. In other words I guarantee he’ll get the job. 

  • comment-avatar

    Rest in peace Red Fisher…………one of the greatest sports writers this country has ever produced 

    I grew up in Montreal so I had the privilege of reading his work regularly…………..he was also one of the first writers I can remember who started appearing frequently on radio and television, including HNIC (hot stove, etc)

    He was quite the character…………..he will be missed

  • comment-avatar
    Liberty Village Bob 11 months ago

    Kind of amazing how long people like Cox and Simmons have been at it. You forgot Perkins and Hunt who were both major opinion writers. Hard to see anyone in the current crop of writers being that relevant. I don’t read anything on either TSN or Sportsnet websites. Anyone who writes there is wasting their time.

  • comment-avatar
    Douglas Gray 11 months ago

    I’ve never looked to others for opinion. I read the papers, yes actual newspapers, the web and listen to talk radio for information. Not opinion. Oh sure, opinions are fine but I form my own opinion from the information I read and see. Now, many of the people mentioned are good; I enjoy reading Simmons and Brunt, and hearing them on the radio. They are informed, intelligent opinions but they are rare these days. Too often in the media the trend seems to be moving toward the Stephen A. Smith mode of spewing one’s thoughts for the sake of creating fake controversy. It’s all about click bait, rather than journalism.

  • comment-avatar
    Douglas G. 11 months ago

    I’ve never looked to others for opinion. I read the papers, yes actual newspapers, the web and listen to talk radio for information. Not opinion. Oh sure, opinions are fine but I form my own opinion from the information I read and see. Now, many of the people mentioned are good; I enjoy reading Simmons and Brunt, and hearing them on the radio. They are informed, intelligent opinions but they are rare these days. Too often in the media the trend seems to be moving toward the Stephen A. Smith mode of spewing one’s thoughts for the sake of creating fake controversy. It’s all about click bait, rather than journalism.

  • comment-avatar

    I tried listening to PTS on Friday, and had to turn it off after half an hour. Listening to McCown, Vendetta and Shannon talk hockey was just painful. Without Brunt or Cox, PTS just seems kinda lost these days. They need someone in there who can command listener respect.

  • comment-avatar

    So sick of 590’s mushing 3 to 3 1/2 hours of a show into one Pod. It makes it harder to scroll and I end up listening to less of the show. 4 guests in 3 1/2 hours? – I listen  to a Friedman segment then delete the entire Pod. Unless it is a Pod with a Nobel laureate, put out the pods in digestible chunks but don’t beat it to death like 1050 by parsing out individual segments. Though if given a choice, I’d take 1050’s method. If 590 adds unskippable ads to this moribund pod format, I won’t check in at all. Picture yourself late at night trying to fall asleep and there  Hitchcockian ‘Kars4Kids’ ad comes on, you’d rip your ear buds out with a fork. 

  • comment-avatar

    The not there

  • comment-avatar

    With all the complaining about sports radio that goes on here I am really surprised that 50% of you choose that format as the place to go for good opinions. Another 15% go to podcasts, which means that 65% of the audience would rather listen to an opinion than read one. That is very interesting indeed.

    I spend at least an hour every day reading sports content, mostly in the morning but with some more articles sprinkled in over lunch and dinner. I can absorb a ton of information in that time, get competing views on issues, and learn things I did not know before.

    Commercial radio is tough for me since I would need to podcast it, and then the urge is to FFWD every time the antics start. Finding the 15 mins of solid discussion is too hard. “Non-commercial” podcasts can be great, but I don’t take hourlong drives most weeks so I don’t have a chance to listen as much as I would like.

  • comment-avatar

    @yaz

    I love your podcast rants……………I agree with you 100%…………why would 590 change their podcast format to make it more difficult for people to listen?

  • comment-avatar
    Anthony 11 months ago

    ‘With all the complaining about sports radio that goes on here I am really surprised that 50% of you choose that format as the place to go for good opinions. Another 15% go to podcasts, which means that 65% of the audience would rather listen to an opinion than read one.’

    That kind of says something, doesn’t it?

  • comment-avatar

    Tim and Sid has its solution – just dump Sid for Caroline Cameron. She’s filling in for him now and doing a good job ….. knows her basketball – who knew!

  • comment-avatar

    You can’t read a newspaper if you’re driving or lying in bed falling asleep. I drive a lot and unfortunately don’t have an hour a day to sit at the table and read a newspapers or a website. There are many like me. I go to radio (podcasts) first for the theatre of the mind, not for quality of the opinions, though I obviously analyze the opinions. The Leafs won again tonight when most said they would not, it will be an engaging day of sports radio tomorrow on 590 and 1050 and I look forward to it.

    While I can and do enjoy Buckley vs Chomsky on an episode of Firing Line, I don’t ache for it during my morning drive. I do enjoy longer format Pods late at night because they have a different rhythm than the jabbery of sports radio ( Scheer Intelligence, SI Media Podcast with Richard Deitsch, All Of the above With Norman Lear, The Carson Podcast, WTF With Marc Maron, Toronto Mike’d and on and on)

    I haven’t purchased a newspaper since 2010. Sue me. Sports radio is entertainment first, Pulitzer nomination a distant  second.  

  • comment-avatar

    comment of the year so far yaz. Really well put.

    here’s an example: pitch clocks in baseball.

    The last thing I want is to hear tweedle A and tweedle B discussing it on talk radio. I would much rather read something by Peter Gammons or Fangraphs because their pieces only make it to print if they are researched and vetted. With radio, there is almost no research and very little quality control.

    I also want to know what Richard Griffin thinks about it. I also want to know how this portends for relations between MLB and MLPBA. I have little hope of getting all of that from flipping back and forth between the radio stations. I might get it from At The Letters (TSN — why don’t you have a baseball podcast?) but I also might get 60 minutes of Bo Bichette talk.

    So, reading is a reliable way to get the diversity of (informed) opinion I want in a reasonable amount of time. The opportunity costs of radio (incl podcasts) are too high for me right now. I might feel differently if the line-ups were stronger.

  • comment-avatar
    Justin 11 months ago

    Looking back 8 years ago, there were many columnists I considered “must read” whose opinions and features I cared about reading. Simmons, Brunt, Blair, Elliott, Duhatschek, William Houston, Zelkovich, and probably more I’m forgetting. Of all those guys, only Simmons is left in print, and even then only his Sunday notes column is now appointment reading. 

    Now? It’s not that radio/podcasts have replaced print for where I want to hear my sports opinions, it’s that writers I consider appointment reading have shifted online. Along with former print guys Mirtle, Lott, and Duhatschek on The Athletic, that list reads Bill Simmons, Zach Lowe, Jonah Keri, Barnwell, DGB, Andrew Stoeten off the top of my head. 

    Online media has replaced print, and newspapers have failed to keep up. The Globe and Sun had no real replacements lined up for all of those who left and are paying the price. 

  • comment-avatar

    Justin – do you read Blair’s Sportsnet columns? A lot of print people are still writing online, but I wonder if their “print” audiences carried over.

    As mentioned in the original post, I think Sportsnet has done a poor job of organizing their website to highlight the work of their respected opinionists. It’s a sea of content there and very hard to find what I consider to be the most valuable writing. The exception is 31 Thoughts which has been well marketed and is now a household name. They could have done the same for Brunt or Blair or Grange when these folks were brought over. TSN is in a similar boat.

  • comment-avatar
    McIvor 11 months ago

    Shame on Mike for promoting Zaun’s attempted return. He has shown zero remorse for actions and hasn’t even acknowledged that he did anything wrong. Mike, you complain about the lack of women covering sports and then you go and help Zaun with his comeback?

  • comment-avatar

    Looking forward to hear Jonah Keri as Blair’s cohost this week. Always been a big fan of his.

  • comment-avatar

    I have to wonder if the various corporations, teams and leagues would allow any new “outspoken” media to come into play given how all of the above likes to control the message and how it’s presented. Would a Steve Simmons or Damian Cox be around in this climate if given how the team/league could just place a call and have them removed and/or muzzled? Perhaps this is why we haven’t seen anyone take the torch simply because they are not going to be able to do the same as the predecessors.

  • comment-avatar
    Original Mitch 10 months ago

    @hans

    You are absolutely right. Independent journalism is long dead. Critical analysis is long dead. Alternate opinion is long dead. All these journalists have been transformed to sales copy writer for whatever corporation they work for these days, be it the big two or a club or for someone with a stake in the club (to continue access to players, media creds, etc). Publications used to have their employees’ backs against the team/ organization they were covering. These days it’s the opposite. They’ll throw you immediately under the bus if a player or coach dares tweet something unfavourable. 
    The old school guys are still around with some dropping all integrity to represent company (Cox) and others sticking to their guns. But as for a new breed  of columnist/ provocateurs? Lol! You get Ennis and Davidi these days lol. Talented people toeing the line. 

  • comment-avatar

    ..is it possible for J.D Bunkis to shut up? Seriously, the guy is run-on sentence after run-on sentence…i dont want to hear a 3 minute preface to every question, dude.

    Tuned in randomly on my drive home last friday to hear John Shannon on the round-table yet again..Fan590, you’re a joke.
    John Shannon, go kick rocks.

    -Blake

  • comment-avatar

    Re: “Zaun’s attempted return”

    Greg should return! Zaun is the only Jays broadcaster (hopefully not so ex-broadcaster) who calls it like it is.

    His transgressions would appear to be minor in the big picture. All he has to do to return is make a ‘heartfelt apology’ and make a nice donation to a suitable women’s charity.

    If he doesn’t return, then all we have to look forward to is various vanilla Rogers paid talking heads agreeing with Mike Wilner as Mike explains how the Jays will be in the next four world series as orchestrated by the best executives in baseball. I actually can take Wilner in small doses and listen to his Jays Talk podcasts after late games but Wilner needs a strong counterpoint such as Zaun to be on TV.

  • comment-avatar
    McIvor 10 months ago

    Zaun’s transgressions were not minor.

    Let me ask you this…would you be comfortable with your wife or daughter working with Zaun?

  • comment-avatar
    Poker Guy 10 months ago

    Looks like I can listen to Leafs Lunch again for a month,
    Andi Petrillo is off on Olympic assignment. Yay.

  • comment-avatar
    Original Mitch 10 months ago

    Curious McIvor? What were Zaun’s transgressions? I’m wondering because all i’ve read are from “anonymous sources” and we all know those aren’t reliable and can easily be fabricated by any corporation. Obviously i’m not defending Zaun (lol) but I would like to know what he actually did.

  • comment-avatar

    Original Mitch,

    Great question, it just baffles the mind that people can be hung out to dry these days and deemed guilty without due process. What a dangerous president.

  • comment-avatar
    Cirroc 10 months ago

    @poker guy 

    I’m with ya.  Literally any of Roe, Taylor, Tatti, etc is an improvement over Andi.  And just so nobody tries to put an anti-female spin on this comment, let it be known that Gareth Wheeler is waaaay below Andi on my list of tolerable radio hosts.

  • comment-avatar
    Poker Guy 10 months ago

    @Cirroc

    Thanks. Couldn’t agree with you more.

  • comment-avatar

    Surprised there aren’t comments about NHL on Sirius. I stopped listening to TSN and fan590 months ago and haven’t missed it. The afternoon portion of the  channel is to me is very informative and entertaining. 

  • comment-avatar
    McIvor 10 months ago

    Jonah and Mike, would you be comfortable with your wives or daughters working with Zaun? If not, why the hell are you helping to usher him back into the sports media world? You constantly call for more women to part of the industry, how does enabling Gregg Zaun help to achieve that goal?

  • comment-avatar
    stephen in niagara 10 months ago

    I needed to rely on my brother to drive me around this week so I was stuck listening to his radio selections.

    Heard Jonah Keri a couple of times as Blair’s cohost this week. He was good, entertaining, engaging.
    Blair is a better writer than he is a talker.

    Also listened to some Leafs Lunch, no Petrillo, It was good – they covered a lot of ground, quickly and efficiently.

    I was able to convince my brother to give my satellite radio a try. He’s now thinking of subscribing.
    He was impressed by both the diversity and depth of coverage available for the Jays, Leafs, Raptors, as well as their leagues and euro soccer.
    No puff pieces, no pom-pom shit. Critical commentary and solid guests making very valid points.

    Toronto sports radio has become intolerable, content and the talking heads are just not worth listening to.

  • comment-avatar

    Re: Leafs Lunch. I don’t mind the show, even with Andi, but there is no worse segment on TO sports radio than ‘Lou’s Offers’. Just awful.

  • comment-avatar
  • comment-avatar

    @TSM…..No way…… Keep up the good work and ignore the Troll!