No Help for Ed
Ed Willes has written a couple of thoughtful pieces about the complicated issues presented by the recent criticism of the CBC – specifically Don Cherry – by the NHL. While he does not support what Cherry said, Willes does not believe the league should try to silence him either. First, he wrote:
The coverage provided by TSN and Sportsnet is bland and safe. Cherry, for his part, has made more than a few enemies and the CBC has heard about it. Threats, both veiled and overt, have been directed their way. Pressure has been exerted.
Hockey fans should be outraged that this has occurred but this is the way of the new media. Teams have power. They want coverage which isn’t consistent with journalistic principles and if you’re unaware of that, you haven’t been paying attention, especially in this market.
He followed that up in the second story:
It’s also disturbing and more than a little outrageous, but it also seems the viewing audience has lost its capacity to be outraged by the incestuous relationship between the media in Canada and the teams they cover.
Why is this? Wish I had an answer. The lines have always been blurry between the press and the Canadian NHL teams, and agenda reporting isn’t exactly a new concept. We all talk to people in the game. We protect their anonymity in exchange for information. Consciously or unconsciously, we slant the coverage in their favour.
Why aren’t fans outraged? Most fans aren’t really aware of the conflicts and don’t really care. If they paid any attention to the Don Cherry story, they chose up sides based on whether they like Cherry or Burke. That the relationship between the league and the hockey media is not one at arm’s length simply does not occur to them.
Those fans – and bloggers (no names, no pack drills) – who do recognize the problem see the hockey media as the marketing arm of the NHL and hockey journalism as an oxymoron. The league, the teams, the media outlets, and the hockey writers are all selling the same product to the same consumer. The commonality of interests overwhelms any idea of an independent media. That’s simply the way that it is, and reporters can’t change that with a rule that prohibits cheering in the pressbox.
I don’t think Willes can possibly expect the fans to either be aware of, or do anything about, the fact that they are not well served by an independent hockey media. Only the media – and hockey writers – can stand up to the league. The fans can’t do that. It isn’t our fault that it is not in their financial interest to maintain their independence.
If it is any consolation for Ed, this has nothing to do with the “new media” and the problem is not limited to sports and hockey. Upton Sinclair wrote The Brass Check in 1919, declaring that American journalism was a class institution “serving the rich and spurning the poor.” That Sinclair’s title refers to a token sold to brothel customers in Sinclair’s day pretty much says it all.
The real problem for writers who care about their craft is that their perception of the way things are supposed to be and the reality is very different.
We can’t help you with that, Ed.