April 15 2009 08:40PM
The only thing that's nearly as important as getting the story right in the journalism business is getting it first. The challenge and the joy in this game is doing both consistently. Sometimes, even when you're right, it sucks. Like today, when Edmonton Oilers GM Steve Tambellini made it official the team and Craig MacTavish had parted ways.
Officially, MacTavish has been "relieved of his duties." I suspect he resigned, but the bottom line for fans, be they applauding the move or lamenting it, is he's gone. Not a happy day for reporters, those of us who've had MacT filling our notepads for a decade.
Then again, having been off the beat since January 2007 after 10 years of nagging MacTavish for The Journal and The Sun, I won't be impacted as much as today's everyday scribes, especially if the new guy is a stiff as a quote. That's their problem, but I digress . . .
Having written MacTavish off April 9 in Already Gone, again last Sunday in Armchair GMIII and finally in Tuned Out on Tuesday, it's the reaction to an item at the bottom of the last bit that got me thinking about the challenge of getting it right and getting it first.
I'm referring to a few sentences I wrote regarding a rumour Sheldon Souray might have requested a trade. It's a mention I wouldn't have made for an MSM outlet, but one I thought was fine here. I still do.
What's the buzz?
Burned like Grant Ledyard on a Todd Marchant breakaway when I disregarded an e-mail Chris Pronger wanted out of town in 2006 as bogus, I mentioned the Souray rumour, which also came to me by way of e-mail. The response was frenetic.
"Perhaps one of the reasons Souray didn’t make himself available to reporters Monday is he didn’t want to address speculation that he’s asked Tambellini for a trade. Rumours Souray has asked to be dealt began several weeks ago and they’ve persisted since. To this point, neither Souray or anybody in the Oilers front office has gone on the record to put the talk to rest. Until that happens, and there’s a flat-out denial from one of the parties, this has legs. Stay tuned."
Having sat on the gossip a few weeks waiting for the right time to raise the issue with Souray -- there's seldom a good time when a team is pooping itself -- I made the mention after Souray left the rink without talking and when I heard another media outlet was on the sniff.
While I wouldn't have dropped the hint something might be up if I was writing for the Canadian Press, the Globe and Mail or another MSM outlet because it wouldn't get past an editor looking for substantive sources and more meat, I see this gig as different.
If it has legs . . .
Before Tambellini's on-the-record "No" today and without a comment from Souray -- I sent him an e-mail asking him about the rumour -- I thought a couple of paragraphs would suffice.
I was amused by the reaction of some fans at sites like Hockey's Future. Some folks read the item and took note it was framed as a rumour before adding their two cents. Many did not. It made for much braying, even after I clarified the item in a subsequent comment.
I wrote: "Like I said earlier, this is a rumour and nothing more at this point. To discount it completely would be foolish, but it’s also premature to take it as fact and start working out trade possibilities. The rumour, and the fact Souray has been separated from his kids, plus the fact he didn’t talk to the media Monday are all bits and pieces. Do they add up to him requesting a trade? Maybe. Maybe not. All we can do is ask Tambellini if the request has been made.
If I had it firm from Souray or anybody else, I wouldn’t be burying the item at the bottom of the story. It would be the story."
Even with that disclaimer, somebody named Homesick wrote: "Brownlee's man crush doesn't handle rejection well." Somebody who calls themselves IDrinkMomma'sPee, actually it was Replacement, declared: "Brownlee has gone south and has been hit with the blog bug. So much more fun to say anything and make it up."
Walking the line
Make it up? Well, no.
While I suspect Homesick and IDrinkMomma'sPee figure I make it up with my other writing gigs as well, there's no question the rules at Oilersnation are different -- I make them. In that regard, I have an advantage over MSM peers like Dan Barnes or Jim Matheson or Ryan Rishaug.
Good thing, because they're sharp and I'll take any edge I can get. They can't go with the Souray item, at least not the way I presented it. I can't either, if I'm writing for CP. But for OilersNation? Absolutely.
That said, I try not to get too loose with the journalistic rules I've grown up with. I won't write something I know is bogus. Making stuff up for the hell of it isn't my style. Without credibility, I might as well be wearing pajamas. You don't want that.
Fact is, if a player reads something that's a fabrication, he doesn't care whether it was written here or in the New York Times. All he wants to know is why you wrote that he wears women's clothing on the weekend, or wants to be traded when he doesn't.
Make stuff up, and you don't get another interview. I'm not worried about that with Souray. There's some smoke here -- he's not a happy camper, but much of that is because he's away from his children and this season sucked -- but apparently no trade fire.
Anyway, as I try to get the hang of this interweb thing while still wearing my MSM hats, I'll let the times I get it first and get it right speak for itself. In this business, that's how we keep score.
As for that talk about Pat Quinn and Tambellini's short list . . .
-- Listen to Robin Brownlee every Thursday from 4 to 6 p.m. on Just A Game with Jason Gregor on TEAM 1260.