April 04 2009 12:19AM
He who has the best sources wins.
That's a good rule of thumb in the journalism biz, because as anybody who keeps score knows -- I've never met a reporter worth a damn who doesn't keep a running tally -- that person breaks the most stories. And, with newspapers dying on the vine because they can't or won't keep up with new media that caters to the give-it-to-me-now demands of consumers of information, delivering the goods first is even more important, and harder to do, now.
I'm not surprised, then, there's much consternation among members of the mainstream media in town since Edmonton Oilers' owner Daryl Katz sent a text message to 630 CHED radio analyst Bob Stauffer that read: "MacT is not going anywhere."
When it comes to the Oilers, Stauffer, who abdicated his role as this city's most outspoken critic as primetime drive show host of Total Sports on TEAM 1260 to become a company man with the rightsholder station, is the most connected guy in town. It's not close. Stauffer has a hotline wired (and wireless) into the owner's suite, and there's no source more reliable when it comes to what's what than Katz, the guy who signs the cheques.
Judging by what I read when the dailies hit the doorsteps Friday morning, that's rubbed some of the ink-stained and the TV talking heads -- they get most of their information from the morning papers -- the wrong way. They can't get near Katz, but Stauffer, bombastic pisser and moaner-turned fartcatcher, gets a text from the top and delivers the news.
That, clearly, hit a nerve. And it should.
IN THE KNOW
Granted, anybody taking issue with the message MacTavish isn't going anywhere have cause to wonder why, given how the Oilers have failed to live up to advanced billing. I don't believe it for a second, but taking issue with the message Katz thumb-typed is fair enough.
As for much of the moaning about how the message was delivered, or suggestions president of hockey operations Kevin Lowe and GM Steve Tambellini have been reduced to puppets, well, that's dubious. The boss always works the strings, whether they're visible or not.
I put much of what I read down to envy and simple gravity -- as in the downhill flow of dung when sports editors and directors want to know why their aces aren't raking in their share of the juicy, breaking stuff. And, when it's been as much of a shutout as it's been since Stauffer was tormenting MacTavish with daily rants on TEAM 1260, sour pusses abound.
Those who were calling out Katz a year ago, wondering if he was a big hat with no cattle and giving the thumbs down to the likelihood he'd ever wrestle the Oilers from the EIG, can't get near him now. They're damn upset about it because the people have a right to know.
THE INSIDE TRACK
Katz has trusted Stauffer for a couple of years, long before he was recruited as the sidekick to Rod Phillips. More than once, Stauffer and I would be on the air at TEAM 1260 and Bob would be doing his obligatory hatchet job on MacTavish when his Blackberry would start vibrating.
"Got to take this," Stauffer would tell me, so I'd ramble on and stretch whatever point it was I was making while he took the call or read the text. It was, at least a half-dozen times I can remember, Katz on the other end of the line.
Of course, Bob being Bob, he couldn't resist dropping hints from time to time down at the rink he knew what was what and had it from a good source. A lot of people in our business thought Stauffer was full of crap and wrote it off as bragging and BS.
Often, when Stauffer would go with something on the air without attributing information, listeners dismissed it as wishful thinking, speculation or more bombast. E-mails began, "You're an idiot . . ." I didn't need to guess some people toting notepads and cameras at Rexall Place felt the same way.
RULES OF THE GAME
By the time it started to sink in along media row Stauffer wasn't talking through his ass, he was being courted by Katz and the Oilers to jump ship and join 630 CHED.
Of course, grudging acknowledgment Stauffer was tied into Katz didn't come without grousing he wasn't doing his job as a journalist -- is any radio drive show host a journalist? -- in his final months at TEAM 1260 because he sat on information and didn't go with everything he knew. It was buddy-buddy stuff, some sniffed. He was too close to Katz. Stauffer wasn't in-the-know because he'd worked a source. He was getting the goods because he'd kissed backside and done favours by not revealing the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
Let's tell it straight here. If there's a reporter who hasn't protected a source by holding back information, by sitting on a story until the time is right or fibbed along the way, they don't have sources. If a source tells you, "I saw this Friday night in Chicago, but I was coming out of a ripper joint, and if you mention that my wife will kill me, so leave it out," is there even a question? "Sorry, Joe, that wouldn't be telling the whole truth, so . . ." Gimme a break.
Do you have any idea how many times I wrote something along the lines of, "When contacted by this reporter, Mr. X refused comment" when it was Mr. X who gave me the drop in the first place? Stauffer worked the angles all reporters do, or should, to develop a pipeline of information. He just landed a bigger fish than most of us manage to get our hooks into. Stauffer got inside, and he did it long before he took the hush money to join 630 CHED.
Those who'd rather wait for press releases to get the goods, those who don't have a hope of ever sitting down face-to-face with Katz, might not want to admit that, but it's nonetheless true. All I know is before I left the Oilers beat in 2007, I knew who my competition was. With Dan Barnes writing columns and Jim Matheson focusing on the NHL with his popular Hockey World at The Journal, the guys I had to worry about on the beat were Stauffer and Ryan Rishaug of TSN.
And I always kept score.
DOWN THE ROAD
As for MacTavish's future with the Oilers, I've got nothing that hasn't already been written. I suspect Katz's text was sent with the sole intention of muting what he saw as a distraction with all the speculation about MacT.
When the season is done, MacTavish and the rest of the coaching staff will be evaluated. If the Oilers miss the playoffs, and they will, then don't be a bit surprised if MacTavish resigns, but stays with the organization. Katz, Lowe and Tambellini will not stand pat. As for details, you'll know when I do, assuming I can learn this thumb-typing thing.
-- Listen to Robin Brownlee every Thursday from 4 to 6 p.m. on Just A Game with Jason Gregor on TEAM 1260.