June 19 2013 01:43PM
Everybody knows the Toronto Star. It bills itself as Canada’s largest daily (and carefully doesn’t mention it has lost more readers over the last four years than anyone else). Still, seeing Oilers Nation in one of the big national giants on Wednesday was kind of cool.
Did You Miss It?
Without the explosion of social media, these things might just die in the ether. Blundell was first called out by an Edmonton Oilers blogger who transcribed the comments, which were subsequently picked up by sports reporters.
That is not how I would have done it, personally. I might have said “a blogger at Oilers Nation” or “sportswriter Robin Brownlee” or ideally, “Robin Brownlee of the Edmonton website Oilers Nation.” Then I might link to it. The bar for linking isn’t very high. The Star linked to a guest-written story by Steve Gleason, who was the unfortunate victim of similar foolishness by radio people in Atlanta (who were subsequently fired). They linked to a piece in the Ryerson Review of Journalism about reporting on suicide, though the death of Pelss has not been ruled a suicide at this time and the circumstances surrounding it remain unclear. They also include the obligatory links to other pieces in theStar - much like we do at this site, including at the bottom of this piece.
Instead, the only reference to Brownlee by name is a Storify board in the online edition that includes his original piece in a group of 21 other Tweets.
Why does this matter? To some degree it doesn’t. Oilers Nation is paid for by internet traffic, so from a financial perspective it’s a little galling. From a pride point of view, it’s also irritating – I’m not Robin Brownlee but I’m well aware of his distinguished career, so to see him credited as a nameless blogger while other sportswriters (such as Steve Simmons) are referenced by name because they commented about the story later on bothers me.
More than that, what bugs me about the Star’s casual dismissal of this site is the way it fits a pattern.
Back in 2010, Tyler Dellow wrote a piece revealing highly unprofessional emails written by then-NHL disciplinary czar Colin Campbell. What made his story interesting was the investigative work Dellow did, revealing that Campbell saw Marc Savard as “a little fake artist” and routinely watched his son’s games and complained when calls went against him.
The Toronto Star had run a story based on the same emails – from a different angle, with none of that information. Further, the Star story wasn’t Dellow’s source, something he made clear in his piece. That didn’t stop Star sports columnist Damien Cox from angrily complaining that the Star hadn’t received the attention it deserved for its work on the story.
The Star also – much more recently and more publicly – did something similar with the allegations of Rob Ford smoking crack cocaine, claiming an exclusive and referring to Gawker – the outlet which actually broke the story – as a “U.S. website.”
The Larger Picture
For newspaper types who feel angry and threatened by online media – this certainly isn’t all of them, and some papers have done a significantly better job of adapting to the new paradigm than others – there’s a list of blogger putdowns. Generally, those insults run along the lines that these are nameless, faceless people who rip off legitimate reporting, and aren’t accountable for what they publish.
The trouble is, that even when there is a name, a face, an original story, and a long track record of accountability at mainstream publications, in some cases (such as this one) the story will be treated like it’s coming from some corner of the internet that must not be named.
That’s irritating for the site that’s being so cavalierly dismissed, but it’s also a sign of bigger problems in the way some newspapers handle the online portion of their business. Nobody has the resources to break all the stories any more, which means that with increasing frequency (and anyone watching knows it happens), newspapers will be reporting immediately online based on reports from elsewhere. Pelss’ death is a prime example – the initial reports came from Latvian media, via online translation tools. That’s not to say there isn’t a distinction between a major mainstream outlet – which generally has access and resources that independents don’t – and blogs; it’s just to say that increasingly there are similarities between how a newspaper reports things on its website and how blogs do.
Yet, some newspapers continue to treat the internet like a zero-sum game, when it isn’t. What I mean by that is as a newspaper reader, I’m probably only subscribing to one daily – so anything that refers to a competitor in a positive light runs the risk of sending me the message that I should switch to a different paper. The internet doesn’t work that way – people aren't restricted to a single site for their news. In a lot of ways, it’s built on reciprocity; by linking to a referenced piece and identifying the outlet, I lose nothing and help ensure that other outlets will properly attribute my own work when the time comes. Some mainstream outlets get that. Obviously, the Toronto Star does not.
A lot of this will probably get a giant “who cares” from readers, and I understand that. But as a guy who likes reading good reporting, and is hoping that the big outlets who break so much news can adapt to the new media landscape, it’s disheartening to see such a pointless and self-defeating approach.
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