Deep Thoughts VIIII: Making it up as I go


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.

I wrote:

“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.

  • Robin Brownlee

    @ Ogden Brother:
    The contract reference was a zinger. We love it when we get an edgy quote like that and it grabbed our attention, but I know the money talk struck a sour note with players. It always does.

  • Ducey

    Robin Brownlee wrote:

    There is no problem, smart guy…

    The problem is Souray didn’t show that day and then skipped out on the final day, as well. That’s why, not thinking for a second I was the only media guy who might be after the story, I made mention of it — clearly framing it as a rumour. There, that’s more of an explanation than you deserve.

    Wouldn't a print journalist or someone who wanted to make sure the info was at least "most likely" correct have waited until he spoke with Souray or otherwise verified the info? I don't see Jim Matheson floating "rumours" and I bet you know the reason why.

    While you get marks for trying to verify it, when you couldn't you should have kept it to yourself. Getting it out first is less important than getting it right – especially when it involves the teams #1 D man in the aftermath of the Pronger mess.

    By the way, get a thicker skin. You are not going to win any arguments calling my position "Bogus" nor attacking me. It just further undermines your credibility.

    I appreciate the fact that you take the time to Blog here. It doesn't mean I have to agree with you.

  • Robin Brownlee

    Ducey wrote:

    By the way, get a thicker skin. You are not going to win any arguments calling my position “Bogus” nor attacking me. It just further undermines your credibility.

    No it doesn't. Not sitting here quietly while you takes runs at me has nothing to do with my credibility. And saying I toss around rumours like A-Rod tosses around $100s is taking a run at me. It's bogus because it isn't true.

    One more time — I didn't write the rumour for CP or another MSM outlet because the burden of proof and the required standards of certainty are different, which also addresses why somebody like Matty didn't go with it in this situation.

    Although, if you were as media saavy as you think you are, you'd know that Matty does get rumours in — when he writes something like "Maybe the Oilers should take a look at Player X," it comes off as opinion, but often he's written it because he's heard talk the Oilers are already looking at Player X but he doesn't have it firmed up.

    It's really simple: if I lack credibility with you, don't read what I write. I'll get over it.

  • Dennis

    Speaking of pajamas, is there a connection between wearing lounging pants and being able to see the destruction that Kevin Lowe brought to the org?

    Or, more pointedly, pointing out said fact?:)

    This isn't towards RB alone but for all the good word I've seen done in the past week or so – I especially enjoyed and was shocked by Barnes taking a smack at 18's penchant for the bad penalty – I can't help but feel a little saddened by the fact that MacT took the axe for both him and Lowe and no one feels moved to write it.

    So, there looks to be one sacred cow remaining.

    Finally, I don't have a problem with Brownlee floating a rumour but I do have a problem with the anal bug he has for all bloggers and how he lumps them as rumor mongers.

  • And though he doesn't need defending, I should say that every time Brownlee has met with me, I HAVE been wearing pyjamas. Ones with feet sewn on. It's my fault bloggers get a bad name. I did the same thing when I had lunch with David Staples once.

  • Dennis

    Bingo: the difference is that up until these past couple of weeks, I can cite chapter and verse where Edm MSM DON'T go close to calling Lowe on the carpet; chapter and verse being a heckuva long time without on-ice success where you'd usually expect someone to ask why.

    OTOH, Brownlee deals primarily with Oilers based bloggers and very few of them deal in any kind of rumour mongering whatsoever; mostly, it's numbers and facts.

  • @ Dennis:

    Fair enough. Numbers, facts, and tiny jabs flanked by smiley faces 🙂

    Right Dennis? 🙂

    Anyway, what I should have said is that I think you weren't reading RB's rumour comment correctly. I didn't get that he was saying "all bloggers are rumour mongers." What I got was that MSM guys don't typically post rumours in mainstream publications because of differing standards, and that because MSM types do speak to players and team officials, one might interpret their seldom-published rumours as having more weight.

    I don't recall Brownlee painting all bloggers with the same brush as being pyjamas-wearing basement-dwellers. In spite of the differences between newspapers and blogs — and the ongoing and largely pointless dick measuring contest between the two camps — he's generally been pretty respectful and tolerant of bloggers — commenters sometimes get taken to task. For a good example of the respect RB has for competent bloggers, see his comments in J-Dub's Mistakes post.

    And if you're going to cite chapter and verse where the MSM don't ask the hard questions — in your very humble opinion, I'm certain — it's pointless to zero in on Brownlee as the representative of MSM in Edmonton and take him to task for it. I can hook you up with the email addresses of all Oilers beat writers in town if you want to have an impact.

  • Ssseth

    @ Robin Brownlee:
    Some interesting points are being raised over at HF about this blog entry. Starting with this one (and some more continued on after it). Since you quoted someone from HF on this blog, wouldn't it be fair to at least reply/post a response on HF as well?

  • RossCreek

    @ ROBIN

    OFF TOPIC, but is it possible to think that Minnesota Wild owner Craig Leiopold, who formerlly owned the Nashville Predators, may take a hard look at his former club for a caoach and/or GM. I'm not necassarily thinking David Poile or Barry Trotz, as I'm thinking both are under contract and likely(?) to return, but moreso Assistant GM Paul Fenton & Associate Coach Brent Petersen.


  • RossCreek

    Also, if you (AS THE EDMONTON OILERS SPECIFICALLY) could pick ANY coach currently employed by a playoff team, regardless of how "possible" or "likely" it was, who would it be? Let's exclude Brent Sutter's name from that list too, as his name has already come up. Mike Babcock? Claude Julien? Randy Carlyle? Joel Quenneville?

    I'd take Ken Hitchcock (and I think there is a good chance that the Oil would too).

  • Robin Brownlee

    @ Ssseth:
    The whole reason I wrote the above item was to think out loud about the different ethics and standards involved and give my take on how I perceive them. I don't feel any need whatsoever to explain it all over again.

    If some people are convinced it was somehow unethical to print the rumour in the way I did and for the reasons I mentioned, then I'm not going to change their minds. If they think it hurts my credibility as a MSM writer, they're welcome to that opinion. If Sheldon or any member of the team has a problem with it, I'm sure I'll hear about it. I suspect not.

    If the hubbub is about the crude nickname reference, get over it. Of course it's stupid. Of course it's immature and not in the best taste. We get accused of that a lot around here. I mean, look at some of the photos we use. Look at the photo with this story.
    This site is supposed to be a detour and reprieve from the straight-laced world of the MSM and that's one of the reasons I signed on here. This isn't the NY Times.

    I have no idea who "Replacement" is. I could have picked any one of a number of comments, but I chose his/her particular comment because it had a reference to making things up — one of my points was that while I see this as a looser forum than, say, a newspaper, making things up is a line I won't cross. Nothing more.

  • Robin Brownlee

    @ RossCreek:
    Still with coaches. If you're looking at NHL assistants who might move up, there are two who I'm willing to bet will make Tambellini's list.

    One is Todd Richards of San Jose. Jim Matheson mentioned him in The Journal and I talked with somebody else who believes he will be strongly considered. Richards had a nice AHL resume before joining the Sharks.

    The other is Geoff Ward, one of Claude Julien's assistants with Boston.
    I got a call today from somebody — NOT with the Oilers — who insisted Ward will be a strong candidate and I believe them. I know for a fact Ward impressed Kevin Lowe during his time with the Oilers. And, while Ward had a lousy record in the AHL with the Road Runners, it was a terrible team that nobody was going to turn into a winner. Not saying Ward is a favourite to get the job, but he'll be a darkhorse that would not have made a lot of people's lists.

  • I think the Souray rumour started on the hf oiler board about a month ago and it spread like a urban legend. Until it is proven, I believe it was a "chinese whisper" that people heard enough times and it became fact–reagardless of the fact it was true or not was not the issue.

  • RossCreek

    @ Robin Brownlee:
    I could definately see Geoff Ward getting consideration. Willis put together his short list, etc. the other day, now that some of the smoke has settled handicap some of these names(ya I know its gonna be a while til a decision is made, and it may be too early to have any factual info, but what the heck, we're here so lets talk "non-MSM censored style" – F tha haters):

    Scott Arniel
    Marc Habschied
    Perry Pearn
    Willie Desjardins
    Dale Hunter

    Pat Quinn
    Marc Crawford
    Tom Renney
    Bob Hartley
    Peter Laviolette

    CURRENTLY EMPLOYED (Long Shot, but possible)
    Ken Hitchcokc
    Randy Carlyle
    Alain Vigneault
    Lindy Ruff
    Brent Sutter

    Aside from Geoff Ward & Todd Richards, am I missing anyone else with a legitimate consideration?

  • RossCreek

    Travis Moen should be on Tambellini's radar.

    Effective 3rd liner with physicality. Could be a decent fit in Moreau's shoes if they were to decide to "go another way" with Ethan. Should we expect to see him back or see him moved? As good of a player & person I think Ethan is, I believe he's in the same boat as MacT. And his good buddy Steve Staios is right beside from where I sit.

    Moen & Bryan Allen are a couple names I'd throw out there as replacements for the 2 vets.

  • me

    Wow this got a lot of play.

    I am not sure why.

    Robin clearly framed it as a rumour and nothing more, he thought it had legs and it did.

    While Jason Gregor seems to have found out that Souray was or is unhappy (I wonder how much that changes now that Mactavish is gone?) and has not requested a trade. It is clear that he was unhappy and went to his agent.

    Robin wrote the blog and because of that Gregor followed it up. Most likely because he has respect to Robin's intuition and reputation.

    I don't always agree with Robin and have said so in the past but in this case I feel he did his job and now we are better informed because of it.