Oilers Nation makes the Toronto Star! Kind of!

Photo: SimonP/Wikimedia

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.

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Listen to Toronto Star tech reporter Raju Mudhar regale Oilers Nation’s Robin Brownlee with praise for catching comments made by radio jockey Dean Blundell and then transcribing them to the site:

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.

So what?

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.

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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.

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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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  • nvan97

    *Slow Clap* Completely agree with the sentiment, but, that is just another reason why the newspaper industry is dying while online sources thrive and proliferate. The competition online threatens their way of life and most newspaper fear rather than embrace. As for the consumer, it just increases the quality of writing and stories that we have access to because you cannot rest on your laurels or you will quickly become irrelevant. Who hasn’t visited a website consistently for a year or two and when it becomes stale you drop it from your rotation?

  • The industry is just bogged down with so many channels. The writer who is referencing the Brownlee post isn’t the one submitting the digital copy in all likelihood. That’s just some web editor who’s been told “oh, link to this, it’s sort of related” “create a Storify of these people” and so on.

    How much money could newspapers save if they just cut back on all that meat and focused their efforts on generating good content? I’m proud to be a part of the Nation Network because various writers create dozens of good, original pieces every day. The expectation to go in and write a news summary of something that happened four hours ago from an objective perspective that nobody will ever read doesn’t exist.

    And you keep seeing stuff like this when it’s just so easy to get right. I work really hard as a freelancer trying to get a full-time job as an online newsperson, while simultaneously watching the current group of pros just destroy online news.

    Ugh. Get me a beer. Well done Jon.

  • nvan97


    I am not sure if you ever listen to the Dan Patrick Show, or follow Deadspin.

    But they are also very much of the same opinion as you.

    Credit the source

    cite the source

    the most common used item in the US is to say “anonymous sources” that way no credit needs to be given.

    ESPN is probably the most guilty of this type of thing.

  • nvan97

    Great article… I think the print media is living in the the dark ages… They are getting further and further behind the times. Who wants to pay dearly, for news thats a day old.

    The print guys with their ” pay wall” subscriptions are out to lunch. As I said why pay
    two hundred bucks a year for yesterdays news.

    The world has gone into space, and the print guys are still mixing ink in the back room.

    The record industry ignored the future and we know how that ended.

    Oilers Nation,the best site in the hockey business.

    • My view of paywalls is this: if they work, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with charging people for quality information. If it’s the kind of measure that helps keep big newsrooms afloat, I don’t mind it at all.

      At this point, I haven’t seen evidence that the payoff in dollars offsets the loss in free readers, so I’m not convinced they work. I suspect they don’t, but the implementation of them in many places is a powerful argument that there is a financial upside for the papers employing them.

      Then again, I do have some bias; I write for the Journal’s website and my work there is behind a paywall.

      • Rocket

        I hate to sound like some proto capitalist but when it comes to paywalls, I vote with my wallet.

        I find it hard to sympathise with big media, music,TV,Film industry etc. when they seem more intent on punishing consumers instead of embracing them. What I mean is they seem to only embrace tech innovation when it’s already too late.

        Paywalls should have been embraced widely 10 years ago. That way quality could have held up but now news is easy to find free and quality writers like yourself have found other places to reach readers.

        • I get that, and I think most consumers probably feel likewise; that’s one of the reasons I’m skeptical about whether paywalls work.

          I just have trouble imagining the big chains implementing them without some sort of evidence that they work.

  • Surprised — pleasantly so — to see this item by Willis.

    While much has changed in the media business since I got out of school in the early 1980s, some rules of thumb (ethics, some people call them) are as relevant now as they were then.

    Credit sources. Use attribution when possible. Don’t try to claim somebody else’s story as your own etc. etc. That should hold true whether it’s an MSM outlet referencing an item by a “blogger” or vice-versa.

    Like Willis said, not a huge deal, but something worth noting

  • Damien Cox, that guy is an idiot. I see his name and don’t even bother to read those articles anymore. Many a times when i’ve read articles from him that were misreported, or misinformed, especially when it has to do with anything out west. Infuriating.

  • JCDavies

    Great piece Jonathan. I believe readers are becoming more knowledgeable about mainstream media business practices and that is why we are gravitating to other online sources.

    With respect to paywalls, mainstream publications are trying to raise their prices at the same time they are cutting their staff and reducing the quality of their product. It doesn’t makes sense from a business standpoint.

  • PutzStew

    The Toronto star is an eastern left wing tabloid, barely a step above then National Enquirer. Damien Cox is the poster boy for Eastern Bias bullsh*t journalism. Show em your crack, Brownlee….

  • vetinari

    Integrity and respect are something that you have to work twice as hard at to get back once it has been lost. Citing your sources gives credibility and legitimacy to both the party that you are citing and to your own paper or employer– it is the bare minimum that you should do.

    Typically, these writers are the type to generally minimize the contributions of others. Then, if the original story turns out to be bunk, these are the same people who then happily cite the original writers for the purposes of throwing them under the bus and distancing themselves from the original story.

  • RexLibris

    The newspaper industry is in a similar situation as the book publishing industry. Technology and societal response to such has changed and they are too rigid in their interpretation and implementation of a business plan to change with it.

    Even the grand-daddy of the internet-book marriage, Amazon, is guilty of this with their implementation of the Kindle and the DRM issues surrounding it.

    Society is gradually moving towards a more collaborative mode though this often strays into outright plagiarism, hence Jonathan’s astute call for attribution and ethical standards.

    However, many business models are built around a zero-sum game of taking as much market share and money as they can at the first swipe instead of leaving some money on the table to entice customers and trusting that goodwill will come back to them in time.

    Paywalls, draconian DRM guidelines, and antiquated perceptions of how things *ought* to work are all part of the problem.

    Okay, sorry for the rant. Great article, Jonathan and I couldn’t agree more.

  • RexLibris

    Good article. In the end, I wouldn’t worry too much about things like this, as irksome as they might be, since it’s become quite apparent that newspapers are becoming antique. They will need to re-invent themselves substantially (which is happening, somewhat) to continue to exist, much like (as RexLibris says) the book publishing industry.

    Flippant sourcing, I think, will do them more harm in the long run. People like clicking links to get to what the story references, and if some journalists aren’t keeping up with the times in that respect, they will be replaced by others who are more aligned with what it takes to be a good reporter (and writer).

  • Rob...

    Yet another example of the erosion of standards and ethics. Though not surprising, I appreciate the attempt to point out something wrong. Now only if we lived in a world where pointing something like this out elicited shame and triggered change, instead of eliciting hatred and a raised middle finger.

  • toprightcorner

    When I was in school, if you did not credit the source and author in any papers for both information and specific points of view it was called plagiarism! Any media that considers themselves reputable (not that I believe the Star is reputable)should be crediting any information they use to the originator, if that is the case, to simply adhere to the ethics of journalism.

    Those that do not accept and adapt to change will ultimately fail. Proof based on lost of readers.

    Robin clearly brought to light , based on information he received as well as credited, from someone who heard the radio show that up until that time had not been reported on. If not for Robin Brownlee, this writer would not have had a topic to write about. To not clearly recognize Robin on his reporting of this subject is ridiculous and down right bush league.

    But hey, what should we expect anything else from the Star who reported the Rob Ford Scandal but had no ability or desire to back it up with reputable facts.

    Last but not least, Damien Cox is an absolute moron that should not even be working in media much less as an ill informed sports writer that only wants to push his personal agenda prom his personal point of view. Th Low quality of the Star apparently hires low quality in writers. (no offence to other writes of the Star that I am not familiar with)

    Wow some riveting topics here on ON, I never comment on general news stories but have acted twice in a week by sending a letter to that moron’s boss and now commenting on the article posted on the Star. Maybe my hate for Toronto is truly surfacing! Keep up the great work!

  • Milli

    I never pay to go behind the wall and therefore there are a few sites I never go to anymore. What I have found with regards to news or sports, there are sites such as this that do a much much better job of delivering quality stories why would I pay to read say the Sun? I have also found that I am far more informed and understand more about hockey, the NHL, The Oilers etc…That said, I hope Wayne pays you guys properly, not just in left over OODLE NOODLES!

  • toprightcorner

    Nice article Willis. Thank you. I am vindicated at last.

    Dont feel bad you fellas are not alone , everyone today is a Thunder-Thief, the goddam LA Kings owe Moma2s NewAge Hockey System a Stanley Cup Ring, if Chicago loses it this year they can rewind to those nice statements their owner made on the radio about the transitional tactics they “borrowed” from the ? Oilers ?, they should have gone straight to the source the NHS and Boston would already be on the ropes, instead they tried to wing it without the real catalyst. They are lucky they got back to the right formula and ripped that Boston Blocker side to pieces for 60 minutes.

    Darkhorse owes Moma2 and NewAgeSys some fat paydays as well seeing as the NHS got the Oilers looking their way, talk about drifting someones influence, the Oilers should have hired me and the NHS 3 years ago. “Scraping” the internet for data my arse, goddam horse-thieves, just cause it aint tied up dont mean it dont belong to no one else goddammit.

    In my esteemed self-valuated superior opinion the Oilers can thank me for three years of Goddam boot-smacking them towards an Intuitive influence that manifested itself into Dallas Eakins.

    But whose going to believe me huh? Where is my share of the Credit Pie? My Cup Ring? And if the Hawks win my TWO RingS. The Book, the Videos and the Motivational Speaking Seminars, where is my personal media gravy train?? How about that TSN special on the NHLs recent and sudden evolution towards the possesion/transition high offense style Catalysed by the introduction of the NewAge Hockey System? An in depth expose into the sordid and crooked underbelly of the NHL, and the incredible story of the 3 year journey of the internet poster who against all odds single-handedly turned a Franchise around and re-invented Canadas Game for at least the next decade .

    Dont worry about it fellas, cybernews kicks arse and is already eclipsing traditional media in many ways, the methods of capitalising on websites is just not a direct form, it needs to be micro-farmed, it is still a work in progress. Be patient you will get your recognition and payday. Stay the course. Good work always produces good results. A lot of good work is done here, chin up Fellas. You are reaching a much larger audience than you may realise. Keep on giving and good things will keep on coming back to you.

    How about those Hawks huh? Nice “Tactical Shooting Program”, that – blocker side – was WIDE open, like it has been all series long. I doubt it will be next game huh? It was a solid win by the Hawks who went back to the simple but NewAge tactics that got them there. They almost fell back on tradition and buried themselves

  • BK

    As a loyal reader of OilersNation.com I appreciate this article. I would expect the writers here to uphold those values (or higher) and believe they do. To hold someone else accountable is just fine with me. Unchecked things get as crazy as a mofo up in here.