Dallas Eakins did an interview with TSN’s hockey analytics show this weekend, and the man who until recently coached the Edmonton Oilers offered an interesting perspective on the team and some of its most notable individuals. Matt Henderson put together an excellent breakdown of that interview earlier today, so I’m not going to try and recap the whole thing.
Instead, I’d like to focus on one piece of that interview, a segment which (unfortunately) should undermine public confidence in the people covering the team.
From the interview:
Bringing in [analytics consultant] Tyler [Dellow] was an interesting process on a number of fronts. Something that caught me off guard, and the first thing that came up in hiring Tyler, was – we pushed hard for it, got it through – was the local reaction from the media. It was interesting, because we announced the hire and immediately we had an email from a journalist to our PR department asking the question ‘Is anyone from the organization going to talk about the hiring of this prick?’
To some degree, this is a story about Dellow and analytics – I thought Allan Mitchell nicely covered that specific angle at his website on Monday – but to a much larger degree the individual and the subject don’t matter. This is a story about journalism and the men who cover the Oilers.
Being able to put aside bias and cover one’s subject without prejudice is absolutely essential for good journalism. Fundamentally, a journalist’s job is to find the truth and then share it with the public, or as the Society of Professional Journalists puts it to “seek truth and report it.” Journalistic bias distorts reporting the truth, and revelation of such bias should absolutely alter how the audience views the people providing the news.
The example given here is a journalist being so moved by animus that he was reduced to a personal attack on one of the people he covers in an official communication with the organization that employs that individual. That action raises several key questions. Can the journalist in question be relied upon to report fairly and accurately on the individual he’s insulting, as well as the various people within the organization who support that individual? Moreover, can that journalist be trusted to report fairly, accurately and without bias on the various players, coaches and managers he interacts with as part of his job?
In my view, the answer to both questions is ‘no.’ That journalist can’t be trusted to objectively report on Dellow, because his bias is so pronounced that it’s colouring the way he gathers information, which necessarily colours the way he reports. And if he’s allowing his personal bias to affect his coverage of one individual, there’s absolutely no reason to trust that bias won’t also influence his coverage of others.
Such a loss of perspective is embarrassing for the individual, embarrassing for the outlet that employs him and embarrassing for the Edmonton hockey media in general. It absolutely should alter the way the audience reads stories; at the end of the day the most important thing a journalist has is his reputation for finding the truth and sharing it with the public.
On the other hand, it’s a good reminder. When a reporter covering the Oilers – for any organization, given that the individual in question isn’t known – says something that isn’t public knowledge, it’s important to question bias. If it’s reported that Player X isn’t performing well in practice, it’s sadly necessary to ask whether or not the journalist reporting the story has personal feelings for or against Player X. When it’s reported that Player Y’s making unrealistic contract demands, it’s sadly necessary once again to ask whether the reporter in question has personal feelings for or against Player Y that are influencing his coverage.
Ideally, every individual covering the team would have high ethical standards and a proven track record of covering the club without fear or favour. Unfortunately in Edmonton that’s only true for some.
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