You can’t trust *some of* the people who cover the Edmonton Oilers

Dallas Eakins 19

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.

The Quote

Journalist1

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.

RECENTLY BY JONATHAN WILLIS

  • elgruntus

    So everyone is lathered up regarding comments Eakins made about some Stat nerd……..this is wonderful is it not? Eakins has us talking about something totally different when in fact we should be rejoicing that he is no longer coach!

    As I have stated right from the start, Eakins was the problem ( so did many others here at ON) and many professional writers did not agree………some would call that a bias, as was my assessment.

    We are all biased, that’s what makes it fun to come to this site……..if we were not life would be boring. There are no absolutes in life, everything is a shade of grey ……so let’s celebrate our biases.

  • Justincredible

    Would it be considered biased if a writer wrote more about someone’s short comings, than their positives?

    If I for example was a writer that didn’t like Dellows, and when I wrote about him, I tended to reference how poorly the oilers have been with his help. Even though I have all the facts and numbers to back me up, is it my responsibility to avoid writing negative articles about him, simply because I don’t like the guy?

    At what point is something biased? Is it the point when someone can prove it? Is it the point that you realize you don’t like someone?

    It’s a pretty blury line that I am sure gets crossed almost everytime someone writes an article whether they know it or not.

  • elgruntus

    I have a fancy stat for you: teams that recently hired high-profile analytics guys are losing more than teams without. I think they call that a WOWY stat.

    • That’s a ridiculous take. The teams that did it were bottom wrung teams to begin with and hired analytics people to assist in pulling their teams out of the basement.

      Kyle Dugas and Tyler Dellow were respected enough to earn a pay cheque and credibility from NHL executives. They deserved it.

      Teams used to win with smoking, drinking between periods, superstars who have had more knee surgeries than birthdays, and players who couldn’t skate backwards.

      The game has changed, the understanding of the game has changed. Opinion be damned, there are fans who will come to appreciate the analytics and their value to the sport, and there are those who love Nascar cuz of the ‘splosions.

    • v4ance

      The other factor is that the teams that recently hired analytics guys are playing catchup to teams that were doing analytics for years. Teams like Chicago or San Jose or NJ… successful teams who had a lead and are maintaining it with more wins now.

      Toronto and Edmonton are struggling but they also both had major flaws. Carlyle & Horacek can’t coach worth a damn and Edmonton can’t seem to find a goaltender who doesn’t belong in the AHL.

      • camdog

        So what your saying is advanced stats are what the losers are using to try to improve. Kinda like putting training wheels on for a kid that can’t ride a bike

    • jonnyquixote

      Quality of shot, quality of goalie, quality of shooter, quality of the screen in front, quality of 1000 diffrent things can’t be summer up by corsi.

      Hockey isn’t an extremely calculable game. Sure advanced stats can be used, but they certainly can’t be relied on.

  • Justincredible

    So the guy (Dellow) by all accounts IS a prick. What’s wrong with calling a spade a spade. Do we have to be a bubble wrap society about everything? This is hardly news worthy and not worth…..uh……um “reporting”!

    • camdog

      prick (merriam) – “a spiteful or contemptible man often having some authority”

      By making this a public storyline some would say that Eakins is a prick.

  • Death Metal Nightmare

    it’d be great if objective journalism actually mattered more than a shined turd for covering the mundane events of a sport.

    these peoples jobs are about reporting on a MULTI-MILLION DOLLAR, MOSTLY MALE _SOAP_OPERA_.

    re-read that a few times and see if the absurdity fist punches your face into an epiphany.

  • jonnyquixote

    I’m glad to see this article in this site. I wish something like it appeared a while back when there was a legit question (not conclusion) about bias towards Nail Yakupov by Mark Spector and other journalists, and Robin Brownlee wrote an article that I would describe as dismissive if not “ranks closing.”

    I hope the impetus for this piece truly is a realization of the need for journalistic integrity and self-reflection by the media members covering this or any team and not just a flag being picked up now that it is a convenient way to protect a “brother.”

  • THIS DELLOW GUY SEEMS PRETTY SMART TO ME

    If you google “Tyler Dellow Sportsnet” you get a bunch of articles written by Dellow when he worked there. Some of the titles:

    “Predators Did Well to Wait On Ribiero, Roy”, 6 months ago.

    “Iginla’s Age a Story, But the Wrong One” [predicting a serious drop off in Iginla’s production], 7 months ago.

    “Nikita Nikitin a Poor Signing by Oilers” [I am not making that up], 7 months ago.

    “Dealing Thornton Would Set Sharks Back”, 7 months ago.

    This fellow seems pretty astute.

    As for “Prickgate” I am hearing now that “prick” may not have been the exact word used. Would the journalist have to apologize if the word was “jackass”? How about “dummy”? “Fool”? “Jerk”?

  • I’m sorry Jon, but suggesting this reflects negatively on others is a major reach.

    Everyone of your articles is biased. You are very pro analytics. You base all your opinions on those stats, and are very biased in it.

    You have stated Marincin is NHL ready based solely on analytics. You ignore the fact his own coaches in the NHL and AHL say he needs to improve in many key situations in his own zone.

    Saying one email to the PR staff impacts all media people makes no sense, and it is about as accurate as saying Marincin is proven NHL ready based solely on analytics.

    And by saying we can’t trust some of them, then I can say we shouldn’t trust you based on your obvious bias towards analytics. They don’t tell the entire story.

  • So just to be clear on the article. Someone is biased because of a word in a personal email they sent into oilers pr? Nothing to do with their actual work, just that they must be biased because of that personal email?

  • Eakins was a cancer to the Oilers, and he should ‘fess up to what he did to set the team back another 2 seasons. His grandiose “swarm” system, his defense only and his removal of donuts making sure everyone ate plums and poppy seed shows him up for the incompetent he is. Any half decent professional in the NHL would admit they failed and not pass the buck. Everyone embellishes their resume to a certain extent, he obviously blew his own trumpet so hard that MacT was blindsided by this guys ego and conviction that he was the answer to everything. All I can say now is “buyer beware,” avoid him like the plague, unless of course Calgary or Vancouver want him.

  • Hall for President

    I don’t see what all the fuss is about. Anyone who followed Dellow on twitter would agree he can be very condescending. Or to put it another way, he’s a bit of a prick. His knowledge of stats and his personality are totally separate, so I’m not sure what the big deal is. Just because the author of the email obviously doesn’t like his personality doesn’t mean he is biased towards his work.

  • Hall for President

    Willis, I agree with your opinions 90% of the time. This article is the other 10%. For an analytical dude you sure have some interesting conspiracy theories.

  • Hall for President

    How is this a surprise to anyone? Think back to how bad some of the “highly respected” team scribes treated players in their “objective” articles over the past decade. Most of the long standing MSM in town have been biased for a long time and not really worth reading. I have not missed it. There are plenty of blogs and other media types that provide better analysis or stories about what is happening with the team.

  • M22

    Wow. What a lot of opinions; what a lot of thought that went into this article, and all of these comments. Everyone that eager to opine on what amounts to bugger all? Someone said someone else is a prick? Oh my! And it wasn’t said publicly so that all could hear, and then give their ever-so-valuable take on such a travesty?

    Willis’ job is not to give his opinions. His job is to cause people to want people to express theirs. To that end, he’s done a helluva job. Because, this whole “prick-gate” thing is really small-time. This is how desperate we Oiler fans are to talk about something other than how bad the team is, and who’s to blame for it.

  • M22

    I see you and gregor got in a skiff over this article today on Twitter. I know gregor is part of msm, but I sure hope a guy that’s education is only Radio and Broadcasting from NAIT doesn’t include himself as a Journalist. That’s like saying you’re a dentist cause you know how to brush your teeth.

  • Petrolero

    Anyone who consumes media has to assume everything they read is tinged with personal bias. Sports journalism especially is essentially an editorial format. They’re not reporting on terrorist activity in Syria. It’s hockey. Generally in sports reporting the man or woman with the most entertaining personal bias wins. It’s no secret the MSM in Edmonton were for the most part not fans of Tyler Dellow and if one of the local scribes wrote a scathing piece about Dellow it would fit nicely into the narrative of a little thing called reality. Considering he and his champion Dallas Eakins hid behind improving underlying numbers as the losses mounted. “Look at these numbers! The turnaround is coming!” And they were right. Things did turn around. Right after they were sent out the door with their big binders under their arm.

  • Alex87

    I wasn’t aware that anyone still trusted today’s “journalists”. As if anyone at TSN or sportsnet cares about integrity. They employ mouth pieces that get ratings and make dollars. That’s it.

  • Alex87

    I still respect you Willis, and rate you tops on articles as pretty well everyone else does.

    I am quite frankly getting sick of the jeanshorts/baggedmilk bs posts.

    I am challenging you on your stance, but at least you are putting forth an actual discussion, and not the random dribble your ON site rep entertains himself with.

    I honestly appreciate your opinion, and how you answer the responses without condescending your viewers. That goes a long way in keeping respect from the people that read your blogs.

  • Alex87

    Is it bias journalism if someone ignores the improvements a team is making, and they belittle them as the wrong move because they “think” the team should lose for a draft pick?

  • Alex87

    Ask Baggedmilk and his neck tumor Jeanshorts about the state of the oilers, and they will both say they are screwing up by getting points.

    If your try to have a discussion about the merits of producing momentum for the rest of the year to become better the next, you will get a brick wall response that failure is the way to go about it.

  • BlazingSaitls

    Reading analytics instead of watching the game is like trying marrying someone on Match.com because of their awesome profile picture. It’s ridiculous and hilarious how all these teams that have hired analytics “experts” are bottom dwellers this year. Edmonton and Toronto, NJD and Edmonton to name a few off the top of my head are garbage.

    What happened to actually watching the game? Analytics only say so much, it can’t measure the important traits like compete, quality shots/saves and intangibles!

    Never want to hear a word from Dellow again. Hope he sinks back into irrelevance.

  • sounds like there’s some discrepancy here from an outgoing coach and what may have been actually said…PS When Dellow speaks i turn the radio down very very low….IM a fan and i don’t need that kinda negativity and bias ripping up my fave team….