I wrote a piece yesterday on Dallas Eakins’ comments in a Saturday interview on TSN, and it was a little like kicking a hornet’s nest. That doesn’t bother me, but what does bother me is that it turned into Round 3,000 of Bloggers vs. the MSM.
That wasn’t my intent, but it is to a large degree my fault.
I know we come here to talk about hockey much more than we do to talk about the media covering hockey, so this will be my last word on the subject but I thought it was important to clarify a few things.
- First and foremost: There are a lot of good journalists covering the Oilers. My headline yesterday came across as lumping the whole group together; that was never what I meant to do but I should have realized that given my background and the fact that I’m not based in Edmonton it was going to seem like a blogger sewering the whole establishment. That’s my fault, and I’m sorry.
- A number of people reached out to me, publicly and privately, to let me know that was a mistake. We’ll leave the private conversations private, but both TSN’s Ryan Rishaug and the Journal’s John MacKinnon challenged me publicly on Twitter over parts of the piece they felt misrepresented the story, and both raised valid objections. Rishaug in particular noted the way the headline came across; MacKinnon questioned whether the word “prick” was actually used in the email. Those are both fair comments, which doesn’t surprise me given the source; both routinely do excellent work.
- There are plenty of others who also routinely do exceptional work. I don’t say that enough; I sometimes take the good for granted but object to the negatives.
- Several people have also told me that part of the problem is the relationship between the Oilers’ PR department and the media is informal, and the comment should be considered in that context. That’s a pretty critical bit of mitigating detail which didn’t appear in the original piece; when communication is relaxed it’s a lot easier for someone to forget that they’re talking with someone in an official capacity.
The amount of hostility to the piece shouldn’t have surprised me, because I should have realized how it came across. That’s my fault, and again I’m sorry.
There’s a really weird split in terms of reaction to the piece, though; while pretty much everyone in the media I’ve talked to has taken it negatively, the split has been almost reversed in emails, social media and the comments section on this site. The reason for that, I think, is that there really is a credibility problem between the media covering the team and the audience.
I said yesterday that we all suffer when standards slip and we all benefit when we hold ourselves to high standards in the area of objectivity. I meant it. I may be mistaken, I may see things in a different light than my audience, but at the end of the day my work should convince my audience that what I am writing is what I fully believe to be the whole truth, regardless of my personal feelings for the people involved. But when you have a journalist incapable of even feigning a lack of bias in an official communication with a team staffer it erodes the credibility of everyone, including myself, because it tells the audience that not only are we biased but we’ve given up even trying to look past our own partiality.
That can’t be acceptable.
That’s why I wrote what I did yesterday, and that’s why I’m writing this today. The way the headline on my original piece was worded, it was possible to say ‘look at that blogger and that axe he’s grinding’; that can’t be the overriding message to come out of this and I’m apologizing above because I don’t want it to be.
In some ways I’m very much the wrong person to be saying this; I’m an outsider, I’m a blogger, not a beat reporter and it’s easy to frame this as a skirmish between opposed forces. But the thing is that somebody has to say it. I read as much coverage of the Oilers as anybody and when I read it I don’t want to know that the writer agrees with my point of view or espouses my beliefs. I just want to know that he’s making an honest effort to report what he believes to be the truth. Judging by the reaction from fans of the team, I’m very much not alone in that sentiment.
I regret the headline; in places I regret the tone. I don’t have any regret over the basic idea that the audience has every right to expect the media to do its level best to maintain impartiality.