One Last Thing

Hornet Nest

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.

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Mea Culpa

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.

The Message

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.

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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.


  • Petrolero

    You may not see it now Jonathan, but what you have done with your petty piece, and this even worse follow up (it is not an apology, you’re just saying “i’m sorry but i’m still right”), to the blogging community by making mountains out of ant hills and preaching about things that are not here nor there (as one comment earlier said, this kind of integrity you talk about is for reporting on serious issues like science and war and such, not sports) is going to undo a lot of the good work that people like yourself had done over the years to bring credibility to non MSM. You basically threw away reason and went on a rant centered on what amounts to gossip. Sports journalism is built around bias and speculation, not around investigative journalism. People in the business build their careers around speculating.

    You claimed to take up the flag of righteousness and following good journalistic practices but you yourself didn’t bother to follow rule number one of journalism: fact checking.

    Now you have killed part of your own credibility as well as that of sports bloggers everywhere, because a lot of folks put stock on what you write and you just gave them this message board nonsense.

  • 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.

    That may apply when discussing black hole theory or the physics required for time travel, but I’ll give sports reporting a pass.

    Step 1: Taking sports media a WHOLE lot less seriously. It’s entertainment for crying out loud.

    • Romulus' Apotheosis

      It’s systemic and pervasive and problematic IMO.

      The same chumminess and lack of standards is what gives you the Katz’ era Oilers handing out jobs without bothering to open positions up to free and fair competition.

      • Keep on believing that a small group of hard core fans have any say at all with regard to how a billionaire runs his team. The constant angst makes a good bedfellow I bet.

        If you want to paint your house purple and some dude off the street comes up to the door to tell you to paint it beige, are you going to give him the time of day?

        Doesn’t matter what we think. Katz will run the team as he sees fit. He’s done far better in his business life than any of us and he’s earned the right to do as he pleases with HIS team. The false notion that fans somehow have any ownership or say at all in a market where there’s 2,000 people on the waiting list for season tickets is pretty ballsy if you ask me.

        • Romulus' Apotheosis

          I’m not sure where I claimed fans had any say in how Katz runs his team.

          And, clearly you are correct. Katz’ successful operation of a pharmaceutical company absolves him of any and all criticism of his hockey team.

          Moreover, because he’s the owner and gets to make all the decisions it is pointless and ballsy to offer criticism. Nevermind that the logical extension of this idea is that criticism is both pointless and ballsy in essentially all circumstances.

          • Criticize all you want if it floats your boat.

            All I’m saying is moaning on blog sites about something completely out of your control comes across as self serving in the broader sense. Not speaking directly to you but this narrative that bloggers like to reinforce as guardians of the righteous fan is kind of silly.

            I get it. The team sucks and some of you have opinions about how it should or should not be run. I got it the first time. After 59,657 iterations it just becomes a support group of people taking things FAR more serious than they really are.

          • Romulus' Apotheosis

            I encourage you to take your own advice.

            I think the rest can keep perspective on the place hockey holds in daily life, while also using their spare time to think about their hobbies.

      • MacTastic

        Strongly agree with this. At an administrative level the chumminess, lack of standards, and blurred boundaries are perhaps the most identifiable traits of the Oilers organization.

        Fans (all tiers) deserve much better after the last decade of ineptitude. And in fairness to writers on this blog, I have seen this message spoken repeatedly here by several writers.

  • Corsi Cowboy

    I just read the article you wrote which you are now apologizing for, or backpeddling from. My question is, “why would you care if a journalist or blogger emailed Oilers PR and called someone a Prick”?

    You sound very insecure.

  • @S_2_H

    No, you got it right. Edmonton sports media is largely a joke. That comment to Oilers PR confirmed it. You do good work, never mind the bollocks. I don’t rate MacKinnon or Rishaug.

    • I really appreciate the questions they ask at pressers in particular. I’ve lost track of the number of times Rishaug (and it’s not just Rishaug; I just don’t want to get into listing names) has asked a question I wanted answered, and of course MacKinnon asked some beauties at the presser bringing in Craig MacTavish as G.M.

  • Aitch

    Well said Willis. Everybody’s mad at something/one these days. And often it only takes one misplaced/poorly chosen/misspelled word to send the masses into hysteria.

    The headline did grab my attention, but once I was finished reading the article, it didn’t seem as damning. Good on ya for defending it, but for me, the piece spoke for itself.

    Fact is, in sports reporting, I expect a little bias – towards the home team. But when person-to-person biases start to creep in, that’s when I lose respect. It’s no different than when some fans blindly chant “Fire Lowe” when they don’t even know what he’s responsible for anymore.

  • Burnward

    I guess it kind of boils down to what’s “on the record” and “off the record.”

    Although in theory there is no such thing as “off the record.” That’s not the case.

    To violate someone else’s private “off the record” remarks/thoughts comes off as self-serving.

    To frame it as MSM vs bloggers is kind of blowing it up a bit, IMO.

    I do respect your opinion though JW.

  • Big red ginger snap

    It’s funny that MSM gets there backs up over this when everyone knows it’s the truth. Anything I hear from Edmonton’s sports media is taken with a grain of salt because usually it’s B.S

  • Big red ginger snap

    Blogs about bloggers are the best blogs!

    Jonothan, could you do a blog about what its like to blog about the blogs that bloggers blog?

    But seriously, you’re by far the best writer on the site and always a great radio guest with Lowetide. This whole debate is a load of BS, and I don’t think you or Archaeologuy have done anything wrong. Keep it up and don’t let the big boys push you around too much!

    • From my perspective, and that is also from the perspective of a blogger and as a fan, is that your premise was absolutely correct.

      The trust I have of a lot of people’s work has very much eroded because of the way they conduct themselves as they do their job. It is also difficult NOT to lump people together based on who they support vocally.

      When ranks close in around people who are found to be doing poor work or are obviously unable to keep their personal issues separate from the people/topics they cover then everybody who defends them become lumped in with them.

      All of the members of the Media who are angry with that message, I should hope, can take some time and reflect on the simple fact that a great many readers/listeners/viewers see things the same way you do. Why is that? What do we do to prevent a loss of trust? How can we regain what we’ve lost? These are questions that should be asked in self reflection.

      Nobody likes having their integrity challenged, but I think it’s high time the way SOME people go about their business is discussed and corrected.

      Instead of lashing out at the few who are willing to say there’s a problem, there should be an open discussion about fixing it.

      Just my 2 cents as a guy who also took heat for even mentioning the problem exists.

    • Big red ginger snap

      I don’t care if you’re a blogger or a journalist. I respect the heck out of you exponentially more now for the fact fhat you actually wrote a second piece to explain your words in the hopes to clear up confusion and to calm an fires.

      Too often I see bloggers or “journalists” write pieces on the Internet and create an unnecessary fire storm.

      Appreciate the clarification JW!

  • Corsi Cowboy


    Despite some of my previous criticisms, I think you’re a very good writer and offer a unique perspective with a lot of value. I just wish you wouldn’t feel the need to write a piece defending Tyler Dellow every single time a story comes out about somebody ripping on him. We know he can’t respond. Who cares? Dellow is a smart dude who made a ton of enemies by acting like a jack ass on twitter (there’s no denying that). It doesn’t change the fact that he’s a leader in the analytics field. MC79HOCKEY spent years shredding media types and acting like a “prick” to everyone on twitter with a differing opinion then his. He deserves everything he gets (although I do find the cheap shots the media takes at him extremely petty).

    Defending Dellow and knocking those that take cheap shots at him comes off as defensive and insecure. Why stoop to their level? You know they’re just trying to get a response out of you. My personal opinion is that you should focus on writing quality articles about hockey. I think you’ll get much further in this business that way.

    But what do I know?

  • BlazingSaitls

    I didn’t care about the MSM/blogger aspect at all. I just thought it a dumb idea to bring up that garbage quote.

    Eakins went for a bike vacation/vision quest in Arizona and came back more resentful and willing to point fingers.

    He should of accepted his firing and wondered off quietly into the night; to possibly return coaching again. Instead his true colors came to the fore and he’ll probably never coach in the NHL again.

  • And therein lies the difference between sites like this and the mainstream media: mainstream has to vet information and run it through cautions and liabilities because mainstream is tied to that and understands the long-term ramifications of working with and being tied to situations, companies, etc.

    This is not a slight against this excellent site. It simply spells out the difference. Even at that this site is far closer to mainstream media than most blog sites, hence the mild irony.

  • Burnward

    The Oilers have too much direct control over how they are reported. Stauffer (who is probably the most aired and quoted reporter covering the team)is essentially an Oilers PR man and the public slapping of Mark Spector last year made it pretty clear that reporting anything but rosy lies about the six ring circus was going to be met with hostility. The Oilers are diverting energy to fighting a PR war with the locals when they should be 100% focused on the on ice product. Put a winning team on the ice for a few seasons and the only media the Oilers will get negative press from are the guys in Calgary and Vancouver. Right now, those two groups of media are the biggest fans that the current management group have.

  • Burnward

    So reporters got angry that we may take their work with a grain of salt? “Official reporters” took on a “blogger” (who is also a reporter if I’m not mistaken) because he called out an unidentified reporter for his bias, and ultimately tried to keep reporters accountable?

    Sounds like Edmonton sports media has been hanging out a bit too much with Eakins the last year and a half…

    Journal writers should note that I read more about the Oilers on this site than I do on the Journal website.

  • Corsi Cowboy

    @ JonathanWillis

    What strikes me as the most funny thing of all is I couldn’t even imagine this site running if this team wasn’t as pathetic as it was. I think all who contribute, read and comment on the site can all make a toast to that. Cheers to this disgrace of an NHL club we all can’t turn away from. For you always keep us talking with your incessant boobery.