Wednesday, November 17, 2010

McKenzie, Cox, and the Difference Between Bloggers and Journalists

Harrison touched on Damien Cox's recent words regarding Tyler Dellow and his blog. These comments received some backlash, as many thought he was being somewhat harsh. Cox has since deleted the tweets and issued a retraction. Still, his comments managed to stir the pot with the tired, old debate about a blogger's role in the hockey writers' community. The debate, as I said just a second ago, is tired and old, but recent events have required that the dead horse be given one more hard kick in the name of holding "real" journalists accountable.

The story about the Colin Campbell e-mails has shown not only bloggers' potential for great journalism, but actual "journalists'" potential for shoddy disappointment.

Bloggers haven't been given a fair shake. We're more than "web/twitter groupies," as Damien Cox called us. While it'd be fair to say individual bloggers reach fewer people than individual sportswriters, bloggers do have a great deal of influence, as Tyler Dellow's blog showed. The reaction to his blog was instantaneous. He essentially broke a story that TSN, CBC and others had to comment on. That's big. No one can realistically say that Greg Wyshynski isn't a big voice in the hockey world. Still, even he doesn't give himself enough credit. He said this a couple hours ago on his live chat:

"I think we're more like entertainment writers. That isn't to say we're not journalists. It's to say the guys who roll up their sleeves and start preaching about hard-nosed reporting are talking about covering a form of entertainment -- not Afghanistan."

He's right on both counts -- he's writing about a form of entertainment, and that doesn't mean he's not a journalist. While his blog is more editorial than news, he still holds himself to a standard of factual consistency. He's been known to fix any mistake he makes. This is what journalists are supposed to do.

Journalists are supposed to be better than bloggers. I can see right now a bunch of comments telling me that isn't necessarily true, and they'd be right, but it's supposed to be true. I can happily say that I think over 100 people read my comments on the Colin Campbell emails. Bob McKenzie and Damien Cox have thousands upon thousands of readers. They should be held to a higher standard.

Edit: a portion of this article has been removed due to its inaccuracy regarding newspaper headlines and who is responsible for writing them. It has been fixed based on comments and criticisms we have received.

It's clear from his tweets that Damien Cox believes in a higher standard:

"All this 'news' abt Colin Campbell and internal NHL emails was reported months ago by The Star's Rob Cribb" "Cribb did a series of stories. Did background reported. Also asked Campbell for comment. That's called journalism."

But journalism also includes investigative reporting of the sort Tyler Dellow did, when he uncovered and investigated the e-mails nine months later. It was a lucky find, but what he did with it was both journalistic and skilfully so.

Dellow could only do this because the information was public. Rob Cribb could have done it nine months ago. And unlike Cribb, Tyler Dellow probably couldn't call Colin Campbell for comment and expect him to respond. Journalists have the name recognition and the widespread readership that allows them access to the people they cover, and yet they squander this by merely calling for quotes rather than doing real investigative work. Cox, your thoughts?

"It's an interesting comment on these media times, including the fact some 'bloggers' are twisting this to suggest the 'main stream media' is out to protect the establishment and figures in power. Why these people weren't outraged and up in arms when Cribb was writing his stories and The Star was publishing them is unclear. If you employ the logic of the bloggers, their silence was evidence that they were the ones protecting the establishment."

Is it really unclear why the people weren't up in arms when Cribb wrote his stories, Cox? Here, let me help: his stories didn't demonstrate that Colin Campbell clearly had a grudge against Marc Savard and that he was taking an active role in decisions regarding those who referee his son's games.

Journalists have a massive influence and therefore a massive responsibility to their readers. They must know the facts and be clear in their reporting of them so readers finish their articles being more informed than they were before. To borrow a phrase, "That's called journalism."

If Colin Campbell is returning your call, and not mine, then I expect you to adhere to a higher standard than I do, and when you fail, you offend me and everyone else who would love to have your job and do it better. When it comes down to it, a sportswriter's job isn't based on his hockey knowledge. Most sportswriters don't know more about sports statistics, rules and history than the average diehard fan, and the information is readily available to anyone with google. The sportscasters watch the same games we do. The thing that sets sports reporters apart is supposed to be their ability to communicate clearly and their journalistic experience. When they fall down on that job, they're cheapening the profession. Not everyone can go to Afghanistan to write a three-part story on the war, poverty and terrorism, but any sports fan can watch a hockey game and report the score.

That's why it's infuriating to see a paid professional sports writer who doesn't know the difference between compliment and complement. It's why it bothers me so much to see bad, over-used headline puns on the TSN front page. And it's why it broke my heart to see Bob McKenzie say something that wasn't true, and then make no correction when it was pointed out to him.

Bob McKenzie's take on the Colin Campbell e-mails was wrong on many levels. It addressed the wrong issue of the Savard-Cooke hit and lack of suspension, and Campbell's role in issuing suspensions. He never addressed the issue of Colin Campbell using his influence to protect his son from referees.

Worse, he was factually incorrect:

"As for the emails, [...] nothing was ever acted on, that we're aware of, because the referees that Colin Campbell complained about to Walkom, they're still working in the National Hockey League."

His argument was that these e-mails weren't a big deal, because they didn't lead to anyone's firing. As I've said before, these e-mails were used as evidence to show why Dean Warren was fired. In other words, it's the official position of the NHL that, contrary to McKenzie's assertions, the e-mails were acted on and resulted in the firing of Dean Warren, which is a very big deal.

In the blog post I originally made, I made a factual error, as well. No one messaged me about it, but when reading Tyler Dellow's follow-up, I realized I'd made an error and went back to fix it. Bob McKenzie, on the other hand, has had days to fix his error, and has several people informing him of it, including myself, and has failed to make any kind of correction.

I've always loved Bob McKenzie, but he should know better. He pointed out in a tweet today that he follows Canadian Press style. That's great. But if you're going to boast about following the same stylistic rules as the collective of Canadian journalists, can't you follow the same journalistic principles when it comes to making sure you don't accidentally misinform people, and that you issue a correction whenever you become aware of your mistake? Sadly, this whole issue has been eye-opening for me. If Bob McKenzie isn't going to behave like a real journalist, why should I take him more seriously than, say, Matthew Barnaby, who's at least played the game in the NHL?

To a degree, I understand. Bill Daly chose to speak to TSN about the Colin Campbell e-mails first. That's a big scoop for TSN, and you don't want to bite the hand that feeds you. That said, if a few early quotes are the price of your journalistic integrity, there wasn't much to begin with.

The point? I've given two examples of bloggers who were acting more like journalists than the real thing. Rob Cribb, Damien Cox and sadly, Bob McKenzie have fallen down on the job. It's bloggers like Tyler Dellow who have done the actual investigative work, and it saddens me that the real journalists aren't willing to show the same journalistic integrity and discipline.


  1. We should give a little credit to Damien Cox and Bob McKenzie. I don't know if they meant to, but they definitely got both of us up off our butts in order to plant our butts and write incensed articles about them. Not too far apart, either.

    Part of me wonders if they do it on purpose.

  2. Did you edit the picture to get it right? Thank you. I struggled with that. I'm impatient with pictures after spending so much time pouring my soul out.

    You're right, though. I've written two admittedly verbose blogs this week that I'm quite proud of. That's saying a lot. That said, they need to do their jobs better. I posted a list of questions that need to be asked of the NHL front office. Guys like McKenzie have the power to ask them directly, but instead avoid ruffling feathers. It's maddening.

  3. Yeah. I saw you fighting with the pic. My rule of thumb is put it to the left if it's longer than it is wide.

    I think you hit the nail on the head. Our problem, I think, is that we don't have the access to ask the questions we want asked. So we trust these guys to ask them for us. When they don't, it's a major frustration.

    It's time to get credentialed, Qris.

  4. Bob McKenzie responded to this on his Twitter account in a couple of connected tweets.

    "I am not sure who you or Qris is exactly and I will hate myself in the morning for even feeding you, but here's my response: / The referees I referred to are Pochmarra and Van Massenhoven. They are still employed by the NHL after the Campbell emails. / I know Warren was fired. Duh. Warren was fired by NHL for cause and OLRB upheld firing. That's not the issue with the emails. / If u or Qris or anyone who has a real name wants to challenge my work as factually inaccurate, u will have to do better job."

    Deal with THAT, Qris. You've been called out.

  5. "That's not the issue with the e-mails"? Am I missing something? I am pretty positive that Qris hit the nail on the head and his article clearly outlines the largest issue with those e-mails. Also, I'm no journalist, but shouldn't Bob have said "I am not sure who you or Qris ARE" rather than "is"? I'm not going to challenge credibility, but I'm definitely going to call out his grammar. Also, I'm aware that Twitter gives you a limited number of characters for tweets, but replacing words like "for" and "you" with "4" and "u" is for pop princess, not credible journalists.

  6. Now we're just being nitpicky, Jason.

    Good eye. Maybe our next article will be a finicky little piece about Bob's history of verbal abuse (and by verbal abuse, I mean, abuse of verb tense).

    I kid.

  7. Qris, I removed the paragraph about tweeting Bob to tell him he's wrong after he told me he found that unprofessional. Just a heads up.

  8. As I think someone said on twitter, print journalists rarely write their own headlines, and (in my experience) often spend a good deal of time complaining about them.

    That said, I think you've highlighted a lot of the issues with this whole mess, especially regarding the different nature of the two pieces. Does it kind of suck that hockey fans care a lot more about the possibility of their teams being penalized unfairly than that of an individual non-player losing his job for a bad reason? Yeah, maybe, but it's not exactly unexpected. There are thousands of people invested in the career of Marc Savard, and not so many invested in the career of Dean Warren. That Cribb failed to write the mass-appeal story is either a flaw in his journalistic work, or a testament to his interest in unglamorous labour issues.

    Also "anyone who has a real name" is a pretty silly complaint to make on, you know, the internet. It's kind of expected from Damian Cox is all his terrible glory, but it's depressing to hear from sane people. Handles aren't about anonymity, they're about identification - Bob McKenzie has the privilege of being the famous Bob McKenzie, but all the other Bob McKenzies in the world are not the "real" one and need screennames. I imagine he'd object more if they just went around using the same name as him.

    Anyway yeah. Do we need a #teamPITB hashtag yet?

    (You are probably right to play it safe about the paragraph you removed, but on the other hand, I don't think that's unprofessional. It's a work account, not a personal one; if you'd posted his phone number, it would have been an issue. Isn't the whole point of the mainstream media supposed to be that they're accountable? Not to us, though - just to corporations.)

    (sorry for the wall-o-text.)

  9. No worries about the removal of that paragraph. If I'd been home for the responses I'd have done the same.

    As I don't have a twitter, my response:

    The two referees you were referring to were referenced in only one e-mail. The bulk of the published e-mails regarded Dean Warren. They were part of the case the NHL brought to show cause for firing Warren. Thus, to say "nothing was ever acted on" is patently untrue. To seize upon one e-mail that didn't result in a termination doesn't mean that these e-mails didn't affect anyone. Thus, not only the details of the argument, but the argument itself was wrong.

  10. I think I just felt bad for offending McKenzie for real. I'm more than willing to make a revision if somebody feels personally slighted.

    Unlike Cox, who came online last night only to incite, we really just want to write well and talk about hockey. PITB has no intention of offending people, and every intention of treating people with respect. Even people we disagree with.

  11. In fact, I should just write a response. This is too long.

  12. Yeah, I need to include an apology somewhere in here. I'm going to go ahead and write an article and leave it in drafts -- your call whether to post or send the salient details in twitter. Or leave it alone entirely.

  13. It's posts like this that make the real bloggers a joke...Wysh is not a blogger..he's mainstream. Sorry. You say journalists are supposed to be better than bloggers, but you want to be given a fair shake? And writers don't write their headliens for newspapers. weak. C'mon Man!

  14. Anonymous, Wysh is definitely a blogger. He's a professional, but he's a blogger.

    That said, he's also mainstream. Wysh is a blogger that crossed over like Casper the friendly ghost.

  15. The "Hockey Insider" should be the man to ask these questions, especially with the access he has to the people. The onus should not be on you guys to be more professional than the professionals.

    P.S. I loved McKenzie's use of the word "duh" as well as calling you out for having a screen name.

    PITB is quickly becoming required reading each day for me, keep it up guys!

  16. ...exactly. He's accountable.

  17. K Harrison, you can check the drafts for my response. Your call what to do with it, as this definitely affects PitB PR.

  18. To clarify for Anonymous:

    Yes, journalists should be better than bloggers. Even if all other things were equal, journalists have the ability to actually interview sources, and have access to research teams that we don't. Journalists have access to paid copy-editors, as well. I'm not saying journalists are smarter, I'm saying, given their better resources, and given that they're paid a lot more than bloggers (who usually aren't paid at all), their work should be of a higher quality.

    And it's true that writers don't come up with their own headlines, often. My bad, I should have included other instances of bad journalism in the writing, like the first sentence:

    "NHL vice-president Colin Campbell strategized the firing of official Dean Warren in a series of often profane emails in 2006 and 2007."

    According to the lede, Dean Warren's firing was all the plan of Colin Campbell, set forth in the e-mails. I've been arguing that they were a major factor, but even I wouldn't simplify things that far. It's just not true.

  19. Journalists do not write headlines, editors do, and they do so to make it sexier. For someone claiming to be a blogger-journalist who strives for factual correctness, you failed on this one.
    Other than that, keep up the good blogging/journalism, I generally think you do a good job.

    p.s., last post was deleted because of typos, I'm new to commenting.

  20. Hey Graeme. A couple people mentioned this mistake. It's been fixed.

    Thankfully, the article continues to stand on its argument without that portion.

  21. You guys should be aware that there are still a couple references to Cribb having written the headline, even in the edited post.

  22. Ah, I found it.

    I mean, I don't know WHAT you're talking about.

    Nobody point out anything else.

  23. To be fair to Robert Cribb, he is not really a sports reporter. He is a general investigative journalist who uncovered an interesting story, and wrote a good piece on it. His focus was on the legal and business side. I would assume that investigating the emails for specific references to active players is neither his beat nor his is interest. I think the real failure lies with Cox, and other Star sports writers who had the benefit of legwork done by Cribb, and failed to take it any further.

    One line in Qris' original post stood out to me as something that seems to crystallize the tension between MSM and bloggers:

    "If Colin Campbell is returning your call, and not mine, then I expect you to adhere to a higher standard than I do, and when you fail, you offend me and everyone else who would love to have your job and do it better."

    Maybe the better way to frame the MSM/Blogger thing is as professional/non-professional. With everything, it seems to come down to money. Most Media have no problem with Wysh, not because he is a blogger, but because he is a professional (he makes his living doing what he does). The MSM feels threatened because there is an army of people willing to do their job for free. There seems to be a feeling that if your livelihood doesn't rest on the quality and accuracy of what you write, then you can't be 'trusted' or 'let inside'. MSM whips out the anti-blogger, circle-the-wagons routine for the same reason trade unions and creative guilds do: they want to protect their income. I can understand that view -- nobody wants to be undercut. And when you are accused of factual error, it's not just an issue of professional pride, but a legal one. A writer can easily open his publication to legal action and lose his job over a big enough blunder. In that sense I can see where McKenzie's defensiveness re: his facts comes from. Which isn't to say that he and other writers shouldn't be held accountable for their errors, just that accusations should always be considered and thoroughly researched.

  24. Very true, Mark P. Wise and well-said on all accounts.

    I think if you're among the best at what you do (McKenzie), you're safe, but for those that aren't the best (not naming names), it's probably very tense.

    I always cringe when I see people willing to do graphic design for free. Graphic designers work contract to contract, and it sucks that many people are undercutting them for fun.

    That said, Skeeter and I aspire to be professional hockey writers. Once we get there, we intend to protect our necks and perform a drastic heel turn, selling bloggers out and spilling all their secrets.

  25. I was talking with a friend about this earlier and it seems to me that to be an "insider" can be a sticky situation. The last thing you want to do is bite the hand that feeds you. If some of these reporters start calling out high profile executives it puts a strain on their working relationships with people deep within the league. They're kind of between a rock and a hard place. You want to do the best job, but you don't want to tap the well dry. Tough spot.

  26. I agree and disagree, Jason. The "hand that feeds you" analogy applies only so long as the high profile executive is the only thing keeping you going.

    Once you have name recognition, and such, though, people are going to read what you say. Bob McKenzie could be fired from his job at TSN tomorrow and make a website on which he blogs, and he'd be getting hits instantly. He'd remain a voice in the hockey world, and would likely be instantly hired elsewhere, but even on his own, would have a fair bit of clout.

    It doesn't matter how angry the league gets at, for instance, TSN. Even if TSN gets the quotes second hand from or, they're still going to maintain more or less the same audience. For that reason, the league can't really ignore them. If TSN is going to be running stories the league doesn't like, they're still going to have something to say when called for comment, because that's better than "Gary Bettman refused to comment."

    On the other hand, if TSN were to completely stop asking any difficult questions and become league lapdogs, the fans would notice and would migrate to a more interesting news source.

    In other words, once you've got a big audience, it's they you are beholden to, not the people you interview.

    And for the record, James Duthie did a pretty good job interviewing Colin Campbell. The questions weren't as pointed as they would have been if I had done it, but he covered the issues that needed to be covered and it was clear Campbell was going to answer how he wanted, anyway.

  27. I'm a big fan of Duthie and I thought he did a solid job in that interview and Campbell did not come out of it smelling like a rose. He came out of it, in fact, looking completely out of touch.


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