I spent 25 years in the print media. The last six came as a sports columnist for the Toronto Sun.
The Sun was built on three pillars: sports stories, crime stories and stories that serviced a loony right-wing ideology.
It was a great place to work, full of smart, wonderful people. You might not agree with Peter Worthington’s stance on the military but he sure loved his Blue Jays.
I also worked at the National Post, another newspaper staffed by iconoclastic, brilliant, ambitious people and guided by a slightly more upscale loony right-wing agenda. Christie Blatchford, then the go-to voice of the paper is simultaneously sincere, outrageous and always the smartest person in the room. Love that girl.
Now I work at Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, the model of a competitive, buttoned-down company. I walked into a culture of bright, energetic people and a feeling of social involvement and generosity. MLSE’s record of community service and responsibility dwarfs that found at any place I have ever worked. I love it here.
The river dividing the profitable company whose endeavours are constantly watched and the company that profits from watching other people’s endeavours looks the same from both vantage points.
Let me tell you about my job straddling both sides.
There are rules for what employees are supposed to say. They are not really allowed to ridicule the ideologies of powerful media companies the way I just did.
If you are reading this – if you read anything I write after this – you can assume that I operate in a place that honors the covenant between reader and writer just as well as did any newspaper.
Can I consistently demonize the people I work for?
Nope. Can you? Can any journalist?
Because I work for a company that owns an NHL team and because the league’s rules about tampering are so stringent, I really shouldn’t get away with commenting on the acquisition of players.
But when I point out that Jeff Carter’s point production is comparable to that of Rick Nash and that Carter’s experience at centre and in the playoffs makes him a better choice for the Leafs, I am not endorsing anyone’s opinion but my own.
You might remember I also argued the Leafs should take a chance on Marc Savard. Boy was I wrong.
At the Sun I wrote Roberto Alomar would never take a place in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
I was wrong. Those are three words you don’t hear much in the media. Maybe I’m wrong more than anyone else. My trade proposals are ridiculed daily internally but man, I could live with a little more culpability from the media.
How can so many people say so many things and never be wrong?
The problem with writing about the Maple Leafs is that unlike the great Blatch you are never the smartest person in the room.
Most people who write about the Maple Leafs know about as much about the Maple Leafs as you do. They think as much about the Maple Leafs as you do. Yes, journalists meet the players but media and athlete are the sporting version of the two solitudes. Brian Burke doesn’t tell writers his plans any more than he tells me.
One-on-one interviews rarely happen in the feeding frenzy that is the Leafs dressing room.
I am not an insider, never was. Real insiders, by the real definition of that overused phrase don’t exist. If you are a true insider, you write once. Best make it good.
Information is strategically released by a network of agents, managers, players and other media people. Agents get their players moved. Managers threaten to trade their players, just the way Anaheim’s Bob Murray did, to get better results. Players whisper to speed the departure of a disliked coach.
This is not to say that good reporters are corrupt. Some people deal in shoes, others in pork bellies, others in information about hockey players. Nobody gets anything for free. Integrity, accuracy, people skills matter just as they do in any business but they call it the hockey business because it is a business, not a religious vocation.
So here’s the deal.
Citizen journalism is just as flawed as the titled kind. It is often wrong.
Some websites, I am thinking of the fine Behind The Net, are painstakingly researched and beautifully presented. Most offer a benign retelling of someone else’s theory.
I have long indulged and propagated the stereotype of the lonely, maladjusted blogger sitting in his mother’s basement pouring out half-baked trade rumors. And boy there are plenty.
But when media people sneer at call-in shows and the laughable trade proposals put forward by Tony from Woodbridge, they ridicule their constituents and their customers.
It’s trade deadline season. We are all pedestrians with our noses pushed up against the glass at the Bay’s glittering Christmas display. The vantage point is irrelevant; no noise seeps through from the other side.