Hockey and The Media: Epilogue – The Power and the Passion

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As I wrapped up Part II of the Hockey and the Media series, I had that vague feeling of having left something unfinished —  not quite buttoned up the way I would like it  As I received feedback on the series, largely positive.  I became attuned to some perspectives that I had not quite accounted for.  Thus, I felt it appropriate to put together this Epilogue, hopefully placing the appropriate bow on top of the proverbial wrapping paper.

First, let me clarify my point with respect to the Mike Wise episode, to which I devoted inadequate space in Part II.  Some noted that Wise actually didn’t prove his point, as he made it impossible for others to verify by not crediting a source.  While I’ll concur that he did not fully establish his point, I think it stems from a different reason.  First, the preservation of a source’s identity is ubiquitous in the media, and is really one of the foundational aspects of reporting.  Reporters have gone to jail to defend this principle, and this is unlikely to change.   Mike Wise isn’t obligated to tell the world how he got a fact, but others running with the story need to either a)independently verify the information through their own sources, or b) report it solely as a statement attributed to Wise.  As the majority of media did the latter, his point wasn’t really established to the degree he perhaps intended.  Moreover, Wise was really subliminally using a reputation cascade in this situation.  Wise is a well known journalist for a high-powered media outlet.  Due to that reputation, he presumptively has  access to sources that others perhaps lack.  That status confers an inherent credibility in the minds of many, and from that status comes the power to manipulate.  Now, whether other media should permit themselves to be so manipulated is another question entirely, and well beyond the scope of this examination.  However, it provides a logical segue into my next point.

There are some who were likely disappointed by my series, as those folks expected me to use the series as a bully pulpit to exalt blogging and revile the mainstream media.   Some relish the thought of the “death” of the newspaper and the rise of blogging as a replacement.  Similarly, others in the traditional media dismiss the blogging phenomenon as frivolous and an annoyance.   I have had still others tell me that traditional media outlets are using the potential  to utilize “free” bloggers as a hammer over the heads of their existing staffs.

I find these polarizing positions troubling, but understandable.  We are in the middle of a significant transition in how people transmit and consume information — a revolution of sorts.  In any time of transition, passions will run high and positions will be staked out at the extremes.  A significant part of my approach, and my credibility, I believe, is based upon a concerted effort to avoid generalization and examine things in detail.  There are terrific members of all of the media out there, and there are terrific folks writing blogs of all types.  There are also those who abuse their roles, in both the emerging and traditional spheres.

As I have tried to point out, we are talking about an evolution in how information is transmitted and consumed.  The information itself isn’t changing.  Will newspapers disappear?  No.  Will they change?  Absolutely — and they already are.  I am sure we will eventually see the day where there will be no “paper” involved in the newspaper.  Major papers are already available in electronic formats, and the use of blogging, Twitter and other emerging media channels is common.  Much of the battle we see right now is simply the result of trying to figure out what the rules of the game will be when the transition is complete.

To those who think that bloggers will provide a “free” source of information for media outlets in the future — I beg to differ.  There is a vast difference between pursuing something as a hobby and pursuing it as a career.   I personally love astronomy — I find it fascinating, fun and challenging.  Entering college, I thought I could make it my career.  Then I came face-to-face with advanced calculus and similar niceties, began to glimpse the actual day-to-day life of an astronomer, and realized that perhaps things were not as they seemed.  I continue to enjoy it as a hobby, but the world is a safer and more knowledgeable place without me in the observatories or research labs of the world.    Writing about hockey, and just about hockey, on my terms, my schedule and in my  own voice is one thing.  Having to cover multiple sports, meet deadlines, engage in promotional activities, travel, deal with irate sponsors, GMs  and team owners . . . .that is quite another.   Nobody is doing that for free . . . nor should they.

In my view, the crux of the matter boils down to passion and power, and how they relate.  The mainstream media has long preached the sermon of objectivity.  “No cheering in the Press Box” is a cardinal rule and “homerism” is a sin.   However, some of  those same reporters who eschew cheering find it acceptable to vent negative emotion at the drop of a hat.    Why is it that those folks feel that “Great Play!”  is forbidden, but “You Suck!” is allowed?   As discussed in Part II, the traditional media, as the “official” outlets of information, have tremendous power to shape public opinion, as contrasted with simply reporting it.

The immense popularity of the emerging media, in the context of hockey, is due in part to the immediacy

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and spontaneity it offers, but primarily to the passion it brings to the table.  Indeed, part of the objection to the emerging media is that the expression of that passion is largely unregulated, and is frequently excessive and inappropriate. Absolutely true, and few suggest that all such outlets be treated equally in terms of being treated as “serious” information outlets.  As Part II discusses, I can buy The Star at the supermarket, but should not then be outraged if it fails to have a serious discussion of the economic concerns of the European Union.  Similarly, if I am looking for rumor and scandal, The London Economist is probably not my best choice.  The same smörgåsbord of options is available online, and information consumers, whether they be fans, franchises or other media members, need to exercise the appropriate level of judgment and scrutiny in determining which outlets they choose to consume.

I seriously think that we need to dispense with the notion that objectivity and passion cannot coexist.  There may be no cheering in the Press Box, but there are lots of clenched fists and head nods.   What is a play-by-play broadcast without a color commentator?  Usually pretty dull.  The color commentator may engage you or irritate you (remember Howard Cosell?), but passion adds texture, depth and context to the story.  Even play by play broadcasts, to be memorable, require passion.   Would Al Michaels’ call of the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” be remembered without the passion?  Of course not.  Part of the reason fans embrace emerging media is that it provides the passion they are looking for, and a respite from the sterility and over-compensating negativism that is too often seen.  Again, those excesses exist in both traditional and emerging media outlets, so this is not a specific indictment, but a general observation.

As this evolution continues, balance will be restored to The Force and all will be well.  Learning to balance the power of the pen (or the keyboard) with the passion is a work in progress.  However, at the end of the day, we will hopefully all recognize that we are working together to weave an information tapestry that will be richer and more vibrant than ever before.  Creation is often a slow, tedious and painful process, but invariably the result is worth the pain.