Friday, February 20, 2009

Don't Believe What You Read

Reporting On Canadiens A Shambles

You know what they say in internet land: "More haste, more speed"

Desperate reporters look to desperate measures as they would prefer to scoop anything from the murky waters of the online channel than scoop nothing at all.

Unfortunately, the result for the rest of us. Those who would rather know the truth in an hour than 15 guesses at what the truth might be now is often confusion and, ultimately, frustration.

On the same day as all this, I found this classic quote from a classy champion:
"Their haste is a reflection of the sad way the game is going, with everyone from owners, the board members, the supporters and the media demanding instant success and showing absolutely no patience in the pursuit of their ambition."

It could have been said about this sorry situation and not Luis Felipe Scolari's dismissal at Stamford Bridge. Had Sir Alex been so unlucky as to be tuned into RDS two days ago, I'm sure he'd concur.


The Kovalev story

The Kovalev story this week started easily enough. The news that he would be benched for 2 days came straight from the horses mouth and wasn't preceded by any speculation or rumours of the news.

But this juicy tidbit was spotted as a cash cow right from the start. Every newspaper and every blog had posted news of the press conference announcement within a few minutes. I tried to get something out as fast as I could - it probably earned me a good 30 cents just from hits (cash cow, indeed)...

The real cash from this story was in the spinning out, not in the initial report. The obvious fabrications sprung up remarkably quickly. No sooner had Gainey stopped talking that someone in the French press reports that Gainey has been trying to trade Kovalev for 2 weeks (to the Western conference, no doubt). The story is so predictable. It could be true, but it probably wasn't. We move on.

The next predictable part of the saga is Kovalev's musings on this matter via – you guessed it – the Russian press. This old cherry is a good one because it assumes (probably rightly) that not many in Montreal read Cyrillic, much less check up on Pravda by the day. The story as it was released can be found here: Prêt à partir, Kovalev blâme les jeunes.

This was as lazy as it was unprofessional. Back in 2007, La Presse broke a story that was either fabricated or shoddily translated. Back then it was purported that Kovalev, said the same things as this time. Kovalev denied it. The Canadiens investigated and decided their was no foundation to it. And the coup de grace, La Presse's alleged source came on Quebec French radio and refuted that Kovalev said any of this things the rag claimed he did.

This time it was not La Presse, but a locked-out employee (who used to work for La Presse). De Foy's sources, according to his CKAC interview were as watertight as La Presse requires – he merely claims he has a Russian friend in common with Kovy (not that he told the Russian friend these things, even). Even if Kovalev did tell his friend these things, it's hardly bullet-proof [The other night I told Tobalev I would stop watching the Habs if they started Carey Price without him earning a minute of it – clearly that was a heat of the moment exaggeration on my part]. De Foy, as a journalist with access to players (when they don't hang up on him...) could hold a higher standard. He chose not to. He instead favoured the scoop (again).

Still one rogue journo is not the end of the world. That is if any of the others held a high standard with regard to sourcing.

Within minutes of the initial report (see here for timing comment 1 to 15, about 30 minutes), RDS had it up. Given the reliability of La Presse's sources in the past, and the fact it was a recycled story line, you'd hope RDS spent the time checking the validity. It strikes me they probably didn't. As pleased as I am to be able to turn the TV on any time and listen to a new debate on the Canadiens, RDS yesterday showed just how low their standards are.

They weren't alone. The once excellent Habs Inside/Out, who I once praised near daily, were among the more professional; were also hapless in their own terror of being scooped. They waited an astounding ten minutes to become a tertiary source. Pat Hickey followed with this. There were more.

The Montreal media caught out by false reports? Try idleness...

As a blogger we hear at length how inferior we must be to the great professionals because we don't have access to dressing rooms and to players. Yet in this situation, in a breaking situation where a call to a player could have resolved the whole thing and saved embarrassment, they chose to print.

One reporter did end up doing some reporting. With a sccop that should thoroughly humiliate the self-important Habs writing community, Darren Dreger of TSN broke the news. He wrote to Kovalev.

The usual suspects picked up this story just as quickly. RDS swept their previous story under the rug, hence the absence of a link here today. Habs Inside/Out at least admitted they had no idea what was going on.

The whole episode, precipitated by the search for the scoop and the fear of being scooped, is wholly disappointing.


Operation Axe

First, let me say that this mass arrest from the Montreal police (with the minor exception of a few Habs players) is great news for Montreal as a community. I don't have the full details (CBC reports), but a sting planned over almost 3 years, the biggest in Montreal history, did well to bring in so much.

As far as Operation Axe affects the Canadiens, you'd think the journalists fresh off their adrenaline-induced flurry of the previous 24 hours might have shown some restraint. But again this story was rushed to our bandwidths without much diligence. The first reports only spoke of the hype (generated by La Presse, of course). But as soon as the flimsiest of details came out, the half-baked products were uploaded.

I have spewed enough vitriol above and don't think i need to retread the same ground. Needless to say, the initial reports full of sensation were picked up by nearly everyone. As the light dawned on the situation this morning, and the story gets duller by the minute for conspiracy theorists, the alternate version is presented as a competing news story.

Friend and fellow blogger Robert L does the business on this episode. If you haven't had enough of ragging on the media, give his latest a read.


Eric Engels

I would be negligent if I didn't give a special nod to my fellow blogger Eric Engels who has also called for better standards of journalism from this group. Quite an indictment from a member of Hokeybuzz.com, no? His comments can be found at the bottom of this article.


The irony

You have to admit the irony of the whole situation is fun to take in.

The networks and press that flounder to get out stories criticising and cutting down players on the Montreal Canadiens, essentially for not doing their jobs properly, are doing so all the while neglecting the values of journalism. The result is they look as big fools on the page as Sergei Kostitsyn after a giveaway with a failed deke at the Vancouver blueline.

If Gainey had the power, I think he'd be suggesting a mandated vacation for certain non-performers in the press. Overheard via a common Azerbaijani friend of mine and Gainey's:
"We don't need them the way they are performing their duties right now."


As an editorialist rather than a reporter it's easy for me to point the finger, maybe too easy. I'm sure the demands of the reporting job are heavy and that I too would have trouble. However, I would be remiss in my own role as commentator on Canadiens and their media if I did not at least shine the light on this embarrassing episode. I don't think I'm alone with 2 bloggers in feeling a bit ashamed of our brethren here...

What I do know is that the internet and 24-hour news has changed everything for the news media. I can see that some aren't able to keep up...

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