“Fistic Ice Savvy”: An Example of Irresponsible Sports Journalism

hordichuk2After being sent to the minors by the Edmonton Oilers, Darcy Hordichuk was recently  interviewed by long time hockey writer, Jim Matheson. The article wasn’t anything unique, but one line stood out in particular.

I think the Oilers still need Hordichuk, even in limited minutes because he has fistic ice savvy, but the roster size is very limiting when they’re carrying eight D.

Fact is, Hordichuk is a 32-year old enforcer, with years of experience in the NHL and the minors. But nothing in particular sets him apart from other enforcers. His stint with the Oilers, in my opinion, hasn’t been anything to write about.

Jonathan Willis of Oilersnation provided a play by play description of every event involving Hordichuk in a recent game. Pretty much sums up his usefulness on this team. So it wasn’t surprising to see him get sent to the minors.

Matheson provides a summary of how Hordichuk is doing in the minors, which is fine. But describing him as having “fistic ice savvy” is just bad sports journalism.

For one, it’s a made-up description with a very unclear definition. At no point has Matheson clarified what “fistic ice savvy” entails or who else might have this quality.

Secondly, there’s no way to measure this. I’m not asking for detailed data metrics and methodology. But how do you know you’re fistic and have savvy? Is it when you fight? Where on the ice you fight? Who you fight?

Thirdly, and most importantly, “fistic ice savvy” is a perfect example of the misinformation that surrounds professional hockey. Rather than make a claim, explain its rationale and then provide examples, Matheson uses a vague description of Hordichuk and leaves it as is. Not even an attempt is made to support “fistic ice savvy”.

Matheson is definitely a good hockey writer, but more detailed information should be provided when making claims. More and more of his readers are knowledgable fans, and claiming Hordichuk is anything more than an enforcer is just irresponsible journalism.

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Hockey Reporting and Hockey Analysis

usb1Typewriter“We shape our tools,and then our tools shape us.” – Marshall McLuhan

 

Influence of Technology on Sports Journalism

The impact of web technology has had a profound impact on how professional sports are consumed by fans. For example, fans have numerous options when they want to watch or listen to a game, including, among others, using mobile technology or data tracking software. Fans can interact and share content with others by publishing their thoughts and ideas about hockey on blogs and other social media platforms. To keep up with their loyal fan base, the NHL has readily adopted technology and software that helps their fans get closer to the game. Examples include providing detailed statistics available online or social media promotions to connect players to fans.

One area of professional sports that technology continues to strongly influence is sports journalism. Specifically, individuals who are employed by television broadcasters that hold NHL distribution rights, such as TSN or Sportsnet, newspapers and the NHL. These individuals typically have direct access to players and managers and are responsible for providing news and updates regarding NHL-related activity.

In the past, individuals who covered sports for the local news channel or newspaper were considered “reporters”. They would attend games and produce a story using the results of the event. Within the story would be quotes from players and coaches, a summary of key events within the game and maybe a preview of the next game. Since speculation is an important facet for professional sports, gossip regarding players and team could also be included, depending on the reporter.

Today, individuals who cover sports for mainstream media outlets are labeled all sorts of things. “Insiders”. “Analysts”. “Correspondents”. At first glance, they all appear to have the same role, which is to cover the game and provide some sort of content for fan consumption. But it’s the technology they use that differentiates them, as not all sports journalists produce the same kind of content. Understanding the tools they and what type of content they produce, can allow us to classify them and understand their roles and objectives.

Defining Reporting and Analysis

The technology sports journalists use differentiates those who report on the game, and those who analyze the game. Both “Reporting” and “Analyzing” are interchanged regularly, not only in sports journalism, but also other industries such as information management. While both actions produce content, they each entail different objectives.

I did a quick search online and came across this differentiation of Reporting and Analysis on a blog from Adobe, a major software company:

Report­ing: The process of orga­niz­ing data into infor­ma­tional sum­maries in order to mon­i­tor how dif­fer­ent areas of a busi­ness are per­form­ing.

Analy­sis: The process of explor­ing data and reports in order to extract mean­ing­ful insights, which can be used to bet­ter under­stand and improve busi­ness performance.

So applying these definitions to sports journalism, I’ve come up with this:

Hockey Reporting: The process of coordinating data and information into summaries that describe hockey-related events. This is someone that summarizes current events, including games, player or team performance and current rumors.

Hockey Analysis: The process of exploring data and reports in order to extract mean­ing­ful insights, which can be used to bet­ter under­stand the game and support further analysis and continue extending the knowledge surrounding the game. This would be someone that could summarize current events, but spends more time looking deeper into the data from hockey games to provide further insight.

These definitions need some work, so I’m hoping to get feedback from anyone interested.

Why the need to classify sports journalists?

It’s critical for fans to understand the roles and objectives of the contents’ producer. The present environment for hockey fans contains a lot of information, and it’s really up to them to filter through the noise to find value in the content available online, in print and on television. Fans do more than just consume the content as they have demonstrated their ability to extend the content by providing their own feedback and raising new, applicable ideas.

By understanding the producers role, fans can put the content into perspective before extending the content and building new ideas. This is not to say that what sports reporters produce cannot be built upon by fans. But a more appropriate response can be made after understanding what the producers objectives are. And it’s much more beneficial to the game if ideas are built on solid claims and information, rather than bogus hockey rumors, for example.

As always, feel free to leave feedback below or contact me directly!

Hockey Bloggers with Press Passes

Without a doubt, a tension exists between hockey bloggers and those who work as members of the mainstream media (MSM). The lines that separate the two groups have blurred as both fans and those with official press passes to cover the game interact and participate online. Communication tools and software have become more readily available and easier to use, allowing anyone with a basic understanding of the technology, and an interest in the game, to participate online.

In the past few years, bloggers have made the jump to more mainstream platforms and  we’ve also seen those with press passes, such as fomer Edmonton Journal writer Robin Brownlee, get into blogging. In his latest post for OilersNation, “Deep Thoughts XXIV: Ties that bind”, he had this to say about the current state of hockey coverage: Continue reading

Social Networks & Information Gatekeepers

A real tension exists between hockey bloggers and mainstream media (MSM). Both groups have their strenghts and weaknesses, but far too often it has become a childish argument of who produces better quality and which is a better source of knowledge and information.

Placing everyone tied to the game of hockey in a giant network diagram, you can start to see why this tension exists. Include in this giant web the fans, team owners, players, sports journalists and anyone else with some relationship to the game. Strictly based on communication patterns, these individuals are tied to one another with short linkages representing close ties. Information would be shared much easier and more often across closer ties. Based on relationships and goals, individuals would group together and maintain ties.

Communication being the exchange of information, is of high value to fans. They are active individuals who demand this information for their personal interest, knowledge and engagement with the game. Over different mediums, fans connect with sources of information and share what they know and understand with others.

The network they’re a part of is a fluid and dynamic stucture. The size of the network changes, links are formed and broken, and groups gather and disband. But within this network are numerous gatekeepers who decide what information will enter the network. In this case, these gatekeepers are the team, their employers as well as mainstream media outlets.

Professional sports teams are major businesses, so the information they have is closely guarded. Hockey clubs are competing with one another and must do whats best for their own operations. The information teams share must adhere to the goals of their organization, with sponsors and investors in mind. Media outlets that cover the team must follow the direction of teams if they want to continue having access to players and managers. Withholding information from a social network, as well as releasing half-truth material, will cause tension between bloggers and MSM. But it’s their actions, and inactions, within a social network that maintains it.

Gatekeepers are active in the social network as consumers of information, but fail to reciprocate. Bloggers and readers can get together and discuss a topic out in the open for everyone, including gatekeepers to read. Yet these gatekeepers will not share what they know as honestly and openly as the rest of the social network.

Second, gatekeepers attempt to control what members and groups of network know, understand and experience about the game. If a team loses badly, their official website may report on the positives instead of particular reasons why they lost. This would be an attempt to divert negative reaction, maintain a positive outlook on the team and keep fans coming back. The problem with trying to control what people know is that in a social network filled with links for information exchange, knowledge is being created, developed and shared.

The social network that these gatekeepers are trying to influence will generate knowledge with or without them. If what a team releases goes against the knowledge of that network, they’ll feel an instant backlash. Web technology and communication tools have made this network highly advanced in terms of knowledge development about the game. As a result, gatekeepers are seen with some suspicion and resentment for their contributions to the network.

University of Twente. (2010, September 7). Gatekeeping. Retrieved from
http://www.utwente.nl/cw/theorieenoverzicht/Theory%20clusters/Media%2C%20Culture%20and%20Society/gatekeeping.doc

The battle goes on…and on: Bloggers and MSM

Great story about bloggers came out recently. Tyler Dellow of mc79hockey.com did some excellent research into some old emails between NHL Senior VP and Director of Hockey Operations, Colin Campbell and NHL Director of Officiating Stephen Walkom. These emails became public because of a wrongful dismissal case involving former NHL referee Dean Warren and the league. Within the emails, Dellow was able to uncover some of Campbell’s attitudes towards specific players, as well as his concern with calls made against his son, who plays in the league.

Dellow’s article can be found here.

Here’s TSN’s take on Dellow’s findings.

Dellow’s interview on The Score: http://video.thescore.com/watch/glenn-schiiler-one-on-one-with-tyler-dellow

Needless to say, Dellow got a tonne of attention for the great work he did. Whether or not you care about the findings of his research, the fact is he took the time without any monetary motivation and on his own time, to decipher through documents. He raised some really interesting questions about the league and how it handles its referees. All of this is public information. He just took the time to work with it.

Aside from questioning whether or not Campbell should keep his job, a lot is being discussed about the relationship between bloggers and MSM. Talk of how one is better than the other or how bloggers will take over the jobs of MSM, to me, is a big stretch. Questions have been raised about why it took a blogger to dig out this stuff and what role sports journalists have.

Bloggers vs MSM

Some interesting discussion (Wyshynski, Mendes) about the whole mainstream media (MSM) versus bloggers topic lately. MSM would include the big networks such as TSN, Sportsnet, ESPN, etc. Bloggers would include those not employed by these networks and do not have the support of a corporation (check out the blogroll). We’ve seen recently some MSM types get into the blogging world and vice versa. But for the most part, an individual is perceived to be in one camp or the other.

MSM relies on the traditional model of information development. Information is created, distributed and then consumed by the customer. With internet technology and the development of social media, we’ve seen a major shift in this information development. Bloggers have emerged as they not only consume this information but then they use it to create their own content.

More recently however, these bloggers have taken it one step further and begun developing their own method of actually creating information. Instead of reading the boxcar stats for a game in the paper the next day, they’ll watch a game and analyze it themselves to determine their own stats. They can then aggregate this information, share it with an online community, and then have discussions to build on it even more.

A tension has developed between the two sides. Bloggers can be pretty critical of the MSM’s work and demand more from the regular reports available. Bloggers, on the other hand, tend to be viewed as those living in the confines of their parents basement without a real understanding of the game. Both have their strengths and weaknesses in terms of content and tend to feel separated from the other. There’s talk of how blogging could one day replace MSM to cover sports. But as long as professional sports remains the object of analysis, it’s hard to see this happening. It’s a powerful industry, includes large organizations and million dollar players. It’s a well oiled machine that has norms and practices in place, making it difficult to change. The information and data that comes from this can have major ramifications for individuals, organizations and the industry as a whole. How it works now, with official media covering the games, is what works best for the industry and their stakeholders.

Bloggers have grown in prominence and the quality of work is pretty remarkable. They are replacing MSM as the source of information and analysis for a lot of fans. But as long as professional sports is the topic, MSM will always have a role. There’s still value in their work but they have to recognize that blogging and getting into these online fan communities is going to be important for their success.