Wednesday, March 12, 2008

No cheering in the Press Box

On Tuesday, March 11th Earl McRae wrote a column in the Ottawa Sun entitled “Hey guys you’re not on the team”. Earl chastises some of our Team 1200 talk show announcers for using terms like “we, us, our” when talking about the Senators. At least I am assuming he’s talking about talk show announcers since Dave, Gord, Garry and I don’t use those terms on our play-by-play broadcasts and if we did I am sure Earl would have pointed that out specifically.

I should tell you right off the bat about my bias here. Earl is a friend of mine. We have known each other for over 20 years. He is a brilliant writer and there is very little he writes that I don’t enjoy simply because I like the way his mind works. He is a non-linear thinker and there are very few of those around anymore. Earl and I have had this exact conversation many times and we feel the same way. Maybe it’s our vintage and the way we were schooled in the ways of broadcasting.

But I must say I have come to change my opinion over the years as the broadcast business has changed. I believe there is a place for biased opinion and commentary as long as it’s clear that it is biased. I believe you have to be who you are while behind the mic. Listeners now are much more savvy and educated as to the workings of our business and they can smell a phony a mile away, so just be who you are.

Joe Bowen is the voice of the Leafs and is a good friend of mine. Joe is employed by the Leafs and makes no effort to hide that. He is a Leaf fan and makes no effort to hide that. Yet when you listen to his broadcasts he is routinely critical of poor play and sub par efforts by Toronto players. Do we believe his analysis or should all of it be dismissed as homerism?

Do you believe less about what a talk show host is saying if he uses the words “us, we, our” or is that announcer simply letting you know he feels a civic tie to the team. He is obviously not on the team, but feels apart of that team because that team is such a big part of his community. I don’t see anything wrong with that.

Earl points to journalistic standards set forth by famed writer Jerome Holtzman in his classic book “No Cheering in the Press Box” as the standard we all should live by. This book was published in 1974. I believe a great deal has changed in our business both good and bad in the last 34 years, which Mr. Holtzman could not have foreseen.

That standard has not and never has been universally applied even by the most ardent journalists. Writers and broadcasters have never held amateur athletes to the same standard as professionals for obvious emotional reasons, but using the Hotzman standard that is a breech of journalistic ethics. The hardest of the hard core writers and broadcasters use the words “us, we, our” during each and every Olympics yet we are not on any Canadian Olympic team, but we understand that the young athlete is representing our country and that gives all of us a sense of pride and a sense of being on the same Canadian team simply because we all carry the same passport.

That is why I believe sports now can include those writers and broadcasters who choose to expose their bias within the mix of opinions out there. There is no singular, antiseptic standard because sports journalism is different than other forms of the industry. It deals with the guttural and internal feeling of inclusion that only sports can muster. It is the single biggest reason why Hockey Night in Canada’s ratings are far greater than those of CPAC. One deals with our heart and the other broadcasts to forward our knowledge of the internal nuts and bolts of how our country is being run. Your head tells you CPAC should be more important but it’s your heart that sends your clicker finger back to HNIC every time.

Let’s not start burning broadcasters at the stake each time they fail to live up to each of our individual self anointed standards. Listen to them if you like them, or don’t listen if their bias bothers you. As always the listener has the ultimate vote.

When writers begin writing columns about other writers who don’t meet the standard it’s a worthwhile discussion. It seems the stones only get thrown in one direction most of the time.

See you at the rink.


ScottyB said...

bah... i've listened to so much leafs biased broadcasting in my life it's a huge relief knowing that you guys are part of the "we" and "us" i love so much

mabirt said...

I don't have a problem with "we"and "us" as long as "we" and "us" can take good criticism along with the bad

Anonymous said...

Great post Dean. I think Gord Wilson (although I love him) is most guilty of this. He is always brimming with rose-tinted glasses style homerism. Joe Bowen is a major homer (he's great too), but he doesn't wear the rose-tinted glasses. Remember Earl McRae's last column about you guys from years ago? I believe the term "rose-tinted" was in the title. Earl was going off about a comment Gord made after a last place team came into Ottawa and complete dominated the Senators: Gord said: "On this night, the Senators lost but the other team could have beaten any team in the league the way they were playing". That's classic rose-tinted glasses homerism.

Anonymous said...

I did not read Earl McRae's column but I will make a few comments:

1) I must disagree that Earl McRae is a "brilliant writer". Its very nice of you to offer such an olive branch but its just not true. He may be good at what he does - stirring things up in a tabloid newspaper - but he is far from being a brilliant writer. There may have been a time when Mr. McRae was brilliant but that time has long passed.

2) I did not read the story but it sounds to me like Earl McRae is pushing the journalists should be "objective" line and there are significant problems with that view. The biggest being that journalists are not objective. They do have opinions and to pretend they do not and are offering an objective view of things is foolish. See Fox News as example.

3) In spite of what I said in (2), I think journalists/broadcasters should make an effort to be objective and not let their personal feelings interfere with their reporting and commenting. But for me, this does not extend to wanting the local team to win. A sports writer or commentator that cheers for the Senators is far different from a reporter who really wants one particular party to form the next government and writes their articles/columns in a way that supports that view.

3) I think reporters and broadcasters do have to make an effort to leave their personal feelings out of it. Balanced criticism needs to be offered. This is an area where some local scribes and members of the Sens broadcast crew (including the pre-game show) sometimes fail.

It is very clear to me that a number of media members do not personally like Ray Emery. For the most part, this comes through subtlely in how Emery is described and talked about but occassionally is all but admitted. One example. During the pre-game show for the Phoenix game, Bruce Garrioch seemed very offended that Mr. Emery would not talk to him earlier that week in the locker room and Mr. Garrioch thought it was important enough to mention in the pre-game show. (he also noted how the San Jose coach slagged him to local journalists but not to his face) That was unprofessional and biased. Fair game to talk about in the bar with other journalists but inappropriate for a radio broadcast. It is really irrelevant and Mr. Garrioch should know that. There is plenty of valid criticism to be made of Mr. Emery, but I think journalists really should be asking themselves if they are letting their personal feeling drive a story or a comment.

Similarly, there seems to be a race to the microphone to praise Martin Gerber who I would aknowledge has played very well over the past 9-10 games. I don't know how many people I heard tell me that you could not blame Gerber for the goals scored by Carolina and St Louis. Actually I can. He's the goaltender and I think all of those goals were stopable. Some would have required brilliant saves, while others would have require very good saves, but they were stopable. 5 goals in one game means the goalie is not stepping up. Clearly, the defensive efforts of the Senators were lacking but the amount of praise given to Gerber after letting in 5 goals was rediculous and showed to me the clear bias that exists among some of the commentators in Ottawa.

So, in closing I would say that Earl McRae should worry more about his own level of objectivity and writing style (how about never using the phrase "shin kicker" again) than getting caught up in whether the local sports media wants the Senators to win. The sports media ought to worry about whether they are letting their personal feelings for players drive their comments.


Anonymous said...

Nice to know that before you strive to embarrass them, you let them know you are "their friend for xxx number of years."
Gosh, who needs a hug?

Anonymous said...

Deano, great call. I personally feel closer to the Sens broadcasts knowing that we're all fans in this together. So long as the bias doesn't disrupt the objective calling of the actual play-by-play, I enjoy it.

I live in the US and watch the Centre Ice package, which means most Sens feeds I get are from the opponents' broadcast. Some of the most esteemed personalities out there are also some of the most biased. All it does is add a bit of flavour to the broadcast and make me excited when I get the Ottawa feed for the game.

Keep up the great work. Also, I haven't heard you drop the expression 'dipsy-doodle' since Havlat left. Can you bring it back a bit in the last couple of weeks here? People besides Mach 9 can dipsy doodle, too!