Media makes me crazy

This is Marshall McLuhan, a great thinker whose work on the media is worth reading, and should be required for any up and coming journalist, blogger or hack like myself.

The idea of mainstream media coverage of sports, particularly of legitimacy of bloggers vs. the integrity of the professional journalists is a narrative that seems to get quite a bit of hype, now more than ever in the wake of the recent events in the NHL covered brilliantly by blogger Tyler Dellow. There are questions of access, of integrity, and most importantly, of honest reporting. Can bloggers give more than just an opinion? Is there anything resembling objectivity in the MSM?

As some of you know, I occasionally get to do some work with our friends over at the Copper and Blue. They have been doing a fan roundtable for a long time now, and they often have myself and on occasion, BCB over to join in the fun. The most recent roundtable opened with a very good question on the mainstream media; The media has now focused in on Dustin Penner and Tom Gilbert and are laying blame at their feet almost exclusively. No one in the mainstream media is talking about Khabibulin's problems or the penalty kill system, or most of the young players on this team (not just rookies) being overwhelmed. Is the media being honest with the fans? Should the fans trust the Edmonton media anymore?

Being the overly wordy writer that I am, I gave a much longer answer than necessary, which was edited to save space. However, given the political nature of my statement, I decided to place the entire original rant here.

This issue of trust in the media is something that I have been considering on an academic level for some time now, and I have come to the realization that the days of honest reporting are long gone in the MSM world. The reason for it is actually quite simple; neoliberal capitalism. There will be no Woodward and Bernstein type reporting anymore - there can only be Tyler Dellow, because Tyler Dellow doesn’t have an editor, a department head and shareholders to answer to. Tyler only answers his own sometimes self-indulgent curiosity. Even as an academic, not a journalist, I have to pander to various gatekeepers who prevent me from saying exactly what it is I want to say, because it may put my institution’s reputation in jeopardy, as such running the risk of angering the people who donate large sums of money to the institutions and potentially cause parents to not send their kids there. Basically, there is the constant danger of angering those who have the most at stake to lose. This is the way of the neoliberal state and neoliberal institutions in a nutshell-risk management and security will always come before honesty, integrity and in a much bigger sense, human rights. The media is a business, and like any other “well run” business, the media’s primary responsibility is to make money for those who own it, not to provide an honest, unbiased opinion. As such, we have seen a shift away from reporting in TV news towards a highly stylized kind of infotainment, with sensational stories about celebrity weddings and which star accidentally overdosed on pain pills while at a club while not wearing undergarments. These stories, for whatever reason, are what people seem to want to hear, or conversely, what the media tells people it is that they want to hear. I made an argument in the last roundtable that people love to rubberneck, that stories about tragedies and catastrophic events are interesting - they are, but there can only be so much shit before you want to get back to light, fluffy things like why our drunken sieve of a goalie is actually the league MVP and that if Renney can coax 25 wins out of this sad-sack bunch, he should win the Jack Adams.

If the Oilers want to sell hope, the media must sell hope. If the team wants to form a solidarity wall around Khabibulin for whatever their reasons, that is what they the media will do. There is a message from above that the media spin has to go a certain way to keep the people with money, power and the most at stake happy. As for Penner and Gilbert, their styles of play make them appear to be doing less than they really are. The average everyday fan doesn’t give a crap about advance stats, outliers, or any other form of critical engagement with the game; they read the stats page in the journal or the sun, maybe read Matty’s Hockey World or the occasional Ireland, Tychkowski (sp.?) or MacKinnon article, watch the games and see them bad. To be fair, I am seeing Gilbert bad right now too, but I think the entire defense is playing at an ECHL level right now. Gilbert is not alone is his terrible play, but you can’t pick on Foster because he’s the new Souray, Smid is too young still, Peckham a rookie, Vandermeer hardly plays, Whitney has 14 points and everyone just loves Strudwick because he’s the world’s most likeable human being. Therefore, Tom Gilbert, a great #3 defenseman, potentially a really good #2 with his long hair and big contract becomes the whipping boy for the local media to rag on, much like poor Janne Ninnimaa before him was unfairly criticized under the burden of over-inflated expectations. Hell, even Paul Coffey got a bad rap in this town, which is notoriously hard on its players. Every year there is one or two players who get crapped on. Its old hat now for both Tom and Dustin based on their contracts vis-à-vis their styles of play. It isn’t right, it isn’t fair, but they look like they aren’t carrying their weight based on their salaries, not advanced stats, and as such the people employed by the media machine will poop on them. The media controls the message, yet the message is the media...and right now the message is about selling hope, not because there is much to really be hopeful for, but rather selling hope is the best way to manage risk without impacting the businesses bottom lines.

Go Oilers



Matt.N said...

When two explanations are offered for a phenomenon, the simplest full explanation is preferable.
- Occam's Razor

"Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity."
- Hanlon's Razor

Taken as a whole, I have a hard time attributing any failings in the local sports media to conspiracy when it can adequately be attributed to laziness and lack of understanding of the game. There are, of course, obvious exceptions (see Tencer, Dan) but these are usually up front about where their allegiances are.

shepso said...

that's pretty much my point...there is no conspiracy here; the local media types know exactly who is paying there bills. Laziness is a factor I hadn't considered, but critiques of the media becoming just another business are not new. The fifth season of the Wire provides a great overview of this concept.

Thanks for stopping in!

B.C.B. said...

Thanks for this Shepso . . . and hanging out with me on Sunday (oh the beauty of those old games, hey?).

Just one question: why is neo-liberalism any different than liberalism in relationship to hockey media?
I wonder if Harold Ballard's relationship with the media was that much more confrontational (well until he screwed Bassett- that owned the Toronto Telegram)? My point is that as far as I can tell, the Edmonton Media has always done the bidding of the ownership groups. This would all be under neo-liberalism, but is it much different then the original six's relationship with the print media in those cities?