I took a straw poll at Vancouver Canucks practice earlier in the week regarding the “negative media” label attributed to the Vancouver hockey market. I mostly think it’s bunk, having worked in cities that are way more critical with egregious negative commentary.
For example, the media covering the Toronto Maple Leafs is like a bad rash. If any player was going to mutiny because of intrusive or negative coverage, it would happen there.
For the most part players really don’t give a hooey. Yes, they like to read positive things and naturally they might bristle at the negative, it’s human nature, while a trade discussion can be upsetting as it means their lifestyle and existence can be flipped upside down.
With that comes a key qualifier.
If it’s a rumour, it should be reported as such. If it’s a fact, then the player simply has to deal with it, especially in the world of the modern salary cap. Sometimes players are expendable regardless of performance and conversations between NHL general managers become routine.
The negative media topic occasionally rears its ugly head when player agents like Kevin Epp, who represents Canucks defenceman Travis Hamonic, speak up about the alleged phenomena, which he did while visiting a podcast on December 1st, repeating sentiments he shared in late-August.
“I can totally blame the media, I don’t think people realize what kind of damage they do to a team that has been fragile,” Epp told Don Taylor. “This team is playing hard every night, they’re losing one goal games, (if) they get a penalty kill here, a power play goal here, they score a goal against Chicago, I mean, they could be a .500 team or a playoff position, I don’t think the players have given up on the coach.”
OK. The team’s record at the time was 7-14-and-2. Given the obvious underachievement at the time, one would expect to see similar coverage in all 32 NHL markets if a respective team were struggling. Was the coverage overly heinous? Not only had the Canucks given up on their coach, he and the general manager were fired five days later.
It’s all a matter of perspective. Watching certain plays unfold with a fresh set of eyeballs during the eighth game of the regular season, a 2-1 loss to the Edmonton Oilers at Rogers Arena on October 30th, I turned to my neighbour in the press box and asked: “Does this team (the Canucks) not like their coach?”.
Being an acquaintance of Travis Green’s and being new to this specific scene full-time, I kept my concerns to myself. Mouth shut, with eyes and ears open isn’t always easy, but I practised the discipline for almost six months. It allowed me to observe and conclude plenty of things about the market and its media personnel, “overly negative” not being one of them.
“Whether it’s being cited by agents, assuming that players don’t want to play here, or whether it’s the periphery media, generating a belief system that this is a toxic environment for players, I can tell you after 23 years on the Canucks beat and 43 years in the biz that that’s not the case,” said Ben Kuzma of Post Media.
Of course, part of this depends on what one considers “media”.
Periphery media is an interesting reference. Social media of course can be a cess pool. Otherwise, determining what differentiates periphery from established or mainstream presents some grey areas. Is it the vehicle (blog, website, newspaper) that determines legitimacy or the person driving it? I’m a website guy for the first time in decades covering the NHL, does that reduce the level of my hockey sense or knowledge?
I can’t fault those for taking advantage of a job opportunity whether or not they lack experience or a feel for the game. I’d be a hypocrite. I had the chance to humbly cover the NBA and the NHL as a 17-year-old. Of course, I wasn’t about to tell a coach how to coach. Are hockey media neophytes aware of their limitations now?
“It seems to me the media makes narratives to whatever they want to see fit, to get rid of players or coaches or managers,” Epp said at one point.
I’m not sure “getting rid of a player or coach” is a priority, I sense self-promotion is the overwhelming phenomena. I have seen people take or hand out breaking news credits that they didn’t deserve for marketing purposes. Self promotion seems to be the strong suit for some in this market, which is dangerous, because when clicks supersede actual hockey intelligence and ethics, the media suffers as a whole.
Maybe a certain level of negativity derives from a simple desire for attention. Maybe in certain cases it comes down to personal psychology. I had one local reporter refer to himself as an ‘a–hole’. I’m not sure what self-image issues are involved there or if it translates to coverage, but then again, I’m not a therapist.
“I don’t even like the terms ‘negative’ and ‘positive’ because it makes it seem like you have to be one or the other,” said Sportsnet’s Iain MacIntyre, “when the reality is the great majority of people fall between these two extreme labels and react to the Vancouver Canucks within the context of their success or failure. As with anywhere, people are deeply, emotionally invested and there is a lot more criticism when the team loses. And the Canucks have lost more than nearly anyone the last six years.”
Regardless of the motivation, again, there is one key element. Longtime Vancouver sports reporter and SportsBar Radio host Rob Fai simplified it.
“How would I approach it?” he said. “Facts. They’re the one thing that separates the pros from the cons, literally.”
Ethics and experience outweigh any concerns about negativity.
As stated, for the most part, the level of criticism is directly in proportion with the performance of the Vancouver Canucks hockey club.
“It’s really just amplifying the emotions of the team’s performance,” said The Athletic’s Harman Dayal. “If the team is doing very well you’re going to ride that emotional high, or if they’re not doing well, like the Vancouver Canucks the first 25 games before there were changes, then it’s going to amplify the lows and that’s where the negativity tag comes in.”
“A negative market, a toxic market, I’m not buying it,” added Kuzma, “whether that’s generated by twitter traffic or people who speak from afar, those who are at the rink on a daily basis, that’s certainly not the case.”