KForbesy.ca
25Feb/120

Breaking trades: the balance between being first and being right

As I mentioned first back in my "manifesto" that led to the creation of this site, the direction that sports media, specifically hockey media is heading bothers me. Now it's possible that coverage of basketball, football, baseball, etc suffers similar issues when it comes to the changing face of media, the immediacy of news and the accessibility of the sport as brought on by technology, but I'm most familiar with the effects when it comes to hockey (I don't know if there's a basketball "Eklund", but I hope he's equally loathed).

This opinion doesn't rear its ugly head at any time more than the NHL trade deadline. For "NHL insiders", both real and self-deluded, this is the prime time, the big show. The NHL trade deadline seems to offer more moves in a shorter period of time than anything comparable in other major professional sports leagues. And the media makes a spectacle out of the whole thing. From dedicated television broadcasts (often filled with over-analysis and time-killing when nothing of interest happens for the better part of the day), to online alerts and apps, to speculation and rumour and half truths. Make no mistake, the NHL trade deadline is a big deal and a big business.

But as that accessibility and desire for immediacy that I so struggle with hits the shore of such a pinnacle event of the business, it opens the opportunity for so much...chaff. The NHL trade deadline is two days away at this point in time and over the past week, there's been made-up trades announced from fake Twitter accounts posing as media members, there's been unfounded speculation without source or credibility and there's been so much noise that often, to believe anything, it requires a fine-tooth comb and a suspension of belief.

I don't understand the motivation behind disseminating false trade rumours, nor do I understand the clamouring for news immediately and the associated rush to report a story before all facts are known or verified. The chance of error is just too high and at the end of the day, it's just not worth it. Is my world any different if I learn about a trade the minute it happens with speculation and unsure details compared to learning about it ten minutes after it happens and all the details are known and verified? Why is there such a desire to deliver the news quickly, foregoing whether or not what is being delivered is accurate or even correct?

With that in mind, I opted to email TSN's Bob McKenzie for his thoughts. Here's what I sent him:

Hi Bob,

I understand that you're likely a little busy this time of year, but was wondering if you could share some opinion about the current business of "breaking trades" and "tracking rumours" as it applies to hockey.

Obviously, that whole spectrum has become an increasingly big business. Not only will TSN (and their competitors) be devoting a day of broadcast to covering the deadline, but as the online piece of the hockey mediasphere continues to explode, there's just that much more discussion out there.

My question is probably an easy one to answer: is it better to be first and break the trade to the world or is it better to be right? I understand these two options aren't mutually exclusive, but as we saw recently with fake Twitter accounts setting the hockey community abuzz with false trade reports, I'd like to hear your thoughts.

How much pressure is there to run with a story, even if you don't have full details, in order to beat the competition to reporting it?

-Kevin Forbes

And I was fortunate enough to not only receive a prompt reply, but also a very in-depth one:

Kevin,

You are right. It's an easy answer. I would rather get beat on 100 trades or news items than to report something first that turns out to be wrong.

My view is as much as people want to be first with the news, including me, my reputation and standing in my profession can withstand being "beat" on stories but the same cannot be said if you violate the trust with your viewers/readers and provide reports that are factually inaccurate.

The truth is a very small fraction of people in the world care about who gets what story first but everyone cares about trusting that when someone reports "news," it's accurate.

So I'll take accuracy over speed every day of the week.

That said, the nature of the business -- social media etc. and the immediacy that is now available to virtually anyone who reports anything -- has changed.

As an example, in the "old" days, many years ago now, if I only had a portion of a trade, I would probably wait until I had the whole thing before I reported it. Now, that's not going to cut it for anyone.

Yesterday's NHL trades were a case in point. The minute I found out that Downie had been traded to Colorado, I didn't wait to find out for whom or what. I reported what I knew 100 per cent to be true, even though I didn't have 100 per cent of the story. I then reported it piece by piece to its conclusion. If someone had beaten me on any aspect of that, I have no problems with that.

Win some, lose some. That's the nature of the beast, especially with so many people plugged in more now than they used to be and with the outlet (Twitter in particular) to "break news."

People don't believe me when I say it, but I don't view "breaking news" as a competition between me and other reporters/insiders from other outlets, I view it like playing a golf course. I'm up against the course, not the other golfers. I just have to focus on my job, knowing what I need to do to be successful on any given day. If someone else is better than me some day, good for them, but I'm focused entirely on what I'm doing and I don't concern myself with what they're doing.

It's worked for me so far. I win more than I lose but I'm cognizant that if I don't work at it, that can change in a hurry. There are a lot of really good reporters working all over North America and the hockey fan has never been better served with information than now.

The other funny thing for me is the amount of attention competition and winning and breaking stories has at this time of the year. I don't do this job just at trade deadline. I do it 10 months of the year -- I get July and August off -- and I care as much about getting a story right and first in the first week of October as I do in the last week of February. It's what I do for a living (I do other stuff obviously, the WJCs, draft stuff etc.) and it tends to get a lot more attention at this time of the year because so many others who don't work all year long at it suddenly jump into the game and when they get something first and/or right, they tend to crow about it. Which is fine, but I prefer to let the viewers/readers make the judgment on who's doing a good job.

The great thing about working at TSN is working with great people, in particular my colleagues Darren Dreger and Pierre Lebrun. They are hard-working guys who do a great job and the best part about our group is none of us care who gets what first. It's a true team effort. Sometimes I'll be the one to break something, but it was only circumstance that I reported it because it may have been based heavily on the work of Darren or Pierre, not me. And vice versa. We don't get hung up on that stuff, we're a team in the truest sense of the word and I know they share the same sensibilities as me.

Anyway, that's my take on it, for what it's worth.

Thanks for checking in.

Bob

TSN and Bob McKenzie are both viewed as the leaders when it comes to hockey coverage and the sources of truth when there is so much noise and falsehoods being spread. It's no surprise that two of the aforementioned false Twitter accounts were posing as TSN personalities (Gord Miller and Darren Dreger) in hopes of latching onto the TSN brand and what it represents.

There's no easy answer here, because as much as McKenzie might have his head on right, others don't and there is enough of a population of fans who just want to know now.

I'm sure if I had more time, I could tie this into the fact that our media coverage is becoming increasingly bite-sized with the loss of long-form journalism and the rise of Twitter and the 24/7 news empire. But naturally, I don't have the time. Ha!

9Feb/120

2013 Winter Classic – Red Wings/Leafs – Alumni Game

So it's been made official today: Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Detroit Red Wings at the Big House in Detroit for the 2013 NHL Winter Classic. As part of the festivities there will be a second outdoor rink built at Comerica Park in Detroit which will play host to an AHL game, two OHL games, an NCAA tournament and the alumni game. The Winter Classic continues to grow in both size and spectacle as one of the NHL's marquee annual events.

With the news just officially announced, I thought it would be fun to muse a bit on the rosters, not of the NHL game, but of the alumni game. Both the Red Wings and the Leafs have quite healthy fanbases and have seen their fair taste of success over the years with plenty of talent playing for each side. But who will show up next January for the 2013 Winter Classic's alumni match?

For the Leafs, it is pretty easy to get a general idea of who might be involved, as the Leafs alumni just played a match a few weeks ago as part of the AHL's Outdoor Classic. In that event, the Toronto Marlies and the Hamilton Bulldogs (the farm teams for the Leafs and the Habs, respectively) faced off against one another on an outdoor rink in Hamilton. The alumni from both NHL parent teams also played a match, which the Leafs alumni won 6-5.

That Leafs roster featured names such as Doug Gilmour, Wendel Clark, Rick Vaive, Steve Thomas, Shayne Corson, Gary Leeman, Jeff O'Neill, Nick Kypreos, Kris King, Derek King and Brad May up front. They were joined by Mark Osbourne, Dan Daoust and Bill Derlago, while Rob Zettler and Bob McGill lined up on the blue line. Curtis Joseph played between the pipes.

Some other players who could potentially factor into the lineup for the Leafs include Glenn Anderson, Laurie Bosch, Dave Ellet, Trevor Kidd, Craig Muni, Daniel Marois and Kent Manderville. All players have laced them up for Toronto at one point in time or another and all of them currently play on the Oldtimers Hockey Challenge Tour.

Obviously, there's some other big names that Leaf fans would love to see, namely players like Mats Sundin, Gary Roberts, Tie Domi, Dave Andreychuk, Borje Salming and Felix Potvin. Curtis Joseph also mentioned Brian Leetch's name as a possibility. Leetch played during this year's alumni game for the New York Rangers. Mike Palmateer's name has also been mentioned.

Other players could include Mike Johnson, Yanic Perreault, Alexander Mogilny and Darcy Tucker.

For the Red Wings, the view might be a bit foggier. This will be the second time that Detroit has participated in a Winter Classic, having previously played in 2009 versus Chicago at Wrigley Field.

Perhaps the biggest name, Steve Yzerman has already said he might sit out, to focus instead on running the Tampa Bay Lightning. Even more intriguing could be if NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan laces them up.

The Red Wings do have an alumni team that features players like Igor Larionov, Dino Ciccarelli, Doug Brown, Paul Ysebaert, Joey Kocur, Shawn Burr and Chris Tamer, among others. Ron Duguay, Bobby Dollas, Tim Taylor, Rick Green and Dennis Polonich all play for the Oldtimers Hockey Challenge Tour and have previously played for the Red Wings.

Recently retired players like Kris Draper, Kirk Maltby, Darren McCarty, Brian Rafalski, Chris Chelios and Chris Osgood should factor in. Goaltenders Mike Vernon and Dominik Hasek have also been mentioned as possibilities. Brett Hull could play, as could Luc Robitaille. Sergei Fedorov is still playing in the KHL, so his participation might be in question.

The 2013 Winter Classic might be almost a year away, but plenty of interesting projections and speculation to make between now and then.