21 April, 2014


January 2010: Update on the Local Media Revolution

Even by the perennially sour standards of the Bullets/Wizards, the hoops news here at week’s end is numbing. The city’s star hoopster, a gangster, will be sentenced in D.C. Superior Court today on a felony firearms charge. The star may go to prison, for five years. At least Gilbert Arenas is alive; Sean Taylor, who infamously slept with a machete under his bed, perished from the bullet of a gun in a circle-cycle of violence that increasingly envelops American contemporary pro team sports not named hockey.

Hockey’s great outrages involve things like an intoxicated 20-year-old bullying a cabbie, or Bruce Boudreau’s neckties viewed in high definition. And so we’re too boring to attract the committed attention of local traditional media.

Relatively speaking, anybody else really like being so boring?

I patronized an online college football forum earlier this week as I monitored news related to USC’s search for a replacement head coach. Troy hired a maestro of helmeted high school thugs, Lane Kiffin (career record: 12 -21), away from Tennessee. A commentator on this particular message board, presumably about my age, wondered, “It’s a cesspool everywhere you look in sports these days, isn’t it?” I empathized with the sentiment, but I also offered some solace: “Actually, I take sanctuary in hockey. No guns, no drugs, no Booyah, refreshing athlete humility across puck-playing cultures, and perhaps most endearingly, no ESPN.”

A fresh kerfuffle arose this week between old media and the region’s hockey fans, with Washington Post columnist/WJFK radio personality Mike Wise taking a fresh swipe at hockey supporters. No need to detail it; it’s of little lasting consequence. File it under brazen self promotion ploy/more orneriness from the dying in print. But what stood out to me about this dustup was the engagement over it between the ostensibly competing voices in the matter: Wise and his Post colleagues and the region’s hockey bloggers. Tweets were atwitter over it, with more light than heat exchanged, I thought.

The moment did remind of that news organization’s longstanding disdain for our game, and that’s not inconsequential. Sentiments such as Wise’s don’t fall out before the TV camera accidentally. But the vibrant discussion of the matter was executed almost exclusively on line, the liveliest and most persuasive reflections coming from the bloggers. I viewed it as very much an arrival moment. We were in the right, and the arguing was taking place on our turf.

Wise’s words occurred within a remarkable context: Washington suddenly has become a one-big-newspaper town again, “big” here also being a very relative word, and we locals are all worsened by that. And so necessarily of late there’s been heightened scrutiny of the lone print product’s product. In these initial weeks of printing without a top-flight competitor the Post sadly has reverted to its olden, pre-Ovi ways: gorging on Burgundy and Gold, over a coaching change, and lewdly languishing in the Gilbert Arenas imbroglio.  To put it charitably, it’s been unseemly. Also, predictable.

Not that those news stories shouldn’t be related, and richly. But our local traditional media isn’t much known for distinguishing itself with a sense of proportionality . . .  or balance. Moreover, there’s rarely if ever an uplifting counterpart to the cult of personality preoccupation by our local old press. And this seems especially so if the only uplifting story in town involves men in skates.

Wise’s words, you see, were uttered not far removed from John Carlson’s World Juniors heroism, and Wise’s newspaper’s wholesale ignoring it. Gracious, you don’t need a five-man team of hockey scribes at a media outlet to cut and paste a wire copy’s lead  into a ‘Sports brief’ section for the next morning. Is it newsworthy that a cornerstone of the Capitals’ blueline for the next decade ended the Sovereign Hockey State’s 5-year hold on the world’s greatest hockey tournament, in sudden death fashion, in its own backyard? I think so. I might add: in our mega-beleaguered condition as a nation, that sort of national heroism is likely to carry even greater significance for no small number of Americans, even diehard Skins’ fans.

I’d have run a color photo of a celebrating Carlson on A1, partly in a tip of the hat to Washington’s full-on love affair with hockey, partly because such an international triumph doesn’t happen every day, and partly because of an old fashioned sensibility about what kind of relationship a paper ought to have with the community it serves: once in a while, it’s ok to lift us up when we’re really down.

Preceding Carlson’s feat by about 10 days was the Capitals’ trading of their team captain. The Post covered that with a single day’s straight news account and zero accompanying or following analysis. Par for the Post’s course.  It’s a big deal when a team captain is dealt. It’s a bigger deal I think when it’s the team captain from the only remotely competitive team in town.

To get the heart of this matter, the Post actually is only minimally resourced to comment as relevant, thriving media should on such matters. Set aside hockey’s coverage for a moment; who at the Post today is ID-ed as a sophisticated and savvy voice on college football, someone say who can offer insightful analysis on the USC-Tennessee tinder box?

The larger point here is what the Post is doing to attempt to remain relevant in an era of compressed resources and cutting edge competition. It can’t possibly cover hockey with the finesse and sophistication demanded by hockey’s growing legions in this region, nor college football as say Yahoo does, so instead increasingly it traffics in the alternative to competency: celebrity-dom.

And so we read plenty of puffy prose related to Tiger Woods, Arenas, Snyder-Cerrato, etc. The cult of personalities often carries the sports page day here. That actually isn’t an entirely useless designation, as I seldom take a laptop to the men room’s stall.

Briefly last fall I got excited when as a whole the paper’s sports section, in both its print and electronic incarnations, at long last seemed to catch up with the invective of the region’s Redskins’ supporters, then turned cabal. Suddenly, the shilling for Snyder had halted. Suddenly, there was accountability demanded by the media. But it didn’t last. And we ended up where we did this week with Wise’s unwise words directed once again at hockey. Five years ago this would have been viewed here as the act of a bully. Today it’s merely ignorance emanating from irrelevance.

What should the Post do next in its slow death march? More radio and TV, I suppose. How about formally affiliating with the Redskins, just as the former WTEM did? Birds of a feather should flock together.



18 Comments

  1. mascot01 wrote:

    “The city’s star hoopster, a gangster”–When was Gilbert Arenas in a gang?

    “Actually, I take sanctuary in hockey. No guns, no drugs, no Booyah, refreshing athlete humility across puck-playing cultures”–No ‘Booyah’? Gee, what “cultures” are you referring to? Good humble white people like Marty McSorley, Todd Bertuzzi, and Chris Simon? Are athletes in other sports more prone to violent outbursts (a premise I don’t grant) because their “culture” is more violent or just because their leagues don’t condone them beating the shit out of each other on the field of play?

    “Is it newsworthy that a cornerstone of the Capitals’ blueline for the next decade ended the Sovereign Hockey State’s 5-year hold on the world’s greatest hockey tournament, in sudden death fashion, in its own backyard?”–I have no idea what this sentence even means.

    15 January, 2010 at 9:49 am | Permalink
  2. Drew wrote:

    @MASCOT01, hockey players are not prone to gun violence, just raping 17 year olds in limos in dark alleys.

    15 January, 2010 at 10:04 am | Permalink
  3. GMUcrew7 wrote:

    1. Don’t think he inferred that Arenas is in or ever was in a gang, but that he represents the wannabe “Scarface” gangster persona. We can all agree he showed poor judgment and irresponsible firearm ownership.

    2. Agree somewhat, there are probably as many assholes in hockey as there are in other professional sports they just haven’t made as many off field/ice bad decisions as athletes from other sports lately.

    3. Let me translate for you: “Is it newsworthy that a cornerstone (a person of great importance) of the Capitals’ blueline (hockey for defensive player or zone) for the next decade (10 years) ended the Sovereign Hockey State’s (Canada) 5-year hold on the world’s greatest hockey tournament (World Junior Ice Hockey Championship), in sudden death (first goal wins) fashion, in its own backyard (Canada again)?”

    15 January, 2010 at 12:57 pm | Permalink
  4. Capsfansteve wrote:

    Really, pucks? really? Make fun of Arenas for being a tool all you like, but Sean Taylor’s death was a tragedy. He got murdered in front of his girlfriend and daughter in a botched home invasion that had nothing to do with his somewhat sorted past. The kid that led the breakin was his lawn-boy, not some guy who Taylor had pissed off during his gang-banger days at the U.

    15 January, 2010 at 1:16 pm | Permalink
  5. Mike wrote:

    ‘Sean Taylor, who infamously slept with a machete under his bed, perished from the bullet of a gun in a circle-cycle of violence that increasingly envelops American contemporary pro team sports not named hockey’

    How is it infamous for someone to keep a machete under his bed in the hope of protecting his family? How is he, or his sport, responsible for the senseless murder that occurred during a break-in? He was killed because he was rich and the robbers thought he wouldn’t be home. Get your facts straight. Sean Taylor was not killed in a ‘circle-cycle of violence.’

    This is a shameful piece of writing, far below the usual quality of this blog.

    If you have a problem with the coverage of hockey in this area, make the piece about that alone. If you want to talk about the culture of violence that you perceive in other sports (seriously, how is what Gilbert Arenas did worse than McSorley or Simon?) then stick to that. It would take a lot more than a few sensationalistic sentences to delve into the very complex issue.

    15 January, 2010 at 1:28 pm | Permalink
  6. Phil wrote:

    Oh please spare me all the defenses of NBA or NFL players. Taken as a whole (which is what we’re talking about here), NHL players are bar none, hands down, the classiest, most noble group of professional athletes around. And most every reporter who covers them comes to that conclusion shortly after being introduced to them. And they deserve to have their accomplishments much further highlighted and written about in much greater detail than what is being done today by the MSM in Washington.

    But don’t take my words for it. To quote a recently departed and much missed scribe’s obit from the Times’s John Keeley:

    ” …he was convinced from covering Navy football that no matter how long his career in sports journalism lasted he’d never meet a caliber of athlete whose character rivaled that of the Midshipmen in Annapolis. If you know anything about the profiles of the men and women who attend the U.S. Naval Academy, and commit to serving their country for years after graduating, you’d understand why he said that. And then Corey followed with this observation: “But already on the hockey beat I’ve found that hockey players are even better human beings.” That of course was meant as no slight to the Midshipmen.”

    To even compare the average level of character of hockey players vs NBA/MLB/NFL is an affront to all hockey players.

    The worst thing about the old media’s lack of coverage is that there is an audience out there just begging for more coverage. And it’s the exact demo that marketers want. Males 18-49. Educated, affluent.

    They’re cutting off their own noses to spite their own faces. Good riddance to them. The day the Post dies can’t come soon enough. Pixels > Print.

    15 January, 2010 at 2:01 pm | Permalink
  7. TG wrote:

    Wow. I’m impressed. Almost as wrong a note as you hit with your Abe Pollin memorial post. Do yourself a favor. Get yourself an editor. Be it a friend, a loved one, someone you hire yourself. And let them look over pieces like this before you post them. Who knows? There might be a good posting in here somewhere. But you’ve got so much chaff stuck in there with the wheat that your point, whatever it may be, is being lost.

    You want to take on the amount of coverage the Redskins are getting? OK Don Quixote, but look at any metric of fandom and you’ll see that, for better or worse, the Redskins still massively outpace the Capitals. And despite two horrific seasons, the Wizards are only barely behind the Caps.

    You want to take on the culture? I’m not even getting into what can almost be deemed racist language/generalizations, which I’m sure isn’t what you meant. Yet I do have questions where you rate having an unloaded firearm that much below an attack on a taxi driver. Or how having an unloaded gun is that much worse than using a hockey stick as a weapon against someone. Or running a gambling ring while the coach of a team.

    But like I said, before you ruin what’s left of your good name, hire an editor. Please.

    15 January, 2010 at 3:34 pm | Permalink
  8. Anon wrote:

    Per coverage from the Post, I just keep going to their website and reading all the articles and blog posts on the Caps, and not much else. More page hits!

    15 January, 2010 at 3:42 pm | Permalink
  9. TG,

    Your defense of the local media status quo is noted.

    And per your prodding, I went back and read reader comments left for my piece on Pollin, to see how singularly sinister I was there, as you allege. You might want to as well.

    15 January, 2010 at 3:52 pm | Permalink
  10. TG wrote:

    Pucks,

    You may be right about your Pollin column, but I know that I was so pissed about what you wrote that I DIDN’T write anything. I figured it was just easier to ignore the whole thing than spend my time/energy whistling in the wind.

    15 January, 2010 at 4:14 pm | Permalink
  11. Jim wrote:

    Probert smuggled drugs across the US/Canada border. McCarty…drugs. Heatley…vehicular homicide. Theo Fleury…drugs among other things. DUIs aplenty in the NHL. Hockey lacks the guns, but other than that, we have plenty of dumb guys with too much money doing some sordid stuff. The Staal bachelor party comes to mind. The rumored Messier/Gretzky coke parties come to mind. Luckily (or not) a lot of the violence of this sport happens on ice. Heck, Rick Tocchet ran a gambling ring with Gretzky’s wife placing bets for TGO. You can see the guys with the tats all over (Mike Green, for example). The fast cars (Green again). It’s only a matter of time before the NHL develops its own gangsta culture.

    15 January, 2010 at 9:49 pm | Permalink
  12. Phil,

    You can skate on my line any time. When the puck goes in the corner, the smart wager is on your coming out with it.

    Semper Fi.

    16 January, 2010 at 12:15 am | Permalink
  13. JMAC wrote:

    He wasn’t sentenced yesterday Pucks – that comes in March. I’m not going to defend Arenas, he’s an idiot and an embarrassment to the team and the city, but he’s not a gangster nor does he perpetuate the image, at least not nearly to the degree that many others do – that was a cheap shot. And your line about Taylor is way, way out of line – another cheap shot. Which is a shame because I think the point you are making is very valid.

    16 January, 2010 at 9:36 am | Permalink
  14. xke4me wrote:

    I compare the digital/print media to when automobiles replaced the horse & buggy. The print media is so bad, I ignore it.

    Jim – what do you have against tats? I guess I’m an awful person in your book because I have one. It’s the result of my defenseman son getting a hat trick in a game – we made a bet, I honored it. BTW, I’m a stay a home Mom, pushing 50. Whooo, scary!

    16 January, 2010 at 10:13 am | Permalink
  15. Cathy W wrote:

    You keep pushing how WaPo is on a death march and seeem to imply that’s just great. No, it is not. Losing the Washington Times sports coverage was a big loss to Caps fans. WaPo has increased its Caps coverage compared to several years ago. If we lose the Caps beat at WaPo that will be another major lose to Caps fans. Sorry, but blogs don’t do the same thing as the beat reporters.

    16 January, 2010 at 12:20 pm | Permalink
  16. Cathy,

    You’re exactly right — blogs don’t pursue the formulaic approach of coverage of the traditional hockey beat, which perhaps explains why an increasing number of them have hit counts whose numbers annihilate that of newspapers.

    16 January, 2010 at 12:31 pm | Permalink
  17. Cathy W wrote:

    But not all blogs are of equal quality. There are some that are more reposting of Caps press releases and very little critical analysis. In the past year, there has been a number of consolidation of some of the Caps blogs. Most bloggers are doing this in addition to their regular job so life changes make doing daily blogs impossible. Sadly, it has been some of the better Caps bloggers that have ended their individual blogs. I think we are actually blessed to have independent bloggers, traditional media, and Vogs and Stretch for Caps coverage. More voices and view points are better as each source has a different role to play. Losing any one of these sources is not a good thing for Caps fans.

    16 January, 2010 at 12:52 pm | Permalink
  18. Some of that consolidation was inevitable; but I agree, there is a loss (moderate) when a distinctive blogging voice melds within a consortium.

    16 January, 2010 at 1:08 pm | Permalink