Dear NHL Pundits: It’s the thought that counts

It's the thought that counts

Aw, you shouldn’t have.

No, really. I mean it. You shouldn’t have.

If you take yourself at all seriously about being a "journalist," sports or otherwise, you shouldn’t have been in such a rush to "break" a story that you neglected to put some thought into it. THAT’S THE MOST IMPORTANT PART!

Whether you’re a hockey analyst or just picking out a gift, it’s the thought that counts.

And with both Christmas and the endgame in the NHL lockout both just around the corner, maybe a review of this idea is in order…

A couple of weeks ago I noted some of the distinctions between pundits in the NHL and in the world of politics. But given recent events, it might be useful to take a step back and think about the three general types of pundits you can find on TV and how to tell them apart:

The signal and the noise

It doesn’t really matter what channel you’re watching on Sunday morning, but I’m pretty sure you can classify any of the pundits you see on this simple chart. They might be breaking down the day’s NFL games or the past week’s political goings on, but at the core they’re either adding value to your understanding or they’re not. This is true of all pundits and self-professed "analysts," in sports and otherwise.

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So what does any of this have to do with the NHL, you ask?

Well, if you’ve been folowing the lockout on Twitter, it’s becoming more and more apparent that the signal to noise ratio is pretty low when it comes to informed analysis. And while it’s pretty easy to just tune out the most shrill because they have little to offer and they’re just plain annoying, the shills are much more insidious because they carry the promise of inside information:

The insider

 But as @jessespector put it the other night:

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 And since a little plagiarism has never been beyond me, a picture is worth 140 characters (inflation, I guess):

The Devil insider

Unfortunately, as with most deals with Bettman the Devil, it’s a Fool’s Bargain:

News is what they don't want you to know

As we’ve covered before, news is what they don’t want you to know. Everything else is just PR.

Now, look, I’m not saying you can’t have journalistic ethics if you have any inside access at all. All I’m asking is that you apply a litle critical thought to what you’re told. Ask yourself why they’re telling you what it is they’re telling you. Who’s interests does it serve to get this particular side of the story out? Heck, just recognize that it is a side; that there might be another side, that is just as valid.

What it comes down to is this: the only thing separating the made-up stuff I put in this blog with most of what passes for insider analysis on TV is the inside part. There is little journalistic value to either:

Just enough

So, whether it’s Mike Russo at the Minneapolis StarTribune breaking the NHL’s internal analysis of the NHLPA’s bargaining positions last week and being the conduit for the league to "voice" its displeasure at the Fehr memo to players the week before, or the undending stream of league PR disguised as Darren Dreger tweets, there doesn’t seem to be too much critical thought put into the information from "inside" sources. Information that seems to be passed on verbatim most times. At what point do these guys stop being reporters and start being stenographers?

I mean where’s the inquisitiveness? Wouldn’t it make you wonder how a league that is willing to fine it’s members and their staff up to $1 million for speaking out of turn could all of a sudden spring more leaks than a Vancouver condo?

Unbelievably, at least one of these guys doesn’t even think a leak is actually a leak! Witness this exchange between TSN "insider" Darren Dreger and player agent Allan Walsh from a few weeks ago:

Did you catch that? If you are passing on information you have been given, you are simply "reporting" it. Fair enough, though some might argue that the tone, framing and context used to convey that information can have a significant impact on how it is perceived. If all you’re doing is conveying the information with the spin applied by your "source", then you’re crossing over the line from reporter to press secretary.

And speaking of sources, if you can’t or won’t name them, then yes it’s a leak

Anyway, let’s continue, because the next part of this exchange was even more telling:

Got that? The response to the leak is "spin." The original report is always the baseline, the datum by which further commentary  is measured against. Straight out of the Lockout Playbook. And you guys thought I was just making that stuff up.

Now one more bit of the exchange before we hit the punchline:

There you have it. When it’s a matter of "breaking" a story, you might as well break whatever else you need to along the way. As long as you’re first. That’s what counts.

So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that there really is little thought put into these "insider" reports. I mean, the shortest route from the ears to the mouth, would necessarily bypass the brain:

Shortest distance between two points

Or maybe I’m just giving this too much thought. Making it too complicated. Maybe it’s much simpler and @Steve_May is on to something:



  • smiliegirl15

    Hilarious and accurate. What a take-down of Dreger (who actually doesn’t bother me that much, but I’ve often wondered how far he is from the NHL’s PR).

    I’ve been thinking about your piece on the “Lockout Handbook” ever since I read it. So far, the script is pretty much accurate: the owners just wait for the players to get more desperate, before feeding them another bit of “concession.”

    • Graphic Comments

      Indeed. The only part that didn’t pan out was the early cancellation of the Winter Classic. Thought for sure that would be part of the driving force to get a deal done by end of next week.

      But seriously, if it still happens, I’m hanging them up. Going out on a high note. 😛

  • Graphic Comments

    Ooooh. I’m famous.

    It has been interesting (in the way a car wreck is interesting) to watch some journalists take sides in this issue – either by being “insiders” or just through puppetry.

    I think Dreger was caught of guard when he was called out for his work. Social media has a lot of folks that have good memories and can call folks out on stuff like this. Makes for a more interesting, challenging landscape.

    I sure as heck know a lot more about what’s going on in this lockout than I did in the last one.