Heart of the Matter

This is Punch Imlach. He was the most controversial and dividing figure in the modern history of the game. A few months after winning the 1967 Stanley Cup, Leafs forward Frank Mahovlich spent time in a hospital after suffering a breakdown brought on by the constant badgering of Imlach.

He held two-a-day practices based on Toronto’s rush hour so players didn’t have time to zip home between the on-ice sessions. The 1960s Leafs basically worked 9-5 just like everyone else, even on off days.

Punch Imlach, by any stretch, was the bad guy.

The Oilers-Dave Berry situation should have been handled better by the organization, but I don’t believe they are the “bad guy” on a Punch Imlach level (as described above). Their “crime” is in not recognizing how this would play on the internet and in the mainstream media.

Blogging is a new beast, just like 8-Tracks and porn on the internet (does National Geographic even exist anymore?) were at one time new and interesting products. The bloggers feel a freedom to “say it like it is” that mainstream media cannot due to their ongoing need to have an open relationship with the organization and its players.

It’s a Catch-22 for the writers and broadcasters, because with truth comes credibility. In the recent past the only “reporter” I can recall who built a reputation of honesty with fans while still broadcasting games and continuing a relationship with the team was Ray Ferraro. Bob Stauffer’s transition from the Team 1260 to CHED’s game broadcasts will be a fascinating case study in this area.

It’s a Catch-22 for the Oilers too. For an organization that clearly prefers to bolt all the furniture to the floor lest it move an inch, the internet is a challenge of epic proportions. Dave Berry used profanity in his blog, something an internet reader would accept if not expect in the normal course of reading on the Al Gore. The Oilers, on the other hand, have a reputation to protect and the logo and its players are “off limits” in their house. I think normal, reasonable people understand that and the issue most of us have with Mr. Berry’s situation is the way it was handled as opposed to the reasons behind it.

There’s also a bias that exists between mainstream media and bloggers. It makes itself known in subtle, almost hilarious fashion. Consider this piece from David Staples (who has frankly written the pivotal items in this story) article the other day:

  • “Zack Stortini is just a disgusting hockey player,” Berry wrote.
  • Such commentary wouldn’t sit well with the players, Hebert says. “I’d like Zack to see that (comment). I’d like him (Berry) to go talk to Zack after. There might not be much talking!” Hebert says and laughs.
  • The regular reporters who cover the team all the time know they must face the players and coaches that they write about. “Media don’t fear for their lives when they come in here but they know they have to be fair,” Hebert says.

Let’s take these items one at a time. I’ve seen Stortini interviewed and know a little about his background (follow prospects pretty closely) and happen to know he is no dummy. We can reasonably assume that Stortini is familiar with terms like “embellishment” and “hyperbole.” We don’t have the context of the item Berry wrote so have to leave it at that, while still noting that when you take things out of context it enables you to frame issues in the most negative fashion. This is something bloggers are often called out for, so we should point it out when members of the mainstream media do it.

The comment from Hebert is typical of media types everywhere who apparently believe bloggers are made up of losers sitting in the basement, in front of their computer screens with a bag of Cheesies, blue lights to set the mood, a 2L of “Diet” Coke and a stack of Swank magazines in the corner. Probably in need of a shave and haven’t seen natural light since Saturday.

Underestimating your opponent is never wise. Mainstream media people (and PR folks) need to understand most bloggers use the forum as a collective think tank to move the conversation forward in all kinds of areas. Just as Bill James exposed the importance of platooning, the importance of k/w ratio in projecting success for pitchers, the importance of age in projecting a career from rookie status forward, so too are bloggers sussing out information and applying it to hockey. Tyler Dellow has successfully convinced me that save percentage (relative to league) is the absolute in regard to goaltenders, Vic Ferrari of IOF has taught me all kinds of interesting things, most recently the value of players who take faceoffs in their own end and the massive drag it has on their overall statistics. You’re not going to get that kind of information elsewhere, folks.

I think we can conclude a few things from this episode:

  1. the rules of engagement need to be more clearly defined.
  2. the mainstream media remains threatened by blogs.
  3. when blogs begin to make money (at a certain point) there are going to be issues of copyright, intellectual property, and bad feelings.
  4. bloggers are universally not well thought of in the sports and information societies.
  5. being underestimated in infancy is just about the best possible scenario for bloggers as a group.

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37 Responses to "Heart of the Matter"

  1. Julian says:

    I can’t believe how much the focus has been on whether or not he what he did was “professional” and whether the oilers should allow blogs and blah blah blah. To me the whole problem Dave had was that the Oilers PR guy treated him like a dick, despite Dave being very polite and cooperative. I know it went beyond that because blogs vs the MSM is a sexy topic, but I don’t think Dave ever wanted it to be about more than that being treated badly as a person by an organization he wanted to respect.

    But anyway, I’m quite happy with the blogs being on the outside looking both in and out. I check four or five different oilers blogs every day, another four or five NHL blogs every day, and the MSM and Oilers.com once a week or so.

  2. doritogrande says:

    And here I thought this was going to be your take on a second team in Leafland. Whoops.

    You’re a little late on the draw with this one LT.

  3. doritogrande says:

    sorry to threadjack, but I thought you'd be interested;

    Philippe Cornet made the squad for the ADT challenge. Our 5th rounder has 10 points in 9 games thus far.

    http://www.lhjmq.qc.ca/lang_en/index.php?page=232&id_nouvelle=1886

  4. Matt says:

    Nice post chief. I particular enjoyed the line about the furniture.

    And if I were to underline one particular point, it would be the one about truth and credibility. I really think a large chunk of media types fail to appreciate the degree to which their opinions are simply disregarded because they take such pains to be fair. And by fair I mean nice, and uncritical.

    Jim Matheson seems like a good reporter, and obviously has terrific access and sources, but he’s literally the last person in the world whose opinion I’m interested in hearing re: the Oilers.

  5. Kris says:

    I laughed at the idea that real media guys wouldn’t criticize Stortini, because he might beat them up. Really? Is he a total psycho? Ridiculous. I grew up with a lot of tough hockey players and they were always willing to fight if you wanted too, but they weren’t thugs. (Has “JJ” met Stortini? Does Stortini appreciate being called, implicitly, a criminal?)

    I think the MSM hockey writers who’ve commented on this- Brownlee, Gregor, Staples- have come out looking really bad: worse than a Ryan Smyth slapshot.

  6. Black Dog says:

    Actually kris, I think Staples has done terrific work on this and generally I don’t care for a lot of his stuff.

    Well thought out, LT. Very interesting read.

  7. godot10 says:

    Devil’s advocate mode ON:

    When someone enters your home without permission, does it matter whether they are polite or not?

    There is clearly an “economic value” to live-blogging from the pressbox. For anyone to do it without asking for permission first seems naive.

    That said, the Oilers probably could have been more gentle with the said blogger, but said blogger seemed NOT to have a good understanding about how to “police” his own activity. He made a poor presumption.

  8. loudog says:

    DoritoGrande: LT may not be very quick to post on this as he normally is with other (say all) NHL/OILERS news things, but considering the amount of ink that has spilled (or bytes?) on this, I’m sure the Dave “Che Guevara” Berry saga is far from over.

    The fact that all these blogs exist (and I’m sure that number will only increase in the future, especially in the Oilogosphere) doesn’t mean I won’t read the Edmonton Journal’s take on the Oilers. Granted I might not read as much the journals or go to Edmontonoil.com as say before the Internet arrived. And that’s not because I do not feel their content is good, it simply is because they do not offer the same content and space where fans can be interactive and they will never be able to for obvious reasons. But with what offers the Internet and this ever growing legion of faithful Oiler fans/bloggers it would be in the Oilers’ interest to not piss off the blogging world (or some of it). Sadly that it is what has happened. This is essentially what LT points out (or my understanding of his post anyway) and I think that pretty much sums it all up. Great post btw.

    Hopefully someone in the Oilers’ organization will notice and take notes so they don’t piss off bloggers and in the end, fans.

    Incidentally, all this has nothing to do with being able to blog-live or not. Funny eh?

  9. raventalon40 says:

    It may be the tip of the iceberg. I like to think of it like a comparable to the whole Copernicus story – sometimes the truth works itself out one way or another.

    I disagree with dorito, and I like the fact that LT took his time to post on this while people everywhere (including myself) were running around with their heads chopped off due to the confusion. I think now that some of the controversy in the issue was due mostly to:

    1) the Edmonton Oilers that delayed their response, which meant people would either have to believe D.Berry’s story as it was (initially) or question his creditiblity (which also happened)
    2) the MSM that pointed the finger at bloggers
    3) the bloggers that pointed the finger back

    I realise that posting all that stuff about “Oilers view fans as enemy” that I did falls under that category #3 as well but I don’t regret it. Sometimes you have to stand up for what you believe in, even if it involves your favorite hockey team.

  10. Slipper says:

    Sometimes throwing gasoline onto a fire does qualify as a hobby.

    I feel it’s was a fun few days in what was otherwise a slow Oilers newsweek.

  11. Guy Flaming says:

    Just want to mention 2 things:

    1) Last season I personally asked Zack Stortini how he felt about being tagged “Huggy Bear” by some in the media and by many fans.

    I’ve gotten to know Zack through many discussions since he was drafted back in 2003. I would say we have a friendly relationship (not friends though) but I can admit that it was an uncomfortable discussion. I was asking him how he felt about something OTHER people were saying and it was awkward.

    I’m trying to visualize the discussion had I been asking him how he felt about ME calling him whatever this Berry guy called him… I think it could have been uglier.

    2) LT – I deeply resent your stereotypical descrption of bloggers. I hate cheezies.

  12. Coach pb9617 says:

    The oilers want the traffic. That’s cute. They have absolutely nothing of interest for a hockey fan except those kids in the 8-15 demographic and mom’s looking for onesies for their baby.

    There is no compelling analysis, discussion or ideas. They have soundbites and interviews. I don’t care.

  13. Slipper says:

    Does anyone know of any good liveblogs that might be up for the game tonight?

    I mean, if someone out there is liveblogging it sort of defeats the purpose of shelling out for the pay-per-view. Amirite?

  14. Coach pb9617 says:

    Also, this post title reminds me of Don Henley. I don’t like him and the Eagles make my skin crawl.

    Maybe use something better next time or I’ll start visiting Oilers.com!

  15. Kara says:

    Oilers game will be streamed tonight:

    http://www.myp2pforum.eu/nhl-icehockey/

  16. MJT says:

    LT: If you want the Stortini comment in context, follow the link. Courtesy of Staples’ blog.

  17. mc79hockey says:

    I’m trying to visualize the discussion had I been asking him how he felt about ME calling him whatever this Berry guy called him… I think it could have been uglier.

    What do you mean “uglier”? Like assault ugly? Maybe we all have the wrong impression of Zack Stortini. It seems that the people who don’t know him figure that he’d take it stride and laugh it off (particularly because it was as much a reference to the Gagner comment as anything else). Those who do keep hinting at this ominous event.

    Dave’s also written some pretty nice stuff about Zack, for what it’s worth. If you search coveredinoil for “Stortini” you’ll find a post about him going to the WEM signing with STORTINI written on his knuckles and meeting the guy. He’s pretty candid in saying that he doesn’t think he’s much of a hockey player but any of the MSM types who say differently aren’t being very truthful, IMO.

  18. Doogie2K says:

    I also admit I took the wrong tack at first in approaching the issue, and went for the obvious (Oilers/MSM v. bloggers) issue instead of the more honest one (Oilers v. Dave, and more specifically, the heavy-handedness of the encounter). Sometimes waiting a few days for the sake of being right is worth something.

    That doesn’t mean that the Oilers/MSM v. bloggers angle isn’t relevant; simply that it’s an interesting and/or infurating tangent, not the core of the matter.

  19. Dennis says:

    The Oilers try and control the message and that’s what scares them about blogs; they have no hope of stopping them.

    I’m not saying the Oilers have ever “stepped to” — RPI “The Wire” — guys like Ty and Vic but if they were smarter than they be looked to hire these guys.

    Berry’s night was squashed;) because he was saying things the Oilers don’t want people to hear and they’ve already gotten the their thumbs and they’re not about to have to break in a new bunch of rookies.

    Have any of you ever seen how upset Brownlee gets when I ask why no one ever said a course word regarding the pronger trade and the Sopuray signing? He gets pissed because he knows where I’m going with it: if you work in Edm, you surrendered all objectivity.

    As gross as the Oilers PR and MSM Guys think the blogosphere is, what do they make of working as journos when you’re told what to write?

    And if they want to debat that, then show something they’ve written that could be deemed as criticial?

  20. DeBakey says:

    A couple of points:

    Didn't I read last winter that the Oiler players read & enjoy the zany humour of Covered in Oil?

    The MSM wouldn't have to worry about blogs if they put as much effort into their paid work as bloggers put into their posts.

  21. Doogie2K says:

    I’d also like to take this opportunity to register my alarm that Adam Proteau’s response is on the “sensible” side of the bell curve. What the hell.

  22. Sean says:

    Finger pointing isnt the way to go here. The Oilers are a 200 million dollar business that is in charge of its image and its players image. Thats why they have copyrights, PR department ect. Its not like they are just going to open its doors to everyone. Because they dont have many in the organization that are in touch with the web should just license the rights. That way they dont have to let every Joe Shmoe blogger in, they can have a set of terms and can still make their money. They dont need people making up stories, they dont Joe Shmoe blogger telling others what Sam Gagner is so his site can get extra hits.

    At there are a lot of positives from the Oilogosphere that they are ignoring (#1 being the analysis) . The web is also a form of marketing that scales rapidly with little effort.

  23. Master Lok says:

    Interesting that the pro-bloggers all talk about “truth”, specifically if it goes against the corporate Oilers agenda.

    But I notice there is a lack of discussion on blogger accountability or professionalism. Who should hold bloggers accountable? Or can they just rip everyone and if anyone objects, then it’s the objector is a control freak or is represents the “corporation”?

  24. danny says:

    The comment from Hebert is typical of media types everywhere who apparently believe bloggers are made up of losers sitting in the basement, in front of their computer screens with a bag of Cheesies, blue lights to set the mood, a 2L of “Diet” Coke and a stack of Swank magazines in the corner. Probably in need of a shave and haven’t seen natural light since Saturday.

    I’m here now, reading your blog, at my office. Ive been locked in here for days and nights on end due to a deadline this week. I sit here beside my 2L Diet Pepsi bottle, in dire need of a shave. I love the fact that my LCD displays have blue glowing LEDs, which match my swank new Wacoms’ LEDs.

    Where did I go wrong?

  25. Sean says:

    And if they want to debat that, then show something they’ve written that could be deemed as criticial?

    They are a business and their primary product is their hockey team. Why dont you start up a website and that reviews iPhones. Then ask Apple if you can get insider access on the new releases.

    Sites (blogs) exist for people to get opinion independently of the product. Its a good thing and shouldnt change.

  26. Paulus says:

    I still can’t figure out what the main issue is in all of this. It just seems as though everyone has their prepared statement founded in their position as MSM, Oiler PR, blogger, commentator.

    It also seems like DMFB’s ordeal was a Boston Massacre kind of thing: a minor event existentially, but a watershed moment nonetheless. Like waiting for a shitbomb to go off.

  27. Ribs says:

    I don’t see what the big news is here. The guy clearly abused his press box privileges (knowingly, or not) and an appropriate action was taken to stop the abuse. He explained himself to someone and they gave him back the privileges he was originally granted and slapped him with a warning.

    What more can you ask from them?

    It’s not like they just give out press passes to anyone who asks for one. There are people who are paid to decide who gets in and who doesn’t. I’m thinking they’d probably pass on someone who applied with “Will berate and harshly criticize Oilers players and coaches live during game on internet”. It’s supposed to be a professional environment.

    Now, the PR guys admitted that it was the content of the blog posts that set off the alarms and in the end that is really their judgement to make considering the consequences.

    If you let someone take notes at a staff meeting you’re holding and they start posting stuff on their blog like “Sue the secretary disgusts me. She couldn’t answer phones if her life depended on it” or “This guy’s presentation blows goats”, would you kick the guy out of the room? I sure would.

  28. Lowetide says:

    Ribs: The issue for me isn’t that the Oilers revoked his pass and had him delete his blog, it’s the (apparent) treatment of the individual involved in this case.

    Years ago when I was a young man and working afternoon drive radio, I took my tape recorder to a local mall and began asking people questions as they entered. I got probably three excellent responses and was on the way to my car when a large security officer approached me.

    He asked me what I was doing and I told him. He informed me that my activity was not allowed by the mall and suggested that it was time to leave.

    Which I did.

    I am not arguing the point that Mr. Berry was in the wrong and as such the removal of rights and access is completely in line with reasonable conduct.

    The issue is the way in which it was done. In life, reasonable people do what is called a “lay down” when clearly in the wrong and it appears Mr. Berry did just this thing.

    “I’m sorry, completely in the wrong here, my sincere apologies.”

    The proper response is “no worries, but we have been advised that this activity is not allowed and I’m also going to have to ask you to delete the content.”

    Lay down, measured response, end of episode.

    That didn’t happen, or at least based on what I have read it didn’t happen.

    So, with that as the backdrop we are left to assume that:

    1. the person in charge is young and inexperienced and not in possession of knowledge that a mall security guard knew about 2 decades ago when I encountered him

    2. A message was being sent.

    Either way, that’s the issue for me.

  29. Vic Ferrari says:

    master lok.

    All excellent points! And congratualtions, you’ve just won the coveted “Silver Vic” award. This includes a laminated poster of Robbie Schremp and a two hour power cuddle with David Staples. (I’ll make him wear mittens this time btw, I don’t want a repeat of the whole Bryanbryoil incident).

    In any case, have fun with that.

    And of course, convention dictates that you don’t visit the Oilogosphere for three months following a ‘Silver Vic’ triumph. I don’t know who came up with that rule, and I don’t understand it, but it’s been that way forever, just the way it is.

  30. Art Vandelay says:

    Jim Matheson seems like a good reporter…”

    Has lifting 85% of one’s column material from the CP and AP wires and inserting “…” in between each item now been redefined as “good reporting”?

  31. Bruce says:

    1) Last season I personally asked Zack Stortini how he felt about being tagged “Huggy Bear” by some in the media and by many fans.

    Guy: You mentioned your own (understandable) discomfort asking this question, but not Zack’s response. Does it bear repeating?

    He’s pretty candid in saying that he doesn’t think he’s much of a hockey player but any of the MSM types who say differently aren’t being very truthful, IMO.

    Tyler: I would agree with a statement that Stortini doesn’t look like much of a hockey player, but that doesn’t quite jive with his actual performance. “Not much of a hockey player” recorded a +10 rating in the second half of last season, playing on the fourth line of a non-playoff team.

    Invoking the aphorism about “lies, damned lies, and statistics” I guess we should all conclude that’s just another stat that isn’t very truthful either. Still, it’s intriguing that a player so universally reviled could post positive results; could it possibly be that there’s more to him than meets the critical eye?

  32. Lowetide says:

    I don’t know where this universally reviled stuff comes from, Bruce. Many (me included) looked at the results and were impressed by them but questioned if he had sustain.

    If he can do it again this season then we may have something here, but it remains to be seen.

    I don’t think anyone hates Stortini.

  33. Bruce says:

    LT: I’m just picking up on the comment that it would be untruthful for anybody to not share Dave’s opinion that he’s “not much of a hockey player”, which is a fairly gentle translation of “disgusting”. It’s not so much universal revulsion as the expectation of groupthink that raised my ire.

    If he can do it again this season then we may have something here, but it remains to be seen.

    Of course. Same thing can be said of quite a few of the youngsters who stepped forward last year. I agree that judging by appearances, Stortini’s progress seemed the unlikeliest, and therefore least likely to be repeated. It’ll be interesting to see what happens; the early results are not encouraging in that Zack isn’t getting much traction thus far, and his rope may well be shorter than most.

  34. Lowetide says:

    Bruce: Ah, gotcha. Yeah, I think the bias against Stortini is that he is low event heading the other way and doesn’t appear to drive the bus enough to have an impact.

    However, the more we see him the better idea we’ll have and the coach was pretty damn good at getting the ball rolling the right way and MacT loves him.

  35. mike w says:

    Nice post, LT!

    The Stortini joke about being “just disgusting” — and it was a joke — was a follow-up joke on his previous live blog post about Gagner’s “disgusting passes.”

    I find it odd that this comment has been cherry-picked as unprofessional when it’s so obviously a gag when read in context…

  36. Earl Sleek says:

    I’d also like to take this opportunity to register my alarm that Adam Proteau’s response is on the “sensible” side of the bell curve. What the hell.

    That shocked the hell out of me also, Doogie. Insanity.

  37. Ribs says:

    Ribs: The issue for me isn’t that the Oilers revoked his pass and had him delete his blog, it’s the (apparent) treatment of the individual involved in this case.

    I guess it’s hard to say whether the media guy’s measured response was measured enough or not. It does seem a tad extreme to banish the guy from the press box forever but without seeing the posts he was asked/told to delete it’s tough to know if it was appropriate. If you had gone to the mall that day to put people down or criticize the stores inside you may have gotten your own banishment and I’m sure it wouldn’t be that unexpected or undeserved.

    In any case, he got his pass back with a couple of emails so I don’t think they have been as harsh on him as some make it seem.

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