Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Pssst! Did You Hear?

Remember that game "Broken Telephone" we played when we were in elementary school? Everyone sits in a circle and one person whispers a message into his neighbour's ear. That kid whispers it to the next kid and the message travels around the circle until the last kid repeats the message aloud. Laughter ensues when the players compare the original message to what it's become in the end. I remember playing it once when the message that started out "Ronalda wants a record player for Christmas" became "Roman lions eat Christians."

Now, take Broken Telephone and add a secretive hockey team, millions of rabid fans hungry for every detail about it, hundreds of journalists with varying degrees of standards about what constitutes "true," and five or six major world languages. Right. You see what I'm getting at.

This week, Russian papers are reporting that Alex Kovalev has been offered a one-year deal by the Habs, valued at somewhere between six and seven-and-a-half million dollars. He'll also allegedly become the team captain, as Saku Koivu won't be offered a contract and will instead head to Minnesota to play with his brother. For good measure, they're throwing out a rumour that Mike Komisarek has rejected a four-million dollar a season offer. All of this, is, of course, without any corroboration or direct quote from the players involved or from the team itself. Well, we say, what do you expect of these iffy Russian papers?

The problem with the coverage of the Canadiens, however, is that every scrap of rumour, innuendo and just plain made-up crap must be dissected. The media's fear of missing something everyone else has reported and the desire to be first with anything new are so strong, we're seeing previously reputable mainstream outlets like RDS slumming in the gutter with their borderline competitors. The result? Fans, who believe what RDS publishes is true and expect that RDS would have made at least a minimal effort to confirm that truth, take this media game of Broken Telephone and accept it at face value. Debates ensue and opinions are formed.

That's why, today, because of some rumour concocted without documentation by a Russian paper, Habs fans are shouting from the rooftops that Komisarek is a bastard for wanting more than four million bucks. Kovalev's not worth six million bucks and good riddance to Koivu as he bails out of Montreal to play with his brother. If this had happened during the season, I imagine it wouldn't be long before the fans who form their opinions based on such reporting would be booing Komisarek at the Bell Centre and telling him he's a mercenary asshole when they met him in the street.

The habit of being spoonfed information is a dangerous one. It means people forget how to ask questions. Questions like, why would Bob Gainey offer thirty-six-year-old Kovalev that kind of money before either knowing what next year's cap will be, or who else might be on the roster? Why would he give Kovalev Marian Hossa-type money when he has no idea which Kovalev will show up to play? Why would the Canadiens, a team that's traditionally elected its captains, suddenly dangle the promise of captaincy before Kovalev without a player vote? How would a Russian paper know not only that the Canadiens are letting Koivu go, but that he'll be signing in Minnesota without evidence from Koivu, the Canadiens or the Wild?

People need to ask questions before they believe what they're being told. At the very least they need to ask, "Does this make sense?" Because at this idle point of the offseason when real news is like an oasis in a months-long desert journey, even "reliable" sources are just playing Broken Telephone in some cases. That's why, unless I see a report with Bob Gainey's name attached to it, I'll believe nothing this summer. And I think when media outlets break the bond of credibility they have with fans, it's time for us to hang up the Telephone on them, before the message gets so garbled we have no idea what it's really supposed to be.


Unknown said...

RDS merely cites the Sovietsky Sports paper. I haven't heard or read anywhere on their site that any of that is a done deal. The use of conditional verbs should be noted in their article.

Do Russians even believe what's reported in their papers ?


J.T. said...

Denis, the point is they're repeating rumours. You and I might notice the use of conditional verbs, but a lot of people, judging by the internet bile I've already seen unleashed over this "story" do not. If RDS or any mainstream media outlet is to preserve its credibility, it must report facts...not Russian rumours.

Unknown said...

Well, I wish all the media people had the same moral standards you and I seem to possess but unfortunately, that's is not the case. Radio-Canada has also cited the Russian paper and I'll bet that in a few hours, all the Canadian media will have.

The media are not there to preserve their credibility. Making money is the object. And getting the big scoop.

J.T. said...

That's why I believe nothing until I see Bob Gainey's name attached with quotes.

V said...

Well put! That's why I wait to read it on your blog. ;)

Seiously though, the only news I found RDS useful for last season was which goalie was playing on a given day and Bob Gainey's post-Carbo press conference.

HIO was better and generally more reliable, but I increasingly found their tone becoming more strident and preachy over the year, and didn't rely on them for any real news by the end either.

Unknown said...

J.T. Can I ask you why you singled out RDS in your post when the Russian article seems to be in every possible media, including Habs inside out and TSN ?

J.T. said...

Denis, I used RDS because it was the first mainstream North American media outlet that carried the rumour, lending it a pseudo legitimacy. TSN added it after I wrote the piece, and it's not on Habs Inside/Out outside the comments sections...which is exactly my point. Fans will take a rumour and debate it as though it's fact...and they use that debate to form opinions.

Unknown said...

There will always be idiots debating rumors as if they were facts. What can you do about that ? Prevent media from writing or reporting rumors ? Good luck, girl.

Morons are a reality we have to deal with (like the bunch of xenophobic racist on the Habs usenet group). Rumors will always be discussed and/or invented. Particularly, on a slow news day.

J.T. said...

Morons may always be with us, but I believe it's the duty of the credible media to provide real sources and documentation for what they report. Failing to do so lowers them to the status of rumour mongers. If the public is aware that that's what they're getting in a particular publication, that's fine. Nobody expects the National Enquirer to be telling the truth or to have any basis for its reports, after all. But it's problematic when "legitimate" media betray the public trust by failing to execute due diligence in their reporting. The "morons" can debate all they like, but they shouldn't be getting fuel for their debates from mainstream media who take the lazy way out by repeating unsubstantiated rumours and calling it news. I can't stop them from doing it, but that doesn't mean I'm not disappointed it's happening.

Anonymous said...

J.T. wrote, "I can't stop them from doing it, but that doesn't mean I'm not disappointed it's happening."

The focus here is not that you're not surprised at the published rumours, just disappointed.