Expert panel discusses sports journalism in Canada

The fifth annual ‘How Canadians Communicate’ conference kicked off at MRU on Nov. 8, welcoming accredited sport reporters Roy MacGregor and Tom Maloney of The Globe and Mail.

Christopher Waddell, director of Carleton University’s School of Journalism, completed the all-star panel to discuss how sports journalism is represented in Canada.

The panel examined the rise of public relations in journalism, how modern media handles sports journalism and where it’s is heading in the digital era.

Tom Maloney, sports editor of The Globe and Mail explained how “traditional media aren’t acting traditional anymore.”

“We can’t survive that way,” Maloney says. “We have gradually incorporated all the devices that you might see in to what is called new media.

“We are in fact new media now,” he says.

Christopher Waddell, director of Carelton University’s School of Journalism, answers questions from communications students at Mount Royal University.

Photo by Max Shilleto

Maloney mentions how The Globe and Mail, which newly introduced its “unlimited” paywall subscription, learnt to respond to the digital demands of journalism.

The New York Times gave the paper a lot of inspiration,” Maloney says. “Toronto Star will follow. There are others in Canada already doing it, they just haven’t announced it.”

The 2012 Hockey Hall of Fame media inductee Roy MacGregor raises concern that sports journalism is starting to mirror its past. There is a toxic combination when media moguls own multiple sports teams, he says, as it contributes to built-in prejudices.

“You have TSN and Rogers’ Sportsnet purchasing Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd.,” MacGregor says. “The two main reporting areas of the country will report on the Maple Leafs and will they have prejudice? I suspect so.”

The pendulum of sports writing rests heavily on the side of hollow story telling, MacGregor says. And though it is easy to be cynical, he believes sports journalism is a privilege and creative writing will wean its way back into mainstream writing.

“They have found in sports that features don’t get any hits,” MacGregor says as he examines USA Today. “They have found in sports, that analytical features aren’t getting a lot of hits.

“What they really have found — the No. 1 hit-gatherer in sports — is injuries,” says MacGregor. “What does that say?”

MacGregor believes the same people who attempt to generate hits on injuries, also bet on sports. “You’ve become as a journalist — a supplier — a cheat sheet for betters.

“That is not what I went into the business for,” MacGregor says.

“What they really have found — the No. 1 hit-gatherer in sports — is injuries. What does that say?”

—Roy MacGregor

Christopher Waddell, a media professor at Carleton University, spoke to the debate on sports journalism and its relationship with public relations.

“In the ‘us against them’ world that journalists like to talk about — the ‘them’ are winning,” Waddell says. “And it is hard to see that changing anytime soon.”

Waddell shared in on a previous lecture with his students from earlier in the week on how the “Internet has fundamentally changed the journalism and public relations relationship.”

“The media are no longer the gatekeepers,” Waddell says. “It no longer controls the means of distribution of information.”

Waddell believes public relation teams have recognized the gap, and journalists are concerned. Public relations can sometimes mask information and pass it off as journalism so easily, usually choosing the Internet as a vehicle of choice.

Waddell says sports journalism is often presented on a superficial level when written largely by organizations and believes that if team owners also own the media, what incentives are there to continue with real, traditional journalism?

Participants and panelists will travel to the Banff Centre for two days, Nov. 9 and 10, and will continue to probe the most rampant issues Canada is facing in sports writing today.

sisaac@cjournal.ca

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