On Tuesday, March 11th Earl McRae wrote a column in the Ottawa Sun entitled “Hey guys you’re not on the team”. Earl chastises some of our Team 1200 talk show announcers for using terms like “we, us, our” when talking about the Senators. At least I am assuming he’s talking about talk show announcers since Dave, Gord, Garry and I don’t use those terms on our play-by-play broadcasts and if we did I am sure Earl would have pointed that out specifically.
I should tell you right off the bat about my bias here. Earl is a friend of mine. We have known each other for over 20 years. He is a brilliant writer and there is very little he writes that I don’t enjoy simply because I like the way his mind works. He is a non-linear thinker and there are very few of those around anymore. Earl and I have had this exact conversation many times and we feel the same way. Maybe it’s our vintage and the way we were schooled in the ways of broadcasting.
But I must say I have come to change my opinion over the years as the broadcast business has changed. I believe there is a place for biased opinion and commentary as long as it’s clear that it is biased. I believe you have to be who you are while behind the mic. Listeners now are much more savvy and educated as to the workings of our business and they can smell a phony a mile away, so just be who you are.
Joe Bowen is the voice of the Leafs and is a good friend of mine. Joe is employed by the Leafs and makes no effort to hide that. He is a Leaf fan and makes no effort to hide that. Yet when you listen to his broadcasts he is routinely critical of poor play and sub par efforts by Toronto players. Do we believe his analysis or should all of it be dismissed as homerism?
Do you believe less about what a talk show host is saying if he uses the words “us, we, our” or is that announcer simply letting you know he feels a civic tie to the team. He is obviously not on the team, but feels apart of that team because that team is such a big part of his community. I don’t see anything wrong with that.
Earl points to journalistic standards set forth by famed writer Jerome Holtzman in his classic book “No Cheering in the Press Box” as the standard we all should live by. This book was published in 1974. I believe a great deal has changed in our business both good and bad in the last 34 years, which Mr. Holtzman could not have foreseen.
That standard has not and never has been universally applied even by the most ardent journalists. Writers and broadcasters have never held amateur athletes to the same standard as professionals for obvious emotional reasons, but using the Hotzman standard that is a breech of journalistic ethics. The hardest of the hard core writers and broadcasters use the words “us, we, our” during each and every Olympics yet we are not on any Canadian Olympic team, but we understand that the young athlete is representing our country and that gives all of us a sense of pride and a sense of being on the same Canadian team simply because we all carry the same passport.
That is why I believe sports now can include those writers and broadcasters who choose to expose their bias within the mix of opinions out there. There is no singular, antiseptic standard because sports journalism is different than other forms of the industry. It deals with the guttural and internal feeling of inclusion that only sports can muster. It is the single biggest reason why Hockey Night in Canada’s ratings are far greater than those of CPAC. One deals with our heart and the other broadcasts to forward our knowledge of the internal nuts and bolts of how our country is being run. Your head tells you CPAC should be more important but it’s your heart that sends your clicker finger back to HNIC every time.
Let’s not start burning broadcasters at the stake each time they fail to live up to each of our individual self anointed standards. Listen to them if you like them, or don’t listen if their bias bothers you. As always the listener has the ultimate vote.
When writers begin writing columns about other writers who don’t meet the standard it’s a worthwhile discussion. It seems the stones only get thrown in one direction most of the time.
See you at the rink.