Thursday, October 22, 2009

Political footballs: If Zirin's following the money, you may as well

A lot of people, not necessarily those left-of-centre, read Dave Zirin from The Edge of Sports, since is kind of a latter-day "I never played the game" type who will give you something to think about.

All that said, it might not be easy to reconcile reading what was in The Washington Times about Zirin working for a lobby group, excuse me, "coalition that claims to give sports fans a voice on Capitol Hill" but is receiving it "initial funding would come from satellite television and other companies that compete with the rival cable industry." That's a little odd coming from someone whose sell is being incorruptible and uncompromised (something not practised under the CTV/TSN/Globe & Mail corporate umbrella, he did not add as a parenthetical dig). Apparently, Zirin hates the Bowl Championship Series that much; he said he's not taking money and just believes what the satellite providers want jibes with getting rid of the BCS, which is propped by Big Cable.
Persons invited to serve on the coalition's main board of directors include Brad Blakeman, a Republican political consultant; Ed Garvey, a lawyer and former executive director of the NFL Players Association; Dave Zirin, the sports editor of the Nation magazine; Gigi Sohn, executive director of Public Knowledge, a nonprofit digital advocacy group; Mark Walsh, the chief executive officer of marketing consultant; and Burt Emmer, a lawyer." (Emphasis mine.)
No doubt some of Zirin's fans are as disappointed as his critics on the right are delighted, just as some Canadian chatterati are stunned about TSN's Brian Williams and Michael Landsberg and's Stephen Brunt — along with Carol-Ann Meehan from CTV Ottawa — being Olympic torchbearers. Honestly, it should be in one ear, out the other, really.

Hate to say it, but it's the way of world. It just old-media thinking writ large to think those on the editorial side should be isolated and cut off from the dollars-and-cents side of the equation. It's a sacred cow, and you can't drag along sacred cows, except for that Stephen Brunt is awesome, regardless. Brunt should have benefit of the doubt.

That thinking is a big part of their broken business models; you have all these people working in the media who have never had to figure out whether their product is selling (and Brunt's words sell very well). They're cocooned from supply and demand. It's more honest to have people who are part of selling the Olympics -- do you think for a second it would be in Canada if Big Media wasn't interesting in making a buck off it -- taking part in it. I don't have a problem with it.

It comes back to Chuck Klosterman's line about the media, as a whole, having more ethics and less common sense than the average Joe. The ethics side is you shouldn't be promoting an event you're covering, blah blah blah. For every journo and media junkie pointing this out, though, there are three useful people who would say you're crazy to pass up a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be in the Olympic torch run.

The only reason to be irked about CTV putting media personalities in the torch run is that it means fewer athletes (active and past) and community organizers, the essential people in the grand equation get to participate. That and only that is valid.

It's understandable where it's coming from. Williams has been around long enough to get the venerable tag. Brunt is a god walking among mere mortals, as his new book Gretzky's Tears confirms (as a personal branding exercise, this means I will post a review tomorrow). How can they be out there shillin' for the Olympics? As William Houston writes, "They’re supposed to be journalists. They will be at the Olympics as reporters and commentators. They’re expected to be objective and independent. They are not supposed to be part of the Olympic cheerleading torch procession.

"Nevertheless, over the next few months, off they’ll go, boosting the International Olympic Committee and VANOC as they prance across the country, torch in hand."

Independent? As Barney Stinson used to say, Please. Williams works for a commercial network. Brunt, God love him, is the best there ever was, bar none. He's thrived beyond most wildest dreams within an institution like the Globe. It doesn't take a Malcolm Gladwell to know that's a game-changer. It's easier to get noticed. Brunt would be Brunt at the Hamilton Spectator or any place, but not as many people would notice.

Really, with what Brunt, Williams, et al., have done bringing the corporate billboard that is the Olympics home, maybe this their just desserts, the same way a company might send its top-selling sales rep to Hawai'i. Why shouldn't the get it? They lend the the Olympics gravitas, which is a bigger part of its sell than who's going to win the two-man skeleton and all those other events you don't care about for the three years and 348 days in between Olympiads. If anything, they are aware of the optics and know they'll get scrutinized closer by some obsessive media consumers, which might make it more likely they'll be objective and independent come February. (The same can't be said of some people with a lot less talent and self-awareness.)

Look at it this way. Even in journalism, you're selling something, to some extent. You're convincing someone to buy a Globe instead of an Ottawa Sun or Toronto Star, or listen to your podcast instead of the other person's. It's business. People should not get hot and bothered at blending the two, when acting like it's separate is part of why traditional media is struggling.

A businessperson wants to sell something, she visits more clients, whatever. A writer wants to sell something, well, it's exceedingly more difficult, you have to sit down at the keyboard and open a vein, as Red Smith said. A guy who does it as well as Brunt has should be trusted on this one.

Far as anyone should be concerned, we're all compromised to an extent, except for Dave Zirin, who could leave himself open to being called a corporate waterboy. If Zirin seems willing to bend on where the money is coming from to fund a coalition, the rest of you can follow the money. It's called being adult about the whole thing. Go, Canada, Go.


Tao of Stieb said...

Really, Brunt's the only journalist on that list, and the only one that really surprises me.

A bunch of tele-prompter readers out on the Torch Run, cutting promos for their network doesn't surprise me in the least.

(Although these stories are going to get really old after you've seen them on the national CTV, your local affiliate, eTalk, SportsCentre, OTR, etc...)

sager said...

Hey, when Brian Williams leans on the desk with both elbows to talk about The Story of The Olympics, it's on. Never mind you won't remember the story two days after the Olympics is over.

Dennis Prouse said...

This doesn't offend me nearly as much as it should, as the Olympics jumped the shark a long time ago as a pure sporting event. The networks pay so much money to obtain the rights that they too have to toss objectivity out the window, and try to squeeze as much juice from the event as humanly possible. They are corporate sponsors now as opposed to journalists. The only real journalism you can expect is from non-rights holders.

I don't know if I am being a grump, but I am already sick of the hype, and it's only late October.

sager said...

Dennis: 17 days of being guaranteed of not seeing Matt Carkner on the ice in a 4-on-4 overtime. Think about it.

Dennis Prouse said...

True 'dat. Seriously, what was Clouston thinking? There is a role for a hardrock, throwback type defenceman like Carkner, and I like his game, but he is NOT your guy for 4-on-4 OT hockey. It's only five minutes - you play the snot out of your top four, and leave your third pair stapled to the bench. This was a rookie coaching error by Clouston, but he is smart enough to learn from his mistakes.