REMINDER: That’s Just Your Opinion, Man

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I checked my AskFM inbox today, as I usually do. After all, I’d like to be on top of all the requests for me to jump off a bridge, the messages about how I’m arrogant and stupid and a bad writer, and occasionally, a question or two about either myself or the Toronto Maple Leafs organization. I found this:

question

Lets have a real talk moment, if you’ll allow it.

Sports journalism comes in many shapes and forms. For every statistical breakdown, you’ll find an editorial. For every asset management suggestion, you’ll see a trade rumour. For every piece of analysis, you’ll see banter. Be it audio, video, written, or, I don’t know, hologrammed, there are many ways to approach this profession. 

Steve Simmons is not highly regarded by the analytics community or hockey twitter on the whole. Far from it. But something we tend to forget? it’s not his job to be. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize what his job is, but after almost every article he puts out, we’re come back to collective outrage.

While he’ll occasionally supplement posts with player/staff quotes, Simmons’ career path has lead his writing to become predominantly editorialized, and quite frequent. What this means, of course, is that he has to accomplish the written equivalent of sports talk radio, without the guests. This involves:

  • Creating a highly opinionated piece with subjective points of view
  • Pick a topic and take a view point that is controversial enough to create discussion, but not controversial enough to cause PR damage to his employers
  • Not overwhelming readers with data, in order to make the pieces more quoteable for discussion

This format is rough, but it’s one that retains a lot of readers. We don’t publish editorials very often on TheLeafsNation.com, but our top read article of all time was my opinion piece on personal attacks towards April Reimer. As much as a lot of us would like to pretend that the average fan is into breaking down the game,it’s simply not the case. Statistical analysis is typically best consumed by those whose interest in stats goes beyond sports, and systematic analysis is typically enjoyed most by those who have played the sport at a high enough level to have put these ideas into execution themselves.

However, those two demographics aren’t all that big. Statistically-inclined people are hard to come by, and with registration rates dropping year by year, it’s safe to say that a growing percentage of hockey fans are non-participants in the sport. But if you take a hot button topic and push a thought? That’s gold. Because there’s nothing that we, as a species, like to do more than talk about how we feel about something individually.

In this regard, Simmons is one of the best at his trade. Are his opinions getting antiquated? Absolutely. He’s been covering the NHL for about 35 years now, and has dealt with people who push the “old school” approaches to the game for even longer. The new generation is probably on to something, but I can see we’re seen as a vocal minority. But he knows the audience he’s trying to ignite (readers a highly circulated newspaper that just started to turn on Rob Ford, like, ten minutes ago), and if the subsection of the hockey community that is great at making web links viral is going to hate-link him? He’s doing even better.

My basic feelings can be boiled down to this: Simmons, or any editorial-style writer for that matter, isn’t bad at their job because you disagree with them. They aren’t paid to make you nod your head, they’re paid to make you want to talk about something, and then pick up another news paper or click another link the next time you need a topic to feel emotions about. It’s about getting you to pick a side, not to necessarily take theirs.

As well if you don’t like what is being said in the article, than the worst thing you could do is spread it around to others. You’re creating readership and potential repeat traffic/customers, which is a vote of confidence rather than a vote of disgust.

If you’d like to respond to an article with your view point, especially if you can bring objective reasoning into it, that’s awesome! You should do that, because more quality content is exactly what the world needs. But don’t go around asking how somebody has a job while linking to their “bad” post. Because if you do that, you’ll find the answer to your question in the mirror.

If you came here hoping for a breakdown or opinion of the actual article in question, check out these very good posts from Cam Charron and Tyler Dellow. I think they combined to touch on the important points, and both did a better job than I possibly could have.