“Opportunity comes to those who work for it.”
I used to lecture occasionally at Toronto Metropolitan University. The Sports Media program would invite me in to speak to its first year classes, tell my story, before answering questions. I enjoyed it, because it was a captivated audience…all eager to dive into the industry, and all confident they were going to take the industry by storm. That was several years ago and as time passed my messaging changed. I had to be honest, but being honest meant potentially steering these passionate, budding journalists away from the very profession they believed was their calling. The media business, in general, was rapidly changing and shifting, which I will get into shortly, however, because of trending layoffs and news shops all over the country shrinking or closing altogether, I wanted to make sure these students got a true taste of reality. After a couple of these visits, I stopped getting invited back. Perhaps, my views were bad for business? In any event, I wanted to make sure the students in this course were well aware that the idyllic view of their dream job as an ace reporter was still attainable, but far less likely for reasons beyond their control.
Opportunity comes to those who work for it. This was instilled in me at a very young age. I grew up in a Saskatchewan farming community and when I graduated highschool, I had three options. Stay on the farm, get a job at a local potash mine, or go to school. I opted for school, but wanted a quick “in and out”, I wanted to be a voice on radio…a face on TV, talking sports, as fast as I could. So, I attended a broadcast academy in Saskatoon, learned the basics and hit the streets and the airwaves in less than one year. Man, those first couple of years were riddled with mistakes, but I didn’t waver and no matter what the challenge or assignment, I gave 100%. In addition to work ethic, my mantra has always been “do more listening than talking”. You absorb more information by doing this, and as a journalist, you become more in tune with the person you’re interviewing and far more equipped to tell “the story”, not necessarily the story you were assigned to tell. Fairness and accountability have also been key ingredients in my recipe for success. My entire career I have strived to be well informed, fair, and even in critical or delicate story telling, I am very aware of accountability. With that comes respect….earned with well over 30 years of experience.
I jumped from local television in the late 90’s, to Network TV with the launch of Sportsnet in 1998. Resources at both levels were abundant. In Edmonton, our newsroom was always bustling with various reporters from multiple departments constantly on the go and feverishly working to get their pieces ready for air. Our Sports Department had three full-time on air people and two part timers. That station no longer exists and local sports is a luxury many of the remaining TV outlets can’t employ. Newspapers across North America have either merged through parent company takeovers or mass layoffs have stripped them to a point of being unrecognizable as compared to the early days of my career. Yes, I’m a dinosaur, but I’m still happily employed and have had to pivot like all of my colleagues to adjust to how our information is consumed.
“…the change or shift throughout my career has never been more ruthless than it is today.”
Social Media turned the industry upside down. The immediacy of a tweet swiftly trumped what was traditionally reported in a paper, on-line, or on-air. Split second dispensing became the easiest form of feeding the appetite for “news now”. There will always be a place in my heart for in depth features and long form writing. Unfortunately, younger generations don’t seem to have the interest or the patience to save a critical layer of journalism. We used to have several beat reporters assigned to NHL teams pretty much league wide. Now, there are far fewer reporters and many of them don’t have the resources to travel with teams. NHL clubs have developed their own digital media departments and Content Creators provide just enough information to appease editors and justify financial decisions to continue to cut back in mainstream coverage. There are still opportunities, but as I stated earlier, the change or shift throughout my career has never been more ruthless than it is today.
I’m old school. Yes, I’m surprised at how aggressively the landscape has changed. However, some of the changes have been progressive, refreshing, long overdue, and great for bringing our games and stories to a wider variety and far more diverse audience. I think of Harnarayn Singh, a highly skilled play by play announcer with Hockey Night in Canada. I think of Cheryl Pounder, one of the smartest hockey analysts I have ever had the privilege of working with. Super qualified people who have been at the forefront, along with many others, in breaking down walls and barriers in how we produce and present our sports content. I think of the investigative journalists who have the courage to tell the stories they do, uncovering atrocities, past and current, who now play a very important, and significant role in sports journalism on a daily basis.
This is my 34th year as a broadcast journalist. I have traveled the world, I’ve covered a myriad of major sporting events. Everyday I reflect on how fortunate I’ve been, mostly because of the people I’ve met and the relationships that will surely be lifelong. I wonder if future TSN Hockey Insiders will have the same opportunity to enjoy similar experiences… to visit foreign countries, cities and games where being there live is hard to explain, let alone replace. Or, if a decade from now, Hockey Insiders as we know them today….exist?
Let’s hope so.