So, some Bozo blogger thinks Darren Dreger of TSN might be pulling NHL trade rumours out of his ass and making things up, eh? Dreger’s inquisitor on a website known as Kings Kool-Aid calls himself "qwisp," which may or may not be a version of his real name. That doesn’t matter, even though the thought of somebody who might be tapping while using a fake name calling out Dreger rings just a tad goofy. It’s a witty bit of interpretive scrawl by qwisp, but it goes to show how little this person knows about the challenges facing MSM types like Dreger, who earn their living by gathering information, and the rules of the insider game as they pertain to protecting sources. The point being pushed by qwisp is Dreger’s item on Vincent Lecavalier and possible interest in him by the Los Angeles Kings is vague and written in a flimsy enough way it could be nothing more than the product of a fertile mind on a slow news day. Vague and flimsy? Yes. Intentionally so. The product of a fertile mind? Not a chance. What, did Dreger issue an E-3 with this?
RULES OF THE GAME
Whether it’s a ridiculously connected guy like Dreger or TSN running mate Bob McKenzie or those of us further down the information gathering food chain in the MSM, there are tried-and-true ways of protecting sources and keeping the information pipeline open. Many of those tricks of the trade — not attributing comments, using unnamed sources and even employing good old-fashioned mis-direction to protect somebody who has given you the drop on something — fly in the face of what old-school types like me learned when getting into the business. But the business has changed. The demand for immediate information is greater than it’s ever been. People want the goods now. If you’re getting your dope from the morning paper, you’re late. You either deliver or you don’t. On top of that, people love rumours. They eat up speculation.
While that opens the door for any kook or clown with a blog template to float all kinds of unsubstantiated rumours, pass off gossip as fact and flat-out make things up, that’s not the case with Dreger. Granted, it can sound that way — "Well, where’s the quote from the GM or the player in question?" — but disguising the fact somebody spilled the beans is essential in making sure they keep talking to you down the road.
HOW IT WORKS
Dreger doesn’t need me talking for him, so I won’t, but here’s some of the ways I’ve protected sources. Let’s go on the premise GM X has told me he’s interested in trading Player X because he wants too much money.
– You can be vague, as Dreger was with the Lecavalier item: "The Edmonton Oilers will likely be listening to offers for Player X at the trade deadline and there could be six teams interested, including the Los Angeles Kings . . ."
– You can say it yourself without attribution: "The Edmonton Oilers are looking to trade Player X at the trade deadline . . ."
– You can use an unnamed source: "A source close to the Edmonton Oilers says the team is considering trading Player X because he wants too much money . . ."
– You can ask the question: "Are the Edmonton Oilers contemplating trading Player X at the trade deadline because he wants too much money?" Or, "What’s this I hear about Player X wanting $20 million over four years from the Oilers?"
No matter which of the four ways you frame it, you can follow up by saying, "When asked to confirm the possibility Player X might be traded, GM X declined comment," or "GM X laughed off suggestions Player X might be traded and said, "We’re not shopping Player X." Of course, shopping Player X means actively communicating with other GMs looking for offers, as opposed to being willing to trade Player X if his salary demands don’t change. In that sense, GM X isn’t lying.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The problem is, people with no contacts and no inside information can play loose with all of the above and toss as much stuff against the wall as they want in the hope some will stick. Not because they’re protecting sources, but because they don’t have one real shred of information. You’ve read it. I’ve read it. There’s 100 screens of the stuff out there on any given day. There’s always some Bozo making stuff up. This qwisp is suggesting maybe Dreger fits in that long-shoed group. I think not. I know not. For information junkies trying to separate intentional mis-direction or vagueness employed by a reporter to protect a source from bogus rumours with no factual basis, it’s difficult to know what to put much stock in. In the end, it comes down to credibility.
Who wrote it or said it? What’s their record on getting it first and getting it right? How connected are they? Who do they answer to if what they write or say is absolute fantasy?
Whether it’s a MSM guy like Dreger or some Bozo blogger, the same questions should apply.
I'm sure I'll have a lot to say about this when I think about it, but right now I'm going to watch a tivo-ed Windsor/Kelowna game. For the record, I have no sources, named or otherwise, and don't purport to report. Hey, that rhymes.
UPDATE: I never said he was making it all up. There's actually very little "it" to make up or not. He talked to this guy. The guy said something about Johnson's dad. Unrelated to that, Johnson's name had come up in previous trade rumors. People read that and think, well, if it's on TSN it must be true. Look at the comments on "Inside the Kings." Many people react to articles like Dreger's with the attitude that "where there's smoke there's fire." It seems to me that the article was written knowing that people react this way. The result is a report that's just wisps of smoke. People have noted that [paraphrase] this is the nature of sports reporting/the rumor mill/etc. and there's a big appetite for these things. But I think that's a problem. It shouldn't be the nature of sports reporting. Reporting should be reporting. It's denigrating to everyone for reporters to stoop to passing along gossipy tidbits just because there's an appetite for them. Who cares if there's an appetite for them? When I read the writing of a reporter like Dreger, I would like to be able to assume that he knows what he is talking about and is not wasting my time.
I am not any kind of reporter. I am just a guy who likes the Kings. Like everyone else, I rely (when it comes to sports news) on reporters for ... well ... everything. Which is why it's irritating to wade through "it is believed" etc. only to find that not only is there no "there" there, but that now people are going to take whatever was reported as some version of a fact.