Breaking news … it ain’t what it used to be

Breaking News!

The alert hit my inbox at about 8:30 this morning, while I was still lying in bed and sorting through my Google Reader headlines.

Oh dear … what fresh hell could this be, I thought.

Following “breaking news” on the subject line, I read: How to Use LinkedIn’s NEW Company Pages for Marketing.

Now sometimes I find myself being a bit of a journalism snob. After 15 years in the industry, I think I know a thing or two about it.

First, breaking news should be fresh, up-to-the-minute, the most recent, most world-affecting news possible. It is traditionally reserved for the most important news of the day.

As defined by Wikipedia, “breaking news” is:

current event which broadcasters feel compelled to temporarily interrupt scheduled programming and/or current news in order to report its details

LinkedIn’s new company pages, however, were unveiled five days ago on the social network’s own blog. It’s also been written about already on WebProNews, PCWorld and even Hubspot, the source of this morning’s email.

And so somehow, a guide on how to use LinkedIn’s new company pages — essentially a followup story (a.k.a. a ‘follow’) on what could be considered breaking news, I suppose — just doesn’t seem to resonate with me.

Maybe there’s some value in considering that social media has changed the idea of “breaking news.” A new Tumblr account tracks the mentions of breaking news on Twitter and we get to see — amid posts from USA Today and other news outlets — that people have brushed their teeth, yawned and fell in love with eating fish.

Sure, social media is all about disruption and dragging the old world kicking and screaming into the new. But it’s difficult to stomach when a professional organization like Hubspot participates in the watering-down of a concept that should be reserved for such immediacy and importance.

After all, look at the calendar. What day is it?

Imagine if our precious social networks had existed 11 years ago today. And amid the news that was truly breaking, the news that truly deserved our attention, we were faced with: ZOMG, somebody at Twitter farted!

I’m not even the only one questioning the decay of breaking news as a foundation of journalism. The new social network, Branch, has a thread on the same topic.

Craig Kanalley, the fellow who started the aforementioned Tumblr account, weighs in:

I think the term’s become so ubiquitous that it’s lost meaning. Now it seems to signify anything “important” or “worth knowing about,” I suppose, whereas at one time it may have meant “this just happened.”

And, God bless their souls, a news media outlet from Great Falls, MT, adds:

We try to use the phrase very sparingly – lives in danger (wildfires, etc); major collisions and traffic incidents that affect lots of people or a large community. Very, very rarely use it for anything political/legislative.

KRTV gets it. We seem to too easily forget that words have meaning and power and profundity.

When I see “breaking news,” I expect to hear about tragedies, great victories or important matters that are going to change the world.

Not how to use a new tool on a social media site.

So, Hubspot, please, in the future, take care to reserve “breaking news” for only the most important events in the world of social media.

To me, that will probably register somewhere around “FACEBOOK IS DEAD.”

And won’t that be good news?

Banned

It was a circuitous route from which I learned the news today.

A Twitter contact retweeted an @mirtle Tweet and so it was I learned my old friend, Gregg Drinnan, has been banned from the Kamloops Blazers pressbox.

Ten years ago, I was wrapped up in a miserable situation, writing for a thrice-weekly newspaper under the most bipolar, harassing editor one could ever meet. I took the Christmas month off for short-term medical leave but managed to keep going to the WHL games at Riverside Coliseum … or was it SportMart Place by then?

I knew one of Gregg’s reporters would be leaving shortly on maternity leave. I turned to my pressbox mate during the first intermission and said, ‘So when is the deadline for applications?’

Yesterday, he mumbled in his sometimes distracted way as he pored over his laptop for stats and news from around the league.

Oh, I said with a hint of dejection in my voice.

He perked up.

‘You’re not interested, are you?’

Well, yeah. It was time for a change, time for a new challenge, time to shake up life a little bit after five years of going nowhere fast.

Before the puck dropped to start the second period, I had a new job.

Gregg saved me. He will tell you I saved him.

‘Do you know how many people think they can do our jobs,’ he said with a smile.

Under Gregg’s tutelage for the next year, I learned more about balanced, fair, in-depth reporting than I had ever learned in the 10 previous years of my career.

So, it’s with a shade of shock that I discover today he’s been banned from the pressbox for negative reporting.

Gregg has been writing about the WHL since its inception. He covered the Regina Pats for two decades before moving to Kamloops, B.C., in — I think — 2000.

He upholds the integrity of journalism with every word he writes, every breath he takes.

And the Blazers, over whom he has lost sleep, years of his life and probably hair, now decide he needs to be a cheerleader for their cause.

While many may think it’s the local newspaper’s job to rah-rah and sis-boom-bah for its team, it’s just not that way … although many newspapers today can convince you otherwise.

It is a local newspaper’s job to report the news in a manner that allows you to make up your own mind. They write columns or opinion pieces to stir your thoughts, incite your fire and provoke your response.

When it comes to Gregg’s work, it is always based in fact … and a desire to ensure his readers are the most informed they can be.

I’ll go to my grave respecting the body of work Gregg Drinnan has compiled on the WHL.

But tonight, I lose quite a bit for the Blazers, a team of which I became a fan after I put my sports writing days behind me.

Back to work

How do you spot the journalists in the room?

We don’t applaud.

That was my funny ha-ha for the morning at the #smbyyc, a gathering for social-networking enthusiasts to share our knowledge.

‘Journalist’ is a tag I’ll own until I die, no matter the love-hate relationship the industry and I have for each other.

It kicked me out in 2006 and I love to criticize it.Out of the business for four years, I’m dusting off my figurative fedora and diving back into the game.

For one week only.

OK … three and a half days.

I’m one of four bloggers hired by Molson Coors Canada to blog, Tweet and share the World Hockey Summit next week in Toronto.

This is a cherry assignment. It takes No. 1 spot over the 1998 NHL All-Star Game in Vancouver and the 2006 World Figure Skating Championships in Calgary. At this point, the 1996 Ford World Curling Championships in Kamloops don’t even register a beat.

And sorry about your luck, Gander Senior Flyers.

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The World Hockey Summit is a meeting of the great minds of hockey — from team executives to players and league big wigs — and they’ll be laying a path for global growth of the game, skill development and more.

Fans are welcome to participate. In fact, their opinions are welcome and encouraged.

And that’s where we come in. Torontonians Darrin Reynolds and Justin Kendrick, Richard Loat of Vancouver and I are charged with passing what we learn at Summit onto the fans who can’t be there.

The question many of you may ask is why?

Why would Molson use amateurs — yes, I pleaded with the journalism gods for a return to amateur status — instead of professional public relations personnel to convey the message?

The answer is quite simple, says Tonia Hammer, social media pro on Molson’s Community Relations team.

“We wanted to allow virtual access to the hockey summit to the legion of hockey fans who are passionate about Molson Canadian and also to represent the voice of the hockey fan rather than prescribe our own voice/opinion,” she says.

Molson has embraced the realm of social networking, creating a community among their fans and beer drinkers. They have a Molson Insider program on their website, a Facebook page, online-based contests and promotions, and Twitter accounts for many employees in the Community Relations division.

These platforms, Tonia says, allow Molson to have conversations with people who are passionate about their brand.

“That’s how we distinguish it from a marketing channel approach,” she says. “Our communications team, along with CRM and marketing teams understand the power behind social media and use the tools online to listen, understand and engage in the discussions that relate to us.

“Whether Facebook, Twitter, blogs and so on, we try to provide dialogue that will educate and entertain beer drinkers along with discussing topics that are relevant to the brand. For example: hockey and Molson Canadian!”

Indeed, Molson Canadian beer and hockey go hand in hand. Many of us grew up with the delightful kissssshh of a beer bottle opening just our dads eased into the La-Z-Boy for Saturday night’s game.

And we’re familiar with it ourselves — men and women alike — as we’ve taken up the torch of our forefathers and continued the weekend tradition.

Many of us relate that passion to each other by Tweeting our thoughts on the game we’re watching, Twitpicking from the stadium or starting to blogs to ramble on about team personnel, referee calls, trades and rumours and more.

By being committed to the social space for more than five years, Molson has developed a strong relationship with some of the Canada’s preeminent bloggers and Tweeters, Tonia says.

“In social media, it’s easy to recognize people’s passions,” she says. “As Molson Canadian World Hockey Summit approached a number of key hockey personalities made their way to the top of the list.”

The four individuals, she says, each have a strong following in their own communities and they bring passion and personality to hockey’s social-networking sphere.

Yeah, I’m blushing a little bit right now.

Each one of us — me, Richard, Justin and Darrin — are honoured to have been chosen to represent you at the World Hockey Summit. We encourage you to engage with us on our blogs, the Facebook page, the Summit Twitter stream and our own Twitter feeds.

We look forward to not only informing and entertaining you but also to maybe — just maybe — get to ask one of your questions in the mighty press scrum at the end of each session.

Coming up next: Profiles of your World Hockey Summit bloggers.

Big Valley 070

Writing long form

Is writing prose becoming a lost art?

Many of us live in a 140-character word.

Often in conversation, if you haven’t gotten to the point in less than two minutes, I start to lose interest in what you’re saying.

I just don’t have the patience to listen to anyone drone on, struggling to find what they’re meaning to say.

In journalism, it’s called ‘finding the nut’ and writing a great lede.

Big Valley 070

I started my writing career at a broadsheet. I was allowed to write and write and write and write and write … well, you get the point.

Then I moved to a tabloid. My stories had to become a little more succinct. ‘Jumps,’ also known as ‘continueds,’ weren’t cool at this shop. We didn’t want the our readers forced to search around the paper for the end of the story, then find their way back where they started.

It’s kind of like early UX design, I suppose.

Next stop was another broadsheet. But I found I couldn’t go back to writing 40- and 50-inch stories.

There’s an art in telling a story in 500 words or less. I’m sure of it. Damn sure.

And my editor, Gregg Drinnan, loved it. My short stories left lots of room for him to write more about the Kamloops Blazers!

And then back to a tabloid, a major metro, where whatever I had to write competed with an NHL club, a CFL team and more.

My 500-word stories on Junior A and Midget AAA hockey became 300-word stories … 200 … sometimes 150.

It forced me to an even more analytical stance on an event.

Find the ‘nut.’

Get to the point quickly.

Save the 10-dollar words.

I can still drone on … evidently … right here on this platform.

But I find myself better able to recognize when my thoughts start to wander and I ramble on, talking about nothing or even less than that and then …

Er, maybe I’ll just stop while I’m ahead.

Moving on … my Olympic dream, part II

Every once in a while, I’ll Google my own name.

Until I blasted my name all over social media networks, my results were populated by bylines from the Calgary Sun.

But as my former newspaper started to archive stories off the web, my results list started to dwindle, my bylines were disappearing.

I started to feel forgotten, a lingering effect of the pain I felt … nay, feel … over that day almost four years ago when I was told my services were no longer required.

I was a number. A negative effect to the bottom line for Quebecor Media. My $38,000 per year was hurting the company and I became one of 120 cross-country victims to the streamlining.

So many people have asked me if I miss it.

“Some days, with every breath I take,” I respond.

Slightly more than two weeks ago, I wrote My Olympic Dream, bemoaning my absence from the 2010 Vancouver Olympics as a sports writer.

I should have been there. I’ll always believe I could have been there, had it not been for a suffering journalism industry.

Tonight, I was looking for files to support work I’d done on a recent fundraiser.

I searched my name, remembered the Archives section of Google News results and clicked.

Kaboom … Google has been busy indexing past stories from the Sun. Not just any stories … my stories.

There they were, byline after byline after byline … words composed by me.

Instead of heaving the same sigh as I breathed while writing through streams of tears two weeks ago, I smiled, excited to remember the interviews with athletes who now are Olympic gold-, silver- and bronze medallists … John Morris, Kevin Martin, Cheryl Bernard, Joannie Rochette, Shannon Szabados, Clara Hughes …

And the others who are no less accomplished or fascinating … Randy Ferbey, Devan Dubnyk, the WHLers, curlers, baseball and softball players, the Newfoundlanders, the British Columbians …

After downloading those stories and memories tonight, I consider it a career well served, telling the stories of those who committed their lives to feats of athletic prowess, vicariously sharing in their victories and mourning their defeats.

A career on which I now can close the books and focus on activities that make me happy … nights and weekends to pursue my own athletic interests (yay, slopitch!), explore my adopted home of Alberta, breathe fresh mountain air, walk with my dog and enjoy time with great friends.

But if it’s all right with you, I’ll continue to love sports and follow the careers of those athletes … as a fan now.

Sharing them with you here, on Twitter or by clinking glasses at the bar, jumping up to high-five you when the thrill of victory descends upon us.

See you there.

My Olympic dream

We trained alongside Robyn Meagher at the track field.

We knew her dedication and commitment to long-distance running.
It was many years later she realized her dream of running for Canada at the Olympics … was it 1992 in Barcelona?
I never had such fantastic dreams for my athletics. Maybe I’d set the bar as high as playing softball for Kell’s Angels but it never came to fruition.
Instead, I reached for my writing … turned it into a career of writing about sports.
At which point, I took a new perspective on the Olympics, wondering what it would be like to be there.
Wondering what it would be like to file my stories on the fly, be surrounded by the best of my profession and bask in the glory of the Olympic Games.
Never mind Winter or Summer, I just wanted to be there.
I thought I was close.
When I covered the World Figure Skating Championships for the Calgary Sun in 2006, I thought I was never closer.
A colleague with whom I spent a great deal of time that week said he could see me representing the chain at the Olympics.
‘Ya got good stuff, kid,’ he said.
My eyes were as wide and as bright as that day so many years ago when a figure skating coach said to my mother ‘she could be a great ice dancer with those edges.’
A couple of months later, my dream – my entire world – crashed and burned. I got handed my layoff slip, my walking papers, my ‘don’t let the door hit your ass’ pass.
Beijing came and went without a second thought.
Now here I sit, the Vancouver Winter Games are opening … my first Olympics not watching every other second at the office, writing columns for my weekly or tri-weekly or cleaning up someone else’s copy at a daily.
The tears stream down my face through these ceremonies, bursting with pride as a Canadian, because it was a damn emotional opener.
And as I see my friend Tracy post on Twitter that her last life goal is to work an Olympics, I remember it was mine, too.
I’ve never been one to wonder ‘what if,’ because it indicates regret and an inability to learn from one’s mistakes and strengthen one’s resolve.
But there it is …
What if.
And it hurts.
God, how it hurts.

To enlighten and inform – or fill the holes?

Every time there’s a cutback at a newspaper, my heart bleeds a little.

Every time there’s a cutback at a newspaper that used to be mine, my heart breaks.

My former employer, Kamloops This Week, announced a few days ago it would be killing one of its thrice-weekly editions.

Our little paper will no longer be publishing on Sunday.

I cried. Oh, how I cried, as I remembered the premiere editions we put out — me as sports editor, Dale Steeves on politics, Ed Mehrer on the cops, Elsbeth Duurtsema-Mehrer on entertainment, Jason Payne and Brendan Halper shooting the lights out on anyone in the province.

We couldn’t be stopped. We not only put out great papers, we were great as teams and all those folks I remain proud to call friends and former teammates.

Ed posted this on his Twitter account in reply to my post: ‘Wow that’s sad about KTW going down to two days per week. I remember there was talk when we were there of 5 days a week. Sad.

We were that good. We were making that much money.

The current editor of KTW, Chris Foulds, writes a blog and bemoaned the death of the Sunday edition. He been awaiting the announcement for months, knowing it was happening at other papers in the Cariboo Press chain.

He was even on vacation when word came down.

My dearest friend, Dale Bass, had to help the editorial staff handle the shock. She had just had her heart broken.

When the bean counters make their decisions to cut back or close a newspaper, they’re usually not around to see the fallout.

From reporters to editors and from ad designers to sales staff, people care about the papers they produce.

We have bled, we have sweated and we have cried over the newsprint and ink that ends up in a recycling bin, at the bottom of a birdcage or flying aimlessly around the downtown, caught up in a stiff breeze.

We have informed, educated and enlightened the people who vote, the people who shop, the people who care about the communities in which they live.

And we are tossed aside, sometimes with a severance cheque, sometimes with a pat on the back, sometimes with an email saying ‘you’re no longer needed.’

I sat and poured my heart out on Foulds’ blog, recounting my six years under the banner of KTW and letting that editor and his staff know they are not alone in their fight.

On Twitter, I’ll rail against newspaper cutbacks and the snobbery of those who pretend to be journalists. I wish I could do more.

To Foulds I wrote that a financially viable transition to online journalism will save jobs. But if that isn’t undertaken, what of the communities who lose their newspaper.

One need only look at the MP spending scandal in the United Kingdom to see what effect good journalism can have. The Daily Telegraph has proven that compelling stories sells newspapers.

So that is where newspapers must go: strong, investigative journalism. The surface stories found at city council — the ones that will fill a five-inch hole — are necessary evils, but what lies beyond. What if we start scratching the surface?

Will a newspaper here in Canada support the kind of journalism triumped by the Daily Telegraph?

Or, as Bob Grainger told us at the Cariboo Press editorial conference in 1998, are reporters just filling the space around the ads?

Gotcha? Or keep your trap shut?

There is no such thing as ‘gotcha’ journalism.

There are only tough questions that people get caught answering in a ridiculous manner.

The Republicans have accused Katie Couric of ‘gotcha’ journalism against Sarah Palin.

Horseshit.

The woman is so beyond vapid that even a vacuum can’t exist between those ears.

More importantly, Conservative MP Lee Richardson was caught during the recent campaign, saying immigrants were to blame for the rise in crime in Calgary.

OK … not entirely false … you check the police roster for criminal activity and you don’t exactly see a lot of MacDonalds, Smiths, and Woods caught up in the fray.

And certainly a lot of newcomers to Canada haven’t disagreed with Richardson.

But he sure got caught with his pants down, making it sound like all immigrants are the downfall of Calgary.

Panic! Fear-monger!

So there I stood, listening to Richardson at a recent event leading up to tonight’s election.

And then he started bleating against the media.

“It’s their fault! I was taken out of context! It’s gotcha journalism!”

His words fell on confused ears. Without question, he failed to appreciate his audience … all newcomers to Canada, who seek one thing: the opportunity to participate in the Calgary labour force.

These were people who escaped political oppression in their native countries and who read government-controlled media sources.

And thus, I seethed with anger.

Not only because of Richardson’s blatant lack of respect for his audience, but also for his inability to accept responsibility for the words that fell out of his mouth.

He’s only indicative of the burgeoning epidemic that has spread throughout North America — in its politicans, its pro athletes, and its stars and starlets.

‘Was that what I said? No, it wasn’t! It’s not my fault!’

Instead, I’d have far more respect for the politician that said, ‘Yes, said it. And I was wrong.’

Hell, even Fonzie said it once.

Give me the Sean Averys of the world. The ones who will say what they need to say, look dead in the camera two days later, and say, ‘Yeah, I said it. What?’

Admit you were wrong or stand by your words.

Give me someone to believe in.

Name dropping

Oh yes, there was a time when I was a closet wannabe star-fucker.

I hid it well … as I do with all nervous emotions. Straight face, calm voice … but meanwhile, my brain is screaming.

Like the time I was interviewing Jarome Iginla. It wasn’t just his first professional hockey game in B.C. It was my first time in an NHL locker room.

Holeeeeeeeeeeeee … did Theron Fleury just walk in front of me naked?

I turned to Iginla, stone-faced and said something completely incomprehensible.

‘Gallafreebaballah?’

Iginla shook his head, widened his eyes and said, ‘Excuse me?’

‘Oh, gosh, I’m so sorry. I guess I’m just nervous.’

‘Well, don’t worry. So am I. I never thought anyone would drive all the way down from Kamloops just to interview me.’

He flashed that boyish grin, gave me one of those ‘aw shucks’ shoulder shrugs and we went on with our interview. And 10 years later, one of the biggest stars in the NHL still wears that grin and lets everyone know he’s just the boy next door.

Iginla belongs to my list of Favourite People to Interview, along such illustrious company as Bobby Orr and Johnny Bower.

But there was the day, I bumped into the Names I Never Interviewed.

Bumped being the operative.

A decade ago, the NHL sent the all-star game to Vancouver. It was a banner event for the Kamloops Blazers. Former head coach Ken Hitchcock was on the World Bench, while the North American roster boasted Scott Niedermayer, Darryl Sydor and Mark Recchi.

Sydor, of course, was there as an injury replacement — can’t quite remember for whom.

With a little glimmer of hope, I placed the call to NHL head office. Somehow, someone at the end of the phone line deemed me worthy of a press pass. And yes, I still have that pass hanging from my bedroom doorknob. I’ll keep it forever … no matter how bad my hair looks in it.

Another drive down to Vancouver. Another stay with friends in Richmond.

The press seats — the overflow from the gondola high above the ice surface — were terrible. There was no reason to be jealous of this pass.

Oh wait, yes there was. It does, after all, say ‘full dressing room access’ on it.

I uncomfortably stand off to the side, while the media throng clamours around the post-game press conference. Where do I go? What do I do?

Aha! There’s Hitchcock!

‘Hitch! How’s it going?’

‘Hey, what are you doing all the way down here?’

(Really, people … I know you only ever did that drive on the Iron Lung, but it really isn’t that far from Kamloops to Vancouver.)

We chat. We interview. I get my quotes. It’s already been a helluva day.

‘Hey, Hitch, great game. It’s too bad we can’t do stuff like this more often.’

We’re interrupted. It’s OK. I stand and stare. I’m sure I ate a few flies in the few seconds the exchange lasted.

He turns to me, sticks out his hand for a shake and says:

‘Hi. I’m Wayne.’

Well no shit. It’s not like His Grace really needs to introduce himself to anyone. But that’s just how the best and most famous players in the NHL are. They’re humble, they’re gracious, they’re friendly and they’re grateful.

The day can’t get much better than that. Can it?

I bid my goodbyes and head for the North America dressing room. I just met Wayne Gretzky … most famous fellow in the NHL. Never had a lot of respect for him as a player, but dammit, I met the man.

I’m still revelling in the moment, I see a sign for the dressing room, I take a turn and I … BAM!

Ow, son of a bitch, that hurt! The only thing I can see is my hand in front of my nose, checking to make sure it isn’t broken. I didn’t see the brick wall I just ran into it.

Two huge hands of my shoulders and a giant bends down to ask me if I’m OK. I’m fine. Really, I’m fine. Are you sure? Yes, I’m sure but it was really nice of your nipple to dent my nose, Mr. Lindros. Thank you.

I give the guy credit, though. It’s not like he could see me coming. I’m only 5-foot-6, after all.

OK … one all-star game, check. One interview done, check. One star-fucking moment of a lifetime with Wayne Gretzky, check. One bruised proboscis, courtesy of Eric Lindros, check.

One shoulder damn near torn off by the Moose, check.

Yes, the next turn I take, I slam into another wall, otherwise known as Mark Messier.

Ow, son of a bitch that hurt! Except this one didn’t ask me if I was OK. He just kind of sniffed in my general direction, mumbled a ‘sorry’ and hulked off.

Pffft. Whatever.

Niedermayer interview, check. Sydor interview, check. Fleury naked in the corner again, check.

All right, it’s getting late and I have a long — but not really that long — drive back to Kamloops tonight. Where the hell is Recchi? Has anyone seen Recchi? Where is that asshole anyway?

‘ANG!’

He’s standing in the middle of another room, signing sticks and cards and hats and T-shirts. Wearing nothing but a towel.

That drops the second he yells out my name.

‘What the hell are you doing here?’

In all my wildest dreams, I never thought I’d be there. But I was.

And I revelled in the moment and still laugh when I tell the story.