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No press is good press

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When I woke up on Thursday morning, I could feel the indignation wafting through the air.  What could have caused such a thing, I wondered?  When I turned on my computer, it was immediately clear.  Someone from the Buffalo News was on a rampage.  This time around it was Mike Harrington, a guy I generally really like, and this time it was about the Sabres’ decision to not have an end-of-the-year press conference.  I was okay with the frustration toward the team. I’ll state, for the record, that I think they should have done a press conference.  Show a little respect for the players, who have already stood up and said their piece, the media, which has a job to do, and the fans who do want to hear something.  It’s not that hard.  But at the end of the day, I personally don’t really care if they skip the press conference for reasons I’ll get to.  Mike Harrington, judging by these tweets, evidently thinks that’s a sign of just how deeply I’ve been duped.  

 

Give me a freaking break.  One of the most annoying things TBN sometimes does is lecture me about how I’m doing it wrong.  Mike and I had a pretty lengthy conversation about this on Twitter, and then continued the discussion via email.  While I won’t bore you with all the details, something that came up over and over was some variation of, “The fans don’t understand journalism or what a journalist does.”  On the contrary, I think my feelings about the lack of a press conference show that I do have some understanding about this particular situation. I’m pretty informed about both the effectiveness of press conferences, and the personalities of the major players on both sides.  

Bucky is forever telling us that he writes the same things over and over because he sees the same things over and over.  Same theory applies here but to fans.  Anyone who cares about the Sabres enough to watch a press conference can tell you exactly what would happen:  Bucky asks Darcy a long, convoluted question.  Darcy answers in an overly patient and careful way.  Bucky, not getting the answer he thinks is correct, asks a follow-up question which contains what he thinks is the right answer.  Darcy again answers patiently and carefully, maybe using different words but saying the same thing.  Lindy sneaks in a little straight truth but diffuses it with a quip that breaks the tension for a few seconds.  Ted Black repeats that while they’re not happy with the outcome of the season, they feel like progress was made.  Terry Pegula repeats that he wants to win a Stanley Cup in Buffalo and that he wants to do it with Lindy and Darcy. Sounds about right, no?  No one says anything of interest, and no one’s already established opinions on Darcy, Lindy, or the state of the team are changed.

I think what Mike is seeing as a failure of fans to understand the press’s role is actually a failure on his part to understand the fans’ role.  As a reporter, he cares about the opportunity to sit in a room with the powers that be and ask the questions.  He has stories to write and space to fill.  I totally get that.  But as a consumer of information, what concerns me is the content, the result of the questions being asked. Nowadays sports fans, especially hockey fans plugged into the Internet, are inundated with information.  I love the Sabres, but I don’t have the time or energy to read or watch everything that is out there about them.  Those of us who have grown up in the Internet age have gotten pretty good at sifting out the stuff we care about from the stuff we don’t care about, the stuff that’s useful from the stuff that isn’t.  I’m a huge Sabres fan.  I wrote a very involved blog about them for almost five years.  I started sifting out scrums and press conferences pretty quickly. They’re either stilted or full-on PR sessions.  They’re just not that interesting to me.  There are maybe a handful a year that I look up on Sabres.com because Twitter makes them sound good, but the rest, I happily skip.  I can’t recall ever feeling out of the loop because I didn’t watch a press conference, and I can’t recall ever feeling better about something I was unhappy about because of a press conference.  Other fans, of course, may feel differently and find those things more interesting and that’s perfectly okay, but that’s my take and I don’t think it’s invalid because not everyone feels the same way I do.

I think the inundation of reaction on this from TBN is part of the problem.  In much the same way that I don’t think we needed three stories in two days about the ineffectiveness of Darcy Regier (Sully’s column, Bucky’s column, Vogl’s story), I’m not sure we needed to hear about the press conference so many times. Jerry Sullivan wrote what I thought was a pretty thoughtful column about why he wanted a press conference.  The Derek Roy stuff in particular is very interesting, and I’d love to know if he was just taking some jabs to make sure he’s gone before the season starts or if his feelings are reflective of other players too.  If I thought we’d actually get some indepth thoughts about it from anyone, I’d be more inclined to be upset about there not being a press conference.  As it is, I disagree with Sully on how important it is to go through the PR charade, but he made me stop and think about it.  But instead of just letting a thoughtful column speak for itself, we got Mike’s all day fit on Twitter, we got entries about it on Sabres Edge, we got the video chat on Sabres Edge, we got Sully’s chat, and we got a bunch of remarks about other press conferences made almost solely so that the writer could take a dig at the Sabres.  They can say, “It’s not about us!” as much as they want but after hearing the same complaint over and over and over and over and over over a course of only a few days, whether it’s the intention or not, it starts to feel like a bunch of reporters complaining.  Going to school full-time while balancing two part-time jobs sucks, but I doubt you want to hear about it.  Dealing with cranky customers and stupid plastic bags that stick together all day day sucks, but I doubt you want to hear about that either. Again, I think Mike Harrington is a really good reporter, but when you’re sneaking jabs at the Sabres into your baseball column, you might want to get a freaking grip on yourself.  For the love of Pete, we get it.  I guess it’s my fault for choosing to take all that stuff in but jeez Louise.  How are we supposed to think about something when you won’t quit bombarding us about it for five minutes?  

I think what Mike is also failing to understand is that, as a fan, I prioritize information differently than he might.  Heck, as I said earlier, I prioritize it differently than other fans do.  He reeled off a list of questions on Twitter that we should be wondering about, and while I would love to be a fly on the wall in a room with Lindy and Thomas Vanek, most of the stuff Mike mentioned wasn’t that interesting to me.  I’m perfectly satisfied with the “personal business” explanation we’ve received about Alex Sulzer’s absence.  I don’t have any burning desire to know what Darcy plans to do at the draft.  I’m happy to find out when the draft comes.  I know a lot of fans who are even less interested about that kind of detail than me.  They think about the Sabres when they’re skating around on the ice and quit thinking about the Sabres when they’re not.  I realize that for a sportswriter, “Meh” is probably the worst response to the question, “Don’t you want more information?” but in this case, again, for me, it applies.

The fact that that applies, however, doesn’t mean I’ve been hoodwinked, and that’s what I find insulting about this.  I watched the games, okay?  I get it.  I don’t think the roster, as currently assembled, is going to win the Stanley Cup.  I think the core still needs a lot of shaking up.  I think Derek Roy needs to be wearing another jersey ASAP.  I think we need a big offensive upgrade.  I think Lindy and Thomas should have a long, serious talk in the offseason.  I think Darcy should consider packaging up some of those picks he has and moving up in the draft in an effort to get a quick impact player.  I think this was a terrible season on a few different levels.  Come on, give those of us who freaking live and die with the team for seven months a little bit of credit.  I think the powers that be recognize all the above things, and I’d rather save the time and energy and get worked up about what they do or don’t do than what they say or don’t say.  TBN writers are constantly turning things into a “support us or support the team” proposition.  In their world, not agreeing with TBN means I fully support Sabres management.  Complaining about TBN means I’m perfectly happy with the outcome of the season.  ”Oh, sure, blame us for everything, we’re the bad guys, we made the team bad blah blah freakity blah.”  That’s dumb.  The two things are not mutually exclusive.  I can be unhappy with the Sabres season AND find TBN’s response to it annoying.  The human brain, even one inside the head of a fan, is capable of complex and nuanced thought like that.

Not choosing to get outraged over an end-of-the-year press conference doesn’t mean I’ve been deceived by anything.  It simply means I’m choosing to not be outraged.  I’m sick of being outraged about sports, and I’m sick of being told I should be outraged by sports.  I don’t think anyone in the Sabres offices is sitting around thinking of ways to waste money, and I think they want to win a Stanley Cup as much as all of us do.  And as much as I want them to win, whether they do or not doesn’t actually affect the quality of my life one iota.  This isn’t health care reform.  It isn’t social security or national defense or marriage equality.  It isn’t teacher evaluations and the quality of public education.  It’s sports.  It’s which team puts a frozen piece of rubber in a net the most times.  I know it might be tough for the sportswriters of the world to hear, but the Sabres fall pretty low on my list of things to be worked up about.  Watching the Sabres is what I do for fun, it’s what I do to distract myself from the true outrages of life.  In October, I’ll have plenty of response to the things that have or haven’t changed.  For now, I’m happy to kick back, watch the playoffs, enjoy some baseball, and not think that hard about the Sabres for a long time.

Note: I really wanted to work this story into this post because I think it pretty much sums up the hockey department and columnists’ attitude toward fans, but I couldn’t figure out where to put it.  So let’s just call it bonus material.  Most people reading this will remember the meeting that Terry Pegula had with TBN’s staff back when he first took over the team.  At that meeting, Pegula made a comment about Henrik Tallinder’s absence being worth, I don’t know, I think it was ten games?  Something in that ballpark.  A certain TBN writer later took him to task for that either in a column or a chat.  I emailed that writer, not for the first time, to say that, while ten games might be overstating things, the loss of Hank and Toni Lydman was being vastly underrated.  While I don’t remember all the numbers now, I recall pointing out the huge tumble that the penalty kill had taken from the season before when it just lost out on being the best in the league on the last day of the season.  I thought that was a pretty valid point since TBN itself had identified the PK as one of the strengths of the team going into the then current season (which I remember thinking was kind of dumb since the Sabres had lost two of their best penalty killers in Hank and Toni but I digress.)  The writer responded to the email by calling me delusional – and that’s not a word I’m putting in his mouth, that’s exactly the word he used – and said that if Hank’s absence was really that important, they would have written about it already.  That’s right, my opinion was invalid, not because he had some intelligent counterargument but because it didn’t line up with anything that had been written in the paper.  No one at TBN had told me it was okay to think that. This writer had, on other occasions, told me that he had a lot of respect for me as a fan and a writer.  I don’t mention that to brag, but to point out that, evidently by this writer’s standards, even smart fans aren’t as smart as sportwriters.  For the record, by the end of that season and into the offseason, this writer was writing things like “Gee, anyone think maybe the Sabres should have considered extending Henrik Tallinder?” Then I suppose it was a valid opinion.

Joe

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