There are times when I wonder if I’ve actually read what I’ve just read.
A case in point would be the most-recent installment of Say What?!, a rambling, all-directions grump-off featuring the two resident curmudgeons in the Winnipeg Free Press sports department, editor Steve Lyons and columnist Paul Wiecek.
Now, I realize that their frivolous to-and-fro (it appears seemingly at random) is not meant to be taken any more seriously than Beetle Bailey’s misadventures or whatever it is that’s getting Dagwood Bumstead’s goat these days, but when these Waldorf and Statler wannabes stoop to calling Ed Tait and George (Shakey) Johnson “hacks” it tends to grab my attention.
If you missed it (and it’s my guess that most of you did), this was part of their thrust-and-parry last week:
Lyons: “Merriam-Webster defines a reporter as a person employed by a newspaper, magazine, or television company to gather and report news. Listen, I bear no animosity or hard feelings towards the folks who have left the mainstream media to take jobs working for professional sports teams or leagues but I’m not sure those folks should be called reporters. You went to journalism school at Carleton University—what ya think?”
Wiecek: “I’m old school on this reporter thing: Those who can, do. The rest are hacks and flacks.”
I’m not certain what was more astonishing, a) Lyons’ reliance on a dog-eared definition that ignores the reality of websites, b) Wiecek’s galloping arrogance, or c) Wiecek branding highly skilled and respected reporters like Tait and Johnson, among others, as “hacks and flacks.”
Once upon a time, of course, Tait was to Canadian Football League newspaper coverage what Johnny Carson was to late-night TV. The best. Today, you will find the former Winnipeg Sun and Freep sports scribe’s fine prose on the Winnipeg Blue Bombers website, where he “reports” on the goings-on of the CFL outfit.
Johnson, meanwhile, was the finest wordsmith among sports columnists in Canada until the day some misguided suit at Postmedia experienced a moment of madness and told Shakey to leave the building. His delightful turn-of-phrase and dry wit moved from the Calgary Herald to the Calgary Flames website, where he “reports” on the goings-on of the National Hockey League club.
Does that make Tait and Johnson flacks? By definition, yes. They’re paid to spread the gospel according to their respective organizations. The same can be said for Tim Campbell and Dave Stubbs, two other veteran mainstream sports scribes who fled the near-death experience of the rag trade for nhl.com.
That, however, does not dismiss them as reporters. I’ve read Tait’s stuff on bluebombers.com and Johnson’s work at nhl.com/flames. To say they aren’t reporters is to say Don Cherry isn’t loud.
What part of that, I wonder, does Steve Lyons not understand?
More to the point, what part of the word “hack” does Paul Wiecek not understand? According to Lyons’ go-to dictionary, Merriam-Webster, a hack is: “A person who does work that is not good or original and especially a writer who is not very good.”
You want other definitions of “hack?” Try these…
Macmillan: “A journalist, artist or writer who does boring work or work that is not very good.”
Cambridge: “A journalist whose work is low in quality or does not have much imagination.”
I’m uncertain what world Wiecek lives in, but in no world that I know of does the word “hack” apply to either Tait or Johnson.
But, hey, “Those who can, do. The rest are hacks and flacks.”
Arrogance, thy name is Paul.
Wiecek, who, by the way, is one of my favorite scribes, prattled on about team/league websites producing nothing but pap that caters to the converted, and to a degree he’s correct. They’re devoid of harsh, critical analysis. But what, you expect the Bombers to pay Tait to cut head coach Mike O’Shea a new one because he has a brain fart and attempts an impossible 61-yard field goal? Not going to happen.
The thing is, pap isn’t strictly the province of team/league websites. You’ll find plenty of it in the Freep.
A headline last week referred to Tom Sestito as a “dirty Penguin” and a “Pittsburgh goon.” That’s the kind of blatant homerism you won’t even find on the Winnipeg Jets website. In the midst of the Jets’ current four-game skid, the Freep ran an article full of siss-boom-bah and advised us that the local hockey heroes “refuse to wave the white flag.” Bravo for them! And if it’s pure pablum you’re looking for, check out the front page of the sports section this past Thursday. You’ll be greeted by this headline: “Jets fans have reason to be happy.” Below it is a Paul Wiecek column that reads like something delivered directly from the True North Sports & Entertainment propaganda department.
Say what?! Yup, apparently those “who can” don’t just “do,” some days they also write just like hacks and flacks. Imagine that.