Top o’ the morning to you, Jason Bell.
Is it too late for New Year’s greetings, Jason? Naw. It’s still January, so happy New Year to you and your stable of scribes in the toy department at the Drab Slab. Hope it’s a good one, full of scoops, fab features and smooth press runs.
Okay, now that the pleasantries are out of the way, let’s get down to business.
I read with interest your Jan. 20 email newsletter, in which you waxed on about your interaction with Winnipeg Free Press readers and, at the same time, gave yourself and staff an “atta boy” for a job well done. Notably, you cited curling as an area of substantial pride.
“I venture to say no media outlet in Canada makes it a priority to cover local curling like we do,” you wrote.
Well, Jason, I certainly agree that your attention to Pebble People is admirable and in keeping with a rich tradition, whereby daily newspapers in Good Ol’ Hometown treat the hurry hard crowd like deity. But I hope you didn’t hurt yourself with that vigorous pat on the back. I mean, you do well by today’s curlers, but it pales when compared to coverage of yore. (More on that in a bit.)
For now, let’s deal with the overall tone of your newsletter.
You invited readers to “keep those calls, letters and emails coming—and don’t hold back with your opinions of how we’re doing in the Free Press ‘toy department’. Bring it with both barrels blazing.”
Well, okay, here’s one barrel: I’ve got some interesting numbers for you to digest, and they might be enough to make you choke on your Cheerios or poached eggs or dried toast (or whatever else is on your breakfast menu this morning).
Just so you know, I monitored the pages of your Drab Slab during 2022 in a quest to determine how much focus you, as sports editor, place on female athletes/teams hither, yon and in Good Ol’ Hometown, and I can’t say I’m surprised at my findings. They include:
- Articles/briefs exclusive to male athletes/teams: 4,304 (358 monthly average)
- Articles/briefs exclusive to female athletes teams: 657 (55 monthly average).
- Monthly average of articles/briefs exclusive to local female athletes/teams: 12.
- More than half of sports sections had zero (0) local female sports coverage.
So what’s your excuse, Jason?
The paper’s editor, Paul Samyn, likes to tell readers like myself that the Freep emphasis is on local, local, local. Perhaps that’s true in the other sections of the sheet, but the evidence confirms that home girls/women are getting short shrift on your sports pages.
Except for curlers, of course.
You love our female Pebble People, Jason. You worked the hurry hard beat (and did a boffo job) before landing the editor gig in the toy department, so you know where curling sits in the pecking order. And, hey, if you were to ignore the women you’d surely get an earful at the dinner table, since your bride, Allyson, is a two-time Manitoba Scotties champion.
Just don’t get your chest feathers too fluffed up.
Your coverage isn’t as voluminous or as thorough as back in the day, when Jack Matheson was churning it out for the Winnipeg Tribune and Don Blanchard at the Drab Slab. Hell, it wasn’t just Matty and Blanch. We all covered curling at the Trib. Every ink-stained one of us. Matty insisted on it. He had Davey Komosky as his right-hand man, and he also brought two local curlers on board, Ina Light and Marg Hudson, to scribble weekly columns on the women’s game. Blanch wasn’t flying solo at the Freep, either. His main accomplice was Ralph Bagley. Maybe it was over-the-top. I mean, devoting an entire broadsheet page to photos of all event winners in the annual MCA bonspiel? Who does that? We did. You don’t.
You don’t cover female athletes/teams, either, Jason. Not really. The scant space you devote to them smacks of “oh, by the way” tokenism.
Your predecessor, Steve Lyons, wrote this in October 2020: “We can’t control how many wire stories we get each day on women’s sports, so our solution to moving the needle in this area has always been to focus on being as equitable as possible on local sports.”
Ya, it was equitable under his watch like a nickel is worth a dollar.
I don’t expect you to answer for Lyons’ sins, Jason, but nothing’s changed with your hands on the wheel. Seriously, 12 local articles/briefs per month? You give Kyle Connor more ink than that just for brushing his teeth. Zach Collaros farts and it gets bigger play than the JFK assassination.
And I get it. The Jets and Bombers are the big dogs in town. People want to read about them. But c’mon, man. You can’t convince me that the girls/women who run, jump, tumble, swim, throw, catch, hit, shoot, kick or dribble a ball in Good Ol’ Hometown and environs are noteworthy just one dozen times a month. What, female accomplishments are less worthy?
Look, Jason, not every person is an athlete, but every athlete is a person. Don’t they all have a story to tell? Including the women/girls?
Perhaps the softness of female coverage is due to the makeup of your sports staff: Six dudes.
I mean, I’ve known male jock journos who’d rather clean up after the circus elephants than spend a chunk of their afternoon/evening watching girls/women throw, catch, kick or hit a ball. You might as well ask the guy to spend a weekend bingeing on those sappy Hallmark movies. I’d like to think your guys aren’t of that ilk, Jason, not even subconsciously.
But something is holding you back, because the numbers don’t lie.
It’s fair that I point out you’ve upped your game in the past six days, mainly because the Manitoba Scotties is right under your nose, but six days is a small sample size and I suspect it will be back to business as usual until the women gather in Kamloops for the national championship next month.
In the meantime, curiosity sent me on a fact-finding mission, Jason, and I examined our female coverage (articles and/or briefs exclusive to the girls/women) at the Tribune in January 1980 and compared it to your sports section’s work this month. Here are the numbers:
Tribune: 26 editions, 48 local female stories/briefs (19 curling)
22 of 26 editions included local female copy
Free Press: 28 editions, 20 local female stories/briefs (9 curling)
13 of 28 editions included local female copy
I’m not suggesting that you flip the calendar back four-plus decades, Jason. I’m just pointing out there’s room for improvement on the female file. You can do better. Much, much better.
The thing is, you might not feel obliged to be the best you can be. After all, Postmedia has reduced the Winnipeg Sun sports staff and section to bare bones—three guys, some days just three pages, zero travel budget. Postmedia is making them shovel the driveway with a spoon. You’ve got a front-end loader. So, hey, you might be feeling smug, with gusts up to arrogance. Why bust your onions, right? Except that would be cheating the business.
I realize the Freep can’t be all things to all people, Jason, but you have the staff and space to give girls/women a better shake. All you really need is the desire and commitment to do it.
Well, that’s one barrel blazing, Jason. And, remember, you invited the critique. Be careful what you wish for, man.
Jennifer Jones and her twentysomething gal pals— Karlee Burgess, Mackenzie Zacharias, Emily Zacharias, Lauren Lenintine—won the Manitoba Scotties today, and I think it’s fair to wonder when the Grand Dame of Pebble People will slow down. Jennifer is 48 and has no more curling mountains to climb, yet she’s still climbing curling mountains. Next up is Mount Scotties in Kamloops, where she’ll be hunting her seventh Canadian women’s title in her 17th appearance. She’ll be wearing the Manitoba buffalo on her back for the ninth time. Astonishing.
Brooke Henderson’s win to open the Ladies Professional Golf Association season last weekend was a reminder that the chatterbugs and editors at The Canadian Press got it all wrong when they anointed Marie-Philip Poulin our country’s top female athlete for 2022. Poulin played a grand total of 14 meaningful hockey games in 12 months. Fourteen. In a two-country competition. She was not Canada’s leading scorer (Sarah Nurse), goal-scorer (Brianne Jenner) or tournament MVP (Jenner) at the Olympic Games. She was not Canada’s leading goal-scorer (Sarah Fillier) or its only all-star (Fillier) at the world championship. Henderson, on the other hand, teed it up in 22 LPGA tournaments (76 rounds) against truly global fields (players from 13 different countries won in 2022) and finished atop the leaderboard twice, including a major. Seems to me the gang at CP has officially reduced Brooke’s accomplishments to ho-hum status, and that’s a shame.
Why do both dailies in Good Ol’ Hometown think it’s a big deal when one of the Winnipeg Jets is added to the field for the Manitoba Open? This year it’s Blake Wheeler’s turn to hack his way around Southwood, and there’s no reason to suspect he’ll be more successful than Rink Rat Scheifele (rounds of 86, 87, 78, 84) or Kyle Connor (94, 90). It’s a footnote at best, not a story.
Hey, maybe Wheeler can tear a page out of the Donald Trump book of golf hijinks. The Commander-in-Cheat claims to have won the recent senior championship at Trump International, except he was at a funeral in North Carolina when everyone else was playing the first round in West Palm Beach, Fla. Gives new meaning to the term “unplayable lie.”
Mr. Money Pants Bill Gates was observed at the Australian Open tennis tournament, sitting courtside for the men’s singles final between Novak Djokovic and Stefanos Tsitsipas last night. You might be interested in knowing the sticker price for his seats in the hoity-toity section of Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne—$27,500. Who said money can’t buy you love?
On the subject of large coin, future Rouge Football hall-of-fame quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell has signed with the Hamilton Tabbies for $500,000 and change. Hmmm. Wonder how much they’d be willing to pay Bo Levi if he could still fling a football farther than he can spit.