Friday, November 18, 2011

Avs/Penguins coverage

Hello! Today on Grading Dater, we will look at the Post's coverage of the Avs-Pens game, in which the Avs lost the game 6-3, after the Penguins scored four goals in the third period. The Avs started strong while the Pens looked flat, and thanks in no small part to a magnificent goal from Duchene, the Avalanche had a 3-1 lead at the end of the first period. The Penguins then decided that they would play some hockey, and the second period was a dogfight, and by the third period the Pens' four lines had worn down the Avs' 2.5. Even though the Avs still played a tough game, the Penguins displayed why they're one of the top teams in the NHL.

First off, let's take a quick look at the "Live Chat" thing that Dater has been doing for the games he covers. Basically, it's a chat room where Avs fans can sign in and all type "damnit..." and/or "FIRE SACCO!!!!!!" at the same time whenever the opponent scores a goal. This is a chance to see Dater at his most negative and pessimistic, surrounded by others who are often just as bad. Although there do seem to be a handful of folks there who are genuinely interested in, and appreciative of, smart hockey conversation, it's still a very, very depressing way to spend one's time during a hockey game, and I'd strongly advise against it. It does provide a window on Dater's coverage of the Avs, though, and since it's on the Denver Post web page and it counts as DP coverage, Grading Dater is going to comment on the Live Chat this time, but we'll leave it alone after this.

One of the chief complaints against Dater is that he writes with a clear bias towards some players and against others, often ignoring (or even worse, blatantly in opposition to) what actually happens on the ice. Not only is biased writing just poor journalism, it ends up misinforming and mis-forming the opinion of the reader, which good reporting should never do. The coverage of this game provides a great example of where this bias comes from, and how it affects not only the coverage the team receives, but the effect that coverage has beyond the printed page.

The Penguins' second goal of the game was a play in which Varlamov kicked a rebound out right in front of him, and reached his glove out to cover the puck. Just as he reached for it, another couple of players skated through the area of Varlamov's glove, preventing him from covering the puck... it slid away from his outstretched glove, towards the goal. Seeing the puck uncovered, Avs forward Joakim Lindstrom fell to the ice in an apparent attempt to cover the puck, but Pascal Dupuis got his stick to the puck first and put it in the net. It was a lucky bounce for the Pens, to be sure. Dater's comments after that goal included:

"Where was the whistle?????"
"Great job Lindstromm.(sic) Terrible player."
"Should have been a whistle."
"Lindstrom's horrible"
"...Lindstrom throws puck in own net."
"Let's hope Lindy sits down."

None of these resemble, even in passing, what should be required of any objective, unbiased reporter. Dater could have written that Lindstrom made a bad play and left it at that, but instead, Coach Dater got out his megaphone and called him a "terrible player," then called him "horrible," and then hoped that he would sit out the next game. And on top of all that, the one semi-objective statement he made is flat-out wrong...  Lindstrom did not throw the puck into his own net. Lindstrom went to the ice to cover the puck (not the smartest play, I'll admit), but Dupuis hustled and managed to put it in under him.

Dater may not have seen it correctly live (at first blush it did look like a slow whistle), but AD had previously commented on the nice HD jumbotron in Pittsburgh, and he could certainly have used it to see that not only was the ref correct in not whistling the play dead, but that Lindstrom did not, in fact, throw the puck in his own net. He could have corrected his mistake at any point, but why let facts get in the way of a perfectly good scapegoat?

Yeah, hockey... like that's cool.
This chat, like most of them, is filled with mopey finger-pointing and whining, from Dater and many of the other participants. Dater regularly picks out one or two players who he feels aren't doing enough and then reports each and every time they have (in his opinion, anyway) a bad shift, and usually calls the game as "over" with about 17-18 minutes remaining. Being in this chat room while the Avs are losing is like going to your depressed and eternally-single co-worker's (the one with the "Cathy" comics taped to her cubicle) house to watch romantic comedies at her "Un-Valentine's Day" party, or hanging out with a bunch of goth kids as they talk about... well, just about anything. When the Avs are winning, it's not much better.

Now, we move to the recap article from the Penguins game. This is another fairly typical writeup, but that bias creeps in at various points, including here:

The other noncall came on Pittsburgh's third goal, by Brooks Orpik that made it a 3-3 game at 1:12 of the third. Varlamov seemed to have smothered a loose puck — at least long enough to get a whistle to stop play — but as play kept going the puck came loose, and Avs winger Joakim Lindstrom accidentally knocked the puck in his own net.

Here we see how Dater's rush to point fingers at both the ref and at Lindstrom has worked its way into his article. The goal he's talking about here was scored by Pascal Dupuis, not Brooks Orpik, and it was the Pens' second goal of the game, making the score 3-2 Avs midway through the second. So Dater's attention to detail is already revealed to be lousy.

Now, had Dater written that the Avalanche thought there should have been a whistle, but that replay showed that the puck was not covered, that would be the sort of thing we'd expect from a reporter. Although there are other sections in the article where Dater does write that the Avs were unhappy about the officiating, in this case it is clearly Dater who's complaining about a "noncall." Whining about officiating is distasteful and usually the sign of frustration, but a certain amount of that is expected from the players and coaches. It's childish and unprofessional, however, coming from the media... even more so when the call being complained about was actually correct, and can be clearly seen as such on any replay. 

Lindstrom is responsible for global warming.
Furthermore, Dater's continued insistence on blaming Lindstrom for something he didn't even do is simply the most recent iteration of Dater's tendency to pick one player to blame -- whether that player is Peter Budaj, Matt Hunwick, or now Lindstrom -- and run with it, often for weeks or even months. Besides being the opposite of what a reporter is supposed to do, these biased takes on certain players from a Major Media Outlet have their way of working into the mind of the causal fan, and that's a huge issue that Grading Dater hasn't really even tackled yet.

How many comments have been posted online in the last few days about how bad Lindstrom is? He's not bad -- not any worse than the rest of the team, anyway -- but because Dater made these uneducated and biased comments about him, there's a certain type of fan out there who is now hating on Lindstrom... all because of something he didn't even do. So we've got people who don't know hockey forming their opinions based on what somebody who doesn't know hockey is telling them. That's a problem. Dater and the Post have a responsibility to remain unbiased, and to let the reader decide, rather than to shape their opinion... but if they're going to ignore that duty and try to shape the reader's opinion anyway, at least get somebody in there who knows enough (or cares enough) to shape it right.

Dater completes his glaring mistake later in the article, again confusing the Dupuis goal that made it 3-2 in the second period with Orpik's shot that went in off McClement to tie it in the third. Overall, this is a very sloppy and poor recap of this game. Dater needs to make sure he has the facts straight first; perhaps then the opinions he bases on them wouldn't be so idiotic.


Finally, we have the All Things Avs blog about the Pens game. Here we see the conclusion of Dater's crappy writing process, which started with his glaring bias as he watched the game as a fan rather than a reporter, continued through his uncharacteristically bad recap article, and culminates here in a subdued -- but still disappointing -- blog entry.

Dater had a good streak going of using this blog in a more detached way than we're used to, and it was a positive development. He sort-of continues that attitude here -- this isn't a five-page rant on all the things wrong with the team, and he does say that on balance the Avs deserved to lose because of the way they played -- but his homer tendencies, his downer attitude, and his turning a blind eye to reality to further his biases still crop up in a big way. He still insists that the Avs got "jobbed" by "hometown officials" who got "a couple calls very wrong", and naturally he's still throwing Lindstrom under the bus for something he didn't do.

This is a rare case where the newspaper article is actually worse than the blog entry, but that's not saying the blog entry is any good... it's still garbage, but there's less of it. Its best aspect is its brevity, but even a brief amount of biased, ignorant crap is still biased, ignorant crap.

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