Interview with Toronto Star deputy sports editor Chris Young
[Q] First, how long have you been working in journalism, and how long have you been with the Toronto Star?
[CY] I have been in journalism since 1979, and been at the Star since 1989 – although that is a bit misleading. I was also at the Star from 1983 to ’85 as a part-timer while I went to school. The current post I’m in, since the beginning of the new year, is assistant to sports editor Mike Simpson. Mike is the brain, and I am the guts – I put together the daily schedule, figure out who is doing what, and offer ideas and structure. Then we meet at 5pm and tear it apart, depending on how much space we have. And lately, that has been a battle. Unlike the web, we can't go on as long as we want. It is finite.
[Q] General question, the newspaper industry has been going through a very turbulent time. What are your thoughts on where the newspaper business is at, and how it will affect coverage of the NHL? What are some of the things newspapers or sports departments are getting right?
[CY] The newspaper business is really at a crossroads. The physical newspaper model no longer applies, either in terms of people's day-to-day lives, it is still there, but less and less in terms of time given to it, or more importantly, as a business. So advertising is down, circulation has flatlined, and the concentration of newspaper ownership has become more pronounced. The sooner we become web brands instead of print brands, the better chance we will have of surviving. But adaptation is a hard go.
As far as the NHL, well, you have seen, read, and blogged on how coverage has been cut back at major U.S. papers. At the Star, hockey and the Leafs remain number 1, even as our space is cut back due to some of the factors I mentioned above. That has not changed. I often think that if the shrinkage continues, we will end up with a two-page section, and it would be all Leafs. That is the way it is here. Montreal is the same, as it is in probably every Canadian NHL city.
[Q] I was a regular reader of your blog, Just Another Blog on Sports. What was your favorite post on JABS, and what received the most response negative or positive?
[CY] I liked the stuff I did live from the World Cup, because I was also writing columns for the print edition. It was fascinating, personally, to flip from the blog voice to the column-writing voice. It is all storytelling, only the platform changes. I wrote a column for a long time (1995-2002), but got tired of it and asked out. I liken it to being on a stage in a darkened auditorium, you can't see the audience, but you feel them. Doing a blog is more like inviting people into your living room for a chat. It is intimate and personal, and your own biases are much more transparent, or they should be.
As for negative and positive, well, I got both. When news breaks, and you offer up instant analysis, there is nothing like it. Driving back to Frankfurt from the Italy-Australia game and putting up a quick blog post en route on the controversial penalty, I thought it was a penalty but it was a very close call, it was mesmerizing to sit there and literally watch the comments come back. Even if blogs are not the most important and powerful in the collective sense, this was a rare moment where a single blog generated instant response. Negative and positive.
And thanks for reading JABS. It was a lot of fun to do. I wouldd like to go back there some day. I figure the name is mine to revive, and it is in the back of my mind to do just that.
[Q] What are your thoughts on blogs and the NHL? Is there another one in the works for the Star to go along with the one by Damien Cox? It seems Toronto lacks a general hockey blog that covers all of the local teams, not just the Maple Leafs. Atlanta is a team that covers everything hockey related in their market, and it seems to have had an effect with their audience. They just recently hosted a blogger night, inviting several local bloggers to cover the team.
[CY] The NHL is pretty well-covered by blogs, more and more, and with Dave Stubbs' Montreal Gazette blog, Habs Inside-Out, I think you are seeing more and more the mainstream media (I do hate that phrase almost as much as the MSM shorthand it usually gets) can produce good blogs.
I love Eric McErlain and James Mirtle. I think Alanah and Jes out west, and Tom Benjamin, really do good blogs. I am missing some, but I think the point is made. The NHL blogosphere is pretty good, and perhaps that is partly due to those U.S. markets we talked about opting out of coverage. Where there is a vacuum, something is sure to follow.
I did not know that about Atlanta, great idea. I am going to steal that. JABS was actually preceded at the Star site by The Hockey Page, which was envisioned to be a general hockey blog, and was for a while. It proved to be too hard to keep both going when JABS started up. The Hockey Page was supposed to be a group blog, but the problem was getting a group within the newsroom. Spencer Walsh and I ran it for a while, but it simply ran out of steam. You are right. There is a void here in Toronto, and for a place that fancies itself as the hockey center of the universe, that is a big hole.
[Q] After repeated urgings on your blog, I have been studying up on Don Carman's 37 stock answers to baseball reporter's questions. I think if you are going to talk about baseball in the Bay Area, you have to include a Barry Bonds-ism for #38 (no comment). Describe the problems reporters have when trying to pull interesting, informative or inflamatory quotes out of a hockey locker room.
[CY] I have done enough of it to conclude with some authority that nothing is more overrated and overdone than the locker-room quote. I consider myself pretty normal, though, and I never went into a locker room looking for an "inflammatory quote". Just something interesting. It rarely happens, and the higher you get up the pro sports food chain, the more pronounced that becomes.
Example: I covered the Dallas-Colorado western final In 1999, and having been in Toronto I had grown used to monosyllabic answers to ordinary questions that you had to wait around for nearly an hour to be granted the privilege of an audience. But in Dallas, a fledgling market at the time, players were PROVIDED TO ME on my request, at the media hotel. Even the Avalanche, with some success under their belt, were not quite so accommodating, relatively speaking, they were haughty. The whole issue of availability of players and coaches has become so tightly managed, and media savvy and spin control is so common that the ace in the hole of the accredited media, the access, is vastly overrated.
[Q] Who was the best quote in Toronto?
[CY] Charles Oakley. "Pimpin' ain't easy. Ho's gotta work."
Best quote machine. Ever. Oak was honest, and incomprehensible. The best combination if you are writing a column.
[Q] I am not sure about Canada, but here in the U.S. when non-hockey reporters cover the NHL they almost exclusively focus on television ratings. Two questions. One, why can't television networks get the experience of sitting in the front row up against the glass to translate onto a television broadcast? And two, what can American networks learn about broadcasting the game from Canadian ones?
[CY] The one thing that struck me, going from being a sports fan to being a sports reporter, was how different it was seeing the games with my own eyes, instead of through the filters of TV. I don't know how you relate that. It is much rawer live, much more real. I think it is impossible to convey that. A sport like football looks so controlled and rational on TV, up close, on the sideline, it is complete chaos. So I think looking at HD as a solution to the NHL's TV ratings predicament in the States is a bit of a chimera. It is like that line about jazz, either you get it or you don't. Here in Canada, where we become accustomed to ice at a very young age, we get it.
As for the second question, if I was an American network truly interested in putting a good product on TV, I would do what America has always done, buy the best. Just buy HNIC's best cameramen. Sadly, though, I do not think it would make a bit of difference to those ratings.
[Q] The Toronto Star recently published a feature on Toronto Maple Leafs team photographer Graig Abel, what was your favorite photo?
[CY] When I was a kid, up on my wall, I clipped out a shot of Mike Walton scoring his third goal of the game against Eddie Johnston of the Bruins. I still remember it. Walton on one knee, Johnston down. So that has gotta be the favorite, along with Dryden leaning on his stick.
[Q] What are the latest trade rumors coming out of Toronto, where most of them seem to originate?
[CY] I pay no attention to trade rumours, they are the empty calories of sports coverage. Easy to make up, instantly digestible, no nutritional value at all. The trades that get made are the ones you hardly hear of. My own take, as I have said before, access is overrated.
Challenging questions was the phrase I was aiming for. Many thanks go out to Chris Young for taking the time to answer questions after a long day at work.
After writing this post on the declining NHL coverage by the Washington Post, New York Times, and Los Angeles Times, I wanted to try to follow up with a few different sports departments and focus on the positives. With the Washington Post and the New York Times, the coverage of the NHL has improved dramatically.