I learned an important lesson early in my time at The Hockey News. I was a young(ish) copy editor tasked with polishing and proofreading a freelance article from an established writer. Only the article needed much more than a polish and proof. It needed just about everything. It was carpet-bombed with superfluous punctuation marks. It abused grammar and syntax with such viciousness and callous disregard, I was thisclose to filing charges. It read as if it had been written while running away from a pack of wolves.
That’s when I had all the proof I’d ever need that simply being a member of the mainstream media wasn’t a guarantee of quality work or credibility. Now, it wasn’t necessarily true that the writer whose work I butchered (I prefer thinking of it as “salvaged” or “professionally butchered”) was wholly incompetent. The person wasn’t a proficient communicator, but was successful thanks to (a) extensive contacts within the hockey world that permitted them to gain insight on the sport and pass it along to readers; and (b) diligent editors who rarely receive deserved public accolades for the work they do.
But in the end, a label meant nothing. And I think about that lesson whenever the debate topic turns (as it often has for a while now) to that of professional writers vs. bloggers.
I don’t put credence in anyone’s opinion simply because they’re employed by a well-known publication and/or veterans of a particular beat. You earn credit with me based solely on the caliber of your work: the evidence you present, the care with which you employ the language, and your ability to inform, engage and/or entertain. That’s it.
It’s the same way I feel about music: As I said on Twitter, I don’t care if you make music in a low-fi log cabin like Bon Iver or a state-of-the-art studio with high-quality production values. Neither of those options provide an assurance you will wind up creating good music.
And really, I just want to hear good music.
If you can add something to the daily debates in the hockey world – either via statistical analysis, good humor or a creative, challenging perspective – it makes no difference to me where you plug in your word processor. The hockey world isn’t so big that it can be dismissive of new communication technologies and advancements, and voices it hasn't heard before. Hockey journalism, like all journalism, has an obligation to go where journalism consumers are going.
The fact is, there are too few jobs and too many smart and passionate people who can thrive in this industry. And those of us fortunate to have a public profile ought to do everything in our power to, when warranted, include them and grow the game – the game in this case being “talking about the game” – as much as possible.
Journalism is still a business that at its core is about telling stories. Last I looked, there was no government license or secret handshake required to do that.