Finding the balance in our CFL coverage

While many of the pundits from legacy media outlets responded to the departure of CFL commissioner Jeffrey Orridge with a self-congratulatory round of I-told-you-sos – including this newspaper scribe – 3DownNation contributor Josh Smith took a decidedly different approach.

In his piece “Five good things Jeffrey Orridge did as commissioner of the CFL, ” Smith outlined some of Orridge’s accomplishments, including his drive to use social media to draw younger fans, his foray into daily fantasy with the Draft Kings partnership and his experimentation with live-mic games on TSN.

Smith’s point was that Orridge was focused on things that made the game more accessible and enjoyable to fans and those accomplishments went largely unrecognized. What he doesn’t say is that oversight took place because the reporters and columnists from traditional outlets aren’t fans and therefore don’t have the same perspective.

This is undoubtedly true and, for the most part, that’s a good thing (yes, how surprising coming from a tenured member of the establishment media). As reporters and columnists, we are trained that part of our role to make sure elected officials, government and others who hold power in our society are held accountable. That leads to a certain level of healthy skepticism and a willingness to criticize.

What makes sports journalism unique in some respects is that the audience, by and large, wants the team to be successful. Use too cynical a tone when covering a team (or a league) and there’s a risk of alienating the audience. Too Pollyanna and the “homer” label gets applied. Striking a balance can be difficult and the consequences of getting it wrong severe.

When 3DownNation started almost two years ago, we brought together conventional media types – three of our contributors are members of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame media wing – as well as bloggers, most of whom had been writing about a team and the league on their own time and on our their own dime. It was an odd mix, to be sure.

The term “bloggers” can be something of a pejorative, evoking images of a lonely soul writing crazy things from the quiet comfort of mom’s basement. But the fan-centric contributors who have stuck with 3Down – primarily Smith, John Hodge and Santino Filoso – have shown a remarkable depth of knowledge about their teams and the CFL.

Hodge has written extensively about the ratio makeup of all nine teams across the league, something I reckon few traditional media members could even attempt. Filoso recently did a piece on why the Redblacks fan base – of which he is an unabashed member – should hate other teams and it was sprinkled with mildly obscure historical references only a devoted CFL scholar would know.

While all three have had their moments of “homerism” – Smith’s Twitter freakout over Hamilton’s signing of Chad Owens was the most memorable and humorous – they are generally willing and able to write critically about their teams when warranted. Doing so only enhances their credibility.

But, more importantly, they’ve retained their passion for their teams and the league and that emotion carries over into their writing. They write from a place of sincere appreciation of what the CFL represents and recognize the happiness (and agony) their teams bring to their lives. Traditional media members have passion, too, of course – most people who work the CFL beat love what they do.

But, every now and again, it’s important to remember that fans (and readers and viewers) want to be reminded about what’s going right, not just about what went wrong.

Right Jeffrey?

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