We’re only a week or so into 2017, but unlike the self-styled experts picking the winners of this year’s majors while ringing in the New Year, it isn’t going out on a limb to say that the term “fake news” will be as much a part of the calendar year as the subjects these bogus stories allegedly expose, humiliate or beat up on.
During the American election, it seemed like months of April Fools’ Day every day, scrolling through social media, rolling the eyes so often that the warning from my mom years ago that if I’m not careful, they’d get stuck in the back of my sockets, repeated in my mind as often as the social media swill before me.
As a matter of fact, it seemed as if I was peering out my ear at one point during a particularly aggressive eye roll after noticing that people were actually feeding on this refuse, reacting with countless comments and accusations that the other side was producing exaggerations or downright lies, when from this vantage point, it seemed one side was as guilty as the other.
Ultimately, we’re forced to live with the consequences of fake news, the same way we live with the winner of an election, be that person good or bad. Fortunately, leaders have expiry dates here in North America if they don’t meet expectations or are caught in a lie, but sadly, fake news doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon, perhaps never.
Indeed, the first casualty of war is truth, as the old saying goes, and the rise of social media, shrinking editorial budgets at more traditional media outlets, falling advertising revenue and other factors have contributed to a specific war on truth as individuals and companies fought to be seen, heard or read in a crowded landscape.
Mainstream media was never perfect. On any given story or subject, the writer or outlet or both could be accused of sensationalism or bias and the reality is that truth has never been absolute, but credibility was always perceived to be a quality that led to longevity of career.
Over the years, I’ve been lucky enough to work with or at least swap press room stories with some of the best, including Milt Dunnell, Earl McRae, Jim Kernaghan, Rick Fraser and Trent Frayne among so many others and sadly the aforementioned names have all exited this realm.
They gave way to a new generation that, because they’re contemporaries of mine, I don’t want to admit that they’re fading away professionally. Hopefully, they’ll remain a part of media on a part-time basis, but even those opportunities have become fewer than what was the case just a few years ago.
The good doctor, Dave Perkins, retired from the Toronto Star a few years back, but last year came out with a book Fun and Games: My 40 Years Writing Sports. Garry McKay isn’t full-time at the Hamilton Spectator anymore, but still contributes there and other media outlets.
Brad Ziemer was a regular read at the Vancouver Sun, but is now contributing to British Columbia Golf, and over the years, familiar names such as Mario Brisebois of the Journal de Montréal or Randy Phillips of the Montreal Gazette, among others, have wound it down or retired altogether.
All of the above covered other sports as well as golf and while the hall of fame golf-specific writer Lorne Rubenstein isn’t penning his Globe & Mail column anymore, he is working on a book with Tiger Woods for the 20th anniversary of his first major win at the 1997 Masters and contributing pearls to other outlets. May that continue for years to come. The same hold true for the crusty John Gordon, inducted into the Ontario Golf Hall of Fame last year, but still penning the occasional contribution.
The sports departments at newspapers have often been referred to as the “toy box,” because of the focus on fun and games. As a matter of fact, an editor at a newspaper I worked for years ago once insisted that sportswriters eat with their feet. I wonder if he’s read or watched any entertainment stories/programs lately in his search for serious journalism, but that’s another story.
Whatever department he looks in to accomplish his mission, there will be considerably less people than in that era when he was insulting sportswriters, a vocation that lost even more quantity, but also quality with the exits of two more recently.
After nearly 15 years as golf columnist for the Sun, I knew Fidlin best, but I did see Cole from time to time at the Canadian Open or other golf events. Like many mentioned above, both covered other sports, but had a particular affinity for golf and I enjoyed reading both.
They didn’t feel the need to shout from the rooftops as many do now on social media. Sure, they had their opinions, but they weren’t built on the need to be controversial in order to be recognized, nor on the other end of the spectrum, stroke the egos of their subjects. It was fair enough that you might disagree with them, but you’d be back for their next contribution because they earned that loyalty and respect, as did the generation before them.
That’s called credibility.
The generation behind them that is beginning to take over face a completely different world than what Cole, Fidlin and the others faced when they broke in. Sure, that generation started on typewriters and finished on laptops, but it goes beyond that.
The media landscape is much more crowded now with 24-7 sports coverage, Internet, podcasts and social media competing not only for viewers, readers and listeners, not to mention advertising dollars. Fake news back in the day were headlines screaming about aliens and celebrities having affairs on the supermarket tabloids, but nothing to the extent you see today.
The changing of the guard is about more than names and faces. It’s a whole new world compared to back in the ‘70s.
“The sports columnists of my generation are the dinosaurs of the newspaper trade. And you know what became of the dinosaurs.
We are the last of the over-privileged scribes who’ve been sent to travel the world, cover all the big events and spend our bosses’ money with impunity, and we’ve known for a while now that the ride couldn’t last forever.
So wherever we have gathered, lately, we’ve treated it as though it might be the last time, the handshakes and hugs have lingered a second longer, and we’ve toasted the end of our golden age — telling the younger ink-stained wretches that they will never have the kind of opportunities we had.” wrote Cole.
Fidlin also mentioned the change.
“Just as the sports themselves have changed, the world of newspapering I entered in 1971 bears little resemblance to the one I’m leaving today.
All that remains the same are the words on the printed page. How they get there is like some sort of incredible bit of computerized science fiction compared to the simple mechanics of the business 50 years ago.
The writing, once the only thing we were responsible for, is now just a part of a job that requires us to work on multiple platforms, including video, websites and social media. One daily deadline has now become an around-the-clock boulder on your shoulder,” he wrote.
The last thing the generation behind us wants to hear is a bunch of old guys – and I include myself – reminiscing about the good old days. As even guys our age realize, the next wave will face challenges and technology that we can’t even imagine right now and that’s their main concern.
Who can blame them? Yet, the more things change, the more they stay the same. As time goes on, media seems to be more about marketing and public relations over credibility. The people picking up the torch may be asked to sacrifice credibility in an era when we can use it most, one in which the emphasis may be on what people want to hear and not necessarily what is reality.
All that the senior guys can offer is a word of encouragement and a bit of advice if it’s sought out, If, in fact, people from our age group are dinosaurs, as Cole so kindly wrote, it gives an important assignment to those taking over.
In an age of changing technology, platforms, crowded media landscape, decreasing revenue sources and questionable conduct in many cases, the credibility of Fidlin, Cole and the others mentioned above is more important than ever and hopefully, something that will set somebody apart in a sea of countless names and faces as that person seeks professional longevity.
The increase in fake news and changing media has yet to erase the importance of credibility. I would argue that it’s now more important than ever. If it isn’t, the fading into time of the dinosaurs will only leave behind a wasteland.