On April 05, 2011, the following piece was published on Damien Cox’s blog at the Toronto Star. (You can see a screenshot of this article online here: http://i.imgur.com/psIhY.jpg). This copy and paste (and the previous screenshot) had already removed the following paragraph: “Currently, The Star is in an ongoing minor dispute with the Maple Leafs, having had our access restricted by president/GM Brian Burke in retaliation for a story published last week that Burke deemed unfair. Attempts to resolve the dispute so far have failed; the league has not be asked to intervene.” Though it was quickly deleted, some evidence can be found here (http://assets.sbnation.com/assets/580698/dispute.png), thanks to leafer1984 of PensionPlanPuppets.com. 

It has been speculated that this article by Chloe Fedio led to the dispute. http://www.thestar.com/sports/hockey/nhl/mapleleafs/article/963149--some-torontonians-laugh-at-leafs-nation

April 05, 2011

To Vote Or Not To Vote

There's a dispute brewing between NHL writers and the league that might peak your interest or leave you completely bored. Let me know which it is.

Generally speaking, readers and fans have little to no interest in the problems encountered by journalists doing their jobs, and that's good. Everyone has obstacles, and part of our job is to overcome them.

In this instance, however, it's slightly different. For years, the Professional Hockey Writers Association has voted on the bulk of the NHL's awards - the Calder, Hart, Norris, Lady Byng, Selke and all-star teams - and done so very well. Unlike the Hockey Hall of Fame, for instance, there has rarely been any controversy about the selections.

In recent years, there have been increasingly strident internal voices suggesting writers shouldn't be voting at all, that it puts us in a conflict of interest to participate in a process that we then cover as a news story. I've never felt conflicted myself, but I understand and appreciate the argument.

At the same time, the changing nature of the industry has meant the PHWA has looked to expand its membership to web site-only journalists, bloggers and even broadcasters who write for web sites.

Which brings us to the current dispute.

Earlier this season, the New York Islanders, a franchise being run into the ground by idiosyncratic owner Charles Wang, barred a PHWA member, Chris Botta, who was working as a blogger covering the Islanders. Botta was actually the team's former communications executive, and soon he found himself in direct confrontation with GM Garth Snow over his opinions and published writings.

So Snow had his credentials revoked. In the past, the league has been relatively quick to get involved in these disputes, particularly when they involved access issues, but in this case decided not to take action against the Islanders or Snow, or issue a league fine. Botta stayed locked out, and the New York Times started publishing his work.

In theory, the PHWA should back Botta, and the issue has simmered for months. It burst into prominence in recent days, however, when three chapters of the PHWA - New York, New Jersey and Long Island - decided not to participate in the awards voting in protest over the Botta situation on a point of principle. On Sunday, a PHWA conference call concluded that chapters have the right to withdraw but the voting would go on, and a meeting with Gary Bettman would be requested.

On Monday, the Columbus chapter pulled out, leaving the voting to the remaining 26 team chapters and one international chapter.

In reality, the issues - voting on awards, yanking the credentials of a reporter - are separate, but as in many political/professional disputes, they ended up fused. Ideally, the issue of voting should be resolved, and the issue of Botta's status should be resolved separately.

Instead, they've been linked, and it's hard to know what to do.

Fans and readers, as I mentioned, don't care, and I'm sure there are many out there who would love to see my credentials get yanked and my voice silenced. That's the nature of this job. People think you're doing a wonderful job as long as your opinions coincide with theirs.

On the other hand, fans do care about the awards.

These issues crop up all the time, and obviously, they don't compare in any way to the dangers and troubles faced by journalists working around the world. But they all reflect the intent of NHL clubs to control the media in one form or another, and it's increased in recent years as the league and teams have hired their own writers to crank out thinly disguised propaganda, or at the very best sanitized reports and columns designed to look like the real thing. Go to NHL.com or TorontoMapleLeafs.com and you'll see what I mean. The teams and the league love to daydream of a day when the independent media has been drowned out by their propaganda and fans don't see the difference.

But that's yet another issue. The short term issue is whether to back Botta and not vote. Have only about eight days to decide.