Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Echo Chamber

         Phil Kessel railed against the Toronto media's treatment of Dion Phaneuf today, which is likely the culmination of many little tirades against the media from Leafs players who have not only had a bad season to deal with but the media backlash that comes with it. It's not surprising the Toronto media are putting undo pressure on players like the now departed David Clarkson, but the backlash is a result of a symptom of modern sports media: the echo chamber.

        In the past, stories were allowed to grow organically and came about from natural everyday situations. Now, because the insatiable demand for stories is still there, but combined with competition from other media outlets and social media's demand for immediacy, now the media can create a story of their own and run with it, without much to do about anything. When the echo chamber is put under fire, usually it's ESPN's echo chamber that gets torched. But Toronto media has an echo chamber of its own, and in some cases is just as bad.

      Take for example the "Wendel Clarkson" newspaper cover from the Toronto Sun the day that David Clarkson signed with the Maple Leafs. David Clarkson was already going to be put under undo pressure because of the size of his contract, but invoking Wendel Clark did nothing to alleviate that pressure. Now, Clarkson has to live up to the legacy of a Leaf legend as well as the contract he signed, while also hearing about it every day on sports talk radio, TV and reading about it in the paper. Some of the expectations placed on David Clarkson came about entirely because of the Toronto media echo chamber, and meant that his failure hit harder than it would have normally, even in a  similar Toronto media frenzy.

       What Phil Kessel was attacking today was the echo chamber that allowed stories like the Dion Phaneuf one to continue to percolate and simmer until a point comes when columnists and talk show hosts need something to talk about, so they revive an old tried and true narrative driven story to beat to death. And it's not only Toronto media that propagates these self-generated stories, because they end up driving the discussion around the world of hockey. The stories become inescapable, even when the Leafs are playing in Sunrise, Florida.

      What can be done? Like with ESPN's echo chamber, there isn't much that anyone can do, since the stories are self-generated and self-spawned. It's a hurricane that traps up everyone inside of it, and they can do nothing about it. Whether Kessel's latest outburst spawned because of a tweet that TSN showed on their bottomline on Tradecentre yesterday is besides the point, even if it was horrible. Whether Dion Phaneuf is the rightful captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs is also besides the point too.

      The Toronto media machine can make a story out of anything, whether it be a Steve Simmons column, a misplaced tweet, or even a "no comment" from players every single day. Unfortunately, playing in Toronto brings about different responsibilities and challenges, and Leafs players know that and understand that, even if they can barely speak about it.

     Sports media in 2015 is in itself a large echo chamber, and to avoid it is one of the biggest challenges a fan, media member or player can undertake. Even as this column has sucked itself into the echo chamber, avoiding it is the goal.

    Lashing out at it is the fight or flight response that comes when the hurricane sweeps you up, and you can do nothing about it.

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