Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Gagging on a gag order

Members of the media who cover the Prince Albert Raiders received a note from the WHL club on Monday.
Signed by Bruce Vance, the club’s director of marketing, it read:
“As a review please find attached the 2010-11 WHL Media Services Policy.
“We welcome and encourage all media interviews to be done before or after games and practices as outlined in the policy.
“Interviews with players at any other time must be approved and arranged by (Vance, GM/head coach Bruno Campese or assistant GM/assistant coach Steve Young).
“Direct contact with the players at any time other than when they are at the arena is prohibited by the Western Hockey League.”
Furthermore, the note went on to point out that the Raiders “have changed our location for post-game interviews this season and appreciate the media’s cooperation with this. We would like to advise that access to this area should be via the stairs in the North east corner (by the weight room) only.”
The suggested route is longer than a direct route to the Raiders’ dressing room in the Art Hauser Memorial Centre and it keeps the media from walking in front of the door to that very dressing room.
The Raiders haven’t made the playoffs since the spring of 2007. All told, they have been observers in four of the last five postseasons and seven of the last 10.
This means that when they play, good seats still are available.
You might think then that the Raiders would be more concerned about improving access to the media than dictating terms of coverage.
But such is not the case.
This latest memo would seem to stem from whatever went on following the clash between Marc Mackenzie, then with the Raiders, and a would-be burglar in his billet’s home. (Mackenzie, you’ll recall, later was dealt to the Chilliwack Bruins. He perhaps paid the price for a difference of opinion between his father and Campese.)
Anyway, for whatever reason or reasons, the WHL and the Raiders chose not to capitalize on Mackenzie’s new-found fame after his physical confrontation with the burglar.
They never did make Mackenzie available to the media; no one held a news conference in an attempt to make hay out of the situation. You would think that it may have been worth someone’s while to hold a news conference — to bring in Mackenzie, along with a WHL official or two, a whole bunch of Raiders players and brass, a police officer or two and sing the kid’s praises.
At the same time, someone could have delivered the message that what Mackenzie did isn’t the recommended procedure when confronted by such a creature.
Dale McFee, a former Raiders player, is the president of the team’s board of directors and also is the Prince Albert city police chief. It might have been a natural for some kind of promotional tie-in between the Raiders, the city police and local and area schools.
But, instead of taking that tact, someone with some authority chose to issue a gag order that covered everyone in the Raiders’ organization.
Except that John MacNeil of the Prince Albert Daily Herald, recognizing this as a great news story, spoke with Mackenzie before the gag order was put in place. MacNeil called the billet home and left a message. Mackenzie, as any well-mannered young person should, returned the phone call. Just like that, MacNeil had his story.
The cat, of course, was out of the bag before The Daily Herald hit the street.
The punch-up between Mackenzie and the thief took place late on a Thursday morning. By that night, news of the incident was popping up on the Internet, in at least one forum and on Facebook, the latter having been posted by the billet Mom.
A gag order wasn’t going to stop people from talking about what was a great news story.
The WHL loves to tell people how much it is concerned with the education of its players, how it develops not only those players who will go on to professional hockey and how it helps prepare the others for ‘real’ life.
That being the case, perhaps it is time for the WHL to forget about gag orders and attempting to limit media access. Perhaps it should bring in a media consultant who could help those same players learn how to deal with newspaper, radio and TV reporters.
Perhaps it could do something to help its players improve their public-speaking skills.
And perhaps it should do away with gag orders. After all, they only make people ill.
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