In the words of the enemy

If you pick up the print version of The Gazette (or at least the sports section), you might have noticed that there’s a lot of articles and columns from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and before that the Washington Post, commenting on their hockey teams.

A column from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Gene Collier in today's (Montreal) Gazette

Since you may not have picked up the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette recently, you probably haven’t seen the Montreal Gazette columns that have appeared in those pages:

Dave Stubbs column in Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Even though, in an ideal world, no sports journalist is biased toward the home team, the reality is that Gazette sports columnists know more about the Canadiens and talk more about the Canadiens than the opposition. There’s an unavoidable Montreal-centric perspective. So it’s useful to get an idea of the other side.

Sharing copy like this isn’t new. Both the Gazette and Post-Gazette have done it before, their editors tell me. The Gazette did it two years ago with the Boston Globe and Philadelphia Inquirer.

“Basically, the idea is to give Gazette readers an in-depth look at the visiting team from reporters who cover that team on a regular basis and know that team as well as our guys know the Canadiens,” says Gazette sports editor Stu Cowan. “Also a chance to read some different opinions and styles of hockey writers from other cities.”

When the Canadiens faced the Washington Capitals in the first round, Cowan contacted the Washington Post to see if they’d be interested in sharing copy. The Post jumped on board, and columns from Thomas Boswell, Tracee Hamilton and Mike Wise appeared in the Gazette.

(There’s a bit of irony here, in that until recently the Gazette was a subscriber to the Washington Post’s wire service. The Post cut Canwest off after Canwest filed for creditor protection.)

Washington’s not a hockey town

In Washington, though, there wasn’t much reciprocation. Even though the Capitals finished the season as the National Hockey League’s best team, there was little space in the sports section of a paper known for political stories to fit what are essentially wire stories from Montreal. In fact, I couldn’t find a single Gazette piece that was used in the print version.

The imbalance is particularly striking simply because hockey in the U.S. capital isn’t as important as here. They have an NFL team (the Redskins), a baseball team (the *spit*Nationals*spit*), an NBA team (the Wizards), plus college and other sports. Even during the hockey playoffs, they have to devote pages to these.

“When I contacted the Post hockey editor on the weekend of the NFL draft to ask which one of their columnists would be writing on the Caps, the answer was none: they were all writing on the NFL draft, even though the Redskins are brutal,” Cowan wrote to me by email. “The Redskins are to D.C. what the Canadiens are to Montreal.”

But the Post did use the Gazette pieces online, and it looks like they got some interest there.

“The Gazette columns were a big hit on the Post website throughout the series and on some days recorded higher traffic numbers than our own stories. They enriched and broadened our coverage to a considerable degree,” says Matthew Vita, Washington Post sports editor, somewhat press-release-like. “All in all the content-sharing was a great success that we envision using in the future.”

Then, in Pittsburgh

After the Canadiens epically came back from a 3-1 series deficit and advanced to the Eastern Conference semifinal, Cowan was himself contacted by two Pittsburgh papers – the Post-Gazette and Tribune-Review – looking to setup a similar agreement. “I had to make a choice and went with the Post-Gazette,” Cowan said.

In Pittsburgh, this kind of sharing has gotten routine.

“Every playoff series, we try to hook up with a newspaper to run at least a column a day from ‘the other side’,” says Post-Gazette Assistant Managing Editor/Sports Jerry Micco. “We do it for other sports, too. Particularly for the Steelers. Throughout the week, we’ll do RSS feeds from the opposing newspaper’s site as well as trading copy. We rarely have space for copy throughout the week from the opponent, but on the Monday after a game a ‘view from XXX’ is a mandatory run in our section.”

Micco says the agreement has been a win-win for the two papers. He listed two major advantages for him: “1. It frees our writers up to cover the Pens. Even if they write an opponent’s story, it’s not going to be a column. 2. I allows our readers to get another viewpoint on the series.”

Still, the Post-Gazette isn’t using nearly as much copy as the Gazette is, even though their sports editor said the Gazette has “excellent hockey writers” and “our fans here want as much hockey as they can get this time of year.” They have the Steelers (and its quarterback in the news recently) and Pirates, while Montreal can focus on the Canadiens (with the occasional mention of the Impact), running two or even three pieces a day from the Post-Gazette.

“Basically, the popularity of the Habs in this city goes through the roof during the playoffs, with people who don’t normally follow hockey jumping on the bandwagon,” Cowan writes. “The copy-sharing agreement allows us to provide additional hockey coverage during the playoffs, with a closer focus on the visiting team.”

What do you think?

None of the editors mentioned much about direct response to the enemy copy, so I’ll leave that to you: Do you think the new perspective is a valuable contribution, or a waste of space?

For analysis, you can read these columns yesterday and today from Ron Cook and Gene Collier, and these columns from Tracee Hamilton and Mike Wise of the Washington Post.

10 thoughts on “In the words of the enemy

  1. Bickerbros

    It’s great idea. Unfortunately, a quick comparison of the on-line articles in the Pittsburgh P-G with those that appear in the printed version of Gazette reveals that our beloved newspaper continues to 1) write its own headlines and 2) edit the content of the other city’s writers. Shame.

    1. Fagstein Post author

      Rewriting headlines is unavoidable for practical reasons, and editing copy is necessary both to conform to different style guide and to cut for space. But editors take care not to alter the meaning of the piece.

  2. wkh

    Honestly I think it’s kind of stupid. If this was like, say, the Nordiques and Habs towns trading stories, it would make sense, as we’re right by one another and people move back and forth in fairly significant numbers, plus all the folks in between. Those teams make no sense. No one here cares about the pens or caps in enough numbers to merit this, although it is a nice gesture.

    I confess I love watching RDS coverage as they don’t even pretend to be unbiased and are all “YAY HABS SCORE!” and “oh. pens score.” I find it strangely irksome listening to broadcasters who are thrilled every time anyone scores. It rings false to me.

    1. Fagstein Post author

      Normally, you’re right, we don’t care about the Penguins. But when we’re facing them in a seven-game playoff series, we suddenly become very interested in what’s going on with them, no?

      1. Fassero

        Jumping to conclusions, no? At the end of last year’s playoffs I remember just about every media outlet reminding everybody about how the Stanley Cup winning Penguins were pretty much Quebec’s “other” NHL team. Where to start? Co-owner Lemieux? Monsieur Fleury? Monsieur Letang? Or how many times it was stated and restated that Sidney Crosby grew up a Habs fan and played junior hockey in Rimouski?

        I seriously doubt that anybody is really labelling the Penguins, jokingly or not, as an “enemy”. Or the Caps for that matter. Now, if the Habs can move one more level and probably draw Boston, then that might be a little different.

  3. Pat

    I love reading the viewpoint of the opposing team’s press. Surprisingly it’s been very insightful and fairly reported both during the Caps series and now during the Pens series. Offers Montreal fans a unique perspective on a hard fought and unpredictable playoff series. Kudos to all out-of-town journalists!

  4. Mark

    I’ve been reading many hockey city papers during the playoffs at . Washington is the worst I’ve seen, but they boosted their hockey coverage from the lone NHL reporter who followed the Caps all year. Boston’s papers are doing an excellent job, and lately the Bruins have been leading the sports sections, even with the Red Sox playing the Yankees and the Celtics at the same stage of the playoffs in the NBA. The Buffalo News had very good coverage of the Sabres. The Gazette’s coverage has reflected the city’s obsession with the Habs well, but I’m disappointed that they can only spare two reporters for the games. In Vancouver, today’s Province has stories from 6 different reporters and columnists, and yesterday’s Sun had 3. I’ll give The Gazette extra points for Red Fisher, but even in today’s troubled times, they need more depth on their bench.

    1. Fagstein Post author

      The Gazette has two reporters an a photographer for away games this season. For home games, in addition to them, there’s live-blogger Mike Boone and columnist Red Fisher.

      Is more than this really necessary?

      1. Mark

        Most of those other papers have featured their general sports columnists, focusing on hockey during the playoffs. The Gazette doesn’t seem to have one, at least working full-time. They’ve asked Pat Hickey and Dave Stubbs to do double duty instead, so you can see that they value that type of article too. Of course it’s not necessary but if I had the power to designate The Gazette staff, a general sports columnist would be high on my list.

  5. MAWG

    Overkill. I already thought we devoted way too much space to this one team. Do I really need to hear the same story but from the other side?!! I can see why it appeals to the hockey junkies but for the rest of its of no value.


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