Amid the now regularly breaking news that some hockey analytics blogger or another has been snapped up by a hockey team or the mainstream media, a friend of mine brought up the following question: "Is it a good or bad thing that all these previously independent analytics folks are being hired by MSM, NHL teams, Hockey Canada, etc? Your team gets better, but the level of general discourse available to the public gets worse?"
I'll admit that I've been wondering (and worried) about that very thing. A lot of the writers that put out the most informative and innovative content are now (presumably) bound by confidentiality clauses courtesy of the teams that employ them, leaving us with a rapidly diminishing number of analytics writers to turn to when we want to learn or discuss these things.
That doesn't necessarily mean the level of general discourse has to drop along with it. It all depends on how we look at it. Intelligent hockey writing has definitely taken a hit with the loss of these particular voices, but this also represents a huge opportunity for a lot of writers to step up and fill it. Whether we're talking new analytics writers nobody has heard of, the few remaining analytics writers who are still allowed to write for the masses, or established writers that are evolving in their work to keep up with the level of hockey discussion, this opportunity is open to almost everyone.
It doesn't have to be restricted to analytics writing, either. There are plenty of writers out there who write about on-ice systems, or hockey history, or the business side of hockey, or social issues within the context of hockey, or profiles, if you're into that, but who haven't yet built the audience their work deserves. There is something out there for everyone, and all of it contributes to an elevated level of discourse.
It's up to us readers to keep that up, though, and we count more than we think. Last week, the impeccable Sean McIndoe wrote a set of new NHL season's resolutions for all of us at Grantland, and one of them was to stop rewarding bad sportswriting:
"The next time you read something that's dumb, don't rush off to post a link so that everyone else can rage about it. Instead, go find some good writing, and post that link instead.
If everyone did that, we'd all wind up reading better content. The incentive to write lazy hot takes would eventually drop. And maybe a few of those no-names would start down the long road to building enough of an audience to push the worst of the hacks out of a job someday.
It probably wouldn't work. But it might be worth a try."
He's right. It probably wouldn't work... unless we all got on board. If we all decided we were going to be committed to improving the level of discourse available to us, and we all decided to stop clicking on or engaging with, or talking about lazy, unintelligent sports pieces, and we all decided to only click on writing worth our time and our clicks, we could make it happen. The biggest problem with sportswriting these days isn't the writers, it's the readers. We're the ones that keep clicking on, sharing, and engaging with crap, and in today's world, clicks, shares, and engagement measure success. We can't always help ourselves, but we owe it to ourselves to do better from now on.
Remember that it's 2014, and if a sportswriter is not capable of creating content worth clicking on, he or she should not be in the content creating business. We're the clicks, we get to decide. Aren't you sick of stories about how Phil Kessel is fat and/or lazy and about how Alex Ovechkin isn't committed to winning? Don't you want your hockey games contextualized with information and analysis that actually matters? Don't you want to be entertained and not be enraged or bored? It's not just the game that's changing, it's the way we watch it. We're in a position to know more about the teams, players, and games than we ever would have imagined ten, five, or even three years ago. We get to talk about it with thousands of strangers and have our opinions heard. We can now spend so much more time and money on hockey than before and have more of it at our disposal. We deserve a higher level of hockey discourse, but we're not going to get it unless we demand it. And reward it and only it.