Media Relationship: It’s Complicated

The Montreal Canadiens have one of the NHL’s biggest media coverage in the NHL. That can be a benefit when it comes to providing coverage and material for fans that simply cannot get enough of the Habs, and for publicity and advertising for the team itself and its owners. But that kind of scrutiny can also serve as a negative, putting tons of pressure on the organisation as a whole, from the players to the coaches and the General Manager.

In his more recent press conference announcing the firing of Marc Bergevin and the hiring of Jeff Gorton, team President Geoff Molson mentioned that he wants to improve the relationship with the media. For obvious reasons, this was received very well by the group of reporters present in the room at the time.

Some people in the media in Montreal couldn’t stand Marc Bergevin. They saw him as arrogant and condescending. Perhaps it’s because he wasn’t afraid to put them on the spot live, in front of their peers, if they asked a baseless question? Or maybe because he was an expert at tip-toeing around delicate topics? Some may not have liked the fact that he was way too comfortable facing them and wouldn’t be intimidated? In fact, it was far from arrogance. Condescending? Maybe a little bit, at times.

Standing up against nonsense

Bergevin was a confident GM who knew the business and how the game is played. He didn’t stand for nonsense and if someone came up with hearsay, he would put that person on the spot. And journalists have great pride. They didn’t like that.

An example that comes to mind is a few years ago during a press conference, Philippe Cantin from La Presse tried to put Bergevin on the spot. He asked the Canadiens’ GM why the Canadiens practiced such a defensive system instead of trying to score more goals. Bad question to the wrong man. You see, social media was filled with dissatisfaction about Michel Therrien’s system and some media too often like feeding on popular belief. Many get their viewership, listenership and readership that way and that’s money for their employer.

Bergevin asked Cantin for clarification and turned the question around on him. He asked him for specifics about Therrien’s system, asking what makes him think that it was a defensive system. Cantin was caught totally off guard and looked horrible in the process. He couldn’t back up his claim. Bergevin asked him legitimate questions, turning the table on him. Cantin bit when the Canadiens’ GM named the Tampa Bay Lightning. Ouch!

But you see, in this example, Bergevin knew that it was a narrative making its rounds on social media, and that some media members fuelled it. He also knew that like many other topics spread out by fans, it was either incomplete or totally inaccurate or even made-up. So when he saw an opportunity to address it and when Cantin stepped into that trap, Bergevin ensured to get his point across. It was nothing against Cantin, who just found himself at the receiving end of a tough lesson.

There were several other instances where Bergevin did turn the table on a question and media members quickly learned to be prepared if they were going to ask specific questions. To them, it became a fear of getting exposed and ridiculed and many didn’t like that. Not at all. Several media outlet then turned against Bergevin and put him (and the Canadiens) down at every chance they got.

All out war

It got worse when, on June 29, 2016, the Canadiens’ GM dared trading fan favourite P.K. Subban for Shea Weber. The displeasure turned to outrage and some of those media members (and outlets) went on an all-out tarnishing campaign against Bergevin that has lasted ever since. While most of them won’t have the backbone to come out and admit to it, some of them have been waiting for him to get fired ever since.

Jonathan Drouin and Chantal Machabée

Anyone with half a brain will tell you that if you attack someone like some of the media has, you won’t get any favours. You draw more bees with honey than with vinegar and some don’t understand that. I could name them but I think that you all know who they are. So of course, Bergevin had his favourites when it came to give exclusive interviews and providing scoops or insight “off the record” to launch or feed rumours. Those who were already against him were obviously not happy about it.

Remember when Jonathan Drouin, coming back from several months leave for personal reasons, was going to give Chantal Machabée of RDS an exclusive interview and the viewing had to be delayed? Soon after, we learned that Renaud Lavoie of TVA Sports was also going to have a one-on-one interview with Drouin. That’s no coincidence. Either Geoff Molson put pressure on Bergevin and PR man Paul Wilson (who was also let go with Bergevin), or the NHL did since TVA Sports has the national broadcasts rights for the Canadiens. Coincidently (or not), TVA Sports is one of the media outlets who were extremely critical of Bergevin.

Fixing the relationship

So when Molson says that he wants to patch the relationship with media, that’s what he’s talking about. But rest assured that the new management group will also find itself in the same boat soon enough. They all have. You have some very good reporters out there in Montreal covering the Canadiens and those rely on their out-of-the-box thinking, their skills, quality work and great personalities to gain respectability, readership, viewership and/or listenership. But there will always be some who can’t compete with those skills and who will rely and feed on fans’ popular beliefs, even seeking and creating controversy, and on sensationalism in order to bring dollars in for their employers.

Media in Montreal is a little bit like the NHL when you think of it. You have star players who will earn top dollars, those who will provide the quality spectacle that fans want to pay to see. Those rely on their skillset to make their money and gain their popularity. But with over-expansion, not every NHL player can keep up to those guys and they rely on hooking and interference to manage to make a living at the NHL level. Bergevin was doing with reporters what the NHL did when they cracked down on hooking and interference. Unfortunately, this era is gone… for now.

More reading…

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Gorton Shines Some Light, Too Soon for Big Picture

Tremblay vs Roy Saga: Plenty of Blame to Share