Stubbs’s Bleu, Blogue, Rouge: Carbo makes passionate plea for a little media restraint

Head coach Guy Carbonneau picked his spot carefully to discuss his concern yesterday.
Pierre Obendrauf, Gazette

For roughly the length of a minor penalty yesterday, Canadiens head coach Guy Carbonneau spoke to the media who cover his team and asked that they show a little restraint in their zeal to get a story.

In just a little more than two minutes, Carbonneau showed more about himself than I’ve seen this season. And it was hardly a coincidence that he chose to bring this up on a day when two of his players – captain Saku Koivu and Francis Bouillon – navigated the Bell Centre corridors on crutches, just three games before the playoffs.

A few thoughts about Carbo and his address:

Listen. That was the sound of a pin dropping in Guy Carbonneau’s press conference yesterday, the head coach clearing his throat and discussing the media’s relationship with his team on the cusp of the playoffs.

Carbo knocked on the door of a complex issue that cuts right to the heart of ethics, as they exist, in the cut-throat trade of newsgathering in the 21st-century cyberworld.

Competition generally among newspapers, TV, radio, internet and specialty media is fierce, to put it mildly. With the Canadiens, it’s practically off the charts. The demand is to get the news, get it first, get more of it, expand and analyze it better than anyone else, and get a broader range of it.

Away from the game, we’re expected to find the story that’s unique, fun, behind the scenes, and will appeal to the reader or listener who has less time and span of attention than ever before.

That’s fine. That’s how it should be.

If a colleague at another paper gets a story that I should have had, my boss has every right to ask me why he’s read it elsewhere. That’s the nature of the business. But there is, or should be, a limit to how a story is gathered.

We all have our policies, within our news organizations and our consciences. Through trust and confidence, I have a decent list of cellphone and home numbers and email addresses of the Canadiens. I’ve sat in the homes of a couple of players for feature stories, and I have off-hours access to others. These numbers have been freely given to me by the players; a few have even called me aside to update my records when they’ve changed their numbers.

Here’s my own policy: I try whenever possible to go through the Canadiens’ media-relations department to arrange interviews with players. On occasion, I might contact a player directly. I text-message him first to see whether we can set something up. Almost without exception, the text is promptly returned and a time is arranged to speak, or my request is declined, always with explanation.

That was precisely the case with Mike Komisarek this week: he returned my text message last Friday, we arranged to speak on Sunday afternoon, and he called me exactly when he said he would. Our half-hour talk produced what I think was an insightful piece on his eagerness to return to the Canadiens lineup, and a look inside the work he and the team’s athletic therapy staff was doing to get him there.

And I had that story alone, which didn’t displease my sports editor.

More the issue for Carbo yesterday was the fact that Saku Koivu was called in his hotel room in Toronto, apparently by two different media, and that Francis Bouillon was called on an off-day, cold, to inquire specifically about their foot injuries.

Carbo has a big problem with that, which I understand. On the other hand: in a competitive media world, there should be a reward for the journalist who has the trust of a player who will share a cell number and is willing, within reason, to talk away from the scrums in the dressing room.

It’s not an easy thing for both sides here. Carbo knows how the business works, if he doesn’t enjoy every part of it. Nor do many of us in the media enjoy the hoops we’re often told we must jump through.

What Carbo said yesterday was an attempt to make it known that he didn’t appreciate the back-door way players were being contacted for injury updates at a sensitive time of the year, when the team has a protocol for distributing this information (whether or not the club’s methods answer every question that is posed). His message came through loud and clear.

The issue won’t go away any time soon in a burgeoning information age. But it’s on the table, and everyone now knows exactly where the coach and the Canadiens stand.

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