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Newspapers, blogs and the different types of analysis consumers should expect

The difference between mainstream media versus blogs, shot-based analysis versus narrative and why they can co-exist happily.

Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports

After writing an article that has some cherry-picked stats comparing Tyler Myers to Dustin Byfuglien, Paul Wiecek is under fire for suggesting that Myers, not Byfuglien is the Winnipeg Jets top right-handed defenceman. The article is supported by some comments from Paul Maurice and does not include any shot-based statistics that most blogs use for analysis purposes. This does not mean that Wiecek or any main-stream-media (henceforth called MSM) for that matter is bad or unprofessional. In fact, their writing is entirely based on their profession and their readership. In short, MSM serves a different purpose than blogs.

Newspapers are narrative pushers for those whose interests they represent. It is known that the Sun newspaper conglomerate is right-wing and therefore tends to spin any decision the left-wing to fit their narrative that the right-wing is better, even if the decision rendered by the left-wing is a sound one. This is how newspapers work. For the sports section, it is more about maintaining access and giving the majority what they want to read. In the case of Myers and Byfuglien, True North Sports and Entertainment might want to start getting fans used to the idea that Byfuglien will not be a Jet much longer and want fans to see that there is a replacement for him waiting right there. This is something that happens a lot and not just in Winnipeg. Teams rely on the media to parlay certain messages and can use access as a way to get those messages across. Blogs are important because these messages need to be countered, but no one will be harmed if the only thing they ever read is MSM writing.

There is also the complaint that MSM need to use shot-based analytics in their analysis and anything else is lazy. As pointed out by Marc Dumont of the Montreal Metro and Managing Editor of Eyes on the Prize, the SBNation Blog of the Montreal Canadiens: "If the goal is to educate a casual fan, you need to take a slow and steady approach. Throwing a million graphs and numbers at reader is likely to confuse them, or even turn them off from understanding analytics all together. Taking a patient, humble, and simple approach is generally the best way to get the message across. A casual fan doesn't get anything from observing a confusing scatter plot. Make it simple, clear, and engaging. As an educator your #1 goal should be transmitting the message, not confusing the end user.  The message loses all value if the medium is overly complicated."

That is hugely important because how people learn the most basic shot-based analytics is key to them becoming more mainstream. If the overly-complicated ideas that can be found on blogs. If you are introducing shot-based metrics to non-blog readers, you have to start at the very beginning and some newspapers do not see a reason to do that because it is hard to find the person with the patience to carefully explain their analysis in an uncomplicated way and for that person to not over-complicate that analysis as time goes on. MSM is the surface analysis of sports; they exist for the fan who just wants to watch the game and go to bed. There is something great about that. They are accessible to people who never liked math. Basic analysis is the way newspapers work and calling them out for that basic analysis is not understanding the audience they are writing for.

Was the article calling Myers the Jets number one defenceman wrong because of the small sample size used? Absolutely yes. But the reasons it was written and the reason it is read is because MSM is there to tell stories. Analysis generally happens in the game stories, not in the columns. Those are for personal opinions more or less. We are expecting all media to be the Fifth Estate of the realm when in reality very little media functions on that level. It is hard to say that blogs do not have an agenda just like MSM has an agenda. MSM needs to get readership no matter how they do it; same with blogs. They go about it in different ways and therefore usually draw different eyes to their stories. MSM can use their access to tell stories that are more people based and open a window into how a team thinks. On the other hand, blogs tend to go for more in-depth analysis and give space to people who want to learn more about the mechanics of a sport. Both have a place in the public sphere and both are necessary.

This is not about the blog wars. This is about the lack of thought into why MSM writes the stories they write and why blogs write the stories they write. They are written for a specific audience. Much like when one was in grade school and we were told to think of the audience we were writing for or in university and told the same thing, but had it explained so we knew how much background information was needed in a paper. This is how writing works. Know your audience. Write for the majority and if you want to expand that audience or give them new information, you have to do it in a way that does not make them feel dumb of confused. You have to do it in a way that encourages further reading. It has to be understood that by the nature of what they are MSM and blogs attract different audiences and therefore feature different types of analysis. This is not something that should cause people to jump on every "bad" story a newspaper publishes. It is time to just look away and find the analysis that you want to read.