This past Sunday at Rogers Arena, the Vancouver Canucks held their annual Superskills competition, an in-rink event that benefits the Canucks For Kids Fund and allows for fans who can't normally afford tickets to see their heroes up close.
It was a Canuck event, hosted by the Canucks, attended by Canuck fans only, with proceeds going to a Canucks charity and it was streamed online on the Canucks official website. But none of this stopped Dan Murphy, a reporter with Sportsnet Pacific, from hosting the event with in-rink announcer duties.
In doing this, Murphy blurred the lines between the team and the media entity that reports on the team, getting Canuck fingerprints all over his Sportsnet microphone.
I cried foul on Twitter on the day of Superskills, asking Murphy's @sportsnetmurph account if he worked for Rogers or for the Canucks. Murphy responded by asking if I "would say no when [I am] asked to do something for charity.”
"Journalistic integrity is so important when you are reading the results of the hardest shot," Murphy added.
The Superskills is a fun event that's all about promotion and I don't disagree with Murphy's support for a good cause, but the issue is blurring the lines between public relations and reporting. The apex of sports public relations came this summer with ESPN's "The Decision" and there were few apologists for LeBron James's behaviour outside of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Connecticut. Many in the media criticized host Jim Gray's approach to the show, a hard fall for the man who once confronted Pete Rose about his gambling on baseball.
LeBron James wasn't present Sunday. Dan Murphy’s Canuck flag-waving needs to stop ere he become to the Canucks what Gray is to LeBron. Fans—Not just media scholars—will notice the similarity between the team and its major broadcast entity. "For all media, print, broadcast, online, multimedia, and the yet-to-be-invented," says Maxine Ruvinsky, a journalism professor at Thompson Rivers University, "the appearance of conflict of interest is almost as bad as a conflict of interest itself."
"If individual journalists or media outlets blur the line between journalistic copy and public relations or promotional copy, they risk giving the appearance of conflict of interest," Ruvinsky also communicated to me, via e-mail.
There is hardly a teacher of journalism or reporting who would deny that when a reporter gets too friendly with an organization, even a sports organization, the optics are bad. No reporting can have the appearance of being honest if the reporter turns to promotional side projects. Should scandal erupt, the public needs to know it can trust Murphy and the entire Sportsnet brand to report fairly and honestly, and not by using faces familiar to us as fans to spout quotes on-message.
The Canucks For Kids Fund supports some terrific charities and it is admirable of Dan Murphy to want to take part, but rigorous standards of journalism must continually be applied.
Superskills would have continued to benefit the Canucks for Kids Fund even without the appearance of Dan Murphy. The question remains whether fans can continue to trust Sportsnet to deliver information independent of the team.