The Toronto Blue Jays are on a tidy little run these days, having won 21 times over their last 26 games, and look destined to get back to the postseason for the first time since winning the World Series in ’93.
But while the boys in the locker room are playing like family, on August 26 the Toronto Star revealed that for the past three months a little animosity has been simmering between Jose Bautista, the team’s all-star right fielder, and Sportsnet, its official broadcaster. Contrary to perceptions, all has not been completely copacetic in JaysLand.
On May 19, Sportsnet aired a six-and-a-half-minute segment featuring Jays rookie Devon Travis buying a suit (a cobalt blue Ted Baker, FYI) from upmarket Toronto fashion retailer GotStyle. When Bautista learned that Sportsnet ━ whose idea it was to go shopping in the first place ━ had not ponied up for the suit but rather had let Travis foot the bill, he took it upon himself to stick up for his teammate and promptly went into protest mode: @JoeyBats19 was going to refuse one-on-one interviews with the broadcaster until Travis was reimbursed.
The interview strike ended on August 26, having lasted 99 days. But when the story first broke that morning and the details of the feud were made public, Twitter, as it always does, really weighed in. And public opinion was heavily in favour of Mr. Bautista.
— Luigi de Guzman (@ouij) August 26, 2015
So Sportsnet gets free content (promoting a sponsor), Gotstyle gets free 6-minute ad, and Devon Travis gets the bill. Got it.
— Jesse Klassen (@jessek_86) August 26, 2015
— Tyler (@Hewy_) August 26, 2015
Though to be fair, GotStyle did have its defenders.
While we don’t know exactly how the conflict was resolved, as neither Bautista nor Sportsnet have come forward to elaborate, we do know that GotStyle received a pretty plum bit of exposure with the segment. The entire ordeal has thus raised some compelling questions about where journalism ends and advertising begins.
As inevitably happens on Twitter, sides were taken, one calling for either Sportsnet or GotStyle to #payforthesuit, the other defending them, mostly claiming that paying for the suit would compromise the journalistic integrity of the broadcaster.
Herein lies the issue: is that which, by all intents and purposes, appears to be an ad covered under the saintly cloak of journalism simply because it was produced by a news outlet?
The original Toronto Star article quotes Janice Tibbetts, a journalism instructor at Ottawa’s Carleton University, as believing that yes, it is. Ms. Tibbetts feels that if Sportsnet were to pay for the suit, there might arise “an ethical conflict…some threat to journalistic independence.” She argues were Sportsnet to ‘buy the Baker’, it might give the impression of there existing “too cozy a relationship” between the station and the team. (But many people following this story find that argument amusing, as both entities share the same owner, Rogers. Yes, the waters swirling around this debate are sufficiently muddy.)
Twitter pundits, though well versed in the philosophical underpinnings of journalism they may not be, we’re not buying the integrity defence, dismissing it based on the opinion that…
Taking a rookie for a makeover isn’t journalism #payforthesuit
— Chris Yake (@the_yakester) August 26, 2015
The argument that Sportsnet didn’t want to pay for the suit because of “journalistic integrity” should make journalists annoyed. — BallHer (@BaseballHer) August 26, 2015
Really needed to protect the integrity of their gritty “free advertising for designer suit store” segment. https://t.co/yXwXs8NRhW
— Andrew Stoeten (@AndrewStoeten) August 26, 2015
Journalistic integrity? No, silly Sportsnet, it’s pronounced “vertical integration.” — Jonah Birenbaum (@birenball) August 26, 2015
Media consumption has never been higher. People want immediate and interactive information, and outlets feel the pressure to produce. The new media landscape has thus blurred the lines between what has always been known as traditional journalism ━ where information is gathered, facts are researched, and stories are carefully and objectively crafted, edited, and delivered ━ and that which simply gets clicks, views, shares.
The nature of journalism is changing for good, but not everyone is convinced it is for thegood. As long as journalism and advertising continue to blend though, there is no doubt that we will hear plenty from those on both sides of the debate.