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Clique Bait: Bob McKenzie And The (Too) Slow Demise Of The Hockey Media Gatekeeper

Yesterday TSN's Bob McKenzie spent time promoting the work of other writers in the hockey media, both male (initially) and (when prompted) female. Which is excellent. However, the reaction of some to the prompting of McKenzie to include more than just male writers shows that hockey media is still a society that doesn't value women's work enough. But that is a trend these gatekeepers will have to accept is changing, whether they want to or not.

Bob McKenzie, TSN's celebrated "Insider" is a colossus of hockey media. Through many years of hard work and insightful, accurate reporting, he's built himself a reputation that's the envy of any sports reporter in the world - as a knowledgeable, well-connected, impartial voice who holds himself to the highest standard when reporting. For many, he is THE NHL reporter.

And as for a recommendation from him for someone else's work? It's the hockey media equivalent of being given a pat on the shoulder by whichever supreme deity you believe in themselves for your work.

Yesterday, McKenzie saw fit to spread some stardust around the hockey media community, saying that it was time to "celebrate great hockey writing".

The trouble is, his initial definition of "great hockey writing" looked a lot like "hockey writing that happened to be done by his friends". Specifically, white, older male friends. The likes of Gary Lawless and Pierre Lebrun, who while undeniably influential and often knowledgeable writers, often have "form" in the past for writing articles/opinions that aren't exactly welcoming of those outside hockey's traditional demographic (see for instance Pierre LeBrun's piece on the possiblility of an NHLer coming out as homosexual, which basically said "this would be great for league PR" or Gary Lawless' often questionable writing on Evander Kane in Winnipeg).

Most glaringly, however, was the complete absence of female hockey journalists. In a time when the likes of Sarah McLellan in Arizona, Sarah Baicker in Philadelphia, Katie Strang (sadly now no longer writing on hockey) in NY and Amalie Benjamin in Boston have seen their hard work and dedication in what is traditionally a male-dominated area rewarded by a rise to be considered among the best in their profession at reporting on the NHL, and others like Katie Baker are gaining national recognition for both their knowledge and sheer writing/reporting ability, it seems strange that the sport's most respected reporter would simply omit any and all of them from any discussion of excellent NHL writers.

It seems even stranger that this would happen when you consider the sheer number of women who have made their reputations writing either "outside" the mainstream hockey media or covering hockey outside the NHL. Those in the first category looking at SBN alone include names like SCoC's own Sarah Connors or Asmae Thompson, or Habs EOTP's Laura Saba or Emily Wang, PPP's two Katies (Flynn & Esmonde) or Achariya. Ari Yanover at Matchsticks And Gasoline, Liz McNeill at Second City Hockey, & Sandie Gauthier at Mile High Hockey to name but a few...although to be honest we could list every single female SB NHL writer in this list and many more outside it).

Examples of the second category include the likes of Zoe Hayden, creator of the Victory Press, Angie Rodriguez, who writes on women's hockey for SBN and the Victory Press amongst others, as well as Kate Cimini, Hannah Bevis and the staff of Watch This Hockey to name but a few...

Hell, if McKenzie was feeling particularly cute/willing to promote, he could have mentioned Lauren Schwach - the girl who has her own blog/self-started reporting gig covering the NWHL's NY nine years old. The next generation of female hockey writers are already starting to make waves.

To give McKenzie credit, upon it being pointed out to him by many on NHL Twitter that maybe his male-only promotion was a bit...well, awkward-looking in today's hockey media climate, he corrected himself, giving props to several including the likes of Sarah McLellan in Arizona.

However, the fact that he had to be asked didn't sit right with many. McKenzie's initial omission of female writers, whether done intentionally or not, was seen as another example of the NHL and indeed hockey media simply refusing to acknowledge the vital and constantly-growing contribution and visibility of female hockey writers. While the omission can't definitively be said to have been a calculated move on McKenzie's part, the fact that even those female writers who do move in the rarified orbit of the top tier of NHL media and consistently produce truly excellent content weren't even considered worthy of a mention - even when looking at McKenzie's colleagues in the Canadian NHL media - sent a very discouraging message to many women.

Asmae Thompson was one of the many female writers who summed the message up far better than I can:

"It's obvious (McKenzie) took a lot of time to consider/craft those initial tweets-how could he not consider any female writers? How do you not take time to consider gender dynamics and stuff like that? It hurts (when women are only added as an afterthought) because you realize that these people are celebrated journalists, who you'd assume in 2015 would be aware of the message they're giving. Writing is HIS LINE OF WORK."

Bob McKenzie is a writer of tremendous reach and influence, and as mentioned earlier, his endorsement is effectively a pat on the back from God himself for many when it comes to hockey media. His not putting female writers among the same group as men conveys the message (whether McKenzie intended to or not, and nobody is saying he did) that these female writers are somehow "not as good" as the men mentioned first.

At this point, the cynical amongst you may be asking "wait-this guy's talking about women being considered equal to men and able to write, yet he's the one who has taken it upon himself to write this piece! Isn't there any woman out there who could have written it?"

The answer to this is simple. Yes, there is. In fact, the Chowder staff were worried about how this exact question would look. So, in staff discussion we made a point of asking whether or not I SHOULD be writing this piece in the first place, or whether or not it should be left to a female writer.

The answer we got was that none of the ladies on this site wanted to take on the task of writing it - not because they didn't believe in the topic, but because they were, in their own words "exhausted" by having to face the inevitable backlash that they knew from long and personal experience (the one borne out by many others-witness the recent death threats thrown at female reporters in Chicago covering the Patrick Kane affair-or indeed look at the comments/Twitter replies on any SBN article with even a tangential connection to sexual inequalities in hockey) would come from a certain section of the hockey Internet.

The sad fact is that, even in 2015, the decision was made that the potential backlash to this article, or virulence of attack on the writer, is still likely to be less vicious simply because the person who wrote it happens to be male.rather than female

This was another trend shown last night, as those female writers who chose to comment on McKenzie's initial tweet and the word-choice thereof were bombarded by (exclusively male) replies essentially saying "shut up and stop complaining"

One of the most obvious trends in this was from Zoe Hayden's Twitter timeline, which saw a heated debate with a small group of other Twitter users that first saw her accused of twisting McKenzie's initial words and daring to attack a RESPECTED JOURNALIST (invariably one of the go-to defences of hockey media's male gatekeepers whenever anybody dares to challenge their "established order" and then a descent into personal attacks about "close-mindedness" and "not arguing the case properly"

In essence, while Bob McKenzie was (after prompting) at least attempting to crack the gates of hockey media that usually keep women out or at least make their access far more difficult ajar, there were others trying to slam those gates shut again.

It's hard to believe that in 2015 and with more and more (though arguably still nowhere near enough) women rising to the top of their chosen hockey-reporting profession that a request that these people be acknowledged in the same way men are can provoke such strong feelings against it in some - feelings that will lead them to accuse anyone doing so of promoting a close-minded agenda...ironically while failing to notice it themselves. And that has to stop.

The self-appointed gatekeepers to NHL media were angered last night, but they can expected to be angered more.

The gates of NHL media may still be old, rusty and difficult to move, but little things like Bob McKenzie correcting his initial omission of female writes show that they're beginning to creak open inch by inch however strongly the push back against it is.

That is a trend that names like those women mentioned earlier in the article and sites like the Victory Press have been the trailblazers of. Now the hockey media, particularly those in influential positions, have to help them and star praising female writers' contributions unprompted. The NHL has to do more for its female writers and media members.

While there is still strong opposition to their presence in some quarters of the hockey media and fandom, as shown last night, the gatekeepers are still there, and they have only continued to redouble their efforts. There is work being done to push against this, but reporters like McKenzie within the hockey media need to start doing their part, too, and so do media outlets.

Give more talented female writer/broadcasters a platform. Promote intiatives like the Victory Press. Support female hockey writers.

Sooner or later, though, the gates are going to come down. The very fact McKenzie acknowledged the great work of those ladies who he publicly praised show that the perception in media is changing.

But the very fact that there is criticism of him doing so, or being asked to do so shows that it isn't happening quick enough.

Your move, NHL media. Open the gates.

Hockey reporting will be better for it.