I first met Bruce Dowbiggin when we worked together at CBC-TV in Toronto, and it was clear from the get-go that he was no ordinary sports jock. Who was this guy, making allusions to Shakespeare or Canadian poetry in the middle of a sportscast? Yes, Dowbiggin was and is different. He's won the Gemini award for his investigative work (another anomaly in the sports broadcasting world).
Life started in Montreal, then Toronto, and now he's moved his multi-media act to Calgary, here he continues to write books, columns, do radio, television, and generally make a nuisance of himself to the mucky-mucks in the world of sport. Especially Don Cherry.
Bruce recently started "The Usual Suspects" column in the Globe and Mail sports section, where he focuses on media.
SP: Bruce, let's start by having you tell us how you ended up at The Globe. You left Toronto for Calgary several years ago to write for The Herald. Pick up the story if you would.
BD: In fact I left Toronto in 1998... more than several years-- as my back reminds me. I wrote a column in the Herald till this April. It was called I Don't Like Mondays and IDLM became something of a byword in Calgary. But with the economy faltering the past few years and some new horizons I wanted to scan, I agreed to replace Bill Houston at the G&M doing the media column. The sports editor, Tom Maloney and I worked together in Calgary and had talked about this sort of opportunity. Having worked in every aspect of our business-- at least our business as it existed a few years ago-- we thought it would be an interesting take.
SP: So give us some sense of what you want to achieve with the Globe column.Are you focusing laser-like on the media who cover sports? The relationship between reporters and athletes? The ink-stained wretches who write about sports? What's your pleasure?
BD: All the above, really. The media and the perception of sport are inseparable. For instance, the story of how the NHLPA fired Paul Kelly is inseparable from the media's skeptical reception to the spin about it. Opposite sides spin the media to support their cause. As we saw in the 2004-05 lockout, the PR battle was crucial to the union breaking.
In addition, it's critical how TV shapes the presentation, timing and rules of sport. Sports used to be played outdoors during the day by white guys. Now it's a night game in domed stadia with athletes from around the world. So in short, the column will be looking at every aspect of how sport is covered-- along with the technical innovations that send us all off to Best Buy every five minutes.
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I'd also like to think that by critiquing the media we can make it better. I have done everything in this business and have an insight into what works, what doesn't, who is working hard and who is simply throwing snow. I'm not perfect, they are my opinions, but I think if we can criticize others we should be open to criticism ourselves. It makes us better. Besides, at my age I've already made everyone mad at me already.
SP: Well, since you're going there, let's continue. You write with an edge. You're not "one of the boys." Do you feel accepted within the sports writing fraternity and if not, does that bug you?
BD: I gave up a while ago trying to be one of the "boys"-- if that implies accepting the status quo about many issues. I discovered that there are in fact many people who see the sports world as I do, and that you can never please everyone. If the price of being honest is not being accepted by the Don Cherrys... well, I made that determination a long time ago.
Besides, there are many interesting stories and angles that come to you by steering away from the accepted wisdom. So, don't think I'm always right, but if I am wrong it will not be because I didn't think hard enough about the issue at hand. Finally, by blazing a slightly different path I hope I can inspire a few younger people to reject the obvious and accepted for something more fulfilling.