By Ed Odeven
TOKYO (July 22, 2018)
Sixth in a series
Working in and near Toronto, Canada’s biggest media market, for decades, Stephen Brunt has observed how the giants of the industry have handled deadlines and crafted quality articles year after year.
Among the biggest names in the business, of course, was Red Fisher, the one-of-a-kind scribe on the Montreal Canadiens beat.
Fisher passed away in January 2018 at age 91. He began covering the NHL in 1955 and was an authoritative voice on the Canadiens and pro hockey until his death, filing columns, features and news reports for The Montreal Star, which folded in 1979, and then the Montreal Gazette.
Does somebody fit the mold of a Red Fisher in this era? Brunt was asked.
“The problem’s going to be that, No. 1, most guys are becoming single-sports specialists. Red Fisher was a single-sports specialist, too,” Brunt said by phone from Hamilton, Ontario.
“But I don’t think that people are going to have the kind of opportunities that I was just talking about (to cover Olympics, World Cups and other major global events; see Part 5 in this series below for more on this topic) — to be able to go places and see things. And there’s a lot of people in the business now who washed up on TV, or can crunch numbers and have huge opinions, but can live entirely within their own bubble, and they haven’t seen things. And it’s not their fault. People aren’t getting set around the world to experience different cultures and to experience sports in a different context and to absorb it. That’s where the stories come from.
“And God knows newspapers aren’t going to do that, and I’m not sure who is, so we’ve got guys who are super duper hockey insiders or baseball insiders. But I don’t know how much they get to experience the world, and I think it’s hard to be a good storyteller without being able to experience the world.”
He went on: “That’s an old-school kind of opinion, and it’s like we talk about this with the radio thing, because sports radio used to be populated by all newspaper guys because we were cheap and available and we got to go places. So we had stories, and the next generation of guys doing that were dinosaurs, and the people coming behind us weren’t going to go places and cover those things and tell stories. They were going to be on their computers, watching stuff from afar and having big opinions, but they are not going to have that kind of rich experience that we had and I think that’s a loss.”
Brunt, who turned 59 in March, believes that experiencing life in numerous places has enriched his reporting and made him a better writer.
Or as he put it: “I guarantee you I could not be a writer without all of the things, all of the input, all of the stuff that’s come into my brain over those years. To see and to hear and to smell and to be turned upside down in a different culture — and to have to figure something out, to have an encounter with the police in a strange place, to be lost in a strange city — all of those things, that’s what goes into what comes out, and I wish the bright guys now, the best of them, guys and women — I don’t mean for this to sound all male, because Lord knows it isn’t — but the best people in our business, I wish they could have those experiences because it would make them better.”
Having a hot take or a declaring an opinion in a blog or on a podcast or a YouTube show devoid of facts doesn’t impress Brunt. He laments the rise of pundits without solid journalism backgrounds.
“And you can tell. I can tell listening to them and I can tell reading them,” Brunt stated. “And you sound like an old guy saying it, ‘But you read it and say, you need to get out more. You need to go and experience some things. You need to get out of your house, get away from your computer, even get away from the radio or get away from the stadium and see the world and experience the world and then bring that back with you…”
How does Brunt remember Fisher?
Unique is a description that comes to mind, he said.
“Red was a different cat, and he was the king of English-language media in Montreal,” Brunt recalled, “which is kind of a sub-set. English-language sports media and hockey media, which is a sub-set of a sub-set. Working in the minority culture in Montreal, he was the big dog.
“Now on the French side, (they) don’t give a damn about Red. It was Réjean Tremblay and various French guys, but in that world he was the king.
“He did not give that up until almost the day he died.”
I mentioned to Brunt that about 10 years I sent Red a few questions via email for a column I was working on and he responded with vivid memories of the Canadiens and the NHL. I described it as a pleasant exchange.
“He could be (friendly), but he got famously cranky toward the end, and anybody that tried to interview him for historic stuff about the Habs (Canadiens), he would always ask for money, and he was kind of bitter,” Brunt said. “Red could be different things to different poeple.
“He famously didn’t talk to rookies. That was his thing as a writer. He never spoke to the rookies with the Habs. You had to be there a year before he would talk to you.
“He was kind of that way with other writers. Like once you’d been around for a while, he would acknowledge your existence, but not until then.”
Here are the previous installments in this series: