I remember early on in college I figured out how to get a competent paper written when I either didn’t care to write it or had nothing useful to say. I would find some relevant quotes that presented my idea, cite them carefully, and add my own thoughts on top of the quotes to build a solid A paper.
I don’t think I actually fooled anyone, but I wasn’t trying to. English papers didn’t really matter to me. I could blow off an entry level history paper for an A with relative ease. I still remember an online music history class I took at UNT. It was one of the most fascinating courses I ever took content-wise. One of the requirements was a 5-7 page paper per week. Cake.
You don’t really need quotes to build an argument or a story. Sometimes quotes can be a crutch for poor writing or laziness. They’re merely one form of evidence a writer can use to carry their point to the logical conclusion they’re attempting to lay out for their reader. Video, statistics, photos, diagrams, charts, graphs, and any number of other ways to say “data or pretty pictures or data and pretty pictures” can be substituted in the place of a quote.
The problem is that more often than not it takes more effort to do that than it does to drop a quote into a piece.
When I saw this Tweet slide into my feed I did the “confused dog tilting her head” bit or the “dog is confused why the cat is laying on her” thing and thought about if for a couple of weeks.
There’s a lot to unpack from that Tweet. So let’s start with the trigger. Why does Ryan Rishaug need quotes so badly?
Hockey players are boring and rarely show their personality when the media talks to them. Does any reader consciously seek out player quotes because they just need to know how a player is doing prior to a game or after? The quotes usually add nothing.
Some random examples:
Dan Hamhuis on accomplishing one thousand career games:
“It’s something I’m quite proud of, but I certainly didn’t get here on my own. Getting to that first NHL game was, in large part, due to my parents and the sacrifices that they made to get me to game one. And then it took a whole team of people to get me from game one to a thousand. You go through a lot to get to a spot like this, but it’s been an incredible journey to meet so many great people along the way. It certainly has been a group effort.”
Ben Bishop on what he saw on Los Angeles’ three goals on 1/30/2018:
“On the second one; there wasn’t too much you could really do about it. It went off a handful of guys and it was like a backboard, and on the third one he [Alec Martinez] went back to the post and I couldn’t see around [Jason] Spezza. Martinez did a good job of just throwing it at the net and I don’t know how we didn’t have an instant replay yet, but I didn’t see it. The first one was a screen in front and sometimes you get bad bounces. I don’t think the bounces went especially my way tonight, but I don’t think it changes the outcome of the game. Sometimes you have a bad game and sometimes you have bad bounces. Tonight was a little bit of both.”
John Klingberg after the shootout win on 2/9/2018 against Pittsburgh
On the comeback win:
“Tough way to start a game but we showed character by coming back in this game. Obviously Lehts really stepped up and made key saves all game. It was a tough night with the energy, coming in late [from Chicago] yesterday, but we still got two points.”
On the team’s character:
“We’ve come a long way from the start of the season. I feel like Jamie, Rads, Spezza and a lot of other guys are talking more in here. More guys are talking in the locker room and we have a lot of confidence in how we’re playing. We’re staying in the system and playing our game, so the confidence is high right now for sure.”
On bottling up three of the hottest players:
“That’s huge. Players like that are still going to get their chances, but I feel like we closed them off pretty good.”
Those quotes add virtually nothing to this story other than to prove that most quotes are boring. The occasional Ken Hitchcock quote is interesting, but we could do without most NHL player or staff quotes unless a specific story is being written about them or a topic they are being quoted on. Pregame and postgame quotes? Nah…
The funny part about this to me is where I got those quotes from. Public relations emails them out after each game. The quotes come from the media scrum, but you don’t need to be down there to use the quotes or transcribe them.
If you need quotes they’ll be there I promise.
It comes back to a question of audience. Does a reader want to read a bunch of empty quotes said by a member of a team, or do they want to read a well written column that explains or expounds upon an idea? Does that qualify as a writer making herself the story instead of just reporting, or is it just good writing?
Does any of it actually matter after you go on Twitter and try to shame the backup goalie of a mediocre Western Canadian team? Rishaug made himself the story anyway, but he did it without having to take the time to write a thought-provoking or interesting column. Instead, shred the goalie and get ratioed on Twitter. Rishaug should be ashamed for dragging that into this all because he couldn’t get a couple of meaningless quotes.
That shredding is part of the problem too. The “Montoya not talking” thing triggered his response, but the response itself is petty and childish, but not in the “fun NBA way”. How dare he question Montoya’s mental fortitude in response to not talking on game day. #BellLetsTalk is huge. The NHL has a mental healthy problem with several former players dying from depression and mental health related issues.
Why do you need quotes to write a story? The story is the story whether or not a quote comes from the source. We’ve all seen the quotes that usually come out of these scenarios. Most of the time the information relayed publicly is useless or a distraction.
Be better. Write better stories or more interesting articles. Bring back the creativity and writing quality that leads to more well-written and interesting columns. Above all else maybe don’t lash out in speculation about someone’s mental fortitude when you have no idea what is going on with that player. It’s a bad look.
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