Movin’ Out (Jackson’s Song)
“The first freedom of the Press is not to be a business.“
– Karl Marx, Rheinische Zeitung, May 1842.
“Who needs a house out in Hackensack?
Is that what you get with your money?
It seems such a waste of time
If that’s what it’s all about
Mama if that’s movin’ up
Then I’m movin’ out”
-Billy Joel, Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song), November 1977.
Over the course of the past two months, my seemingly abrupt departure from the Nation Network has been the subject of an increasingly bizarre series of rumours, which I intend to dispel.
Before I do that, though, I want to reiterate my admiration and respect for all the CanucksArmy staff, and my liaison to upper management (who will remain unnamed, out of respect). The Nation Network was, in many ways, a lousy employer, but I remain unconvinced that it was especially lousy, especially in comparison to its peers. I want to make it clear that while I left my job partly because of moral qualms I had with the way they were conducting business, I do not expect others to do the same. It is nearly impossible to be gainfully employed in 2020 and be in 100% agreement with your boss about how their business should operate, and I would be very suspicious of anyone for whom that happens to be the case. It has always been my belief that unless you are personally in charge of deciding who lives or dies, the compromises you make for your own material stability are basically between you and god. Almost any media organization of sufficient size is going to do things that are highly questionable, so attempting to differentiate between the “good” ones and “bad” ones is essentially meaningless, at least in a hockey context. An outlet is only as good as its writers, and your support should always be for the people that create the content, not the other way around.
Now that all that is out of the way, I now feel at liberty to discuss why I decided to take a step back from writing about hockey. There are a myriad of reasons, but each falls into one of three basic categories: material, mental, and moral. (It is only by happenstance that these reasons are alliterative.)
This is the big one I have to get out of the way right off the bat. A few weeks before my departure, my pay was cut significantly. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was as defensible as cutting pay can ever be. My liaison to the NN hierarchy explained that the move was temporary, and that my workload would shrink, and for all I know it’s entirely possible that they had no other options.
Money was never a huge factor over the course of my time with CA, especially because I spent so much of it hardly getting paid at all, but I would be lying if I said the pay cut had no effect. For reasons I’ll get into in a moment, the work I was doing at CA no longer felt fulfilling and I could feel myself beginning to check out as the season was coming to a close. I was already considering leaving at the end of the season, but the 60% cut (plus the removal of bonuses,) and the uncertainty surrounding the effect of the coronavirus pandemic on the short-term future of the sport was enough to give me the push I needed to make a clean break.
So, if you need a cynical, self-serving reason for my departure, here it is: I didn’t want to get paid less to edit the site. At the end of the day, it’s always about money.
As a general rule, I tend to downplay the effect my mental health issues have had on my professional life for two reasons. The first is my overall distaste for the way the mentally ill are expected to share intimate details of their private lives in an attempt to be taken seriously, and my belief that this would not be necessary in a society that respected basic human dignity. The second is that in many ways, “mental illness” does not feel mine to claim. For the most part, I show up to work on time, maintain healthy relationships, and keep my self-esteem as high as could be reasonably expected. In other words, while my mental health has certainly caused me to struggle in areas others don’t, I don’t feel as though it has cost me any serious opportunities.
A few weeks ago I was finally, officially diagnosed with adult ADHD, which largely manifests itself as an inability to maintain focus over a long period of time and a near-constant craving for stimuli. One thing that will come up over and over again whenever you talk to any of the former editors at CanucksArmy is the round-the-clock nature of the job. Even on the days that the actual “work” of editing and scheduling only took up a total of a half-hour of my time, I was constantly fielding messages and staying updated. As you might expect, this didn’t exactly make for a harmonious relationship between mind and body or work and home. It felt like I was constantly everywhere and nowhere at the same time; moving at breakneck speed while maintaining complete inertia. I was working all the time, but never getting anywhere, and I tried to offload as much post-game coverage as possible for a very embarrassing reason: I was finding it increasingly hard to keep my eyes on the game, and would routinely have to rewind whenever I realized I hadn’t looked at the screen in ten minutes.
I also happen to be (to the best of my knowledge) one of the few people to hold the position of managing editor while also working a day job that expects me to be on my feet and constantly moving, and with few exceptions, does not allow me to be on my phone. (In fact, I had been reprimanded at jobs in the past for fielding work inquiries related to CA while on the floor.)
In some ways, I must admit that I was uniquely ill-fitted for the position. I worked hard, tried to behave with the utmost integrity towards the staff, and exhibited a near-obsessive attention to detail to make up for my shortcomings, but my ADHD, class position, and generally dismissive attitude towards “paying your dues” (ie doing tons of labour for little to no money) meant that I had a lower ceiling than say, a neurotypical true-believer with a nest egg.
Again, you can take these accounts in as negative a direction as you like. Perhaps I wasn’t the right fit for the job, either due to a lack of skills or simply my overall disposition, but I worked hard and tried my best to always put the staff first. If you go looking for evidence to the contrary, you won’t find any.
For those of you that came here looking for a conspiracy or sordid tales of abuse of power or editorial malfeasance, this is as close as you’ll get. Anyone hoping for acts of malevolence on my part is likely to be disappointed, though.
The first inkling I had that my days with NN were numbered came in the wake of the Don Cherry fiasco. In the days following Cherry’s dismissal from Sportsnet, I bore witness to two events that I found more than a little disturbing. The first was the decision the Network made to sever their relationship with an unpaid freelancer (and personal friend) Ramina Shlah.
This post is getting long, so I’ll avoid going into detail, but the important thing to understand is that Ramina was essentially barred from continuing to freelance at NN over a controversial tweet from her personal account. This would be a red flag at the best of times, but the situation was compounded by the fact that the situation was handled poorly, she was offered no explanation, and I happened to agree with what she said. This not only put me in the uncomfortable position of having to decide whether to give up income I relied on and leave my staff in the lurch in a show of support, or to stay on and be seen as hypocrite for espousing views similar to Ramina but failing to back her up when it affected me personally. In the end, the network was receptive to my insistence that I publicly express support for Ramina and my disagreement with their actions, but the entire situation still left a bad taste in my mouth.
The second thing was equally disturbing. For the past few years, the network had been taking an increasingly active role in dictating content to the point where posts would often show up on the site without the knowledge of the staff. It was a development I disliked, but I figured that as long as myself and the staff could cover whatever interested us with minimal interference, handing over a certain amount of space to Nation HQ was a fair compromise. I had only assumed that was the case because I had never really tested the boundaries. I was wrong. After writing the news hit regarding Cherry’s dismissal, it was politely suggested to me that I avoid discussing the story any further. While I suppose it’s possible that this was a smart business decision, I find the idea highly suspect. Being told not to cover what was the biggest story in hockey at the time felt more ideological than practical, although I have no concrete evidence to suggest that’s the case. At any rate, the network seemed to be moving towards increasingly low-effort content that is fairly narrow in scope just as I was broadening my horizons. I was becoming increasingly bored writing weeklies and speculative pieces and wanted to cover the game in interesting and unique ways that hadn’t been attempted before while the network seemed to be getting more heavily invested in being a pure fan blog. It was at this point that I realized my continued employment was untenable and I began to devise an exit strategy. I would do my best to set the site up for success for the 2020-2021 season, and step away at some point during the off-season.
Unfortunately, that plan fell by the wayside in April when the season was put on hold. The pay cut was tough to swallow, but the final straw came in the form of a tone-deaf wanted ad posted on the site in the aftermath of widespread layoffs across the network. I was assured that it was all a miscommunication, but the fact of the matter was that the site had posted an article announcing that we were looking for contributors mere moments after the majority of the staff had been laid off, and a few of those laid-off contributors were furious. Even if it was an honest mistake, the fact was that it wouldn’t have been made if I had been kept abreast of the content the network was posting on the site without my knowledge or consent. Simply put, a healthy, well-run organization would have avoided it. I took a day to mull it over and told my boss I would be leaving at the end of the month. (I think I gave about 3 1/2 weeks notice.)
When I look back on what happened, it’s honestly not clear to me if most people would have made the decision I did, or the degree to which what happened over the course of the season would be considered “wrong” by my peers. I just knew that didn’t feel good about what I was doing anymore, and felt like I couldn’t be the person I wanted to be while being attached so directly to the NN brand. Perhaps most importantly, I felt like I couldn’t continue my work and still be taken seriously. There were already ridiculous rumours flying around that I had “fired” a contributor over personal disagreements (which was wrong on three counts; he was fired for essentially harassing his fellow contributors, editors have never held hiring or firing power, and I hadn’t even officially taken on the role when the decision was made) and I wanted to make it abundantly clear where I stood. When it comes to the conflict between labour and capital, I will always side with labour. For the most part, I don’t care what people say about me, but this is one area where I will not allow myself to be slandered.
Regardless of how you feel about any of the parties involved, I hope it is clear now that the decision to leave was mine and mine alone. My goal is not to pass judgment on the network, but merely to explain why I felt I could not square my moral compass with some of the things that happened over my time as managing editor.
To be quite honest, I’m actually not sure if I can square it with being gainfully employed in media at all. I’m going to continue to freelance, host the podcast, and write freely about topics that interest me on the blog, but I have no idea where that will lead me. For the time being, I’m going to try to carve out a decent side hustle covering hockey, but if I can’t do it on my terms, I won’t do it at all.