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When my Globe and Mail colleagues reported early Wednesday morning that five former members of Canada’s 2018 world junior hockey team were told to surrender to London police for alleged involvement in a long-running sexual-assault case, the news burst like a Roman candle, rocketing from one corner to another of the hockey world.

At least, it did in the places that value that sort of news. Over on, which usually can be counted on to be a breathless chronicler of all pro-hockey-related minutiae, the story was nowhere to be found. But if you wanted the scoop on the owner of the NBA’s Utah Jazz pressing the NHL to add an expansion team in Salt Lake City, or the fact that the up-and-coming Canadian pop star Tate McRae will headline the second-intermission performance at next weekend’s all-star game, it had you covered.

To be fair, the world juniors story is unsavory, and that’s not what was designed for. (I sent emails to a couple of senior editors there, including the editor-in-chief, to ask about their decision to ignore the story, and didn’t hear back.) Sure, the outlet has editors and reporters and writers with decades of experience in newspapers, and a section labelled News, but it doesn’t do news, not really. It’s in the business of creating content, which may look like news but is animated by a radically different spirit. Content wants to soothe or entertain – or, if you will, make you content (emphasis on the second syllable). It would prefer not to rankle or stir you to action or seek to hold power to account.

Content is the beast that has eaten news – in sports perhaps more than any other realm, because teams and leagues have deeper pockets than any news organization that might try to cover them, and an army of fans to rally for support. Their comms departments can churn out clips and stories to keep fans engaged, without having to deal with reporters and their pesky questions.

That’s one reason why, even as there’s so much weird excitement in the so-called content industry over the potential of AI, there’s equal trepidation among journalists: AI can pump out content; it can’t dig and report and produce real news. And the more content that floods our feeds, the less we seem to care about the distinction between the two.

Late last year, people were stunned to hear that a bunch of articles alleged to be generated by AI had appeared on the Sports Illustrated website. It was a scandal, sure. But the real scandal, which goes back years, is that S.I. had become a content mill largely focused on publishing bland material that was indistinguishable from the stuff that machines could spit out at scale.

Last fall, CBC Sports posted a job notice on LinkedIn for a reporter/editor to help cover this summer’s Paris Olympics. The position, it said, would be “made possible by a grant from the Canadian Olympic Committee.” The broadcaster was looking for someone with “a strong connection to, and understanding of, Indigenous communities.”

In an e-mail, CBC spokesperson Chuck Thompson told me “the COC and CBC share a desire to have more diverse voices telling stories from the Olympic Games and this grant allows us to better meet that goal.” He noted that CBC had never accepted grants of this nature before, but was satisfied there would be no conflict of interest.

The reporter, he said, “will be fully assigned and managed by CBC. The reporter will focus exclusively on sport and athletes – nothing pertaining to the Canadian Olympic Committee itself,” which sounds like a distinction without a difference: the COC is paying to enable more coverage of its athletes’ achievements. If there’s glory, it’ll reflect back on the COC. Whether it’ll make CBC less likely to pursue stories about the COC is still be determined, I suppose.

But, really, it’s the way things have been going for a while now.

The sports-media economy, independent sports coverage especially, has collapsed over the past decade, but it can be tricky to talk about because fans have access to more sports content.

There’s an endless, ever-changing banquet served up 24/7 by the content creators on the generous payrolls of teams, sponsors, leagues, athletes, and official broadcast partners. You can snack on match highlights on Instagram or Reddit or X (Twitter) or YouTube or league sites, binge on hours-long eight-part “documentaries” on Netflix that have been officially approved by everyone on screen, leave comments on a roll of locker-room selfies posted by your favourite player. It’s a fan’s dream. Why rock the boat?

But what happens if, say, one of those athletes does something inappropriate – say, an alleged sexual assault?

As the Hockey Canada story has unfolded over the past couple of years, it’s interesting to note who has (or, more to the point, who hasn’t) been breaking the news. Sure, when a trade or player signing is imminent, the beat writers who cover teams and the high-profile NHL insiders who work for broadcasters that have multimillion-dollar partnerships with the teams and league repeatedly demonstrate how well sourced they are. They can get agents, lawyers, players, teams, and the league on the phone in a heartbeat. But on this story? Nothing.

The landscape is only going to get more fraught and potentially compromised. Over the past few weeks, news has emerged that ESPN is talking to the NFL, NBA, and MLB about selling equity stakes to one or more of the leagues. For decades, the U.S. broadcaster has billed itself as the Worldwide Leader in Sports, but it’s now facing what some believe to be an existential threat from true global operations: streamers such as Amazon, which elbowed into U.S. football with a US$1-billion payment for a small selection of games each year; Apple, which dropped US$2.5-billion for 10 years’ worth of MLS rights; and Netflix, which this week announced it would move into what’s known as scripted sports entertainment with a US$5-billion deal over 10 years with the WWE.

You can worry, I suppose, about how objective ESPN’s coverage of football might be if the NFL takes an ownership stake, but that seems almost beside the point. This is only going in one direction.

Maybe some years from now fans will realize what’s been lost. You can imagine someone making a documentary about the state of things. ESPN or Netflix might even pick it up, if only to prove they can take some criticism. Could be a good piece of content.

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