The owner of The Hockey News dropped the gloves Wednesday after a tweet from TSN’s Bob McKenzie implied the publication was suspending operations amid the coronavirus crisis.
McKenzie, who is known as TSN’s “hockey insider” and is a former editor of the publication, tweeted Wednesday morning: "Sadly, it’s my understanding that staff at The Hockey News has [sic] been laid off. I have a lot of friends there so thinking of them and hoping for the best for them.” Hundreds retweeted the message and many readers expressed grave sadness at the apparent news.
But Graeme Roustan, whose Roustan Media Ltd. purchased The Hockey News in 2018, told McKenzie in a series of tweets that, while some staff have in fact temporarily been laid off, the publication was still pumping out breaking hockey news and features. He said McKenzie should “clean up or delete your Tweet. Your choice of words is causing mass confusion.”
When McKenzie replied that, “My tweet is not inaccurate,” Roustan accused him of irresponsibly publishing “damaging incomplete info.” McKenzie later issued a tweet clarifying that the Hockey News was still publishing, but he did not delete his initial tweet, which continued to garner mournful reactions.
In an interview with The Globe and Mail, Roustan acknowledged that he had laid off eight of 20 staff members last Friday, in what he hoped would be a one-week pause. “However, as things develop, we will re-evaluate on a week-by-week basis, for those that are currently on the temporary layoff.”
“There’s just so much information that’s happening on an hour-by-hour basis on the COVID-19 virus, and how many other businesses they’re shutting down," he said. "It’s just a wave of data and information coming at me.”
The Hockey News is one of many sports-oriented outlets in the grip of existential crises while sports are halted around the globe. Rogers Sportsnet halted all live in-house TV production on Monday, and the employment fate of scores of freelance production staff at both Sportsnet and TSN is up in the air.
Sports-talk radio over the past week, in the wake of the shutdowns of the NBA, NHL, MLB, MLS, and other leagues, is as likely to veer from cooking and movies to celebrity crushes as it is to land on shopworn tales of long-ago rookie triumphs and tribulations, retailed by self-isolating veterans calling in to studios from their homes.
“I believe that our readers are completely aware of the current situation,” Roustan said, “so there is no surprise to anyone that there’s very little hockey to report on.” Nevertheless, he said his staff were continuing to update TheHockeyNews.com. “We have as many people working on stories right now as it makes sense to.” He added that the outlet also has a stable of freelancers who are contributing content.
“The commitment that I have made to our readers is that we will continually post stories and update them as much as possible at TheHockeyNews.com, and we will keep them completely informed as to whatever developments are out there. But to try to guesstimate when hockey is coming back, or if there’s going to be a playoffs or a draft this year? I’m not the guy, and I have no visibility on that whatsoever."
Roustan, who said TheHockeyNews.com usually attracts about two million unique visitors a month, and the outlet’s podcasts “generate over 100,000 listeners,” said the hit to his business “is probably quite similar to the hit that any NHL team, any other business out there that’s related to hockey – or any industry whatsoever."
He said that the coronavirus crisis had more permanently affected his other sports publication, The Curling News, which Roustan Media purchased last fall.
“Because of the current situation, I’ve made the decision to take The Curling News to an all-digital platform, starting most likely next season,” he said. He had been considering transforming the monthly newsprint publication into a glossy magazine, but ultimately determined the investment would be better spent on a switch to digital. “That’s the future."