How to get a boring story on A1: Take a shot at Don Cherry

A Toronto brain surgeon has used a tried and true PR technique to get his story on the front page of one of Canada's national newspapers. And good for him. But you can rest assured the other shoe will drop this Saturday night.

On A1 of the National Post, there's a story titled 'A shot at Don Cherry'. At its core, this is a story about hits to the head and concussions in the game of hockey. In this case, the messenger is Dr. Charles Tator. His story is an important one. He's calling for the sport to better protect its players from hits to the head, which may lead to devastating long-term health effects.

And while the story might be important, it's also boring. Few journalists will feel compelled to write a story about something that has been happening in a sport for decades, and which may cause negative health effects years down the road. 

To make a story like this appealing to a reporter, Dr. Tator had to hang it on one (or more) of the three drivers of news: change, controversy or human interest. He chose controversy, opting to attack one of hockey's most recognizable personalities, Don Cherry.

"I think he (Don Cherry) is a negative influence because he applauds aggressive hockey," Dr. Tator is quoted as saying in the article.

The tactic worked. A story pitch that should have ended up in the 'deleted items' file instead wound up on the front page and will surely generate coverage in radio and TV throughout Canada this week. Given that he is a brain surgeon (let's face it, there's a certain degree of intelligence implied), Dr. Tator is undoubtedly aware that he will be in Mr. Cherry's crosshairs at approximately 8:00 pm this Saturday night during Cherry's 'Coach's Corner' segment on Hockey Night in Canada.

Don Cherry does like aggressive hockey. But he also preaches the need for a return to the type of respect that players had for one another in the good ol' days. Cherry has long been a supporter of safe play in the game of hockey. He is the driving force behind the 'STOP' decal program that gets young children to think twice before hitting another player from behind.

Dr. Tator refers to these efforts as "window-dressing" that won't lead to a cultural shift.

If the good doctor wanted to truly effect change in the way the game is played, he might have been better served to call NHL commissioner Gary Bettman to the carpet. In this case, however, he simply wanted to get his story on the front page. And by taking a pot shot at one of Canada's most popular and beloved senior citizens, he has succeeded. But there is a price to pay for draping your boring story in controversy at someone else's expense. We'll just have to tune in to Coach's Corner this Saturday Night to see what that price is.