Steve Mascord is that rarest of rugby league journalists – one who seems to have the game’s best interests at heart.
Not the vested interests of his media baron employer. Not his own, though I daresay there’s a degree of self-interest in wanting to see the passion he’s invested his life in grow and thrive.
Pure objectivity is, of course, impossible – they teach you that at journo school, right after they tell you that being objective is part of the job description.
But when I spend five minutes with a Mascord feature or opinion piece, I’m as confident as one can be that there are no hidden agendas at play.
Leave that to the cancerous growths who masquerade as rugby league media in some sectors of Sydney, the worst of them so malignant you get the feeling they won’t be satisfied until they’re hanging off the game’s corpse.
In all my years of reading Mascord’s work, and listening to his comments as sideline eye for ABC Grandstand and Triple M, I could count on a fingerless hand the number of occasions he’s been hysterical.
That was until rumours began to swirl about improper conduct from the Canterbury Bulldogs in relation to the Ben Barba affair, specifically rumours that the real truth of the matter had been concealed.
In a golden period for rugby league conspiracy theories, this was the one that sent Mascord over the edge.
On Triple M’s Monday Night Football call a few weeks back, Mascord let fly at the NRL. He was careful not to cross any lines, but left little doubt that there was more to allegations of domestic violence against Barba than had been reported.
And on Saturday night, just a few hours after the news broke that the NRL’s independent investigation had found no impropriety by Todd Greenberg – now moved from the Bulldogs’ hot seat into an even hotter one at NRL HQ – Mascord essentially handed in his notice as a rugby league journalist.
The basic gist of his letter of resignation, backed up by another passionate outburst on the ABC? That it’s a waste of energy chasing the truth when you feel like you’re only being fed lies.
The Canberra Raiders fining David Shillington for having the temerity to make an honest assessment of the Green Machine’s dismal season – albeit outside of the team’s official media policy – is the icing on Mascord’s bittersweet cake.
So why am I getting all worked up about a journo hanging up the dictaphone?
Firstly, rugby league can’t afford to alienate good people – journos, punters, or otherwise – while the sharks continue to circle the rapidly deepening PR disaster waters.
Particularly a guy who cares enough about the game to write about an obscure international between the Philippines and Thailand, and the fallout from it. (Rugby league, it seems, causes controversy wherever it goes.)
Perhaps more importantly, who will authority answer to if those who ask the questions aren’t there?
There’s a fine line between information and propaganda, and precious few are brave and talented enough to cut through it.
The loss of someone like Steve Mascord isn’t like the loss of a retiree or code-jumper. With traditional journalistic models dying (read more on that in Roar expert Mike Tuckerman’s recent journalists v bloggers thinkpiece) there isn’t a new batch of superstar cub reporters being groomed to take his place.
Which is why I hope rumours of Mascord’s retirement are greatly exaggerated.