Football club relationships with the press have always been a bit tricky. Famously, Sir Alex Ferguson would ban journalists for weeks and months for various so-called indiscretions. This has now become the norm. Newcastle United have waged various shades of war on the local and national press and have apparently now signed some sort of exclusive media deal with The Daily Mirror, presumably to better control outflow of information from the club.
Which brings us to club website videos.
There is nothing worse than the in-house TV channel, which all-too often now pretends it is the equal or even superior to any other news media. They sell it as being on the inside; as having access to the hallowed world of…Swindon Town…or wherever. They don’t seem to realise, or certainly don’t care, that we know it is all pure propaganda and as such, pretty worthless. They present a world where everyone is happy, where success is just around the corner and the lads are forever giving it 110 per cent.
We live in strange times. Football clubs are in a weird position. They’re a business and like any business want to control their image and brand. But they’re also a quasi-civic institution which relies on local people to believe and invest both emotionally and financially. When their only communication with the world is the sanitised version of reality that is the default standard on the club website, it becomes hard to take them seriously. Yet, watching them, you have the feeling they think they’re actually creating news media, as though this video is the equal of well-researched, dispassionate analysis.
But once in this mindset, why would you ever invite outsiders into the process? Why wouldn’t you vet your own news output and present the image you want to present? Why would you want anyone asking questions you don’t want to answer? Who amongst us does not want to be surrounded by people telling us we are brilliant?
Trouble is, it’s varying shades of the samwe lie.
With football and society in general massively mistrusting the news media, it’s not surprising that a club does not want to have someone from a national paper or even the local paper sniffing around, trying to dig up dirt.
However, the press, judging from views aired on programmes such as Sunday Supplement, like to portray themselves as the injured, innocent party when excluded from dining at the beautiful game’s tables. But that isn’t true either. Those in the press who complain that they’re just disseminators of information for the fans are disingenuous in the extreme. As we document every day in Mediawatch, the press is largely full of speculation, waffle and outright fictions dressed up as news. To say most of it is trivial would be to discredit the gravitas of trivia. ‘Footballer eats food’ is now news. ‘Footballer walks down street’ is news. ‘Footballer has paint on his trousers’ is news. Worse still, banal words are twisted to say something clearly not intended to be said. Headlines are sculpted out of words specifically designed not to give any hostages to fortune. So no-one, on either side, trusts anyone anymore.
Journalists are now competing, not just with other new organisations, but with the public. Everyone has the ability to record a footballer doing something or saying something and are happy to share it on social media for free. Who needs to pay a 60-year-old journo when some punk with a smart phone can fill the pages for nothing?
When a news story about a player comes with seven photos of his wife in a bikini, the claim from the press that they are being stifled by an oppressive, draconian attitude from football clubs feels hollow. No-one can say the press haven’t repeatedly behaved badly towards football and footballers and their clubs. It happens on a daily basis.
But then whose fault is that? If we’re honest, the vast majority of press reporting about football is valueless, yet it is consumed by a lot of people. My missus, an acerbic Geordie, once summed it up as this: “Why do some many people want to listen to thick people talking rubbish?”
Those ‘wife of footballer in bikini’ shots garner a lot of clicks. So what would you do if you were an editor? A piece which hints at something salacious – or features bare skin – attracts much more traffic. Even I’ve noticed if I tweet a link to a piece of mine and suggest it’s got some sort of naughtiness in it, it’ll get 50% more traffic.
Would you say no to the bikini pictures on the basis that they’re irrelevant, facile objectifications of women or would you just get the one with the biggest breasts in the most prominent position? Ultimately, as in much of modern life, it is the consumers who decide. If no-one went to the Mail website because it was full of such drivel and devalued your mind, your life and your soul, it would cease to exist. They can argue they’re just feeding demand.
The big papery football press often feels like yesterday’s media. The days when you read the match report the following day now feel gloriously 1950s-ish because now, by the next day, the game has been sliced, diced and defined. By the time the papers come out, everyone has moved on.
And yet this has led to a feeling that nothing matters. It’s all mince being pushed through a grinder. So even in an era of disposable information where the volume of noise created matters more than the heft of the work, there is still a great desire for considered, well-informed writing by someone who has a way with words and can create an interesting piece without the aid of photos of women ‘flaunting their bikini body’. Those writers do thankfully still exist, but they’re nothing to do with the daily news churn, which involves people sitting in a room with a manager or a player who can barely construct a sentence and who has nothing of interest to say anyway, all surely wondering why they’re even bothering.
Football clubs and the press that feeds mercilessly off them are locked in a dance of death. The clubs know that they don’t need the press anymore, the press know that no-one takes anything the club says seriously. Both sides realise that the public has lost faith in them and that the output they’re providing is of little interest to anyone and yet both have a living to make and need to pretend that they are both very important. What a situation to be in. Is this what we really want?
But, oh look, there’s a photo of a French footballer’s wife sitting on a chair drinking coffee.
Johnny writes novels here and rock ‘n’ roll blogs here