His finale sums up the issues. Those out there think we don’t understand. We do. But only you are in a position to do anything about it….
The standard of reporting remains excellent, but the desire of the cricket authorities in general, and the ECB in particular, to manage the news, manipulate the media and, on occasions, be downright obstructive, is unhealthy and unhelpful. So is the complicity of those journalists who have allowed the daily news briefing to form the basis of their coverage. Aiding individual requests for access is almost impossible. But if anyone has bothered to buy all the newspapers after non-match days in recent summers, they would quickly have realised they were reading the same story, featuring the same quotes, in the same order. The reader will also be told at the end of such a piece, and sometimes halfway through it, that so-and-so was speaking as a “brand ambassador” for whichever sponsor’s turn it was to have the use of an England player – information that will mean nothing to readers. Those who work in public relations call it churnalism. Journalism, it is not. We have all dined at the same trough. But it did come as a shock to be told by an ECB media officer, soon after I had secured an interview for the first issue of The Cricket Paper with England captain Andrew Strauss (by ringing him up and asking him nicely), that in future I would not be allowed access to any England cricketer unless the piece was arranged in conjunction with a sponsor. I admit I have not always stuck rigidly to the rules.
Players are now well versed in the art and science of media training, to which they are subjected as soon as they show the slightest sign of being good enough to represent England one day. This is conducted by professionals from newspapers, radio and other media, and is intended to teach the poor wee lambs how to talk to journalists – by opening and shutting their mouths without actually saying anything.
In my experience of talking to younger cricketers, media training is the last thing they need. Some may think their time could be better spent being trained to bat, bowl and field. It is interesting to note how much more fun than the English the Australians are to interview, and how much better they come across in public, even while they were losing the 2013 Ashes 3-0. Could this be because, in the main, they said what they actually thought, and not what they thought their media relations department told them to say? If you are looking for answers, don’t bother: I haven’t really posed any questions. But, as well as feeling a profound gratitude for having had such a ball while doing this for a living, I am a little saddened that the next generation of journalists will spend more time glued to the internet than having a beer or two with friends who happen to be cricketers.
And one thing I do know. A bored player talking to a bored reporter in controlled laboratory conditions, sometimes with a sponsor or ECB blazer on their shoulder ready to intervene, usually equals a boring interview for all concerned. The real victims are those who have to read it.
This is why blogs can thrive. We do our best to fill the gap. We don’t need quotes from players, but we look at what happens and do our best to fill in the blanks. It makes us wonder why journalists churn out the line fed to them with little analysis, and in some cases, blind support. They can change it by refusing to comply. The sponsored interview is an abomination, an absolute indication of the utter contempt the powers that be hold us in. You are enablers. You can make it stop. Don’t turn up.
This leads me on to the next Dmitri……..The one journalist to make it in this year for reasons of contempt. You know who it is. I’ve already done 1000 words and feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface.
UPDATE: I was watching Sky last night and they had this teeth-itchingly awful piece with Hussain (RIP his integrity) picking some commentary XI with awful inserts including Eoin Morgan, Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow. It was everything wrong with the modern media relationship in a nutshell. It was neither too close (but interesting how Sky managed to get England players to indulge in a puff piece for their station) nor distant enough. It may seem like a little harmless fun, but to me it just spoke volumes. It’s a business relationship. Pure and simple. There’s no soul, no passion, no vivacity. It’s strictly effing business.