Be My Friend

It’s not so long ago that newspapers and broadcast media bestrode the world of information, disseminating news and comment to the public, explaining what was going on and read and watched by the public  in their millions.  The internet changed all that, mostly for the good and sometimes for the ill.  It allowed blogs like this one to take off, gave a voice to a citizen army of writers and broadcasters and fragmented an industry that in some sectors still struggles to generate an income and define what content is worth paying for.  New viewpoints could be heard, if sufficient numbers were prepared to listen, share and discuss, and the democratisation of opinion was held to be a “good thing” even while the established media lamented the loss of control and influence amongst the great unwashed who now had the means of answering back.  Fake news became both a reality, and a term of abuse used to dismiss awkward opinions and shut down debate, and the general level of intolerance toward contrary opinions increased.

But there was a different strand that is only now being discussed and publicly recognised in traditional media  – the centralisation of messaging amongst sports clubs and governing bodies.  In one sense, it’s little different to how business has always operated, advertising being the key means of getting messages across and PR campaigns used to establish a reputation and a brand.  The means may change, but the principles remain the same.  Where it differed in a sporting context was that while the media had always been their means of doing so, there were few methods of exerting control over what was said and what angle the reporting took.  The club or board might not like it, but retaliating against a media outlet was entirely counterproductive, as they could be starved of publicity or constantly referred to as an entity who didn’t like free speech.  The objections in print would reach a wide audience, and be more or less impossible to successfully counter.

What has changed is that a club or a sporting body can now be their own media outlet.  Football clubs have their own TV channels, where they proudly boast exclusive interviews with their own employees, and where the message can be controlled in its entirety under the guise of access.

Tim Wigmore, always one of the more thoughtful cricket journalists out there, and one prepared to ask the most basic and important questions has written an article about this very question, Manchester United’s expressed desire to increase the prevalence of its “news” app providing the catalyst, alongside an acknowledgement that the USA has been moving down the same path.  There are many good points within that, and from a cricket blog perspective there’s a certain amusement to be had given it’s been one of the central themes of the writing on here over the last couple of years.

The ECB certainly floated the idea of their own subscription channel when musing the broadcast options coming up, and the appeal is easy to see – the revenue accrues entirely to them rather than to an intermediary and they can completely control the themes and provide a direct link to their army of sponsors.  Something approaching that model has been seen fairly clearly in India, where broadcast criticism of the BCCI has been rather comprehensively shut down.  In the UK at least, there are laws preventing the subject of a broadcast exercising editorial control, but that doesn’t apply (currently) to online.  In any case, while the attraction is clear, creating a full on media company is a big undertaking and to that end the ECB realistically still need partners for the foreseeable future.

Of course, there’s nothing especially radical in wishing to control a message, businesses do that all the time though generally speaking, avoiding being in the news is the aim there.  But the creation of their own story is part of the trick, and for employees and members of the industry, it’s nothing especially new.  By way of example, working in the travel and tourism industry I will tend to be very careful about what I say in public – not just in terms of those I work for, but in general.  Becoming the story through controversial opinions is something to be avoided like the plague, except in certain specific circumstances where such opinions are in themselves the currency – viz. Michael O’Leary.

Yet a full on takeover of the message by an organisation like the ECB is unlikely to be the real problem.  When that happens journalists become much more critical anyway, and the example contained within Mr Wigmore’s article, when Newcastle United banned journalists, attracted lots of attention and even more criticism.  By trying to control the story, they lost control of it completely, and freed the media to criticise with no further cost in terms of their relationship.

The far more insidious and dangerous trend in recent years has been the use of soft power to try to direct the narrative.  Sports journalism of the day to day nature requires access to the players and other key people in order to provide copy and generate interest, readership and, yes, clicks.  This can be made more difficult, and the plum opportunities given to those who are onside and can be trusted not to cause too many difficulties.  Those that don’t follow the script find that it’s a little harder to talk to the right people.  This is extremely tough to combat and a fair degree of sympathy for the individual journalist – but not the industry – is warranted.  To turn it around a different way, the three of us on here have no compunctions about what we say for the very good reason that we know for certain there is no prospect whatsoever of us being invited into the ECB’s inner sanctum, or even within the same diocese come to that.  However in our case, we aren’t being paid to do this, and don’t have a boss who can fire us.  But our and other blogs’ freedom comes at a different cost – highly limited contact with those in any degree of power.  A few journalists maintain a back channel to us, and occasionally we are given a heads up on something that they feel unable to write about themselves, which is a curious state of affairs on the one hand, and entirely understandable on another – not least the commercial imperative.

Where it is different for a journalist is that if they lose their access they struggle to do their job, and given it’s their livelihood it’s a real risk to take.  A reluctance to rock the boat is the likely result, and the other side of the coin is that by keeping close to the ECB they can get even better access and thus even greater reach for their articles with obvious personal benefits.  This kind of behaviour is worse by far because the bias is harder to spot, particularly amongst those who only pay cursory attention to the goings on.  It’s for that reason it’s such an attractive way of working for the ECB, or for any other organisation in the same position – limiting dissent, encouraging promotion, and enabling the party line to be maintained.  It’s also the hardest to combat; many journalists are very aware of the problem, but being aware of it and trying to prevent it are two different things.

There’s no real reason to assume this will improve, just the opposite.  In order for sports reporters to do their jobs properly, they need that access and they need to be able to talk to people within the top levels of the game, not just for themselves but for us as readers to try to glean the truth.  From that comes much of the best journalism, whether from sources or openly in interview.  It is a problem for the truth if any time they report on something they’ve learned they are dismissed for daring to talk to people – that is their job.  They face a dilemma in attempting to both gain insight and obtain a good story, while at the same time being entirely aware of what the ECB are up to.  Equally, conspiracy theories about all of them are unreasonable – the vast majority have professional pride and wouldn’t allow it to happen to them and wouldn’t be party to attempts to restrict them.  There are exceptions to that, and those that behave that way tend to attract a degree of contempt for their output.  But it’s rarely a matter of open collaboration, but of being sufficiently vulnerable to rein any criticism in because of the possible consequences.

If much of sport is now nothing more than a branch of the entertainment industry, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the same kinds of rules apply to the reporting.  Interviews with members of the movie industry are almost always on the back of promoting a film rather than for the sake of it – and always remember few people would wish to open up for the sake of it, these interviews are a part of their job and one many of them greatly dislike.  The prevalence of a footnote stating that a player is being interviewed courtesy of a particular sponsor has been an unwelcome development, and creates the dilemma for the journalist as to whether to play that particular game.  It’s hard to criticise them for doing so, yet it remains something of a blight.

There are few material answers to all of this.  Either journalism as a body responds and reacts to the threat to their independence or they don’t, and as is so often the case some of them do just that, and others take the advantages on offer as a trade for their independence.  It will undoubtedly allow them to generate much copy and many readers but at the price of their integrity.  That is their decision, ours is how much trust we have in anything they might say.  Some have found that even when they are right they are no longer believed, to their clear frustration.  But it’s brought on by their own conduct, and the collateral damage of good journalism being considered guilty by association makes it even worse.  We need them, we need them badly, but the truth is that they need us as well.  And that’s what needs to be remembered.

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39 thoughts on “Be My Friend

    • thelegglance May 20, 2017 / 12:10 pm

      Jarrod Kimber found his press accreditation mysteriously going missing in the wake of it.

      And let’s just add that certain senior cricket journalists studiously avoided even mentioning that it had been made.

      Liked by 2 people

  1. thebogfather May 20, 2017 / 1:15 pm

    my comment from yesterday…

    Like

  2. SimonH May 20, 2017 / 1:35 pm

    On the access front, I’d point to ‘The Guardian’ switched from Selvey (total lackey) to Vic Marks (much more sceptical, within limits) and I haven’t seen it making any difference to the amount of access that they’ve been getting.

    My suspicion is that we’ve moved on to a new stage in the game. The ECB don’t care what newspaper-reading supporters think any more. These are the old-fashioned, obsessive traditionalists they’ve started railing against. The fanbase they’re now aiming at don’t read newspapers – they get their opinions from TV commentary and social media and these are the battlegrounds that now matter.

    It’s like the famous old quote from Brecht about East Germany – just as if that people didn’t like the government then the government would elect a new people, so the ECB are in the process of creating a new fanbase. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the trageted core of that new fanbase is likely to be much more pliable than the game’s existing core constituency.

    They might watch out about getting what they wish for, though. Most of us, much as we might fulminate, are stuck with an undying love for the game. The new fanbase, if it ever exists, will have as deep a relationship with cricket as they have with Asda.

    Liked by 3 people

    • thebogfather May 20, 2017 / 1:51 pm

      SimonH, surely you mean the recognasible Chef at Waitrose? 🙂

      Like

  3. Mark May 20, 2017 / 6:00 pm

    This goes to the heart of whether we are fans or customers. What the ECB is proposing will resemble nothing more than the PR department of a corporation. In essence it will be pure propaganda. And no one should pay it any attention.
    How often do you listen to the PR from your bank or your supermarket or the company that sells you your car? Little to never should be the correct answer. The only reason people will be fooled by this is is they cling on to the misguided belief that they are fans. They so desperately want to believe they matter in more ways than just money. They don’t.
    The sooner sports fans understand their love, their passion, their dream has been high jacked by a bunch of cynical, greedy money grabbing scumbags the better. Your football club or cricket club or whatever is nothing more than a jumped up business looking to loot your wallet. Don’t be fooled by all the stuff about wearing the shirt or singing the mangers name.
    When was the last time you sang your bank managers name? Or wore your supermarkets colours with pride?
    As to journalists, their problem is not losing access for doing good journalism. Most big stories are never broken by the established journos. They are too close to what they cover. Water gate was broken by two rookies. Nobody else wanted to touch the story with a barge pole. The expenses scandal was uncovered by an unknown American lady who forght to get freedom of information. The Telegraph took all the glory at the end. But the hard yards were done by outsiders. There is nothing you are going to get from willing access. They will give you what they want. Nothing more.
    If you bite that hand that feeds you then you will be marginalised. No big deal in terms of getting stories that matter. However, you will be cut off from puff pieces which unfortunately are what the sponsors of newspapers want. Journos are driven not by what their readers want, but what the sponsors require..Which is probably why newspaper readerships have been falling for decades. People moved to the broadcasters. And now they in turn have succumbed to the same illness. Which is why more and more people get their news from the Internet. I don’t buy a newspaper, and I hardly ever watch MSM news anymore.
    I get my news from numerous sites that are written by people of knowledge who often do it for free, but have an understanding of the issues they cover. Blogs on almost every topic are out there if you look.. Corporations a now it seems even sporting bodies hate anything but official controlled messaging.

    Liked by 1 person

    • thelegglance May 20, 2017 / 6:06 pm

      No politics Mark please. Especially during an election campaign!

      Like

    • SimonH May 20, 2017 / 9:49 pm

      “Water gate was broken by two rookies”.

      Look up what one of them was doing 1965-70. It’s a definite “things that make you go hmm…. ” moment.

      Like

      • Mark May 20, 2017 / 10:19 pm

        Are you referring to the issue that Woodward was in Navy Intelligence?

        Like

      • SimonH May 21, 2017 / 7:45 am

        Indeed.

        Like

    • LordCanisLupus May 20, 2017 / 11:08 pm

      A day like this, when my football team actually won promotion, is one where I can actually enjoy sport. Added on to a successful development at work and an amazing trip to Bangladesh this week, I have had a really positive time. Sport can give you a buzz, and yet. And yet.

      Like

  4. dannycricket May 20, 2017 / 8:00 pm

    Personally, I’ve long thought that there’s a lot less conspiracy or coercion between England’s cricket administrators and journalist that many people might think. Rather, both groups recruit largely from the same small demographic of like-minded people. Namely, middle-aged or older white men from fairly privileged backgrounds, often from public schools or Oxbridge colleges.

    So let’s look at I think will be a popular example for this site, KP’s suspension after texting about Strauss, from this perspective. A guy mouthed off about his boss privately, and it became public through no fault of his own. I couldn’t even believe it made the news, let alone led to him being suspended indefinitely. As a low-born peasant I’ve spent my whole life with a boss rather than as a boss, so I empathised completely with KP.

    For people who went to public school however, they are more likely to have been a boss. Their friends are bosses, their families are bosses, and so they empathised with Strauss and the ECB in this situation. They haven’t ever been in a situation where they had to stay in a job with a bad manager just to pay the bills.

    And so people with the “right kind of family” will naturally agree on a large number of issues, whether they’re journalists or administrators. There’s no collusion or coercion, just people from very similar backgrounds seeing the world in a very similar way.

    Liked by 1 person

    • thelegglance May 20, 2017 / 8:05 pm

      I don’t think you need to see it as a conspiracy. It’s not something planned in detail in advance, it’s the behaviour of those with the power when someone disagrees. I do agree entirely with you that an awful lot can be explained by a certain type looking after their own, I’ve written about that before funnily enough when suggesting it wasn’t all about people deliberately trying to get to others.

      Like

      • dannycricket May 20, 2017 / 8:57 pm

        Of course there is a solution to a small elite group being disproportionately represented in a country’s cricket. I think English should adopt a South African-style quota system until at least 90% of professional players and ECB employees came from comprehensive schools.

        Like

        • thelegglance May 20, 2017 / 8:59 pm

          My problem with the over representation of public schools in English cricket is simply that it’s a terrible waste of talent from the 93% that don’t go to public school. We’re clearly missing a lot.

          Like

      • dannycricket May 20, 2017 / 9:07 pm

        Yeah, but kids whose parents can’t afford to pay for school are less likely to have Sky Sports or live near a cricket club, so I assume the ECB don’t care.

        Personally, I just enjoy the mental image of parents pulling their kids out of public school to increase their chances of playing for England. Basically the opposite of what happens now.

        Like

        • thelegglance May 20, 2017 / 9:10 pm

          You know when Sky first got the gig in 2005 they promised that there would be discounted rates for clubs so they could be a cricket hub for those who couldn’t afford subscriptions. And they did discount it too. A discount from the commercial pub rate. Try and find any online acknowledgement of that flat out lie. It’s not easy.

          Like

    • Mark May 20, 2017 / 8:46 pm

      I think it goes beyond a certain type of person who reports this stuff. In my lifetime I have never seen the England captain protected like he has been in the last 4 years. In the 1970s, 80s 90s there was a healthy debate about England captains, and a more honest apraisel of their performances.

      This has completely vanished from the current coverage. What is more, the dishonesty of these writers has even implied that no captain has faced such hostility. Where? What hostility from the media has there been? I lived through Tony Grieg, Mike Brearley, Ian Botham, David Gower, there was huge debate about all of these captains. Mike Atherton and the dirt in the pocket issue had Agnew calling for his head. And Atherton referring to sections of the media as the gutter press. (He later apologised for that.) Bob Willis condemning the standard of journalism after his 8/43.

      We have seen nothing of that lately. Except for certain selected individuals who have been scapegoated for various so called weakness. All which seem to stem from the teams management.

      In fact such has the medias cooperation with the governing body you wonder why the ECB need to create their own media channel?

      Like

  5. Mark May 20, 2017 / 8:04 pm

    While I’m well aware of this sites policy of being against political opinion, and I respect that it is in the middle of an election, I felt it was relevent to this story about organisations trying to censor the message.

    What I said was not political opinion, it is a matter of fact that is in the current Manifesto. Hidden away at the end. However, I understand your sites policy, and you have every right to censor me.

    Even though it makes you sound a bit like the new ECB media channel you criticise. This censoring thing seems to be catching! (That’s a joke by the way)

    Like

    • thelegglance May 20, 2017 / 8:06 pm

      Reason why was because I came *that* close to using a politics analogy in the piece, and stopped myself, so if I can’t get away with it, why the hell should you? 😉

      Like

      • Mark May 20, 2017 / 8:32 pm

        Absolutely!

        I do think it is quite worring that we seem to be living in a world where more and more groups and organisations seem to have a fear of the truth, and want to hide behind spin. We have never lived in a time when the ability to interact with other people on a global scale exists.

        Yet people seem to be unable to deal with anything that goes against their own opinion. We were all driven here by a media who refused to give the other side of the story, and took it upon themselves to shut out opposing voices. It would appear the ECB like that model, and now want expand it.

        Like

        • thelegglance May 20, 2017 / 8:57 pm

          God, the inability of some to accept other opinions are legitimate and it doesn’t make them evil for holding drives me insane. The name calling and the assertion of moral superiority is frankly outrageous. I know for a fact that you and I hold different political views for example. That’s fine. That’s absolutely bloody fine.

          Like

      • Mark May 20, 2017 / 9:24 pm

        I have to be honest but I have no idea what your political views are. Not that it would bother me what they were. I wasn’t aware that I had expressed my political views explicitly. My own political views are complicated. I’m not really a party person. Individual policies interest me more.

        Like

      • dannycricket May 20, 2017 / 9:28 pm

        There are two types of political opinion: Supporting George Dobell #George2017 or being wrong.

        Like

      • dannycricket May 20, 2017 / 9:54 pm

        Pfft. Kimberly is all hat and no cattle, as the Americans would say.

        Like

  6. SimonH May 20, 2017 / 10:03 pm

    Almost exactly the same qualities that got YJB called “unpopular…. not a good lad” by #39 get praised to the rafters here:

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/cricket/article-4525802/Eoin-Morgan-outsider-lead-England-glory.html

    The media can assassinate anyone’s character or laud anyone’s character for essentially the same qualities depending on agendas to be served, personal prejudices or just what side of bed they got out of that morning. It’s just as well almost nobody’s reading them anymore.

    Like

    • thelegglance May 20, 2017 / 10:31 pm

      They are though. They do read it. It creates a narrative. Most people don’t pay close attention. Never forget that the vast majority really don’t care.

      Like

    • Mark May 20, 2017 / 10:50 pm

      Newman and Holt must be spluttering on their cornflakes over this piece. A good example of the Mail playing good cop….. bad cop.

      I notice they have another puff poece on Cook from the 15th where he says he doesn’t want to retire because playing for England is better than being on the farm. Remember all those articles about how he might resign from England if KP came back? Hmmm.

      Like

  7. SimonH May 22, 2017 / 9:52 am

    It’s hardly top secret that I’m fond of a few stats so here’s a rundown of how our “talented group” of CT deserved-favourites have done:

    BATTING
    Most runs – two Englishmen in the Top 30 (Stokes 21st and Buttler 30th). Top ten made up of seven Indians, two Australians and 1 Saffer.

    Highest average (min 5 innings) – one Englishman in the top 20 (Stokes 19th). There are Australians, 1 Saffer and 1 Kiwi in the top twenty.

    Best SR (min 5 innings) – one Englishman in the top 20 (Buttler 10th). There are 4 Australians, one Saffer and one West Indian in the top ten.

    Most sixes – two Englishmen in the top 20 (Buttler 16th and Stokes 17th). There are 4 Australians, 2 Saffers, 2 West Indians and 1 Kiwi in the top 20.

    BOWLING
    Most wickets – one Englishman in the top 20 (Woakes 7th). There are 3 Australians, 1 Kiwi, 1 Afghan and 1 Saffer in the top 20.

    Best average (min 5 matches) – one Englishman in the top 20 (Woakes at 20th). There are 4 Australians, 1 Saffer, 1 Afghan and 1 West Indian in the top 20.

    Best ER (min 5 matches) – one Englishman in the top 20 (Stokes at 14th).

    MOST VALUED PLAYER
    Ben Stokes was #1. Two Australians, 1 Saffer, and 1 West Indian in the top ten (can’t find the list for below 1-10).

    CONCLUSION – Stokes was outstanding and Woakes and Buttler did quite well (the former took wickets but was expensive; the latter scored quickly but often didn’t go on after a fast start). That’s it. Overall: not great, not terrible.

    (P.S. Just to be clear – I’m not getting at the players here. Some suffered from internal franchise dynamics and at least one got injured. Of course not every one can succeed. Some outstanding international players – like Steyn and Philander – haven’t set English domestic cricket on fire when they’ve played here. It’s the media hype about “this talented group” I’m getting at).

    Like

    • SimonH May 22, 2017 / 9:53 am

      I sonehow missed out of the intro that this is all about IPL 2017 of course!

      Like

  8. Mark May 22, 2017 / 7:22 pm

    If you ever want to know what is wrong with football punditry today listen to 5 live tonight. An astounding circle jerk of ex players with numerous conflicts of interest defending their chums and berating anyone who disagrees with them.

    You might as well go out of the studio and get a drunk off the street. He couldn’t talk more shite. They might as well have got David Moyes wife on to defend him as Pat Nevin. And now they are defending John Terry.

    I’m not joking, but if Terry had walked out of Stamford bridge with a AK 47 gunning down old ladies there would be muppets on 5 live defending him. Vomit inducing. A game that is eating itself with smug, self satisfied bullshitters.

    Like

  9. Northern Light May 22, 2017 / 11:11 pm

    Apparently, Ben Stokes thinks the IPL is the only place he could have found himself playing in the same team as Steve Smith and be getting batting tips from someone who’ll be an Ashes opponent in a few months.
    He’s clearly never paid any attention to the County Championship, where players from other countries have often been found. Ian Botham could tell him about playing with Viv and Joel for instance. Or have Sky decided that cricket only began in 2005 now?

    Liked by 1 person

  10. SimonH May 23, 2017 / 12:42 pm

    A few points gleaned:
    1) #39 understands the ECB only want one satellite broadcaster. This is because, he says, that money spent promoting the game will assist the game on a rival platform. I thought it pretty clear listening to him who he thought that satellite broadcaster should be.
    2) Both the other speakers on the topic point out what an admission this current quest for an FTA broadcaster is of the failure after 2005. #39 singularly fails to express that view.
    3) #39 seems very keen on Facebook and Twitter and he tries to float the idea that they mean we have to redefine what is meant by FTA. He doesn’t belabour the point here – but it feels like a marker being put down for the longer term to me.
    4) It was all about international T20 and new tournament T20. Everything else wasn’t worth mentioning.

    Like

  11. SimonH May 23, 2017 / 1:54 pm

    Chappelli on the CA dispute:

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/cricket/article-4532838/Australian-cricketers-play-Ashes-says-Chappell.html

    “From afar it looks as though the board are trying to splinter the players, which I find a rather strange tactic. Maybe the board thought, “You know what the players are like”. They were working on the theory of greed, that you keep the top blokes happy with money and they won’t care about the rest. It looks like they’ve picked the wrong target.”

    There’s some hope after all!

    Like

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