A Hornet’s Nest

Over at our friends at the Full Toss, a proper debate has been going on – it started initially on Twitter, with Tregaskis raising a point, and snowballed from there.  The whole thing can be read through Maxie’s post on TFT, and I’m not going to repeat it here, so the link is as follows:

http://www.thefulltoss.com/england-cricket-blog/the-return-of-caesars-wife/

Here’s the thing.  I like Maxie.  I like his writing, and I like him personally.  I’ve had a couple of good nights out with him, and enjoyed his company thoroughly.  Which is why I know that saying I disagree with his premise is not going to be met with shock and horror, but more “Oh really, why?”   Because if there’s one thing I do know about him, it’s that he’s exceptionally comfortable with the idea people hold different views to him – it’s something that always makes me smile when you get the more virulent criticism of him for his articles, he is quite interested in those who don’t agree.

It’s one of those things that is striking across a few of these blogs.   Dmitri is the same, forever worrying about whether his perspective is a reasonable one.  The irony is that it’s me who tells him to ignore the trolling and the abuse, yet I’m the one who is probably thought of as less polemical and more nuanced.  The true beauty of all of these debates is that it involves real people, who can be hurt.

From his post, it seems Lawrence Booth in particular felt that he was being unfairly maligned, and here I have enormous sympathy with him.  I really can’t see a thing wrong with something like a golf day that might involve a few players.  And this is why – in my own line of work there is a fair bit of what we might call “promotional” activity.  The deal is what is has been for generations across many kinds of career, we take them out, spoil them, show them a good time and when it comes to contracting maybe they’ll be better disposed to us than our competitors. Naturally, our competitors do the same.  It’s the kind of thing that tends to be pontificated about as somehow dubious, but it’s normal practice.  More specifically, I’d fall down in a faint if something like that made a potential client switch to me, it doesn’t happen, it’s way more complex than that involving building trust and – the key point – getting to know people.

For journalists, their stock in trade is copy for their newspapers.  It’s nothing like as simple as on here – I can write any old rubbish and click “Publish” and up it goes.  The press pack have to pass it via their editors and hope that some kind of simulcrum of what they wrote appears in the paper the following day.  It is extremely easy to be totally cynical of all media output, and it just ain’t that simple.

Want the proof?  I can write a piece on here talking about Kevin Pietersen, and the hits we get double from normal.  Hell, just the fact his name is used will add a few extra ones. It’s extremely easy for us to manipulate the content if we were so inclined, and thus when online papers do it, the line that it’s clickbait might be true, but it’s successful clickbait.

Neither Dmitri nor I make a penny from this place, so we can say what we like, but it’s pretty easy to see how commercial sites love it when you can do something that straightforward to get extra hits.

So for a newspaper journalist, first and foremost they need to create copy that attracts attention.  That might be about – say – Joe Root, as we’ve seen with the Telegraph interview with him that has got plenty of notice.  But what we can’t do is expect those articles to come out of the ether, and that’s where the whole point of argument has stemmed from.  It’s a fair bit easier for former England batsman and captain Michael Vaughan to do it, but for a normal cricket journalist, to provide an angle requires them to do the legwork both before and after.

We know what Root (poor lad, still using him as the example) did in raw figures and anyone can write that, it’s just that barely anyone will read it because it’s dull.  How does a journalist provide context and colour?  It’s by getting to know them, talking to them, allowing a sufficient degree of trust that they will speak to them in the first place.  So both because of my rationale about hosting events, and because of the peculiarities of sports journalism, events such as a golf day are critical.  What else would people desire of their correspondents?  Glorious isolation? It simply is not going to happen, and the journalists aren’t doing their jobs if it does happen.

The unguarded comment from someone suckered in by a journalist they trust is in itself part of the job, but they can’t do that unless they know them in the first place.  It’s just not a fair argument to attack people for doing what is in reality their job.

On here we have offered up plenty of criticism for journalists not holding the ECB or ICC to account, and those criticisms stand absolutely. The frustration about that can’t mean though that everything they do is therefore criticised, we have to be fair about this. When we get a fascinating interview with Nick Compton, it’s because that journalist spent time getting to know him well enough for him to talk, and created sufficient trust for him to open up. It doesn’t help anyone to pretend the means by which that happened shouldn’t.

Criticism for not doing their jobs properly is legitimate and necessary. But not for when they are.  And heaven only knows there are enough things to complain about there, for there really is much too cosy a relationship between some journalists and the ECB, while the fact that the senior cricket correspondent of one of the broadsheets can’t even be bothered to watch Death of a Gentleman remains as pathetic a dereliction of duty as there is.  But seeing reds under every bed weakens the argument, it doesn’t strengthen it.  Sometimes they’ve simply done nothing wrong.

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