Before I start, please give your answers to the questions posed in last night’s post. I’ve had a few, but would love to see more. https://beingoutsidecricket.com/2016/07/25/who-are-you-and-what-do-you-think/
The kernel of an idea on writing about this came from a Twitter exchange with Dennis. He called me a journalist, and I disagreed (it was light hearted), but these things get me thinking about ideas to write about it. What am I? What, if any role do we play and what about our relationship, if there is one, with the media? Bloggers and the print media. Are we two sides of the same coin, or implacable enemies?
When I first started blogging, nearly a decade ago now, I was under no illusions. Blogging was not about gaining fame, seeking adulation, attention seeking or even something I was committed to. I liked writing, I’d just lost both my parents, I wasn’t satisfied with commenting on message boards because I felt I couldn’t really control my message and I started to read some pretty decent stuff. So I took to blogging. It was an online record of my thoughts, my views at the time (really, you don’t want to read them) and how they evolved. Everything was going well, I didn’t get any attention from anyone except my mates, who told me they loved it and to keep doing it, until the time I decided to criticise a potential elected appointment at the football team I support. I was threatened, I was abused, and I lost the innocence and the love of just writing my thoughts. Despite presenting a clear case in my defence (and producing it), there was no chance of winning. In choosing to flight or fight, I did the former. That blog is still out there, but I closed it down pretty much that day and is locked behind a password.
One of the accusations that day has stuck with me.
….these things crack me up. its like the sunday broadsheet columnist equivalent of kids playing shop. pretending and imagining that people are fascinated by your article the rise of padraig harrington, and nodding in agreement as they read your article with their cafetiere at their side on a sunday. its the biggest load of self absorbed b*llocks on earth, if they werent so inadvertantly funny it would be tragic.
Ignore the borderline illiteracy in the quote.This person thought I wanted to be a journalist. He might have been the first, but he won’t be the last. I have neither the instinct nor the energy to bother people into talking to me who don’t want to. That makes me pretty much unsuited to that genre of work, that of the journo, the hack. I’m not pushy. I’m not in to having cosy relationships with insiders as those who have met me will attest. If you want to tell me something, then fine, otherwise we can chat about this and that. Sure, I love a little bit of gossip, but you don’t, in the main, find it on here. I’m about as likely to be accused of “good journalism” as I am to win the 100m at the Rio Olympics. What that blog did was to get me to enjoy writing as a bit of fun, and not something to take too seriously. Some say it was really well written, some say my style is an abomination. But it made people laugh (my mates) and it made them see me slightly differently.
Once that blog closed I opened up another, and Seven and Seven Eighths was born. Again, this was a general blog on all matters, but a lot on sport. It followed up the original but my heart was not quite as into it. To put this in to context, this blog (BOC) at its peak got over 2000 hits per day. The record day on Seven and Seven was 350 – for the death of Dan Wheldon. I was perfectly fine with that, but the posts got further and further apart, and my mind wandered on to other potential opportunities. I set up a cricket blog, a football blog, a football memorabilia blog, a photo blog, a cricket photo blog, and yet never seemed settled or focused. I’m all over WordPress. Again, this isn’t to gain attention, but to try to compartmentalise what is written / displayed. At the best, I thought I might get some new friends to speak to who happened to stumble upon my efforts. But mainly it was cathartic, a release valve and enjoyable to do. It stopped me being bored. I love to write, but would never want to be forced to. About as far away from a vocation as you could get.
The How Did We Lose In Adelaide blog, famous or infamous as it was, started in 2010, and ran until I discontinued it in 2015. The final year of its existence was tumultuous. Minding my own business for the first four years, writing away with only my mates looking in occasionally, the trenchant views I took surrounding the collapse of the 2013/14 Ashes team hit a nerve. Suddenly one of my blogs had caught some momentum. This was a genuinely scary moment for me. I did not seek attention, but I wasn’t disappointed to get it. I did not seek to be anyone’s voice, but I seemed to be representing a certain part of the England cricket fraternity/sorority . I had a decision to make – carry on with Seven and Seven, or devote all my energy to something that had caught a wave. I decided to do the latter.
This isn’t a journalist’s journey. It’s a writer’s journey. Ultimately I’m not going to be judged on the stories I break, because I can’t break them. I’m here to comment on what I see, what I think about things, and what I think of those that tell the tale. In many ways the journalism I think should be practiced isn’t anything like a blogger. A journalist delivers the stories, he/she acquires them, and develops them. They report on what they have seen, and pass comment on them. Only the last part applies to a blogger.
Blogging on cricket in the last 30 months has been exhilarating and terrifying in almost equal doses. It has developed my personality, and in a number of ways damaged it. It’s unpaid, and I will always want it that way, despite my wife thinking I’m crackers. It should be a spare time enjoyment, not a vocation. I no more want to be paraded as my real name in search of fame and glory, than I would to have a root canal. I’m not a blogger who thinks he should be anywhere near “Cricket Writers” let alone be on it (as a journalist suggested to me a while back), although I have real issues with some of the “alternative media” that have been on there. You may think the “writer” (and I’ll come to that) protests too much, but then you’ll see my resistance to meeting any of the journalistic corps. I’m not them, I don’t want to be them, I never will be them.
What I find nauseating, and what I try to do different to those who write for the national press, and the broadsheets in particular, is the way many around cricket treat it as some sort of intellectual joust. Exhibit A is Ed Smith, a man who cannot communicate in print at all but still gets gigs because he uses long words and has evidently read a couple of books. That Cricinfo would employ him to write an article, but not a Maxie, or a James, ora Sean or Chris is what’s wrong. Ed Smith got this gig handed to him, has not had to really work at being a communicator, and then gets to preen and pose on articles like the one yesterday on stress. Instead of a piece on a sensible subject, he just had to flaunt his reading material. The Abridged Ed Twitter feed is a wonderful creation because it is so accurate. You can sum up his articles in one or two sentences because that’s all they add up to. The rest is the writing equivalent of looking in the mirror and asking whether you are the cleverest of them all. You see, I can read a Tregaskis, obviously a very clever man, and not be bored by the nuance and cadence of his writing – his piece on the executed West Indian cricketer Leslie Hylton is absolutely magnificent, and an instruction to us all – whereas I’m just waiting for Ed to show off. And that riles me t the extreme. Don’t be ashamed of your education, but don’t patronise with it. Ed Smith patronises.
The other thing I really get annoyed about is the “expert”. This card is played by Selvey the most, but others are prone to lapse into it. We get it, you played the game. That does not mean that we cannot comment upon it, comment upon what you write, and perhaps dig a little deeper. It does not mean you can cast out statements and expect us to take them as fact because you had a county career with a few test caps. The treatment of the avid fan as an idiot, because that is what it is, is patronising, and you wonder why some people rail against it. I don’t claim to be an expert, I never have. I bow to my co-writer’s knowledge of technique, and those of Philip who have written the occasional piece on the subject here. I’m not in some Michael Gove “we are tired of experts” mode either. It’s just not a catch-all that allows you to be an ECB insider and get away with it because you’ve played the game. Without the avid fan, new fans are not created in anywhere near as large a number. The expert may see the blogger as an inexperienced know nothing, a challenge to someone who “knows” but misses the point. That “fan” is mad keen on the sport. Maybe more keen than you are. You have no room to alienate them.
So with those two genres out of the way, the third is the one we focused our aim on in the last couple of years. The journalism by leak, or as it is known on here “good journalism”. I listened to the interview that Agnew had with Parky on that Sunday lunchtime at Lord’s, and Aggers showed that the accusation made (prominently by Tregaskis in The Cricketer) that journos were too cosy with the players and authorities still resonated with him. He made a point of mentioning the dirt in the pocket and the Stuart Broad non-walking incidents. He said that despite them being friends/on friendly terms he had to go with his reporting instincts and calling them out on it. Part of me thought that if that even came into it, thinking how it might hurt friendships, then there’s an issue, but we are all human. I don’t have that gene in me. Indeed, one of the fears I had as a blogger was would people genuinely hate me for what I write. Some do. I’ve seen it, though a lot less lately. Bloggers have that distance, the sort of thing that makes us “cowards” in the eyes of journalist and some of their supporters. We’ll say things on a computer screen we’ll never say to their faces. Well, it was interesting to hear Aggers say that he and Atherton have never talked about the dirt in the pocket. In many ways, that’s the same isn’t it? It is this analysis of the “good journalism” output that I think genuinely spooked some of them. They weren’t used to having their work scrutinised forensically and some made their views clear. Some block me on Twitter. Some call me a bilious inadequate. Some spoke to me on social media. Some called me irrelevant. Chris can speak for himself on this, but it seemed odd that they really thought people should just let it go. Trust them to be our eyes and ears. Instead, we thought they weren’t doing things well enough. Preferring access to aggro. That’s still an issue today. Newman and his selectors piece being the latest in a long line of “I wonder who leaked, I mean helped out, on that piece of “good journalism”. Journos have to get these stories, we don’t.
A blogger has more scope to broaden their approach. They have no editor (I couldn’t deal with that, I really couldn’t) and can go longform at will (as I do). The blogger isn’t particularly time driven, but given there are many competing elements for my spare time, I make a point of drafting once and polishing later, but I can also go a good few days without writing. I choose the topics (or my co-writers do) and our editorial board, such as it is, is on WhatsApp or Twitter DM. Free rein is given, and we write what we feel. Again, Aggers said it on his interview regarding radio, you have to be yourself or you get found out. I think that equally applies to blogging. So I do get emotional. I do get angry, and I do get down. It’s a diary of life and cricket. It isn’t journalism.
I think the term “writer” is pretentious, and one, personally, I don’t want, and I don’t think it applies. I am a blogger. It’s nowhere near journalism, it’s not really seeking to be one’s artistic best as “writers” do. It’s about a view, communicated in my own, and TLG and Sean’s own ways, to people who might be interested. We aren’t here for commercial gains, we are not here to challenge journalists. We’re here because we care, and because we enjoy the platform blogging gives us. It’s what makes us different.
I’ve had a piece of advice from one prominent “nu-school” journo who said of my pieces “why do you write about journalists, when no-one gives a shit about them? You’re a good writer, so do something more with your blog” I’ll take that last part on advisement, but the premise that no-one is interested is more cricket authority facing than the way I face, which is writing to you. That journalist, who in no way is protecting the old school interests, doesn’t realise what pieces on Newman and Selvey in particular do when I write about them. The hit rate is increased.Our commenters bring them to the blog, and then they get more comments back. They drive this place at times.
This blog coasted through the Sri Lanka series (a bit like everyone else) but as soon as Selvey announced his retirement – BOOM. One world cricket writer had reference to us within ten minutes of the announcement, and he wasn’t alone. Newman’s piece on the selection committee, and BOOM again. They aren’t quite the clickbait of Kevin Pietersen times, but there is a noticeable uplift in hit rates when journalists are questioned. The journos will never be allowed to forget 2014, and their part in the abominable process that followed, and this blog will always focus on them. It’s one of our “mission statement” pieces. It’s what got us noticed in the first place.
So, after 2000 words, and potentially a lot more could be written, what is the conclusion? We are not two sides of the same coin, nor are we the feeder fish that cling to the sharks. Bloggers are not a threat to journalists, unless journalists allow us to become a threat because they are not doing their jobs. Bloggers should be encouraged, they should be nurtured, and they need to retain a total independence to be effective. Bloggers are truly judged on the quality of their pieces, and of satisfying their audience, not by giving them what they want, but by retaining their identity and being true. If I became something else, this audience would drop me like a stone. That we’ve kept a core audience even when the supposed keystone to this blog has gone away (the KP back for England) speaks volumes. That others have fallen by the wayside is not surprising. We’re not two sides of the same coin at all, we aren’t even a threat. We’re different, and not to be controlled or briefed, edited or spun, inside or beside. We are outside cricket for a reason – because they don’t want us inside, and we quite like the chill air.
I’d be interested in your views on this. How do you see the “relationship”? Is there one? Are we competing? Let me know in the comments.