As has been said before, there’s only one thing worse than being talked about – and that’s not being talked about. It is of course hardly surprising that Dmitri’s posts didn’t meet with approval, yet the particular nature of said disapproval cannot be ignored. The content was dismissed without qualification, and without reference to what it said.
John Etheridge then supported his friend:
And further saying:
There are a whole number of issues surrounding this. The first thing to say is that I have nothing but respect for someone defending their friend. Irrespective of perceived rights and wrongs, it’s the EM Forster principle, and I wholeheartedly approve.
If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country.
But there are wider issues here. Firstly Derek Pringle’s dismissal of the whole piece on the grounds that Dmitri writes under a nom de plume is precisely the kind of playing the man and not the ball that he receives so much criticism for. Derek Pringle is not unpopular as a person, because as John says, he might be a decent bloke – Mr Etheridge himself is popular amongst his colleagues. But his writing is, and the criticism that is directed towards it is based on that. Whether it was his endless, tiresome and extremely personal anti-Pietersen ranting which was exceptionally personal, not based on cricketing merit, or his prediction of England winning 11 out of 17 Tests, his record as a cricket journalist invites the criticism it has received.
And let’s directly address the point about using a pseudonym. My real name is accessible on here because I work for myself, and thus everything I write I am happy to have attributed to me. It’s nice and easy because ultimately I’m only responsible to myself, and can do that. Dmitri cannot because of his work, he is not a journalist and does this for fun, and for free. He is not anonymous in his employment in just the same way as a journalist is not anonymous in his or hers. To try and make the comparison when journalists are paid to be known in public for their work is ludicrous. Their identity is their currency – being anonymous would make their job interviews somewhat problematic. It’s after all why they are on things like Twitter in the first place, to promote their own work. And that’s fine.
Nor was it a complaint about journalists having their expenses paid to travel, and seizing on that is a straw man. The issue at hand is the dismissal of the blog as being anonymous and therefore something to ignore – which is not what Mr Etheridge himself said, it must be pointed out. John Etheridge whether one agrees with him or not has never tried to make that argument and didn’t here either. It’s an argument that is constantly made, whether it is below the line comments or Twitter comments, and avoids the question constantly. People who take the trouble to write comments in the newspapers or in places like this tend to be cricket tragics, who care enough about the game to want their voice heard. Those people aren’t paid to do so, they pay to do so, indeed while the question of how comments reflect a wider view is up for debate, newspapers allow it because it directly benefits their bottom line. These commenters are working for the newspaper, unpaid. They also buy Sky subscriptions, they buy tickets, and many of them travel abroad following the England team, spending thousands of pounds in the process. The very idea that such people can be dismissed and ignored as a lesser voice is insulting on the one hand, and downright stupid on the other. Journalists are not inherently a superior voice to be listened to ahead of those who support, and it’s nothing but arrogance for any of them to believe so.
That doesn’t mean that such criticism is always deserved. In my own case, I was exceptionally critical of Nick Hoult a few years back, believing his articles to be nothing but rehashes of Derek Pringle’s. For whatever reason, a flowering of his output, the additional responsibility of becoming the main cricket correspondent, or the development of his own sources, his writing in recent times has been excellent. When the facts change, my opinion changes with it. Quite simply, I was wrong about him and for what it’s worth he gets my apology. The only purpose in so mentioning that is to counter a suggestion that this place is nothing but an attack on cricket journalists, because it isn’t at all. Good ones get lots of praise. At the Guardian Ali Martin has been a revelation, and demonstrated the wisdom of that paper giving him the break which he is now repaying in spades.
In my own line of business, I do indeed have travel expenses. The difference is that I am not contemptuous towards those others on the aircraft on holiday, because they have paid for it themselves, and they, ultimately, pay my wages. Without them I don’t have a living. What Derek Pringle did by dismissing the post as being written by a “nom de blog” was to consider someone who ultimately paid his wages as irrelevant, not for what he said, but because of who he is or isn’t. And make no mistake, cricket supporters do in the end pay the salaries of cricket journalists, because if they don’t go and don’t watch, then the press won’t publish articles on it, and they won’t have a job. How many tiddlywinks correspondents are there?
Now that doesn’t mean that any journalist has to agree with what is said by any one of us, but the piece in question detailed Dmitri following England around on tour, with the thousands of pounds spent accordingly. Pringle might not like what was being written, but an unwarranted attitude of superiority displays a complete lack of awareness and rather inflated sense of self. The same applies to the criticism about the Barmy Army. They may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but those who actually paid for their tickets and dislike it have the right to object. Those who are paid to be there do not, when those in the pleb seats have spent thousands of pounds of their own money to be there. The criticism that has been directed at him has been on the basis of what he has written, not who he is – a standard he has singularly failed to apply in his own articles on far too many occasions. There is more than enough there to be criticised after all, and that has been repeatedly detailed on here and elsewhere. He can defend himself based on that if he wishes, but the point is he doesn’t. He doesn’t have to of course, it’s up to him. But he can’t then complain when people respond on the basis of his writing.
What a good journalist will do is to hold those in power to account, without fear or favour. It’s precisely this that Derek Pringle gets criticised for, given his output has been nothing but attacks on one player, without ever asking the questions that needed to be asked. It is possible to be critical of more than one side of the issue; a complete failure to do that is what marks out the propagandist. The conduct of the ECB has been shambolic for the last two years, yet rather than offer up even the slightest criticism of that, instead it’s been nothing but praise on each occasion. The style of cricket the ODI team have played in the last two matches should be an indictment of the manner the team was run for many years – yet few have joined the dots and recognised that their own support of the incumbents throughout that time might not have been correct. The simple reality is that the nasty Dmitri has been a lot more correct in what he has said than most of the mainstream cricket journalists. I’m sure that does grate, but it remains true. Has he been right on everything? Of course not. But consistently questioning, observing and refusing to be blinded by bullshit is all a person can ask. It is to the shame of a number that Dmitri’s posts on here have been of a higher critical standard than many in the cricket press.
The press journalists have a job to do, the problem is that many of them simply haven’t done it. The ongoing FIFA debacle was partly prompted by a journalist doing his job exceptionally well. Andrew Jennings spoke about the behaviour of the press corps, and much of what he said was as damning an indictment of the cricket press as it was the football one. No one is suggesting the ECB are remotely in the same category, but it doesn’t mean they are above reproach or above being questioned. The failure to do so has been the biggest failing over the last twenty-seven months. One of the worst parts is the use of Kevin Pietersen as a straw man in this; you don’t have to like him, you don’t even have to disagree with his exclusion. But what you must do, if you are a journalist, is question everything. Now, when it comes to this, the response is so often that they have tried and not received answers. I rather suspect their political correspondent colleagues would find that amusing as a justification – can you imagine any of them faithfully reporting the government line just because the No. 10 spokesman didn’t answer?
“When I looked into the IOC, I discovered the president, Juan Antonio Samaranch, who was universally sucked up to by the sports press, was a Franco fascist. He thought the wrong side won World War II.”
Giles Clarke might not be a Franco fascist, but anyone in such a position who says that “Alastair Cook and his family are very much the sort of people we want the England captain and his family to be” should not remotely receive the deferential treatment he often does. If that were an isolated example, it wouldn’t be the end of the world. It isn’t though. Repeated statements of lofty arrogance fail to be challenged, to the point where the new “Director, Cricket” can say to a cricket correspondent “I don’t need to spell [the issues] out for you Aggers” and not be asked to spell them out for those listening, presumably because they aren’t considered sufficiently important.
“Reporters are moving away from me as if I’ve just let out the biggest smell since bad food. Well, that’s what I wanted. Thank you, idiot reporters. The radar dish on top of my head is spinning around to all these blazers against the wall, saying, ‘Here I am. I’m your boy. I’m not impressed by these tossers. I know what they are. I’ve done it to the IOC, and I’ll do it to them.’”
The very name of this blog is “Being Outside Cricket” and of the journalists only one to my knowledge has even referenced that simple insult which came from the ECB in any of his writings – Jonathan Liew. The usual response is that it was a dig at Piers Morgan, not anyone else, but it needs repeating that Morgan plays club cricket and goes to watch England. If he is “outside cricket” then so are all the hundreds of thousands up and down the land who play and watch. This simple point seems to be beyond the media, who have fundamentally failed to even acknowledge this wasn’t the brightest thing to say, and which still hasn’t even been “clarified”, let alone apologised for. It’s a minor offence in the conduct of the ECB, but is entirely symptomatic of the embedded nature of the cricket press. You are meant to be writing for the public, it might be an idea to consider the interests of that public rather than your mate at the ECB. That doesn’t mean writing hagiographical articles about a new MD handling things “with aplomb” when it’s blatantly obvious it’s been a car crash, and then pretending that it didn’t happen a year later when it all goes horribly wrong. Perhaps even an acknowledgement that those horrible below the line people might actually have been right in the first place could be a start. If that sounds as dismissive of the cricket press as they are about the bloggers, it shouldn’t do. The point is that cricket journalists are needed, but they aren’t doing their jobs. Why do they imagine that places like these attract attention in the first place?
Of course, if you are paid to cover cricket, you don’t ever get to see the world in which that public live. Journalists don’t end up missing anything up to a session queueing for a pint, journalists don’t have to shell out for dreadful food at an extortionate price. Journalists don’t have a terrible seat crammed in which costs anything up to £100 for the privilege of a day’s backache. Even football journalists write about the lot of the supporter more often than cricket ones. When was the last article any of them wrote about it? When you have a former Test cricketer expressing astonishment on air that Test tickets are a lot more than £20, and it being viewed as amusing not scandalous the disconnect is entirely clear.
It goes further. Only Scyld Berry in the English press made a point of repeatedly attacking the ICC stitch up recently. It might not be the most glamorous of subjects, and a defence that the newspaper wasn’t interested would be a reasonable one. But Mike Selvey instead went on air saying he didn’t understand it and wasn’t worried about it. That’s no excuse, it’s your damned job to understand it and worry about it. Even if you then write a piece about why it’s a wonderful idea and not to fret about it.
So obviously all I have written is correct and can’t be argued with, right? No. And this is the point about engagement. You can disagree with every single word I’ve written and tell me why I’m wrong if you’ve got as far as reading it all. My opinion is just that, it’s not an objective truth. What I won’t do is try and tell you that I know more than you, but I can’t tell you why.
Everyone knows that a journalist will have sources they can’t disclose. That’s hardly the point. No journalist worth his or her salt would try and defend criticism on that basis, it’s simply arrogance. The thing is also, that the assumption that they know more than those criticising isn’t always true. That thought appears not to have crossed their minds when talking down to the masses. I’m not a journalist and have no desire to be one either. But I know enough about honour to be absolutely certain no blog post of mine will contain a reference to something I know but can’t tell you. It’s treating anyone who reads like an idiot who can only be spoonfed the information I choose to convey.
It’s an interesting statement. I wonder if Hughes and Newman have the same view about the masses who bought their books? I’m one of them in the past, so gentlemen, since I helped provide you with an income, does that still apply? Ever heard of Gerald Ratner? When you have such contempt for the masses, don’t be surprised when the masses have the same contempt for you. Did it even occur that anyone reading that would think twice about buying another book? How did your publisher feel about rubbishing prospective customers?
One of the defences of such points of view is that as former professionals, they have an insight into the game that the plebs do not. And yet it’s interesting that this particular line only seems to apply to the preferably passive readership. I wonder how John Etheridge or Nick Hoult would feel about this particular point if it was applied to them. Being a cricketer and being a journalist are two separate things. And then let’s take it further, if it were true on any level, then a Mike Selvey has no right whatever to talk about batting and no right to talk about batsmen on the grounds of lack of knowledge – certainly the drivel that’s routinely written about wicketkeeping by those who palpably know nothing about it is a case in point. A good club level batsmen would be much much better than he was, and therefore his perspective is far superior, right? Which is precisely why Selvey calling one of England’s best batsmen of the last forty years “a pest, a fruitfly” is deserving of such contempt. Whether you like him or not has no relevance, because if you invoke the right to say it on the grounds of having been there and done it, then you deserve having the comparison of playing merits made.
And by the way, that’s why you won’t hear a word of criticism from me about Derek Pringle the player. He was good enough to play international cricket, which means he was a bloody good player and a lot better than me. That he wasn’t quite good enough to be a truly successful international player is beside the point. He was a terrific cricketer by any measure except the very highest. As was Mike Selvey. What it doesn’t do is entitle them to pontificate as though their word is law and the “masses” have no value. Not unless they want to then admit that the view of a Kevin Pietersen (or an Alastair Cook, or an Andy Flower) is inherently superior. Somehow I doubt that would go down well with them, and nor should it. Their view has as much merit as anyone else’s, and no more.
John Etheridge made the entirely correct point in his defence of Derek Pringle that were we to meet, we might get on and like each other. That is of course entirely true, and the corollary of it (which he swiftly acknowledged) is that the obverse is also true, they might even quite like us – although I was mildly amused at the certainty that we’ve never met these people. It’s not the point. The criticism of them is not of their person, it is of their professional output. Just because a person might be likable doesn’t for a second provide any kind of justification for what they say. The criticism over the various blogs and the various comments below the line have been often entirely valid. I understand why they don’t like it, few people do like being criticised, but it doesn’t make it any less astute or accurate. There are of course some who will simply throw abuse, and that’s no more acceptable or justifiable when it’s in the article or in the comments. Using those as a crutch to dismiss all rational questioning is the problem, especially on the grounds of saying that criticism from those they “respect” is ok. That cuts both ways.
The cricket media as a whole have had a dreadful couple of years, abrogating their responsibility to question, criticise and remain objective. The ECB is English cricket’s government, and the press have on the whole singularly failed to hold them to account, preferring instead to focus on petty personal dislikes and remaining inside the tent, and thus being the ECB’s useful idiots. It doesn’t apply to all and the ones who have done well do not need to be listed because they know who they are; deep down all cricket hacks will have a fair idea of whether or not it is true of them. Defensiveness is often indicative of personal dissatisfaction in all walks of life.
The most infuriating part of it all, is that as a body, we need them. But we need them to be journalists. British journalism runs the range between the worst and most scurrilous there is, right up to the very best, most incisive anywhere. There’s been far too much of the former, and nowhere near enough of the latter. Everyone wants to be noted in their chosen career and I doubt being held in contempt by many of those they supposedly write for was the aim when they started out, they had visions of being Andrew Jennings.
There’s little worse than a feeling you’ve let yourself down.