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Untold Media: Even good journalists try to pretend that they are not the story.

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By Tony Attwood

“Another week, another high-level probe for football’s internal affairs investigators,”  so began a Guardian article the day after Untold published one of its regular exposes of what the paper is up to in terms of its Arsenal coverage.

This time the writer was Marina Hyde, whose writing I personally like (and I want to make it clear this is just a personal view, not part of the regular Untold Media pieces that we publish.  To me, she’s funny, inventive and different.)

Her point in this article was the question of what Torres may or may not have said in an interview where he might have complained about the age of his fellow travellers.  There was a bit about the club asking for the tape of the recording, and investigations into whether he really said what he is reputed to have said, and then what the translator did with what he said.

It is all quite amusing stuff and a bit fluffy, which was nice, until Marina got to this bit:
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“But yet again, the message from the powers that be is clear: we simply cannot live in a world where footballers are allowed to say what they think.”
Marina then went into the humour bit again with “many pinpoint the tipping point of the Arab spring to have been a Tunisian player’s tweet disparaging his club’s new away strip”.  Very good.  I wish I’d written that.
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Here’s another one:  “Careless talk costs between three and six points a season”.  Love it (although you have to know your British social history from 1939 to 1945 to get it).

Then she makes the reasonable point that a club that gets worked up about what its players say is a club with a real confidence problem reminding us of  Darren Bent’s Twittering about transfers with Tottenham fining him £80,000.

Her conclusion is that “what really underpins the ban on candour is a contempt for the fans. Supporters are deemed too delicate and foolish to be exposed to what the people they pay to see are really thinking, like those Victorian ladies of cliché who might faint at the sight of anything from a mouse to an ankle.   They are deemed too worthless. Julie Burchill once brilliantly described the Daily Mail’s editorial line as “someone, somewhere is having fun, and it must be stopped now”, and the media management policies of most top clubs these days could be summed up with a variant on those words. Someone, somewhere is giving fans a chink of insight – and it must be stopped now.”

Now that is good – really good – writing, and I enjoyed it.   But….

And there is one hell of a but.  Because the story is entirely about the player saying something (or not) and the club getting edgy.  What is missing from the whole article is the other player in the game:  The media.

Or as we might say, the Guardian’s editorial line as being “someone, somewhere is supporting Arsenal, and we must put them down at once.”

In fact, to be thoroughly comprehensive, there are two other issues here.   The first, which is a minor concern for us at this point, but which I mention for the sake of completeness, is the issue of employers everywhere trying to protect their good name.

I’m an employer, and I do it.  When a couple of years back, I was informed by my personnel director that a member of our staff was bad mouthing my company on her Facebook site, she got a formal warning.  (Fining her £80k was not an option – she doesn’t earn enough).

But as I say, that is incidental.  More to the point is the issue of the newspapers.  Surely even Marina must know that newspapers interpret the news, and on occasion make it up.  You just have to read the stories of who is transferring where in the press – all written as sure fire facts – to see how wrong they get it.  In short, as much as the press report the news they create it.

Think of stories like Lansbury saying he has had enough and is leaving, just as he signs a new long term contract.  Or think of the Manuel Almunia and Wojciech Szczesny stories.  Almunia is forced to train on his own, while Szczesny refused to sign a new contract last season until he was given a promise that he would get more games.  Or the fact that Mr Wenger is seriously ill (that was a Guardian story recently).

And all that comes before the fact that it would appear that a considerable number of Twitter accounts that purport to be operated by players are nothing of the kind.   Want to have a bit of childish fun?  Create a Twitter account in the name of a Tottenham player and start criticising the club.    Give it a week and you might well be reported in the newspapers.

The fact is that the newspapers always present themselves as reporting the news, while in fact they are inventing the news.  Now add that vision to the fact that they are biasing the news even when they are not making it up, and what you have is a situation a little different from that portrayed in the Guardian article.

What we actually have is not just a question about clubs trying to stop their players saying anything. It is the fact that whatever a player says it can be reported as something else by the press. And these made up stories stick.

Remember Bendtner’s comments in the Danish press about being the best player at Arsenal?   Eventually after a lot of protest the Mirror had to admit that it made it all up and Bendtner never said anything of the kind.   Or, if you are and have been a British resident, you might know that Lord Prescott, who was deputy leader of the Labour Party when Blair was PM was known as “two jags”.  You might even believe that he had two Jaguar cars simply because you saw it written so often.   You might be surprised to know that he didn’t.

What is happening now is that some clubs are in fact trying to control the output of their players to the press not because the clubs are run by power mad censors, although that is often the case, but because they just know that everything will be twisted and turned, and that even when apologies are forthcoming from the press, they have no effect.  The story, once out, sticks.

Untold Arsenal – the (fairly) complete index

(please note we’re still working on getting these indexes into shape – the media index is just about done, but others are still awaiting a make over)

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6 comments to Untold Media: Even good journalists try to pretend that they are not the story.

  • John L

    good point tony!

    i have often wondered why clubs dont make agreements that every interview be shown in full on the clubs website, allowing the club to translate, if need be, for itself. that would allow us to reference the reality versus what the media are saying.

    i would also think that if the players trusted a certain media outlet for portraying them and their words correctly they might be more forthcoming with their thoughts. in my mind more insight into the game from players would sell more papers and get more ‘hits’. why is the media so convinced that truth would never sell?!?

  • Ugandan Goon

    @John L,
    It is the old divide and rule tactic, Just don’t upset everybody on the same day, and you’re laughing.

  • Anne

    @Tony:

    Interesting points here, I think.

  • wilshere

    good point. let there be moderation in what we say. football is a global sport and there is need for courtesy.

  • bjtgooner

    Excellent article Tony.

    One of the most important factors in any company or business is honesty – more so than all the systems, spreadsheets or communications – basic honesty. Unfortunately the press and media have moved a long way from honesty; not just the tabloids who depend on sensationalism, but the supposed serious papers like the Guardian – especially in their coverage of Arsenal. While this is particularily disappointing to us, because Arsenal is wrongly maligned time and again, the papers (and media) constantly insult all the punters who suscribe to them – by repeatedly reporting fantasy as news – not a model for long term success.

    I have noticed at times that a story (not necessarily a factual report!)can often be repeated almost word for word in a number of papers – so much for competition! I am not sure if this sharing of virtual reality is a result of laziness or part of a deliberate campaign, but in the case of Arsenal, the end result is not dissimilar to that of an organised inter-paper anti-Arsenal campaign.

  • Ugandan Goon

    i always feel guilty diverting traffic from this esteemed organ, so it is with some hand wringing that i point all to this little gem, i especially like the comments, gawd help us all.
    http://www.gingers4limpar.com/2011/09/the-times-matt-hughes-issues-a-clarification/