By Tony Attwood
I got interested in how the media works way back in my late teenage years when I started playing with various rhythm and blues bands. Rather obviously (since my name is not known in musical circles) my attempt to make the big time (or come to that even the little time) failed totally, but as this failure became obvious, I did get to know some of the people working in the music media and what we called the A&R department of record companies. (A&R = artists and repertoire – the musicians and the songs).
What we talked about a lot was how it was that some songs and some bands got exposure in the media and others didn’t. The answer by and large was quality, corruption, prejudice and pure chance – although not necessarily in that order.
My interest in football in the media took off from there, and was particularly triggered by an outburst by Nottingham Forest in the late 1970s when they launched, in the club programme, an interesting attack on the press and certain high profile journalists for their coverage of Nottingham Forest.
This was around the same time as several newspapers started to criticise TV stations that ran edited highlight shows – the criticism being that the stations were deliberately turning dull and tedious matches into games of excitement by “skilful editing techniques.”
Such events and commentaries don’t happen now. If the press criticise TV it is merely about kick off times and how running live games five days running reduces crowds. If a manager or owner criticises or even bans the press it tends to be treated with disdain, or else by the media making it quite clear that the manager it a bully, and not quite the right sort of person to run a club.
But over the years, neither subject (the way the media is involved in influencing popular music, or the way it reports football) has become a mainstream debate – but that’s never stopped me from following a line of enquiry of my own. It seems to be what I do – not sure why. I just do.
So it was with some interest that I saw the story in the Telegraph last week that proclaimed, “Arsenal players and staff are becoming increasingly mystified by the decision making of manager Arsene Wenger.”
The story quoted no actual sources – so of course there is no way of knowing if any of this is actually true, or if it is all make-believe, or if it is the vindictive invention of one very fed up player – or come to that by a mischief making journalist.
What made the story very suspicious is the lack of detail within it – indeed just about the only detail is that the manager gave the players the day off after the draw with Palace.
The article talked about the “drift to desensitisation, coarseness even, as the boundaries between conventional media and ‘social’ media break down.
“It was shocking to hear [at a media event] speaker after speaker describe the offensiveness and abusiveness they encounter on social media and the sense of helplessness at being unable to prevent it or respond effectively.
“At the same time, it was striking to hear so much emphasis from editors and journalists working in social media on the speed of their responsiveness as well as the volumes of ‘hits’ and ‘impressions’ they rack up, but with little focus on the value or the importance of what is being said.”
It is a valid point, and one that has often been made, but it hides another point. While one or two papers (well, one, actually) wrestle with the issue in terms of serious news coverage, every single paper long ago gave up serious consideration of what it is supposed to be doing in terms of football reporting.
There has been no attempt to distance the traditional media from the social media and actually try and do some serious evidence based analysis. As the Brady article said, “instant reaction, allowing virtually no time for reflection or application of critical judgement…” is everything.
“If journalists and programme-makers allow the urgent and the trivial to drive out the important, and if they frequently sacrifice judgement to speed, there will be a breakdown in trust and respect for the media.”
But as the Guardian commentary on the piece said, “It is pushing it to suggest that mainstream media is being led astray by social media. That said, he surely has a point about the need for newspapers and TV newsrooms to resist the temptation to react too hastily to online postings.”
But when it comes to football, this season has seen an old media / social media alliance in an attack on one football club and one manager as has never been seen before. No manager and no club has ever had to take the endless undermining through invented tales and ceaseless rumour that Arsenal now takes day by day.
From the sneering of Lineaker that Arsenal were so stupid they actually offered a job to the “wrong man” from Leicester, to invented stories about Arsenal getting more injuries than anyone else, it is endless, and will continue once Mr Wenger has left the club. These campaigns never ever stop once started. Even when the object of their rancid hatred is laid low the anti-Arsenal campaigns will continue.
And this is the problem – the alleged absolute failure of Arsenal while having its best 20 year run in its entire history since formation in 1886 has become some perverted sort of truth, which every manager will now have to live up to and greatly improve upon. Year after year of qualifying for Europe is not even base level acceptable. No Arsenal manager has ever done anything remotely like this – but the next manager will have to do much, much better just to assuage the newspaper commentators.
It sure is going to be tough.
But now, before you rush away, do you fancy something a little lighter? I was asked to join in writing a piece about emotional moments in sport. It’s just been published. You can read my contribution, along with a number of other writers here.