By Tony Attwood
Last weekend I attended an excellent lecture on Jack the Ripper which was put on as part of a literary festival. A literary festival, not a history conference, because the talk was about the way the media created and ran with the story of the Ripper.
During the talk the speaker made the observation that the only way that we can truly understand what the Ripper case was all about is to look at the newspapers of the day that ran the story and ask “why are you wanting me to believe this?”
When one combines that question with the awareness that during the period of the Ripper murders in London, the evening newspaper The Star was formed and rose from a circulation of zero to 200,000 in a matter of months, based almost entirely on coverage of the Ripper story, the question becomes answered. The newspapers used the story of a series of appalling murders of women living in abject poverty in London in order to make a profit for the paper’s owners.
Of course one can’t compare the grotesqueness of how the media behaved in 19th century London with stories of impoverished women, with how today they write up tales of ludicrously rich young men and which football club they will play for, but the motivation is the same: the get and retain readership.
Just as an analysis of the newspaper of the day show that 99% of what was written about Jack the Ripper was completely untrue (since we don’t know who the Ripper was we can’t say about the last one percent but on the remaining 99% were pure speculation and fantasy) so a review of today’s newspapers and websites, and their handling of football matters reflects the same sort of situation. The stories are invented for the benefit of the newspaper or blog’s readership figures, nothing else.
The recent story of the transfer of Nabil Fekir’s transfer to Liverpool for £53m is a fine example. Very early on Olympique Lyonnais issued a statement categorically denying the media story of the transfer, while the English papers reported that the deal was done and dusted and congratulated Liverpool on such decisive action so early in the transfer window.
As I pointed out previously, even when the media did catch up with the story that the deal wasn’t on, they generally would not accept the Lyon statement, because “Fekir had not only undergone a Liverpool medical in Paris and agreed personal terms on a five-year contract but conducted an introductory interview with LFCTV, the club’s in-house television channel.” In short they had to find another explanation.
The Guardian then mentioned an injury from 2015, which as I noted at the time made no sense because that injury was known about from the start. The Mirror then blamed the Lyon manager who they suddenly discovered was apparently notorious for his last minute change of tactics although that wasn’t mentioned earlier. Why they hadn’t bothered to mention this before is not made clear; it seems a fairly pertinent fact to me. If it was a fact.
What the media needed was for readers to believe its narrative that the media can get inside the truth of the story and any false reporting is not their fault; not at all – it is always someone else. Likewise the fact that 97% of the transfer rumours that they run are false is not their fault. Generally it is the fault of the funny foreign media who they cite as the source of each story. And the underlying concept is that this website or newspaper tells you the truth, and anything contrary to this is the fault of the clubs, the players or other websites and newspapers who are notorious for making things up.
“Believe us,” is the constant shout of the increasingly unbelievable media. Thus we have the story headline, “Liverpool to reassess list of transfer targets after calling off Nabil Fekir move” when in fact the selling club said that the move was never on in the first place.
But why does this matter? Surely, as I am so often told, everyone knows the papers make it all up.
Well, if you were to read the comments Untold receives each day but don’t publish, and the comments that many other blogs receive and do publish, a large number of people do believe the stories told in the media about football. And the fact that the blogs and newspapers and broadcasters continue with the fantasies show that it must be working for them.
What is particularly fascinating is that newspapers that persistently point out how manipulated the people are in certain undemocratic states (North Korea is the obvious choice at the moment) are themselves engaged in the same process. True they do it in a very different way, because they are dealing with a very different readership, and the example I write about – football – is unlikely to lead to the start of a nuclear war.
But the process is the same: here is something that is quite untrue but I want you to believe it so that you stay with my newspaper or on my blog and click on the advertising that surrounds (and these days often overlays) the articles.
However it can be challenged, and we are seeing little bits of change as a few other blogs have started to do analyses of the ceaseless lists of players who are tipped to join Arsenal following the Untold model. It is very small at the moment, and it is being done to try and stop the credibility of the sites dripping away. But it is a tiny start.
Of course transfer rumours are trivial – and very few are writing about the bizarre way in which every now and then people in England realise how utterly corrupt and appalling Fifa is, but then still pour money into the dreadful organisation by giving cash to the FA who duly pass it on, and by allowing the national broadcaster paid for by the taxpayer to hand over vast sums to a totally corrupt Fifa for TV rights.
Yes the media had a jolly time watching the FBI move in and take the Fifa HQ apart, and have reported to some degree the arrests and prison sentences. But still, the most read headline of the day by Arsenal supporters is not about how corrupt Fifa is but rather that “Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur are battling to sign €35 million”. And that story is all about Barcelona midfielder Rafinha.
Allegedly according the website “Sport” which covers just Real Mad and Barceloa, Rafina’s father will meet with Barca representatives this week about his son leaving the club. Allegedly, I say, because I can’t find the story on their pages although the blog that ran the piece is sure that was the source.
But maybe it is just me. Maybe everything is ok with the world. Maybe the fairy story in the papers is true.
However just like the Ripper’s black cape and stick, I rather suspect what they are telling us is just fantasy.
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