By Tony Attwood
From the off Untold has argued that football reporting via the mainstream media is warped. Broadcasters agreed with football authorities not to cover certain issues, such as the quality of refereeing. Under pressure from the authorities all agreed and only one or two rocked the boat. Alan Green on BBC radio, and journalists on some local papers, continued to do it but Green eventually and suddenly dropped all his criticism. Local papers were regularly banned by clubs from occupying a seat in the press box.
Meanwhile, from the 1970s onward, newspapers reduced their criticism of football coverage on TV (before then having commented that TV companies were carefully editing games to make them appear more exciting than they were and thus boost their audience for the next game) and gradually a general consensus arose about the reporting of the game.
When the blogs came along they of course had the freedom to challenge the newspaper-broadcaster duopoly and a few did, but mostly the response was to copy the general approach of existing broadcasters with the aim of making the blog appear to be mainstream rather than a one man show.
However the blogs needed a reason to be read, and so they focussed more and more on the negative side of the reporting. It was easy and quick to write, and grabbed attention. As they started to get an audience so the newspapers copied them (an interesting reverse) in order to hold their audience. For fear of appearing out of touch with their audience broadcasters joined the move.
That was all bad enough but now we are in a new and even more sinister phase of manipulation. This come with machine generated blogs which can publish up to 40 articles a day on a single club like Arsenal, each with a new headline but primarily with the same story save for the last couple of lines.
The effect of this is ultimately to control the agenda – to hit the reader so often with the same sort of story that anyone writing a different story will appear odd and out of step.
To give an example of this latest movement consider the blog Football London owned by the Daily Mirror newspaper, which has separate feeds for each of the main London clubs.
In one short burst of a few hours they came up with these (I’m leaving the links in not because I want to promote the site, but just to prove, should you wish to check, that I am not manipulating the report).
- Why Arsenal and Liverpool rejected the chance to sign Bundesliga ace for free this summer
- The Story: his wage demands.
- Barcelona star Andre Gomes prefers to join Tottenham this summer despite Arsenal links – report
- The Story: Contrary to the headline Juve and Arsenal are said to be the closest to signing him, Mundo Deportivo report that he wants to join Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham.
- How new rule changes to the Champions League and Europa League affects Arsenal, Spurs & Chelsea
- The story: the clubs can have an extra sub if extra time is played.
- Real Sociedad president issues transfer update on summer move for Arsenal’s Nacho Monreal
- The story: “Real Sociedad president Jokin Aperribay has confirmed that the Spanish side are not in talks with Arsenal over a deal for Nacho Monreal.”
- Barcelona looking to offload Andre Gomes within the next week amid Arsenal and Spurs links
- The story: “Gomes is believed to be in pole position to depart in the coming days,”
- Transfer news live: Chelsea want €50m for Courtois, Man United target says ‘we’ll see’ on future
- The story: “Arsenal have already signed Lucas Torreira, Sokratis Papastathopolos, Stephan Lichtsteiner, Matteo Guendouzi and Bernd Leno.” (Honest – it is on their Arsenal feed but the story has no connection to the headline).
- ’30 assists incoming!’ – Some Arsenal fans make big Mesut Ozil prediction ahead of new season
- The story: “With Arsenal confirming that Ozil will be in their pre-season squad for the trip to Singapore on their Twitter account, fans have predicted a big season in the capital for the ex-Real Madrid man.”
- Aaron Ramsey’s agency issue contract update amid reports of new five-year deal for Arsenal ace
- The story: “No agreement has been reached with the player yet and there are concerns that he could well depart for nothing come next July.”
Is there any news in that blast across a few hours from Football London? If there is it is well hidden and I couldn’t find it. Just look at the last headline – the one about Ramsey. The “update” is there is no update.
Now anyone who studies the media and its effect on people will tell you that when asked, most people say that advertisements have no effect on them. They are individuals and they make up their own minds. We all do that; it is part of our self-esteem: “You can’t manipulate me!”
But examine the sales of products before and after advertisements and it is totally clear that some advertising does have an effect – sometimes a huge effect – which can be readily traced back to a single advertisement. Believe me, I know. I write adverts for a living and would have lost my job 30 years ago had I not been able to create adverts that radically changed sales.
So in general terms, with advertisements people read, deny they are influenced, but are influenced. If the advertising does not have an effect the advertisement or the whole approach is changed. Here, the Daily Mirror clearly sees an effect – people read these nonsense stories, and (and for the Mirror this is the most important bit) they then click on an advert or go on to another story and click on an advert there. So the Mirror makes money – for advertisers pay only per click the site generates.
But also, there is an effect on the reader. The reader is ceaselessly disappointed but like a gambler on a one-armed bandit, goes on using the site over and over, hoping against hope that this time there will be a jackpot, a real story.
Arsenal rejected the player because they had someone better lined up, Arsenal have screwed up yet again and let Tottenham in, Arsenal could benefit in some way from rule changes and so on.
Perhaps the prime example of this manipulation of the reader for the sake of another click comes with the wholly invented Monreal transfer. As far as I can see, and as far as I can ascertain from the handful of sources that Untold has, there never was a Monreal transfer. He has no interest in going and the club want to keep him, there was no expression of interest in buying him. It was wholly invented, and now to squeeze every last drop out of it, they now have a “transfer update” which says, “nothing is going to happen.”
All of this is powered by the prime belief people have (except perhaps those of us who work in advertising) that we are not affected by adverts, by the way news is presented and by the way news is manipulated to keep the reader reading.
And to be clear, I am not saying that I am not influenced by advertisements. Of course I am, even though I spend my working day writing them.
There is no doubt in my mind that these new sites churning out story after story (often – although this is not a point that I have time to explore in this article but have written about elsewhere) by taking the same headline and then applying it to different teams across multiple articles, are doing us all a disservice.
We are all being manipulated, but most of us believe we are not. It’s not a very healthy state of affairs.
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