07 August 2012

Scottish football media: "What, me worry?"

by Shane Nicholson | CRO Editor | 

I'm prone to having a proper go at journalists from time-to-time. It's been a bit of a hobby of mine since I was a teenager, when I started ringing up the news editor of the local paper to call out what I thought were questionable reporting practices in dealing with a sexual assault case at my high school.

Of course that's not left me in the years since, and because of that watching the Rangers story unfold inside the cozy confines of the Scottish media bubble has been gut wrenching at times. As if the implications of the story itself weren't enough for a Rangers supporter, seeing the brain dead response from the vast majority of so-called “journalists” could push one to losing their morning coffee all over the computer monitor on a regular basis.

On more than one occasion since 14 Februrary I've had a reporter tell me, the reader, what the story is here and that I was incapable of recognizing it. It's led me to become afraid that the disconnect there is simply too far to overcome by this time, that the principles of good journalism have been lost on nearly a whole generation of reporters.

Even as recently as last week, when the SFA license was finally sorted and the football was back under way, the thought of looking into the mechanisms and back room deals that led to this comedy of errors was unthinkable in most if not all news rooms across Scotland, even when photos of said back room deals were spreading around twitter like wild fire. Reporters who had fallen back time and again on the unbeaten excuse that Rangers alone would be the tale could no longer, but that didn't stop them from blissfully ignoring what would surely be the biggest story of most of their careers.

And this is what amazes me the most, the willingness of career journalists to simply read what's handed to them, or copy a quote from their coveted source into a story and not take five minutes to cruise Google and verify its content. Sadly, this is what sells papers and gets viewers to tune into the evening newscast, fueling the fires of the anti-Rangers propagandists and the Rangers supporters at the same time. More importantly, this is what protects their jobs, as the read and repeat method is fool proof. True reporting takes a bit more work and guile.

But if one wants to leave their mark in a field they typically must take some sort of risk. Sara Ganim--writing for The Patriot-News in a media market smaller than the capacity of Ibrox--did not win a Pulitzer Prize by taking her alma mater's word as the truth at every turn. She won it by taking on one of the largest institutions not only in her home state of Pennsylvania but in the entire country, and by taking on its most prominent names and faces. Her name is etched in history because she asked questions of the people trying to provide the narrative instead of following in lock step as the PSU media relations office would have liked.

Ultimately it comes down to whether a reporter values their sources and traffic numbers on the website over telling a story and getting it right. To paraphrase one of my favorite twitter accounts, the anonymous American sports man @BIGSPORTSWRITER, when journalists started caring about hits more than content that was the beginning of the end.

If the course of history was told by persons simply reading off press releases the world would certainly be a much different place. Imagine if Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein had followed the line being peddled by the Nixon White House: Would we still know their names today? Would their work be lionized by aspiring j-school students as the pinnacle of reporting?

The answers are obvious, but they fall on deaf ears all too often. And in the bubble of the Scottish football media there are no signs of threat to the status quo. There is no Sara Ganim manning a desk of the Record, or working the news floor at STV. There is no one willing to take the risk to tell the story that could make their career.

If you could find a stronger indictment of the state of journalism in Scotland than the general indifference of reporters to the mountains of facts and materials turned up by the average punter, well, you'd have done a bit of digging to find it. And that would be more work than any journalist covering Scottish football the past six months could lay claim to.