Recently I’ve taken to closely watching the media’s falling circulation numbers.
There are a few people in Celtic cyberspace who’ve been watching those for a while, in particular the Scottish Football Monitor guys and some of the folks over at CQN.
Some of them publish the numbers every so often, and they’re all showing the old media in steady decline.
Paul67 over at CQN mourns this in a way, and says we’ll always need the media with their resources and the few diligent reporters who are capable of tackling a big story.
I agree with him, and there are some outstanding examples of what he means.
One of the best pieces of journalism I’ve seen in the last couple of years came from the BBC not long ago; it was Mark Daly’s magnificent and game changing investigation into doping in professional athletics. It was courageous and devastating.
It was a sensational example of the media doing what it is supposed to do.
We definitely need more of that.
Daly, of course, has been on our radar for a while.
He was the front man for the equally astonishing BBC documentary on Rangers “The Men Who Sold The Jerseys”, which their fans should have applauded for the way it dug into things the hacks hadn’t bothered with.
Of course, in the end they went hysterical, started their campaign against the BBC and that sowed the seeds for the recent ban on Chris McLaughlin.
Daly is at one end of the scale, the high end, that which sees journalists go out and find the news. That’s a small number of top quality operators doing the kind of work we’ll always need them to do, and which makes their profession shine.
Alex Thomson is another of them, and it’s really Alex I want to talk about here.
I read his recent article, on football teams banning journalists, with great interest, in particular as he chose to highlight Celtic in the piece.
I want to take issue with him on some of it.
For a start, because Alex of all people should know better.
He’s been up here to cover stuff they either missed or didn’t want to.
He knows what most of our hacks are worth.
He knows the ranks up here are filled with those who indulge in sensationalism and creating controversy where there is none.
Worse, it is populated with a more dangerous sort, those who write soup stirring, provocative nonsense.
Those people are an affront to journalism, an embarrassment to a profession which needs more people like him in it and less of them.
He is a real journalist, the kind who believes the calling is still sacred, that it’s still relevant and that it’s still important.
The problem, as he well knows, is that these people fall far below that standard.
I remember him going onto Radio Clyde and castigating the hacks for their failures in getting to the bottom of the Rangers story.
I remember him writing that it was not simply incompetence, but actually a media culture that exists up here whereby whatever comes out of Ibrox is all too often simply accepted without question.
He understands the “succulent lamb” culture very well.
He knows that’s how it works in Scotland, a country that for too long took way too seriously the pretensions and “cultural aspirations” of what the rampant egotist Murray called “the second biggest institution after the church.”
But you have to actually live here, and cover the media full time, which in a sense is what I now do, to truly understand there’s more to it than just that.
Take the John Collins thing that has filled the papers over the last week, pouring unrelenting negativity onto Celtic Football Club and its assistant manager.
This is a fine example of why our club has banned hacks in the past.
It is a complete non-story, blown up into something more by a media that creates these little dramas for its own ends.
At the same time, they’ve been endlessly promoting the line that Scottish football is basically worthless without a club called Rangers in the top flight for the last couple of years.
To look over their coverage during the period in which the future of our sport itself was up for grabs, when the SPL and SFA CEO’s wanted Sevco in the top flight, is to glimpse a world where this game only had two teams, and without them our sport was dead.
They know they are hypocrites.
That’s not the point.
The Collins furore was nothing more than an exercise in slapping Celtic and the same people who are stirring this soup have spent the last month trying to destabilise Scott Allan’s relationship with his own club and get him a move to his “boyhood heroes” (who he’s already spurned two chances to join) at Ibrox.
Today those same hacks claim Celtic are in the running for his signature, and a couple of them have suggested that this is “mischief making” on our part, as if we’re in the habit of spending six figure sums of money for the purposes of one-upsmanship … an idea so preposterous that I would be in the carpark with a Board Out banner if I thought it was even remotely true.
Some of these guys are very obviously working hand in hand with PR companies too and if those PR companies happen to have very clear, historical, leanings towards a certain Scottish football club … well that neither seems to bother the hacks or their bosses.
In fact, when said club was trying to sell season tickets last month some of the hacks were only too pleased to help … and a PR firm publicly thanked them for it in the aftermath.
It’s wee things like this that bother a lot of neutrals, and definitely Celtic fans.
And it ought to bother Thomson more than it does, because this isn’t what their profession is supposed to do. In fact, it debases what it exists for.
So for the record, I have no problem with our club banning people who can’t report accurately or fairly and who routinely bang the drum for PR firms and their clients instead of doing the news.
Thomson himself is still allowed at Celtic Park having once compared us to Millwall, and people like English, Spiers and others are perfectly welcome despite their own articles criticising transfer policy, team selection, managerial decisions and much else.
I don’t have a problem with those kind of articles and neither does Celtic.
Those are simply reporters doing their jobs, and giving their opinions, and even if those opinions are thoroughly barking – like Spiers today, and his “mischief making” headline in relation to the Allan saga – by and large I don’t mind them.
Our club is not anti-journalism.
It’s simply not prepared to put up with constant abuse and the twisting of the truth.
Truth. You know, that thing the whole profession used to strive for?
Negativity day on day, just for the sake of it, or to try and unsettle our club … that’s not journalism. As far as I’m concerned that’s an abuse of responsibility and not something we should be allowing from our front room.
Thomson was, of course, writing in the aftermath of Sevco’s decision to ban Spiers and Chris McLaughlin of the BBC. Where he went wrong was in falling into a famous Scottish sports journalist trap; in the interests of trying to find “balance” he equated our decision to ban Keevins last year with what happened at Ibrox, when there’s no similarity between the two.
Keevins’ brand of hackery is a discredited joke, and Celtic’s decision not to credential him for matches simply freed up a seat in the press area for a real journalist.
No-one should be mourning that, or questioning why Celtic did it.
The reasons for it – including a blatantly untrue story relating to Sean Fallon’s 90th birthday – are well known and have been explored here and elsewhere at length already.
The reasons why Sevco banned two journalists a couple of weeks ago are also well known, and they were exactly the kind of attacks on free speech that Thomson has been seeking to highlight in his piece.
He says Celtic’s bans harmed the club … actually the individuals we banned harm his profession and its standing and that offered an alibi to people like Dave King when he decided he was going to go on a crusade against probing questions.
The problem here is that the media has a tendency to protect all of its people, all of the time, as if an attack on one was an attack on all of them … utter nonsense as he doubtless knows.
Too many people hide behind a press card when they want to go off on one, using the concept of “journalistic freedom” to justify agenda based attacks and sensationalism.
A lot of members of that profession come to their aid and lend them support reflexively, instead of considering whether or not their behaviour is suspect.
I’ve looked into getting my NUJ card and so I know they have guidelines, rules and regulations on professionalism, honesty and integrity.
I’m not suggesting they start weeding people out if they devalue those concepts, but everyone knows that a lot of people in the profession have signed the paperwork and then paid lip service to those ideals.
It was Truman Capote who said “The problem with living outside the law is that you no longer have its protection”.
When journalists go off the reservation and start pursing wee personal vendettas and acting as the PR wing for certain institutions that ought to end all discussion of offering them the protections that go with freedom of the press.
Those protections exist to promote the telling of hard truth, and tackling abuse of power; they are not there to give a shield to those who sensationalise and lie.
What I’m saying is that I would have no problem whatsoever with what Thomson wrote if his own profession was more equipped to deal with those who disgrace it rather than waiting for other people to do it and then getting defensive.
Phil Mac Giolla Bháin has echoed exactly the sort of sentiments Thomson recently did, and has called the banning of journalists “the road to succulent lamb.”
He worries that it will lead to the press developing an unhealthy relationship with our own club, in due course, which prevents fans from getting to the truth about what we’re up to.
I understand the sentiment, but I don’t think it’s likely.
Because whereas Paul67 is right that the media will always be needed to do the job of chasing the stories the bloggers can’t, we are becoming very skilled in our own way and we’re perfectly capable of taking our own clubs to task when it comes time to do that.
It was the bloggers who blew open the biggest story in the history of Scottish sport. RTC and other sites were there well ahead of the mainstream press, including Mark Daly and the BBC. Where his documentary proved useful was in holding a megaphone to work done elsewhere, amplifying the volume a thousand times, to a national audience we weren’t able to reach.
He made it a mainstream story rather than one on the fringes.
But the gap between the mainstream and those fringes has blurred of late, and the number of hacks and former hacks now on Twitter and in the blogosphere increases our visibility every single day, because aside from name recognition we’re all on the same playing field.
And holding our own clubs to account is part of that now.
For myself, I’ve tried to tell the truth as I see it. I’ve probably got the facts wrong on a couple of occasions, but I never set out to deliberately mislead … which is the difference.
On top of that, I’ve never been particularly bothered about who my stuff annoyed.
I have criticised Celtic – venomously – on any number of occasions, and whereas a lot of the Celtic blogs and their writers have been invited to Parkhead for tea and biscuits I never have and frankly I never expect to be.
And this is not me complaining or saying those guys go easy on the club; I know a lot of them well and they are nobody’s lackies or puppets.
It’s just that some people at Celtic Park see some value in opening dialogue with them and that’s pointless as far as it goes with me, although I understand that a good relationship between the blogs and the club is valuable.
But I self-exile myself from Celtic Park in light of how strong my views are and, speaking personally, I prefer it this way for the moment as it allows me the benefit of distance and detachment and I feel more comfortable with that.
For all that, I bear the club no ill will as a consequence of my position, because it is a personal choice, and I feel pretty sure that if I were to open that dialogue myself that the club would be happy to extend me an invite to talk on the same basis as the rest.
In short, I do not believe Celtic is in the business of censorship. Phil has little to worry about in that regard, and that’s where I think Alex Thomson was 100% wrong to base much of his article on that proposition.
The truth is that there are people inside Celtic Park who simply will not tolerate day on day attacks on them and the club itself.
Speaking as someone who defends free speech in a way the club doesn’t believe in – the right of our supporters to sing Republican songs and fly their political banners for example – I cannot fault them for taking a hard-line position on certain hacks.
What’s more, Keevins and others were not encumbered in any way by the ban; it was symbolism and nothing more, but symbolism has its importance.
They themselves boasted that it had no impact beyond that; they were able to continue writing whatever they liked. Celtic was not impacting on their ability to make a living or carry out their duties.
They just weren’t allowed to do it from soft seats in the stand, provided to them free of charge.
Sevco’s decision to ban Chris McLaughlin and Graham Spiers, and perhaps others in due course, is different, and it is ludicrous because it is very clearly an attempt at censorship.
Celtic, to my knowledge, never publicised the bans on Keevins, Jackson and others.
They didn’t use those bans as explicit warnings to the rest of the press pack to start toeing the line.
Sevco, on the other hand, went out of their way to make their position public, and their supporters groups were happy to throw their two bobs worth into the discussion for good measure.
What’s more, they were very clear on the reasons for the action.
They didn’t like the journalists involved writing stories that put them in a bad light.
They make no bones about that, or what the objective is.
You have to give them credit for being brazen if nothing else.
It was clearly a move designed to intimidate those who were perhaps starting to ask some long overdue questions, or who were, in McLaughlin’s case, drawing attention to serious, inherent, problems those in the boardroom ignored the last time they were there and would rather pretend weren’t still affecting the club today.
They are gleeful about this on the Sevco forums, where they have learned nothing from recent years when PR companies sold them on Craig Whyte, Charles Green and others and are now feeding them from the same dirty spoons a feast of the same from Dave King.
Alex Thomson chose to focus the bulk of his article on effect, not on cause. His effort to find balance equated one with the other, when they are not alike at all.
There are good journalists out there, those who are in the profession to “do the news”, those who want to uncover the things those in power would rather remained secret, those who are doing the best they can to see that facts and truth come to light.
We will always need them, and those of us who care about the profession and about the truth itself will always have their back.
One of my heroes of the last twelve months is a guy whose opinions and mine could not be more diametrically opposed – Peter Oborne, formerly of The Telegraph – who resigned from his job because of what his newspaper had become; little more than an advertising board, with editorial content skewed accordingly.
Because this isn’t about agreeing or disagreeing with what we read day after day. Intellectual integrity is about respecting differing opinions and even bending some ways towards them.
All we want to know for sure is that our press is well informed, and well intentioned, and that its output is not simply constructed to further agendas or deceive the readers.
As the media appears unable to self-police – and you only need to look at the political writers in Westminster to see how unlikely that is to change – then, sadly for us all, other institutions will have to take a stand against shoddy journalism and the manufacturing of controversy for its own sake, not to mention the dissemination of lies.
It’s all very well for Alex Thomson to point to legal recourse as the way to get justice, but you need very deep pockets and to be in it for the long haul to pursue that avenue, as he knows full well, and the best you can hope for in the bulk of those cases, after you’ve paid lawyers’ fees and court expenses is a short apology on page 51.
Not good enough. Nowhere near it.
Too much of Scotland’s sports coverage is slanted, biased and ignorant.
Some writers even manage to slap together pieces that are a combination of all three.
Not everyone involved in the media here has noble intentions or pursues the higher goals for which the profession exists. Wild egotism, bias and self-interest are rampant.
A press card doesn’t come with a halo, and even if it did there are some who would wear it well and still perform the Devil’s work.
That is an offense against all of us and the media shouldn’t expect that we will simply sit back and take it.
Those days are over with, forever.
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