ANTON RIPPON on how newspapers’ objectivity is winning the hearts and minds of football fans
Being banned by your local football club can be a good thing for newspapers because supporters would rather read independent views than rely on what they see as propaganda peddled by in-house club journalists. So says Dave Higgerson, Trinity Mirror’s digital publishing director.
Sportsjournalists.co.uk has reported on several recent instances of football clubs banning newspapers, nationals as well as locals. Newcastle United, Blackpool, Swindon Town, Port Vale, Rotherham United, Southampton and Crawley Town have all put the block on local newspapers, a trend that led to the National Union of Journalists urging Football Association chairman Greg Dyke to outlaw the practice.
Now Higgerson says that data shows that the fans don’t actually mind if their paper is locked out. In their view it means that what they read is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. He says that, “It’s easy to build a following online writing about football – but far harder to build up a reputation for being reliable, accurate and an authority. But once you have, it’s something fans value, something fans trust.”
Writing on his personal blog, Higgerson said: “In recent years, it’s become increasingly hard to be a fan-first sports journalist and maintain good relationships with a football club.
“That’s mainly because many clubs are desperate to control the flow of information out of their club, and the prospect of a ban for writing something the manager/PR person/chairman/other vested interest didn’t agree with seems to loom large at most clubs.
“But it’s often because football clubs believe they are increasingly competing with the local press for the attention of football fans.
“In one sense they are, but data I’ve seen recently on search clicks from football terms shows increasingly, it’s the news brand which wins in the battle for the attention of football fans. Why? Because fans know that news brands are independent.
“So I don’t think a ban is something to be feared by football writers. Of course, it will make life harder, but does it actually make what the fans read weaker? I’d argue in many cases, it’s the opposite – it makes it better …
“ … There are times when a ban can perhaps even be a blessing. While it’s remarkable that Blackpool FC – a club which seems to have spent the last year at loggerheads with fans – feels it can afford to cut off relations with the local Blackpool Gazette, surely it gives the Gazette the chance to demonstrate its independence from the club.
“As any club writer will tell you, fans don’t hesitate to say you’re in the club’s pocket the moment they feel you aren’t being as critical as they want you to be.
“Being banned doesn’t mean going native with the angry fans – but it does reinforce the point which shouldn’t need to be made, that you’re objective.
“And it’s that objectivity which will resonate with fans far longer than any ban, any managerial term and any blow-out with the plc board.
“As any sportswriter knows, it’s easy to build a following online writing about football – but far harder to build up a reputation for being reliable, accurate and an authority. But once you have, it’s something fans value, something fans trust.”
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