Swindon shuts out local press with own ‘platform’

“Articles so chemically sterile they ought to be used for cleaning urinals”: ANTON RIPPON on the future of media coverage of Swindon Town

It wasn’t so long ago that Swindon Town chairman Lee Power told the Swindon Advertiser’s chief sports writer, Tom Bassam, that he got “all the coverage he required from other media outlets in the town”. As far as Power was concerned, the latest ban on the Advertiser attending press conferences and asking questions of Town was no big deal.

Sam Morshead: first with the news in Swindon
Sam Morshead: first with the news in Swindon

Now it appears that the football club has gone one step – well, perhaps several steps – further with a plan to control all media coverage of the club during the coming season through a new app called “Fanzai” (Fans’ eye; geddit?).

Fanzai, which describes itself as “The social platform for football players and football clubs”, has signed up about 40 players to provide updates direct to the smart phones of their fans. Swindon appears to be the only club to have signed up so far.

As we have previously reported, the Swindon Advertiser is no stranger to being cast out by Swindon Town. In January 2014, 45 minutes before the team sheets were handed to match officials and the opposition, reporter Sam Morshead tweeted that the League One club’s striker, Nile Ranger, was in the squad to face Peterborough United that afternoon.

Peterborough’s manager, Darren Ferguson, apparently told his opposite number, Town’s Mark Cooper, that having seen the tweet, he altered his team selection. That was enough to send chairman Power into action. He banned the paper from attending press conferences and reporting on matches.

Nine days later the ban was lifted. Less than a year later it was reimposed without a specific reason being given except Power telling the Advertiser than he didn’t need them after all.

Now it appears that Town doesn’t need anyone else, either. Apart from the obligatory post-match press conference, all media activity will now be through Fanzai.

Gary Lawrence, the Advertiser’s editor, said: ““They just want to control media output for the club and don’t want journalists asking questions. All interviews are conducted by the PR team and journalists aren’t made welcome.”

Meanwhile, Sam Morshead, now head of sport at the website Total Swindon, wrote: “When footballing bigwigs ban certain sections of the media from press conferences or matches the biggest uproar, more often than not, comes from those within the journalism industry. That rarely does our profession any favours …

“For whatever reason, most likely found somewhere in the rubble of the News of the World, the public love to hate what’s written in the press, and the men and women who write it.

“Nowadays, Swindon Town, it appears, are much the same. They seem to be plagued by apprehension, insecurity, control freakery or a combination of all three. They appear to be staunch advocates of opaque customer service and dictated narrative,” Morshead wrote.

“Recently, the local media was informed the Robins would not be holding any pre-match press conferences, midweek press conferences or new signing press conferences for the foreseeable future. This information came by way of a phone call with no accompanying written reasoning …

“What Swindon Town will produce ahead of its matches in 2015-2016 – as it conducts pre-game previews solely on its own website – will be little more than promotional bluster. Movie trailers minus the CGI or dramatic voiceovers. Articles so chemically sterile they ought to be used for cleaning urinals…

“Perhaps the senior hierarchy of the club think they can go it alone. What happens when they need a public voice to stand beside them in times of trouble? Maybe they feel the media is unnecessary. It’s within their rights to think as much.

“But fans of the club – people who work hard to earn their entrance fee – should envisage a reality, in however many years from now, where the local press does not exist and all that fans of lower-league teams can rely on is the sanitised PR created simply to ensure the next 8,000 gate.

“No real questions, no real answers, no real accountability.

“That is what Swindon Town have made abundantly clear as being their preferred future. Is it yours?”

Swindon Town responded with a statement on its website: “The club are very disappointed and surprised in the way in which our new media arrangement has been portrayed locally and presented to the national media.

“So we are very clear: the football club are looking to start something different this season. Bearing in mind the change in training facility (which is a considerable distance from Swindon), our in-house journalist, Tom Otrebski, will be conducting interviews with players, management and staff during the week as well as producing a lot of behind-the-scenes material that will engage the fans and give them more of an insight into how the team and the club is run. This will be distributed on all the club’s official media channels and also on a new and exciting media platform called Fanzai which the club have decided to trial. This was first trialled on Saturday during Town’s pre-season friendly with Everton.

“Fanzai is a family-friendly app which is free of the profanity and abuse that users may experience on existing social media. Fanzai’s unique approach to social media is something the club decided to align themselves with and launch our media output through.

“For the avoidance of doubt, post-match access and the reporting on matches by the media will remain exactly the same as last season. There is not a blanket media ‘ban’ as is being reported. We are trying something fresh that we feel will give supporters a new insight into their football club.”

Except if they like to get their news from the local paper, of course.

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