By Steven Downes
Rugby writer Richard Wetherell has come up with a typically blunt, Northern take on pre- and post-match sports interviews and the obsession with quotes: they rarely matter.
Wetherell, who has covered rugby league for The Times, Observer and Guardian for more than 20 years, was writing on Sport500.co.uk, a recently launched website founded by Oliver Owen, the former Obs deputy sport editor, together with some SJA members, including Brian Oliver, and which aims to offer bite-sized – 500-word – chunks of thought-provoking journalism on a sporting issue of the moment.
Wetherell has somewhat taken to the public reticence of England’s rugby league coach, Wayne Bennett, whose reluctance to be a rent-a-quote has displeased some in the media.
Wetherell writes: “What is your favourite bit about sport on TV? Is it the hour-long preview? The blandishments offered by experts? The post-match interview with a breathless athlete in front of numerous logos? Or is it that bit squeezed somewhere in the middle, the bit with elite athletes doing what they do?
“What is your favourite part when reading about sport? The endless supply of managerial press conferences turning journalists into stenographers? The post-match briefing with insight from the biased and aggrieved? The insistence that ‘we’ll learn some lessons/happy to win the toss/pleased with the win’? Or is it the insight from the (decreasing) number of writers who are allowed to analyse the bit where elite athletes did what they did?”
Wetherell is not alone in his opinion. Legend has it that John Woodcock, when the cricket correspondent of The Times and editor of Wisden, was at a Test match when the phone on his desk in the press box (they had them in those days) rang. It was his sports desk.
They’d received the correspondent’s copy, thank you very much, John. But where were the quotes?
“Quotes?” a somewhat startled Woodcock asked the sub who’d made the call.
“Yes, John. What have the players had to say?”
“My dear boy, Times readers want to know what I have to say.”
Wetherell kind of underlines that view, at least as far as the position on Bennett is concerned. He cites a recent BBC radio phone-in, where presenter George Riley began by putting forward the “promoting the game” argument for managers, coaches and players to go through the treadmill of media interviews. By the end of the hour-long programme, Riley was forced to admit that, from an “enormous response” by text and on social media, BBC 5Live had received not a single negative message from its listeners about Wayne Bennett.
“The punters don’t care,” Wetherell writes. “It’s a preconception used by the media desperate to fill time and space with talking heads – look to America to see how well that turns out – and spurious talking points that can be splashed on a back page or turned around quickly and used as clickbait.”
What do you think? Post your comments below…
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