Sunday, February 28, 2016

McIlvanney's parting shot highlights lack of 'meaningful access'

An interesting comment by esteemed British sports columnist Hugh McIlvanney, in his last weekly column for The Sunday Times.
"Of all the changes that have transformed my trade since I arrived in Fleet Street half a century ago, obviously the most revolutionising has been the explosion of technology. But of no less interest to me is the shrinkage of meaningful access. It is, of course, particularly conspicuous in football and applies to managers as well as players.

"At World Cup finals, it was once natural to walk into the hotel of, say, the great Dutch team of the 1970s and find such as Johan Cruyff or Johan Neeskens ready to talk frankly and at length, or to spend half a day with Helmut Schoen when he was in charge of West Germany, or – with a friend from Rio as facilitator and interpreter – to penetrate the fortress of the Brazil camp and have one-to-one exchanges with Pele or Gerson. Now, even for reporters covering England, the organised press conference appears to be the standard means of communication.

"No doubt the Scottish connection helped [McIlvanney] to secure educational sessions with Sir Matt Busby, Bill Shankly, Jock Stein and Sir Alex Ferguson (insomnia helped with the mighty Stein, who often wanted to talk through most of the night while drinking endless pots of tea). But that privileged access is firmly associated in my mind with the atmosphere and ethos of those days, a time when the links between journalists writing about sport and the subjects of their pieces were more relaxed and more real.

"It was all a far cry from having to create a story out of some player's brief babblings on Twitter. Technology has delivered many a boon to the working reporter but in sport, especially, there are penalties. The demand for instant information and comment for the internet in addition to the copy transmitted to the newspaper must eat into the opportunities for the ferreting around that I always found productive in the immediate aftermath of an event."

There's more, much more in the wisdom of such an outstanding columnist but take out football and replace with rugby or cricket in New Zealand and you understand there is nothing different in what has been said.

There was a time when mutual respect established between a sportsman and a writer resulted in some superb information that could be passed on to readers – something that made readers the better for having read something about someone who held their interest.

Respect, hard-earned as a result of diligence to the journalism craft, has been replaced by tolerance from sportspeople – tolerance only because payment as a professional sportsman demands that players put themselves in front of the media for the shortest period of time to answer obvious questions but which in the fullness of time leave the reader little better off.

The public are being short-changed, even if many do not realise it. Sportspeople, even though they may not understand it, are diminishing their own legacy.

The hope has to be that the situation is not irreversible, and that somewhere in the digital revolution there will be a chance for genuine interest to replace the click bait. But it could be a long wait.