Media events of the past three weeks have passed in something of a blur as I have been laid low by some sort of bug. One of the symptoms has been a kind of keyboard dyslexia which made writing even a three line email a big task.
One thing it was impossible to miss has been the coverage of cricket World Cup events in the West Indies. An aspect of this has been the failure of sports journalists to behave like reporters.
Two former editors have commented â€” Peter Preston in the Observer yesterday, and Peter Wilby in today’s Media Guardian. Both concentrate on the failure of the pack to report fully on Flintoff’s boozing until the pedalo incident thather than what may or may not be the murkier background to Woolmer’s murder.
What we have seen is a pack of journalists who have been putting the people they write about before their readers. Preston asks why nobody rocked a very unsteady pedalo and says: “It would be have been difficult to make waves, to be sure. It would have seen the nark who wrote the big tale ostracised, even beefily thumped, at bars from Sydney to St Lucia. It could even have affected English team morale, for what that’s worth.”
Wilby amplifies this point writing:
But most sports journalists are neither critics nor reporters. They are more articulate versions of the fans they write for, echoing the typical supporter’s emotions whereby a team can be world-beaters one day and rubbish the next. This explains why scandals, such as “bungs” in football, are usually exposed by outsiders. It also explains why full-time cricket writers are always taken unawares by the kind of match-fixing that may have led to the murder of Bob Woolmer, the Pakistan cricket coach.
Cricket correspondents haven’t usually reported off-field misbehaviour during a tour. Many would see it as a breach of privacy.
This cosy conspiracy between journalists and the people they write about is being broken up in sport as it is in other fields. Wilby explains:
Twenty years ago, overseas cricket tours had few followers and they were – how shall I put it? – supporters rather than fans. They did not carry mobile phones to transmit instant pictures, nor did they think of themselves as “citizen journalists” who, if denied space in newspapers, would certainly get it on websites.
The Flintoff affair is another example of how old news conventions, many of them shared by professional journalists and the people they write about, are changing.
About time too.