This has been a big week in football media, obviously. Richard Keys and Andy Gray were fired from/pressured to resign from Sky Sports for sexist comments about female linespersons caught on tape. I don't want to speak much more to the hypocrisy of traditional football media's open-mouthed shock reaction to sexism within its own ranks, an institution that has largely been completely dismissive of women's soccer (to the detriment of the development of the sport in England, as well as an echo of the sad legacy of the FA's relationship with women's football—see Dick, Kerr's Ladies). Jennifer Doyle's excellent piece today says it all.
What I want to talk about is Twitter. Again, I know. Like I mentioned the other day, I think of Twitter as a crowded pub that fosters a unique kind of public intimacy. It also works as an intelligent news feed complete with reader commentary. I usually miss big news as it breaks on Twitter, but this week I caught the big stories as they happened, first Gray's and Keys' sexist recording and then the Sky co-hosts' subsequent firings/resignations, in all cases via the Guardian first.
Even though Twitter is often described as another nail in the print media's coffin, it isn't fundamentally a media game changer. Rather, it does in minutes what used to take days when blogs were the only show in town: foment public opinion. That opinion was thankfully in near-universal condemnation of Gray and Keys (and mostly skipped over the question of ethical third party recording) which, granted, may speak more to my selected slice of Twitter than public opinion at large.
People laugh at Twitter describing itself as a "microblogging" site, but it is in fact a microblogosphere. It's a speedy version of the already decade-old relationship between news sites and blogs, which works like this: a newspaper or wire service breaks a big news story, and bloggers react. As the blogs push forward the "debate", producing ready-made talking points for each relevant point of view, old media picks them up and recycles them as its own, making bloggers feel like they're the ones who've driven the story. All the while, they take for granted that it was crusty old media that did the grunt work which sparked the chaos in the first place.
Consider the Guardian Tweet that put Twitter in overdrive this week:
Simple, although presumably sources were contacted before Guardian Sport could go ahead and put this out, knowing the reaction it would cause. The details of the firing later emerged in reports from a wide variety of news sources shared by countless Twitter accounts, but the early tweets like this, predominantly from trad news sources, were the spark. Less than an hour later, bloggers tweeted blog posts they'd written in response to the news in which Gray was rightly condemned. This was what Richard Keys' was possibly referring to when he spoke (ridiculously) of "dark forces" during his farcical talkSPORT interview days later: a rampant and active blogosphere pissed off with sexist pricks in football's top media jobs. But this opinion-making was rooted in the boring news-gathering grunt work of reporting the news. And that news, as banal and destined for wide release as it was, was broke by old media.
That's what makes the business of Ian Prior's #guardianfail so interesting. After stoking the Twitter media fires all day today about a Guardian exclusive, Prior emerged to tell the world that Inter might be interested in Gareth Bale in the summer. Within an hour, a campaign kicked off to unfollow the seasoned Guardian writer on Twitter, in addition to unfollowing @guardian_sport. "We expect better," the bloggers cried. How could Ian Prior be allowed manipulate Twitter on the back of some half-arsed "exclusive" that everyone already knew about? The dog was slapped by the hand that fed it.
The incident put the current relationship between blogs and traditional media into relief. A football blogosphere so intent on figuring out the next thing to write on waited in vain for a newspaper writer to break story that turned out to be utter shite, and chose to blame the news gatherer without a question of its dependence thereon. When the normally high-quality news-gathering work from which we reap free benefits failed us, it tampered with a relationship bloggers have been taking for granted for years now.
I write this not in praise or defense of the Guardian in this, but rather to exhort football bloggers to perhaps challenge themselves in seeking out something beyond the big media pile-on story of the day. I think this alternative approach explains some of the continued success of the blogs covering the more out-of-the-way stories in football, like twohundredpercent.net, European Football Weekends, In Bed with Maradona, the Inside Minnesota Soccer, Match Fit USA, Fake Sigi, From a Left Wing, Run of Play, and a fantastic new blog I discovered this week, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer.
This doesn't mean I think we should abandon traditional football media altogether; like I wrote above, it provides an integral service many of us in the football blogging world take for granted, and in the case of Gray and Keys', can provoke important debate. Yet as football bloggers we have a choice about how we shape that debate, over whether we simply ape a pre-fabricated, canned reaction to the same old same old, or probe a new, perhaps previously ignored perspective on a recurring issue. If we're going to be taken seriously, as I think bloggers are beginning to be by Big Paper, we can't simply blame the media when they fail and take them for granted when they succeed. We must have a greater stake in seeking out the news for ourselves, whether it resides somewhere hidden between the lines in the big headline story of the day, or somewhere unseen and completely out of the way, like in our very own backyard.