How Being First With The Transfer News Became More Important Than Being Right

Everybody loves a sensational news story. Everyone paid to write about football dreams of breaking a sensational news story. Even us fans get off on being “in the know” or just informing others of something you’ve read that is not common knowledge. We’ve all done it, it makes you feel that little bit more important.
I have found Twitter to be the greatest source for breaking news. If anything happens, anywhere in the world, it will be on Twitter within 10 seconds.
There is a downside to all this though, especially during a transfer window when there is no football to watch – most of the news is totally made up.

The excellent Flat Earth News by Nick Davies, amongst other things dealt with the rise of churnalism, and using news wires for stories. What this means with a lot of modern journalism is using second hand information and claiming it as your oWn, usually with an EXCLUSIVE tag attached to it. A common way of doing this is to report player interviews on foreign radio stations.
Only this weekend Cristiano Ronaldo has had to issue a statement on his official site citing a Sunday Mirror interview with him to be entirely fictitious, an interview seemingly carried out by a spurned ex-lover. Two minutes on google could have dug up this fact.

But everyone wants to be first with the news, time is very much of the essence, so to hell with checking out the story exhaustively before publication – after all, someone else might have broken the news in that time.

The Mirror tweeted a few weeks ago about the imminent appointment of Mark Hughes as the new Aston Villa manager. Shame it wasn’t true, especially as I told everyone I knew to put money on it as it was a done deal (serves me right). I’m still waiting for the Guardian journalist Ian Prior’s January exclusive, that almost caused Twitter into meltdown (@ianprior: Major – and boy do I mean it – football exclusive coming up on sometime around 5.30), of a summer £40m bid for Gareth Bale from Inter Milan. With every passing day that story looks more and more like the drivel many originally suspected it to be (though to be fair to Ian Prior, it wasn’t even his story!).

Chris Lepowski, a West Brom reporter for the Birmingham Mail recently penned an article commenting on the spread of false stories on Twitter and how he is criticised for not covering spurious rumours, as if he was failing in his job. He also added:
“A couple of websites report it in Italy and then it gets picked up and reported as news by the website branch of a national radio station – this much-listened-to radio station employ their own Midlands’ reporters, who would have swiftly put their own web colleagues straight had their opinion been sought.”

“People are in such a rush to break stories that diligence no longer applies. Nobody bothers checking with clubs to see if a story is true. They might check with an agent to see if it’s true – in 11 years of working in football I’ve come across about a dozen agents I really trust – but even then they might not bother.Social media has not so much changed the way we work, it’s shredded the rule book too.”

In the old days there was no such thing as Twitter, no 24-hour news channels, no world-wide web, and stories were in the morning newspaper and could be written up properly, researched and presented as a proper exclusive (though of course lies were still printed now and then). And despite the rise of social media, this is still the case for many.

As Lepowski commented:
“Let’s not forget that newspaper journalists are still working for print publications first and foremost. Some of us will sit on information for the sake of our newspaper deadlines – hoping that the story doesn’t break elsewhere.”

But when discussing the rush to release news first, to be there with the big stories, the best example of all has to be Sky Sports News, the absolute masters of breaking a dubious story before back-tracking quicker than it takes the contents of a yellow bar to scroll across your screen, until you reach the point of wondering if you had imagined the whole thing in the first place.

The most perfect of perfect examples occurred on Friday. It was approaching 5pm, and Sky Sports News’ twitter feed announced that on the hour the channel would break some SENSATIONAL news from Manchester.
What could it be? Sounded intriguing.

And then 5pm came. The breaking news? Manchester City close in on Samir Nasri. Sensational.
Within 10 minutes the yellow bar had changed to “expressed an interest in”.

Within an hour the Guardian had reported that City had shown no interest, and Sky Sports haven’t really mentioned it since. It was utter garbage.

City may well sign him. They probably won’t. Who knows? What is clear is that on Friday the club were not “closing in” on Samir Nasri. It was, as the Guardian’s Daniel Taylor called it, “sensational bull****”.

The approach of Sky Sports News is understandable. Twitter is making them partly redundant. You might watch the channel to ogle at attractive presenters, but the key to its success was to break news and be the go-to place for all updates on sports. But Twitter gets there first now, so the pressure is on for them to find their own exclusives rather than re-hash what they have read elsewhere. And the result is often to jump at any snippet they may receive without considering its veracity first.

I’ve heard so many false stories broken without being checked out this summer that I pray for September 1st. Transfer windows used to be exciting, but they are now a chore, surfing the internet for news feels like swimming upstream through a river of cow manure. Neymar was signing for Real Madrid. Manchester City were close to signing Gary Cahill. Manchester United had sealed the signing of Modric. Last week they were definitely about to put in a £20m bid for Nasri. And so on, and so on. And all this from established journalists, rather than wind up merchants on their school holidays. Were these stories checked out? Were the relevant people spoken to, or did they just run with it so the news could be out there before everyone else? After all, who cares about accuracy when the newspaper website is getting plenty of hits (in May 2011, the Daily Mail website got 77m hits)?

The only option is to wait for concrete news, now that rumours and so-called exclusives have become so dubious. Speaking of which, I’ve just seen Samir Nasri in Cash Converters in Manchester. Feel free to tell all your friends.