A couple of years ago I stumbled upon Twitter. At first I wasn’t particularly impressed, it seeming little more than a never-ending list of Facebook-like status updates. But the more I delved in, the more it made sense. It would change everything for those that write about sport, or anything for that matter, both professional and amateur alike.Unlike Facebook, it allowed us to view the rich and famous up close and personal. It has allowed greater discourse too, which can be a good or bad thing depending on the discussion. It also allowed us to see how those that write about football operated, and has given a much greater insight into their style and more interestingly, their debating style! In addition it has allowed me to talk to other fans about games and incidents and players more than ever before, and is the go-to place for breaking news of any type.
The nature of sports writing has changed over the last decade or so, evolving as it always has, but at an even greater pace than before. News is now instant, and for us amateurs, writing has moved away from now-struggling fanzines to utilising the internet, where news and opinions can be published instantly, without any fear of being out of date, with the added advantage of the right to reply. For the professionals, slowly but surely virtually every football journalist has joined Twitter, and on the whole, embraced it. Twitter has made the discourse between fans and those who write about the beautiful game much greater. In the old days you had a faceless name to direct your ire at. Now you can discuss articles, games and anything else that takes your fancy with just about anyone.
It is a great tool, THE greatest in fact, for getting exposure for your writing. If my article is retweeted an average of 25 times, then it becomes viewable in hundreds of thousands of twitter feeds, and can get over 20,000 page views. In the old days that figure would have been close to zero. Like any social networking tool,, it has its downfalls. The Daily Mail is too busy blaming Facebook for all of the world’s evils right now, but it can only be a matter of time before they turn their attention to Twitter. Before you know it, it will give you cancer, lead to a fall in house prices and cause a huge flood of illegal immigrants. Enjoy it while you can.
What it actually leads to right now is an awful lot of arguments. We football fans are sensitive souls, and will jump on anything we see as an attack on our club. Paranoia is how the football writers see it. Many journalists deserve it – I can say without any bias and prejudice that one particular broadsheet writer is nothing more than a Manchester United PR tool, and misses no opportunity to have a dig at Manchester City. Most journalists though are simply doing their job, and are very approachable. But if the internet has taught us one thing, is that any one incident can garner a huge spectrum of opinions, so there will always be someone getting abuse for something they have written. If I can get slated for not putting Suarez in my Premiership Team Of The Year, then more contentious issues are going to result in some serious fall-outs.
But predictably many fans consider journalists as biased against their club, perhaps having an agenda. This is an overreaction on the whole of course, but it must be hard to write totally impartially when you are a fan yourself, as most journalists must surely be. I once asked a variety of journalists if they could write impartially, and all but one said it was not a problem. One tabloid writer said it was impossible not to have some prejudices. Either way, a lot of writers spend most of their twitter time batting away criticism and abuse from people upset by what they have read. The block option is their most useful tool.
I am no angel in this respect. I have had a real go at quite a few journalists (and Stan Collymore) for the disgraceful reporting and hatchet job done on Nigel De Jong after a legitimate tackle on Ben Arfa that resulted in a broken leg, and also for some of the disgraceful writing on City’s owners over the past 30 months or so. But that is different to abuse, and I hope I didn’t step over any lines – the nature of twitter means that arguments must be concise and to the point – this is one of its greatest merits, but it can lead to being misinterpreted sometimes. From the journalists’ aspect, they are not helped by the fact that the most outrage at articles from fans often revolves around an inflammatory headline rather than the article itself, and this is the work of a sub-editor not bound by strict accuracy laws when devising the header for the piece.
And it doesn’t take much for a journalist to upset someone. Only this week the Daily Mirror writer David McDonnell got a whole lot of flak for mentioning briefly in a mainly positive match report that Manchester City’s Poznan celebration has been “shamelessly stolen” from, obviously, Lech Poznan. Perhaps not the best words to use, as David later admitted on Twitter, but of such irrelevance it does not merit a slanging match. There’s no pleasing some. And journalists get it easy compared to footballers. It was well documented how Darren Gibson left Twitter after only 2 hours because of the abuse he got, and only this week Kevin Davies has gone too, for similar reasons. Twitter is a snapshot of the world as a whole, and thus will never be perfect.
In many respects, Twitter and the internet as whole have caused endless problems to the newspapers. Neil Custis at the Sun is not overly enamoured with Twitter, namely the effect it has on newspaper sales by breaking news immediately online (and linking to the paper story) rather than holding back so that the news is read first the next morning by newspaper purchasers, as it always used to be. This is a rather archaic view of the world, as the world wide web does not allow for any secrets to be kept, and every journalist wants to be first with breaking news. If he or she does not report it immediately, someone else will, and everyone will know the full story by the next morning anyway.
Journalists and their editors have adapted of course to the move to online websites, where the news can be viewed, usually for free. And in my opinion, the move to online content, by being free to all, becomes about getting hits on the website, an unfortunate consequence of this sometimes being an even greater sensationalist style of writing, and an overly critical viewpoint to garner hits – as I found when I wrote an article not entirely complimentary about Soccer Saturday, getting slated and upsetting people seems the easiest way to get hits on your article (not that I wrote about Jeff Stelling and co. for that reason). Of course, the other side of the coin is that because Twitter has increased communication between fans and writers, then this makes journalists more accountable, and perhaps less willing to enrage or appear controversial. I guests it changes from one writer to the next, and also on the who they work for.
Not all journalists have embraced it, seeing it as pointless, and the odd one has come and gone.
One esteemed journalist who shall remain nameless told me:
“I’ve given up because it was too time-consuming. I got into some quite enjoyable debates, but football’s my job, not a hobby. Be different if there was money in it.”
You’ve got to admire his honesty.
But for me, as a blogger and as a football fan, Twitter has been a great experience. And many journalists have helped that experience. I have had the Daily Mirror and Daniel Taylor at the Guardian retweet articles, have had some great discussions about the trivial through to the serious, from Alex Ferguson media blackouts to dirty tackles, to Arab owners, to Munich chants, through to being called paranoid by Barry Glendenning at the Guardian. Bloggers, podcasters, charity walkers/runners and fans alike have all benefited from exposure from journalists and from the greater openness that Twitter has produced. Long may it continue.