I spent much of last Monday afternoon in the snug of the Bullock’s Head, round the corner from SubScribe Towers, discussing various aspects of our trade with a couple of old colleagues. As you might imagine, there was much shaking of heads, repeated utterances of “the game’s gone”, and some drink may have been taken.
Throughout the afternoon, we dissected journalism, and specifically sports journalism in 2014. In the background was the constant hum of a widescreen, HD television which was tuned to Sky Sports News and its Deadline Day coverage, the countdown clock never pausing. Over the course of the three or four hours (it may have been more, but by the end I was no longer counting), Sky may as well have had their output on a taped 30-minute loop.
Because. Nothing. Happened.
Sky Sports are beginning to make a habit of this new form of non-reporting.
When Manchester United were thrashed in the League Cup last month by a franchise outfit from a Buckinghamshire new town, Sky Sports chose not to report on the aftermath of Louis van Gaal’s team’s latest capitulation, or to get some squirm-laden interviews and to assess the latest embarrassment’s significance for United’s re-building. Oh no, that was far too obvious a news line to take.
Instead, they spent the post-game analysis period debating how important the win was for Milton Keynes Dons. Seriously.
So it was then, that on Sky Sports “News” on Deadline Day (notice how we somehow now feel the need to cap the Ds – when did that happen?), this was what constituted more than 15 hours’ worth of “live” sports broadcast journalism:
- Bloke (they were mostly blokes) wearing the station uniform of dark jacket and LibDem-yellow tie is standing outside a football ground/training ground. If they were unlucky, this being just before the schools went back after summer, the reporter will have been surrounded by gurning kids aged between 12 and 46. The reporter will, off-screen, have probably been accompanied by a cameraman and a satellite truck of some description.
- There will have been at least 20 of these reporters out and about across England and Wales last Monday for Sky Sports News alone – one for every Premier League club.
- To each in turn – because there was never any real “breaking news” all day long to disrupt the dull flow from Burnley to Leicester, to West Ham to Southampton, and on and on and on… – the studio presenter would throw to a reporter with some scrap or titbit of transfer “news” relevant to the club the reporter was assigned to.
- The reporter would smile, nod, pretending that they heard the studio, and then proceed to “update” the audience with empty non-information, and probably refer to “Sky Sports News sources”, when what they really meant was what they’d read in the morning’s Sun or Mirror, or had just checked out on Mail Online on their tablet device.
- In all but two cases all day long, the “deals” usually involved various Carlos Kickablls who most of the reporters had never heard of, almost certainly had never seen play, and who were being recruited from or sent out on loans (ie. not a proper transfer) to even more obscure lower league clubs in Europe. It may have been late, or my eyesight was going, but I think there was even one Dutch club referred to which had KKK in its title. Or was it VVV?
- And throughout it all, a tickertape continued running across the bottom of the screen, advising viewers that really, nothing had happened.
This deal was the loan (yes, another one) from Monaco to United of Radamel Falcao. Business done and dusted by 10am, it had all happened before Sky’s Deadline Day team had managed to get into their stride.
The £16 million transfer of Danny Welbeck from United happened right up to the deadline hour, but it had been flagged up for a week before so that when it finally happened, with the England striker moving to Arsenal, there was a hefty sense of inevitability about it.
So it was doubly unfortunate for reporter Alan Irwin, at Everton’s training ground, that in the course of his duties he was assaulted with that purple dildo. Oh the irony: when he suffered his on-air assault, Irwin was talking-up a transfer deal that never actually happened.
This dildo non-deal neatly encapsulates all that Deadline Day has become: a creation by Sky, as they observe the Premier League clubs usually squandering the millions of rights fees they have paid them, often to the detriment of the game itself, according to more than one leading football writer.
Rory Smith, a reporter for one of the national newspapers which, like most of Sky, are owned by Rupert Murdoch, took to the website of a rival broadcaster, ESPN, to pen 1,700 words about the “fetishisation” of Deadline Day.
Smith works for The Times, so understatement was to the fore when he called Deadline Day 2014 “a bit of a slow-burner”. But he also put out there the view, shared by his Guardian colleague Barry Glendinning, “… that transfer deadline day - both in its summer and winter guises - is more eagerly anticipated than FA Cup final day”. What kind of perverse madness is this?
Smith continues: “It has been a personal suspicion for some time that there are many who prefer the soap opera of the game to the sport itself, a belief borne out by website hit rates, which suggest transfer gossip attracts more attention than do descriptions of action.”
Smith makes a very good point, especially in the use of the word “gossip”, something which many of us were taught very early in our journalism training should never be reported, but which now – at least when it comes to football – is all too often passed off as “news” for the making of a back-page headline.
This site’s editor has in the past made the very valid comparison between the coverage given to football, and especially Premier League football, at the expense of lower division clubs and all other sports, even cricket, rugby union, tennis and golf. On Deadline Day, for all the hours that Sky spent on reporting that nothing much happened while having a dildo stuck in its ear, there was barely a minute devoted to any cricket coverage, to the build-up to the rugby season, to the latest cycling or athletics news. It was as if nothing else in the world of sport happened. Or matters.
Thus it was last week that it was reported, as had been suspected would happen all along, Mike Dunn has taken over running the sports desks of The Independent, Independent on Sunday, i and Evening Standard.
It is expected that he will soon be joined, in a senior role probably on the Sunday title, by Tim Allan, who has worked with Dunn when he was sports editor at Today, then the News of the World (under Andy Coulson), and then The Sun.
As a consequence of Dunn’s appointment, barely a month after his arrival in Derry Street to oversee their various digital outputs, the previous head of sport, Neil Robinson, is moved to become night editor.
And over at Canary Wharf, key sports personnel moves at Trinity Mirror are beginning to fall into place, as we first suggested with David Walker moving from sports editor of the Sunday Mirror to the same job on the daily, while Dean Morse, formerly head of sport for the Daily Mirror, becomes “weekend sports editor” looking after the competing back pages of The People and Sunday Mirror.
Dominic Hart, once Daily Mirror sports ed, becomes its head of sport.
What becomes of James Brown, The People’s sports editor, remains unclear.
But the game of musical chairs appears to be over, at least this time round