Friends with benefits

Evening Chronicle billboard

The club’s mouthpiece no longer – photo: Sam Judson

The relationship between football clubs and the media is a fragile one which, if tampered with too greatly, could lead to irreparable damage.

It used to be the case that clubs relied on the media to deliver information to fans. The local newspaper was the mouthpiece of a club – if a manager or players had something to say, their supporters would read about it in the local paper.

Why then, with the public perception of a club (ooh let’s say Newcastle United for example) already hovering just above the gutter, would said club ban the local media, further alienating fans?

The Time 4 Change group marched through the streets of Newcastle before last week’s promising draw against Liverpool, protesting against the running of the club.

But the powers that be at Newcastle, i.e. owner Mike Ashley, manager Alan Pardew, director of football Joe Kinnear, other senior club officials and the club’s press office, have objected to local paper The Chronicle’s reporting of the march and chosen to ban their reporters, along with those of fellow ncjMedia papers, from St James’ Park and all media facilities.

This news was broken to ncjMedia during the week, ahead of Sunday’s crucial Wear-Tyne derby, but the papers chose not to report it for fear of disrupting the club’s preparations ahead of such a vital game.

As it was the Magpies lost the game anyway, heaping pressure on Pardew, Kinnear and Ashley once again, and ncjMedia staff were prevented from asking questions of the manager at the post-match press conference.

The trend now is for clubs to keep their media in-house. Press departments boast of ‘exclusive’ interviews with board members or that week’s match winner, but it’s pretty easy to claim an exclusive when you control who people talk to.

The result is fans getting palmed off with stage-managed quotes, interviewees toeing the party line and supporters unable to get the full story on their club’s affairs.

St James' Park dug out

The scene for Newcastle’s next press conference? photo: eltpics

Newcastle fans would have been on the club’s back anyway after the Sunderland loss given results this season and the lack of summer investment, particularly in defensive reinforcements, so what help does a media ban do?

Now is the time to use the media to your advantage, get some positive stories out to the fans and buy some time until results hopefully start to turn around.

Instead the club have invited further negative coverage, given fans further ammo with which to criticise the current regime and shone another spotlight on themselves.

Cockney mafia out

There has long been fan unrest at Ashley’s ownership – photo: G Travels

Football clubs and the press are often awkward bed fellows, but when the relationship works, it works for both parties and everybody is happy. You just have to hope that in those good times you build up enough brownie points to get you through the rough patches.

Newcastle United may not have totally burned their bridges with the press just yet (don’t forget they took on the nationals last season when banning The Telegraph’s Luke Edwards), but surely they’re getting close? They have to reverse their ban, and quickly, if they want to keep sleepover privileges and prevent a permanent break-up.

Header photo – dom fellowes

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