We all know that in these summer months there is, shall we say, a tendency for creativity in the press.
In recent years that has hit new heights (not sure heights is the right word but you know what I mean) as the clamour for online content has increased. Content is king, as they say, but it’s no longer about the quality of the content – now it’s about the quantity.
The more stories you churn out, the more hits you get. The more hits you get, the more advertising revenue you create. It’s a fairly simple model, aided and abetted by the fact that there are always people out there willing to click. Some of them should know better, but they’re banking on the majority who a) either don’t know better or b) know better but don’t care.
It’s why we’re seeing a return to Clubcall style headlines on websites. Back when they’d run on Teletext (handy link for those of you who never had to use the poor man’s Internet), we’d see ads for premium phone lines which promised all the latest on potential scoops. And the headlines, it was stuff like:
- Gunners set for Italian striker swoop
- Major star linked with Highbury move
- £3m bid lodged for international midfielder
People would ring the number, be treated to somebody talking really, really slowly so you would spend more time on the phone (full disclosure: I did voice-overs for a couple of similar, non-football, services in the past and the direction was always ‘Just a bit slower’), and maybe you’d get some vague info after a couple of minutes.
The kind of click-bait headlines we see today are the equivalent of this, but mostly, when it comes to summer news, the sites are quite specific because there’s always an out with a transfer story. Deals are complicated, any number of complications can arise to stop it going through. We know of deals that were 99% done which fell down at the last minute – see our swoop for Jerzy Dudek (my favourite example ever: his profile was even posted on the official website).
But for the most part there’s no truth to the majority of transfer stories as agents, clubs and other interested parties use the media, who use them in return it has to be said, to play the game. It’s an industry from a player/agent point of view, and from the publishers point of view. Stories = clicks = money which drives more stories which = more clicks which = more money and soon any vestige of quality is long gone.
Yet, as I said, there’s always an out. The selling club upped their price. The agent wasn’t happy dealing with that manager. The player didn’t fancy the move, got a better offer elsewhere or decided to stay put. The buying club changed their minds and went for a different player. You can think of as many as you like, some of them true, some of them patent nonsense, but ultimately difficult to fully disprove.
Which is why, when one publication, ran an exclusive yesterday about Aaron Ramsey needing surgery, they took that desire to produce content, any old content, too far. Because that was something that could be countered, and within hours of publishing the story Ramsey himself poo-pooed it via his Facebook and Twitter. He said:
Please ignore any stories about me needing surgery. They are completely false. I’m enjoying my summer and already can’t wait for pre-season.
Completely false. Imagine that. I know it’s hard to get your head around the Daily Mail being dishonest but there it is in black and white and all the other assorted bollockery that goes with that website. I’d never tell anyone else what they should and shouldn’t read, you’re all adults, all capable of making your own minds up, but if you went to a restaurant and ordered a steak and they served you a plate of poo, you wouldn’t it eat, right?
The interesting thing is that now many players have a social media profile and can counter the complete fiction as Aaron did yesterday. That’s something new for them to deal with. Most of the time they’ll say nothing about transfer stories, for various reasons, but mostly because they’re not a big deal. But when someone says you have to have surgery, that’s a different thing altogether.
The Daily Mail yanked the story from its website after Ramsey’s rebuttal. As tacit an admission as you’ll see in this day and age that it was nonsense. Fiction. At the very least, speculative and poorly sourced. And gloriously played by the Welsh Jesus, they set it up, he rolled it home, one of the best finishes of the season.
I do wonder if the fact players now have a platform with which they can immediately counter false stories will have an impact on what’s published. I suspect the author of that Ramsey piece might think twice before he hits the button in the future. And although it won’t make the slightest difference to the overall way these websites operate – one has to have a measure of shame in order to learn from ‘mistakes’ – it might make individuals consider what it is they do and how they do it, which won’t be any bad thing at all.