Journalists don’t always get along with the people they write about: to some extent it’s our job not to do so. We’re paid to be objective, to report what the public wants and needs to know and that can involve the telling of uncomfortable truths.
So there are often disagreements between journalists and their subjects, sometimes rows. I have even known reporters and press officers to come to blows over disobliging coverage. Generally, though, journalists are allowed to carry on doing their jobs without hindrance, all sides accepting, I suppose, that the public has the right to be informed. Organisations have the right to ban journalists they dislike from press conferences or to refuse to speak to them but, on the whole, they don’t.
One exception has been the football world where clubs have from time to time imposed bans on journalists whose reporting they take exception to. According to this report from the BBC, the practice is becoming more common.
Clubs know they need publicity but believe they can deal directly with fans, via club websites and social media. Doing it this way allows them to control the conversation and keep the bad news under wraps.
They’re not alone in thinking this way. As Kieran Alger, editor of T3 magazine, pointed out in last week’s guest lecture at the LCC, brands such as ASOS and Red Bull run highly professional magazines and websites, running the kind of journalistic content you would expect to find in newsstand titles – devoid, of course, of any criticism of Red Bull, ASOS or their products.
This is creating a new type of job – the brand journalist who uses journalistic skills and techniques in a PR environment. It is said that there are already more brand journalists working in the UK than there are journalists on consumer magazines.
It’s also creating dilemmas for traditional newspapers and magazines and the journalists who work on them. Many, perhaps most, magazines and newspapers produce sponsored content of various sorts, paid for by companies. We’ve all seen the special supplements and website sections marked ‘special promotion’ or the like.
But what do papers do when told, explicitly or otherwise, that they’ll be banned if their reporting of a local football club doesn’t find favour? Stand and fight or bend to the wind?
And what is the public’s attitude to all this? Do they value the critical, objective eye of an independent journalist? Or are they happy to receive information that is pre-vetted by their favourite football club? And how would we all feel if politics, business and the environment were covered in the same way, with independent reporting effectively cut out of the process?