Aside from one particular journalist, Billy Davies still hasn’t spoken to the local media since he returned to Nottingham Forest in February. Paul Severn hopes things change soon…
When Billy Davies returned by popular demand to the City Ground, even cynics found it hard not to get swept up in the euphoria. On the evening after the first game against Bolton, despite the disappointing 1-1 draw, fans listened to their radios waiting for that familiar Glaswegian accent to come over the airwaves. But no interview was forthcoming.
As the weeks passed and results improved, interviews were restricted largely to just one journalist, the BBC’s Natalie Jackson. Local media outlets such as the Nottingham Post and Radio Nottingham found interviews and information hard to obtain. Media and communications manager Fraser Nicholson departed and fans were left to speculate on why the club’s management had become suddenly very quiet. The season ended with Davies giving a press conference before, rather than after, the final game.
You only need to read Duncan Hamilton’s Provided You Don’t Kiss Me to learn about how the relationship between football manager and local reporter used to work. Hamilton, or “s***house” depending on the mood of Brian Clough, wrote:
“A football reporter in the provinces is in a position which is privileged yet at times almost impossible. He is privileged because representing the local paper is the golden key which opens most doors… You share so much with the characters you write about you can pretty much corner the market in quotes.”
Reading that makes you realise how much things have changed. Clubs effectively run their own media department now which rivals the traditional independent media – print, online and broadcast. The website, mobile app, premium video service and Twitter feed is now the first port of call for news, information, highlights and interviews. The local media have to find additional content around this rich offering and are in effect competitors, as the club will use exclusive content to lure subscribers to their premium services. Is there a future possibility of paid-for internet commentary from club employees replacing what we know and love on the local radio?
On a daily basis, this approach is also easier for the stressed-out football manager. Why bother answering difficult questions about transfer requests or bad performances when a more friendly line of questioning can be carefully managed in-house?
The supporters too, particularly younger ones, have also been part of a media revolution – perhaps unwittingly. I doubt many fans under the age of 30 buy a regular newspaper and certainly wouldn’t turn to one for league tables or ticket information as they might have done in the 1970s. People want instant, free information and this surely reduces the clout of the written media, who are no longer one of the few sources of information and therefore suffer declining circulations and revenues.
I always find it interesting to see my Twitter timeline full of criticism of football pundits during shows such as Match of the Day. I believe this is because now we can all be a pundit on forums or social media. We can share our own match reports on blogs, so why read the one in the newspaper? We can write opinion articles like this one and get them read widely on fan sites and some even play the ‘reporter’ and spread transfer rumours like wildfire. At the same time professional journalists are often faced with vitriol for reporting ‘bad news’.
Therefore, it is not surprising that Forest are perhaps more in tune with this emerging culture than interested in satisfying the traditional local media. The ‘access all areas’ features on the BBC were interesting, but perhaps a token attempt at communication through a friendly journalist who is trusted by the management. Even under the Nigel Doughty regime, some supporters claimed the club did not communicate enough. Is the current situation a continuation of a trend?
I don’t want to speculate on other reasons why there may have been so little access for most media outlets, but as a fan, I’d like to make two points.
Firstly, supporters are of course customers. We have bought the new Adidas shirt in record numbers and scour the internet and airwaves daily for news. The fans are overwhelmingly behind Davies, the owners and the players, so they want to hear from them. They want to share in the victories and understand the defeats. Cutting out the media might have its benefits and reasons, but the fans are missing out on fully engaging in their passion for their club.
Secondly, in the Championship, Forest are somewhat ‘provincial’ as Duncan Hamilton might say. However, clubs such as Wigan, Blackburn and Queen’s Park Rangers are catapulted into the limelight once Premier League status is secured and become national news stories. I think this media approach would come under a lot of scrutiny in the top tier of English football. The likes of Sky Sports – with their considerable financial muscle – will demand content for their money, as will the more influential national newspapers. Some national reporters and broadcasters were not impressed with the final game press conference and any perceived media access problems might cause a big public relations issue which may distract from Premier League survival on the pitch.
I don’t know the reasons why we aren’t hearing much from Forest, but like most other fans I hope that changes soon. A football club is a form of entertainment, not a political party or regime, so I hope the club can loosen up its approach next season as we strive for that elusive promotion.
You can follow Paul on Twitter: @paulsevern7
Don’t forget, there’s still time to win the new Nottingham Forest home shirt!