Ain’t it true, always looking out for something better than you choose…

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– Optimism and Pessimism

One of the good things about working in PR is that it sets you up for neither sunny highs or crushing lows as you understand how things work, particularly in media – it sets your day to be cynically unsurprised about how things work. That furores are manufactured in a sub-editors office via a headline, that ad campaigns mask realities and that your heroes are never what they are portrayed to be. So any periods of professional optimism are followed by a return to the mean – a return to the average, a return to default settings. If last week in media felt like things were happening, this week proved everything lives and dies and fizzles in the modern era. Even the grandest of controversies are subsumed and spun and debated and then very little changes. Go back to a random time period, say, 2014 – pick up a paper, follow a Twitter feed, watch an old ESPN show on Youtube from that era and what is being discussed, debated, argued about, it’s all things you’ve forgotten about. Nothing has context, nothing has value, as long as it’s clicked on and engaged with. That’s the reality of modern media – reaction, engagement, retweets. Facts are out. If you click it, if you think about it, that’s all that’s needed. In the midst of an amazing football season, why so much negativity? Because it sells…because you click it. It’s why in the same paper in the same day Melbourne alternately could and couldn’t win the flag….covering all bases…

That said, even by that standard, it’s been a horrible week in sports media in general, particularly in America – the Fox Sports website decided to abandon all long form writing and move to becoming an aggregated video website, all Cowherd, all the time. MTV made a similar move, firing several people (all Grantland alums) and declaring the future was videos. Andy Gray from Sports Illustrated stated you, dear reader, don’t want to read anything over 1000 words. Back here, the Age flicked several respected long form writers, and the Herald Sun said goodbye to photographer Wayne Ludbey. As a sign of how things will work in the future, the Herald Sun put together a cut and paste list of Tom Bugg indiscretions and called it an “article” – the Age more interested in its real estate listings and Hungry Jacks ads than putting out quality work. There is a feeling in media circles that no one has an attention span anymore. Damien Barretts Sliding Doors is my go to example – an “If X then Y” column you could literally write in 10 minutes, but who cares, you clicked on it? Viral content is now king, the quality be damned. This isn’t a surprising development of course, but when it gets accelerated in the manner it has this week, it’s still jarring and worth mentioning. The idea that challenging, that writing, that doing stories that genuinely provoke (by which I mean provoke thought, not an outrage click) is passe is now officially coming to fruition, and all that’s left is hot air, outrage and people shouting loudly to get noticed.

And as for last weeks optimism that things may be about to change in the world of football media and football comedy (to wit – that cabal of blokey blokes doing blokey bloke things and sledging and bullying freely), well that didn’t survive a week. A chance where the football media were for once on the retreat and being introspective? Came and went. That adult Nathan Buckley/Craig Hutchison conversation? Nothing came of it, just a silly rubbish comedy skit where Nathan Buckley did some jokes and they threw to a comatose Ben Reid to react (hint – Bens fake laugh game is not strong). Oh and a Twitter poll, don’t forget that. A moment where the coaches could have truly seized control of a back pedalling media and gathered together to push for change in the drip feed of media narrative rather passed by. If timing is everything, the chance for coaches to challenge the media and how they report football passed by. Football media has had a terrible year, and a chance to have a genuine conversation about how they work slipped right on by. It became another viral moment. Sound and fury that signified very little.

However, the biggest missed opportunity of the week was an opportunity to genuinely challenge The Footy Show and Sam Newman – after the sterling work of Annie Nolan and the initially sterling work of Patrick Dangerfield in challenging Sam Newmans Caitlyn Jenner “joke”, there was a strong chance for players and media to challenge the intolerant “humour” of the Footy Show. Now, again, if Bill Brownless listing the Zarsoff Brothers routine and the belittling of physical defects is your idea of comedy, well, that’s up to you. Comedy is subjective after all. However, the labelling of another human being as an “it” is pretty disgraceful however you want to dress that joke/non joke up. And in the face of such a genuinely awful comment, it briefly felt like things may change. It felt like the right time – the Footy Show is rating lowly (and ratings were the main defence of the Brayshaw theory they were doing plenty right), the landscape seemed to be right for a show to challenge its dominance, the swaggering boys club of the 90s and mid 2000s had scattered to different channels and radio stations. And even at a basic level, dealing in brands, dealing with The Footy Show suddenly felt like a toxic decision. It felt like the swaggering era was over, the era of the blokey bloke had ended.

And it lead to…absolutely nothing. Sam Newman did his usual outraged/bullying/take everyone down schtick. For what it’s worth, he is right on one thing – making fun of his age is to play into his wheelhouse. Writing an article decrying his age and senility in an article about how much Sam Newman bullies people is pretty obvious fodder for a response about hypocrisy. However, his declaration about Patrick Dangerfield only liking Bec Maddern (and she’s a subject for another day) as “sexist” was the kind of ridiculous comment that only the thoughtless would say had merit or even a point. And of course, calling Dangerfield a “perfumed dwarf” was straight from the Triple M school of insults, straight to the man. Sadly, Dangerfield back pedaled, softening his previous criticisms with a few “Sams a good blokes” and “The Footy Show is awright” qualifiers. Also not sure the leader of the football media revolution should use the phrase “take your hand off it either”. To paraphrase Bill Bailey, the whole thing unfolded with a tedious sense of inevitability. That sense of inevitability only ends one way – a ratings boosting viral confrontation that goes nowhere complete with amusing graphic or some variant of a Sam vs Danger hashtag…

And if Dangerfield back pedaled, at least he made an attempt. The socially conscious football players were strangely muted. No hint of a player backlash, no hint of player outrage. The AFL wasn’t exactly pro active on the issue. St Kilda put out an excellent statement that appeared in precisely no national newspapers. So that was the media out. The Herald Sun comments section naturally came around to deciding Patrick Dangerfield needed to focus on getting a kick (er…) and stop being so PC under the “what’s wrong with HAVING A LAUGH!” rule. The best anyone in the media came to challenging the Footy Show was Mark Robinson blaming the whole thing on Damien Barrett.

Of all this, there’s really no surprise – after all, we’re pinning hopes for a subversive comedy alternative to the Footy Show on Mick Molloy. Social conscience in football doesn’t always equate to action or genuine change or work beyond a photo shoot or multi coloured laces in boots. Brands are important, and genuinely standing out is difficult. Challenging media institutions is difficult, particularly when football clubs demand absolute banality from their players so as not to rock the boat (that’s from media managers, coaches, sponsors and the dreaded leadership groups). Having hard conversations and challenging the status quo is difficult. The outrage from the Alex Fasolo tweet has already passed, now this has come and went. It’s what the media relies on, the passing of time. Blunders, guesswork, insensitivity? Stock in trade. After all, Jon Ralph himself said (uncomfortably) the media sensationalises stories for clicks and views and ratings. After that kind of statement, where is there left to go?

After last week felt like something could finally be happening, this was a strong regression to the norm, a victory to the status quo. Doorstops continue, reckless speculation continues, and the Footy Show rolls on to the next scripted outrage from the “world-class TV talent” (c James Brayshaw) that is Sam Newman. With everyone so close to each other, so within the same industry, expecting the revolution to be televised, change to come within “the industry”, was probably too much to ask. It’s worth reflecting sadly though that the next time football and media clash, the opportunity to do something about the relationship won’t be as obviously accessible as it was this very week. And that’s a real shame…now straight back to more of the same, here’s Dwayne Russell saying something is “crazy good” like nothing happened…

Now if only I could get this opinion condensed into an easily digestible video or hashtag, I’d really be on to something…

– Bachar

I’m fascinated by media furores – what causes them, what makes them tick, who decides when they stop? Why things start, why things stop. What happens to those left behind? When everyone is agreement something is an absolute outrage, in PR you instinctively think something is wrong, think differently and think how to challenge it. We approach every thing from the lens of what is best for a client, what can we do to help? How do we shift the perception? And in 2017, there’s ALWAYS something that can be done…

Truthfully, the Bachar Houli story was one of those times I wanted to genuinely understand why people were so upset – now to be clear, 2 weeks for Bachar Houli knocking out Jed Lamb was a ridiculously lenient sentence. 4 was appropriate. If that was the argument, that the sentence was lenient, totally fine. However, the furore went a little off topic, to the point people are waiting to boo Bachar Houli (apparently) – I don’t want to invoke the obvious, you’ve probably gathered that already. And why are they going to boo him? Because he used a character reference in his tribunal setting to get a discount? Now, I’ve never actually watched The Project, and giving takes on Malcolm Turnbull is another blog for another day. Houli used two high-profile people he knew to play up he was a clean skin and a good bloke and a man of character. Now you can argue if this is right or wrong or something that should be involved in the tribunal process. But character is always part of a disciplinary process. Perception is always involved. That perception is built by the day-to-day speculation of the media, deeds on the field and occasionally the made up rumour mill of Big Footy. In the old days there was a good bloke discount and a bad boys tax – Wandering Brian Taylor once told a story of fixing a sink for a tribunal member in return for a good bloke discount for a striking report. Apocryphal or not, that’s how it’s always been – character is part of the process, subconsciously or consciously…

However – let’s equally be clear – using a character reference in a setting that has a character component is…smart surely? In PR, the first thing anyone ever does is assess advantages and exploit them, and deficiencies are to be masked and hidden. That’s the job. If you are sending a client into a situation where the rules clearly offer a character discount, and they really do emphasise it, to send a client in WITHOUT character references is ridiculously negligent. So again, I’m not sure what this furore was about? Using character references as a defence is an obvious tribunal move because they’ve set it up to be that way – every club, at every time, is not doing it’s player the best possible service if they send him in unsupported one way or another into that setting without playing on the tribunals “he’s a good bloke” or at least “he’s a bad bloke, but he’s a reformed bad bloke” sensibilities is just ignorant. If an outraged Eddie McGuire can genuinely say he’s never sent a Collingwood player into a tribunal without a character reference, with his media “savvy”, I’d be absolutely staggered. So again, what exactly was the issue again? If you were outraged at someone knowing how the system works and working through I can only tell you I’d hope my own club was doing exactly the same.

Unless the furore was what we all secretly think it was about…

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