Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Has 24 hour sports news on TV had its day?

This is not a nostalgia blog so I’m instantly weary of making any reference to teletext services in the UK such as Ceefax on the BBC or its ITV equivalent, Oracle. However, the reference is pertinent as these services were for many years the football fans main source of breaking news. For years, people would get home from work, switch on the TV and go straight to Page 302 on Ceefax, anxious to see the latest doings in the wonderful and diverse planet of football.

Over the years the service has become superseded by the World Wide Web and of course rolling sports new channels, specifically in the UK, Sky Sports News. There are many reasons to object to the venerable SSN as a news service. Its tendency to focus only on sporting events to which it had the rights, suggests that the channel was not so much Sky Sports News but News About Sky Sports. On slow news days (and let’s be honest there are more than a few) they would often manufacture stories by asking prominent ex-sportsmen, usually on golf courses, their opinion on the perceived topic of the day and passing that off as news (i.e. John Aldridge believes that Kenny Dalglish is the right man to lead Liverpool). In the words of Angry Dad, “That’s not opinion, notnews!

There is also the practice of door stepping supporters who happen to be passing by a home stadium to ask them their opinion on the latest club transfer which has a whiff of space filler. Then there is the sight of the lonely reporter standing outside Tottenham Hotspur’s training ground waiting for Harry Redknapp’s car to emerge from the gates, always happy to stop and inform the nation of absolutely nothing before haring off to the M25 to join the throng of travelling salesmen making the long journey home to their families and dogs. And then of course there is Jim White and transfer deadline day, an event that I refuse to capitalise.

Such elements have become as part of the cultural fabric of English football as Bovril, high ticket prices and Match Of The day, perhaps more so. However, whatever your views on Sky Sports News and their approach, what they used to be really good at was delivering actual news and delivering it first and it is this aspect that has changed.

Today (16th May) saw the release of Roy Hodgson’s provisional England squad for the 2012 European Championship and the squad list was broken not on the sports website and certainly not on Sky Sports News. Instead it was broken by the numerous football journalist and editors who had access to the Football Association’s press release or whatever it was that they used to disseminate the squad, on Twitter or as poor old Sky Sports News were forced to report some “social networking sites.” For once, they seemed behind the curve. Last with the News.

It is very likely that the England squad list would almost certainly have been in the hands of the editorial staff at SSN but putting stuff on TV is hard. It takes time to draft the script, prepare the graphics and stop the presenters from talking about whatever they were talking about at the time and report the news. By that point not only did everyone with even a passing interest in football know that Carrick wasn’t in the squad but they were boldly expressing their dismay and outrage that Carrick wasn’t in the squad. It is entirely possible that by the time the names had first ran across their famous yellow ticker, the #Hodgsonout hashtag was trending, worldwide.One can only imagine the carnage as the news broke that Liverpool manager, Kenny Dalglish, had left the club.

The problem is that SSN have become too reliant on waiting for press releases, in my opinion. The “once we know, you’ll know” approach is now redundant. TV channels may not be the last to know something but they are rapidly becoming the last to report it. This is not a problem exclusive to Sky Sports News but there is far too much infotainment on that channel and not enough actual journalism going on. The channel is at its best  when they deliver their special reports or exclusives. News that matters and cannot be delivered in 140 characters should be within the domain of SSN.

Corruption, people trafficking and racism in football have all been covered by this network and while stories like that don’t happen every hour if their journalists were tasked with finding out what others don’t already know and used Twitter to break news that everyone else already knows then the channel has a future.  If not then 24 hour sports news may go the way of the dinosaur, the magnetic cassette and the printed newspaper.