Tag Archives: journalism

Journo Talk 5: The man behind the camera

by Sam Blackledge

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The first Test between Bangladesh and England, as thrilling as it was, probably won’t be remembered for long.

But one particular image from Chittagong is likely to stick around for years to come.

It shows Shakib Al Hasan aiming a drive through the off-side, the sun glinting off his bat and dust flying up around his feet.

The man behind the camera, freelance photographer Philip Brown, worked hard to capture the moment.

“I found myself moving almost every couple of balls,” he says.

“Masses of dust was visible towards the end of the day and I kept moving slightly to try to get the best available background depending on the batsman’s stroke.

“Luckily Shakib played an attacking shot, the dust flew, he looked back, and in one frame of the five taken the sun reflected off his bat.

“A pleasing shot, but if I think about it I had worked very hard to create the opportunity to capture it.”

The picture was shared around the world, and now takes pride of place at the front of Brown’s website.

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Hailing from Canberra in Australia, Brown came to London to cover the 1989 Ashes and has since become a regular fixture on the international scene.

When I ask whether England now feels like home, it seems he hasn’t given it much thought.

“I think it is more the case that a cricket boundary feels like home,” he says.

“Whether it’s Cape Town, Lord’s, Melbourne, or Dhaka, that’s where I feel most at home.

“There is a lot more cricket in the UK, so I can’t see myself ever moving away from here or back to Australia.”

He says the key to a great cricket photograph is simplicity, pointing to the famous image of the 1960 tied Test between Australia and West Indies.

“Apparently two photographers with old style ‘plate’ cameras made an agreement before the last ball of the match,” Brown says.

“One would ‘drop his frame’ as the ball reached the batsman and the other would ‘hold fire’ in case something happened after that. He came up trumps.

“I think my very favourite cricket photo was one taken by my friend Gareth Copley-Jones of Jonathan Trott being run out in 2009 at the Oval against Australia.

“All the elements are there: a diving Trott, his face looking particularly concerned as the throw disturbs the stumps, the bails are flying, and importantly there is nothing distracting in the photo.”

If, like me, you don’t know the first thing about photography, Brown’s regular Cricinfo blogs are a must-read.

He says his favourite players to shoot were Flintoff, Warne and Pietersen, while Marcus Trescothick could be “quite difficult”.

He does not shoot every ball of a day’s play – apparently that is frowned upon – but often uses a remote camera stationed on a gantry or near the TV cameras.

The world of cricket journalism, I am discovering, is as much about who you know as what you can do.

I am keen to find out whether there is quite as much schmoozing among the photographers.

“I form relationships with everyone,” Brown says. “Officials, players, journalists, other photographers and even the public.

“I’m a naturally friendly person and not doing it for gain of any sort.

“Of course it helps when you want a private shoot with Joe Root or Alastair Cook that they know you pretty well.

“The England team at the moment are very friendly and brilliant fun, a great bunch of lads.

“It’s also important to not have a camera sometimes, especially if you’re in a bar after a win.

“I’m very pleased with the fact that a lot of the experienced England players trust me to take photos when it is appropriate and they realise I’ll be off duty sometimes.

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Brown feels the art of sports photography is going the same way as the written form – quality suffering at the hands of under-pressure executives.

“There seems to be an insatiable appetite for speedy content these days rather than quality content,” he says.

“Perhaps one day it will change back to quality rather than quantity. Who knows?

“I’ve been lucky enough to shoot cricket for 28 years and truly believe it to be the best job in the world.

“I was lucky to be given the opportunity to shoot sport but I know I’ve also worked very hard at it.  I love what I do. “

Are you a ‘proper’ cricket journalist? Would you like to feature in Journo Talk? E-mail samblackledge@yahoo.com or tweet @samblackledge

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Complaining about selection is one of the joys of being a cricket fan

by Sam Blackledge

 

After England’s defeat to Bangladesh at Dhaka, fans were quick to voice their dismay at the balance of the team.

Some might say we should give the selectors a break. They’re trying their best to cope with a ridiculous international schedule, and they are a darn sight more qualified than the rest of us.

It’s the easiest thing in the world to sit on our sofas moaning that the likes of Ansari, Ballance and Rashid are not cut out for Test cricket, as if we have been anywhere near that level ourselves.

But then again, complaining about selection policy is one of the great joys of being a cricket fan.

Perhaps it’s a peculiarly English thing, like queuing, talking about the weather, or existential self-loathing. Or maybe cricket fans worldwide think they could do a better job with a scrap of paper and numbers 1 to 11 left blank.

It’s why the fantasy football industry is still thriving, and it’s a major reason why we all still love sport. The feeling that if only those in charge would ask us, we could sort it out.

 

The comedian Dylan Moran put it best.

He said: “Look at the people who give it everything. The Beckhams or Roy Keanes of this world. Running up and down the field, swearing and shouting at each other.

“Are they happy? No! They’re destroying themselves. Who’s happy? You. The fat f**ks watching them, with a beer can balanced on your ninth belly, roaring advice at the best athletes in the world.”

Social media, of course, has made all of this so much more visible.

When 43-year-old John Emburey was recalled to the England Test team in 1995, I have a vivid memory of seeing the news on Teletext, turning to my dad and simply saying: “Emburey?”

If that happened now, I probably wouldn’t even turn around. I would reach for my phone and spew my thoughts straight on to Twitter, and they would immediately be buried under the thousands of others doing the exact same thing.

The selectorial merry-go-round is sure to be in full flow as England kick off against India on Wednesday.

Nobody seems to know whether we stand a chance against the might of Kohli, Ashwin and the rest.

But one thing is for sure: if we couldn’t complain, we wouldn’t be half as interested.

This piece first appeared at Last Word On Cricket

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Journo Talk 2: There’s life in the old Selve yet

By Sam Blackledge


A 16-year first class playing career, followed by 32 more as broadcaster and writer, makes Mike Selvey one of the most respected voices in the cricketing world and well qualified to offer advice to newcomers.

But right now all that experience seems to be weighing heavy on the former fast bowler’s shoulders.

“I’ll be really honest,” he says. “I’m not sure I would want to be starting out now.

“There are plenty of people, brilliant young writers some of them, wanting to write about cricket, but traditional outlets are shrinking and the openings are just not there.

“The way forward for aspiring writers has to be digital, and within that to find a niche, either in style or in areas that others do not cover.

“For example, there are some who have made a speciality out of women’s cricket, which I think will expand massively during the next decade.

“The same applies to T20, in which I believe lies the game’s future.

“But also remember the adage: ‘It has never been easier to get published and never harder to get paid for it.’ Aspiring writers or journalists will find it a tough market place.”

Selvey, who moved into the Test Match Special commentary box after hanging up his bowling boots in 1984, says the job of a cricket journalist has changed “beyond all recognition.”

“When I started there was of course no internet,” he says.

“The newspaper industry was in a state of flux with new outlets starting. The business was still hot metal: typewriters, copy takers, finding phones to get copy through, using telex when abroad.

“Match reporting is still important but, sadly, largely around international cricket.

“Beyond that, there is an increasing emphasis on hard news stories (often not real news in an accepted sense, but self-generated ‘issues’); quotes stories (I have generally shied away from these, believing I was paid to give my opinion rather than parrot that of others); and clickbait, where internet traffic is now seen by some managements as a measure of journalistic worth.

“Writers in all outlets have to be mindful of what will attract this traffic and how it will be presented.”

He laments the fact that financial resources have not kept pace with the 24/7 nature of the job, saying the competition with football in particular is overwhelming.

What happens off the pitch has become just as important as events out in the middle, but I sense Selvey feels the balance sometimes tips too far towards breaking news.

“There have always been hard news stories – World Series Cricket, the D’Oliveira affair, match fixing – and it is important that the game is held to account when necessary, as long as it is done in an informed rather than simply emotive way, he says.

“Cricket, indeed sport, has always been about strong debate and opinions.”

Selvey left his job as The Guardian’s chief cricket correspondent last month.

He is not willing or able to discuss his feelings about this on the record, beyond saying he is “saddened” at an “undignified end” to a distinguished career.

Asked what the future holds, he says he has no intention of disappearing into the shadows.

“I’m 68 years young and have three 19 year olds, two of whom are at university and one who is applying for acting school, so I’m not ready for pipe and slippers yet,” he says.

“I suppose the freedom I have now might send me in directions I had never considered before.

“The one thing that has astounded me in recent weeks is the regard in which I seem to be held by colleagues, administrators and players.

“I have received overwhelming support, surprise dinners, unexpected awards. It has all been very humbling but at the same time a nice confidence boost for someone who has lacked that all too often.”

Are you a proper cricket journalist? Would you like to be featured on Journo Talk? Email samblackledge@yahoo.com or tweet @samblackledge

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New memories and a familiar feeling

by Sam Blackledge

The cry echoed around the Nursery End toilets, bouncing off porcelain urinals. “Warwickshire, la la la. Warwickshire, la la la.”

Trott carried on, oblivious to the merriment. Scratch. Fiddle. Grimace. Flick to leg.

Returning to my seat in the lower Edrich stand, I realised I could relax. The job was nearly done.

 

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I can’t write about September 4, 1993 any more. Nostalgia is all well and good, but if you keep looking back you might trip over your own feet. A generation has passed; it’s time for new memories to be made.

Journalist Emma John tells of the “coming of age moment” when she crossed over into adulthood.

After years of being taken to cricket matches by her mum, one day she bought their tickets and made the arrangements herself.

Twenty-three years had passed since my first Lord’s final; 11 years since my last. Marriages, divorces, house moves and babies peppered the intervening period, but cricket carried on in the background like a familiar song at a tense family wedding.

 

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Surrey got off to a flyer, pinging long-hops and half-volleys to the boundary at will. Please not today, I thought. This isn’t how it’s supposed to go. We need a win.

With the score on 45, Jason Roy took a couple of steps down the pitch and creamed a short-armed pull. Laurie Evans dived full length to his right and plucked the ball from the air.

We jumped up, cheese sandwiches and Country Slices flying in all directions.

A few minutes later Steven Davies was stumped down the leg side. Sangakkara appeared to be booking in for breakfast, lunch and dinner, but then he edged behind off Hannon-Dalby, sparking the sort of collapse usually only seen on eroding Cornish clifftops.

I’d packed a couple of beers, having carefully checked the Home of Cricket‘s strict alcohol allowance, and produced them when the fifth wicket fell.

I’d even remembered a bottle opener, the sort of detail which would have eluded me in years gone by when I was pretending to be a grown-up.

 

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Days like this always hit a natural peak. I went out after the match and had a few too many drinks which, mixed with exhaustion and adrenaline, took their toll in a mediocre curry house near Vauxhall.

The high point was probably during the second innings, Trott and Bell strolling towards their modest target, victory all but assured.

I laughed as a familiar feeling returned, like catching a whiff of a long-lost memory. Childhood Christmases; chalk on classroom blackboards; sunny days at the beach.

Later on, picking over how the final was won and lost, a journalist friend told me there had been rumours of disharmony within the Warwickshire camp.

“I reckon you needed that,” he said. I smiled to myself and nodded back. “I think you’re right. We did.”

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Champagne and heartbreak at the Home of Cricket

by Sam Blackledge

They talk about it like a place of worship.

The pilgrimage up St John’s Wood Road; the Grace gates; the hallowed turf. The Home of Cricket (their capitals) emblazoned across every tie, every programme, every souvenir fridge magnet.

Lord’s is special, no doubt. But for me it was never about the tradition, the history, or what blogger Alex Bowden pithily calls the “great swathes of flowery sentimental guff about a load of grass surrounded by plastic seats.”

For me it was always about the cricket.

My team, Warwickshire, have appeared in 11 Lord’s finals since my first visit in 1993, when they beat Sussex in a famously thrilling last-ball finish.

I was eight years old and it was my dad’s 34th birthday – three years older than I am now. This fact has just hit me for the first time and I feel a bit dizzy. Trust a pocket calculator to spark an existential crisis.

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Many of our cricketing memories are, of course, bound up in Edgbaston. We lived a few miles away from the ground and were season ticket members throughout the Bears’ glory years.

Edgbaston was our second family home, the place where – like cleaning the toilet and changing the bedsheets – we got on with the everyday work of winning championships and Sunday League titles.

But the big stuff – the champagne and heartbreak – always took place 100 miles south.

We attended eight finals in 12 years: four wins and four defeats. I’ve just made a list on my notepad, and I barely had to employ the services of Google.

I’m not sure I could point to any particularly memorable home match during that period, except for Lara’s 501. Something about Lord’s just made it all a bit more special.

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In 2004 we saw Wigan play St Helens in Rugby League’s Challenge Cup final, a showpiece event traditionally held at Wembley. But the twin towers had come down and the new arch was still under construction, so the final found a temporary home at Millennium Stadium in Cardiff.

I don’t remember feeling much different. The burgers were just as overpriced, the action on the pitch just as brutal and pulsating.

I have been to Lord’s for other games. A couple of Test matches; a Twenty20 group match; a one-day final between Surrey and Somerset. All were pleasant experiences, but nowhere near the same as seeing my boyhood team fighting for silverware.

On Saturday my dad and I will take our seats in the Edrich stand for yet another final.  We will gaze approvingly at the pavilion and pay our respects to Old Father Time, but at 10.30am our attention will be fixed well and truly on the men in the middle.

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Deck the halls with PR waffle

Ladies and gentlemen, can I please have your attention. I’ve just been handed an urgent and horrifying news story. I need all of you to stop what you’re doing and listen.

‘Party fever hits the South West! A quarter Plymouth residents say this is their busiest time for partying.’

‘Battle of the sexes! Half of women in Plymouth do not trust their partner to execute essential Christmas tasks.’

Yes, it’s that most wonderful time of year when regional journalists across the land see their inboxes fill up with endless festive fluff and yuletide guff. The faceless online commenters who daily provide constructive feedback below the line often accuse us of printing things which are “not news”. At this time of year, I reckon they might have a point.

Thanks to the rise of social media, it has become fashionable in recent years for reporters to vent their dislike of perky PR pap. This is never more apparent than during the month of December, when the marketing bods go into mulled wine-fuelled overdrive.

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It’s a vicious cycle. They know newsrooms are struggling for copy as our usual sources – courts, councils, busybody locals with nothing better to do – prepare to shut down for the holiday. We operate on a skeleton staff but there are still pages to be filled, particularly the dreaded ‘briefs’ columns which devour copy like a hungry monster. For much more on this, see Nick Davies’ brilliantly disturbing Flat Earth News.

In an attempt to stop the whole paper being filled with nonsense surveys and pictures of dogs wearing hats, we have been on a mission to write some interesting and entertaining features.

This week, Marc Prosser has been looking into what Christmas in Plymouth means to visitors from abroad, giving a unique perspective on the western festive traditions we take for granted. Over the next couple of weeks there are plenty more in-depth pieces to come; enough to keep your boredom at bay before the New Year kicks in.

Things are winding down, but news does not entirely stop when Santa comes to down. Despite what The Holiday might have you believe, it’s not a case of nonchalantly pressing “send” on the final story on Christmas Eve and swanning off for drinkies. The darker side of Christmas – domestic abuse, drink-fuelled violence, traffic chaos, homelessness – is all still out there. And our reporters will still be here, while you’re finishing off the last of the turkey sandwiches, to bring you the latest news.

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A perfect match

Most relationships can be mapped out in significant moments. First date, first kiss, first argument, first time you split the cost of a bus ticket.

We have all of that, and more. But we also have cricket.

We met that glorious summer when Vaughan and Flintoff’s fearless England banished the ghosts of 18 years.

Those were the days. Nervous energy, crazy haircuts, prima donnas taking on the world – plus a constant supply of beers, a never-ending binge.

And that was just the drama students we were prancing around with at the Edinburgh Fringe.

She knew nothing about cricket at first. We went to the pub where I ran through the rules, perched on too high stools, battling the background noise and football fools.

We spent all night in that dirty old joint. She didn’t understand why it was called silly point.

As the famous Edgbaston Test reached its thrilling finale, I was involved in a different kind of theatre. I had let hope go, switched off my radio and headed in as the Aussie tail-enders edged them closer to the win.

For Old Trafford, we were nestled in a corner booth in one of those awful sports bars, all neon lights, stodgy burgers and mounted fake guitars.

We craned our necks up at the plasma TVs as an exhausted Steve Harmison fell to his knees. He couldn’t break through the defensive wall, and it remained one all.

We took the lead on a Cornish clifftop, not far from where, eight years on, we would eventually settle. If not yet with 2.4 children, then certainly with Sky Sports HD and a broken kettle.

This time she waited for Brisbane as I paced the house, listening to Hussain, Gower and Strauss on what could be, what might have been. She endured the sleep-deprived mood swings, made soothing noises, as Clarke won the tosses and Johnson destroyed us.

The last time England surrendered the Ashes, we lived up north. The Humber rolled by and we struggled to find who we wanted to be. Now we run down to a different kind of sea; a different kind of her, and a different kind of me.

We tie each other in knots debating edges and hot-spots. What next for Flower? What now for Swann? And Jimmy, and Matty, and so on, and so on. And one other problem – where do I begin? “Honey, I’m home! We need to talk about Kevin…”

Such talent, such grace, such a fragile, bashful mess. He could have been the greatest, still could yet. When he first showed up, I loved his cheeky grin. But age has built up barriers to keep the baddies out; and creases in his face, to keep his ego in.

Over breakfast we question what the future holds. Pass the jam, mind the cutlery. Stokes or Woakes? Chopra, Ballance? Finny, Rooty, Buttler-y?

We hope to see the day when one of our own strolls through the Long Room, greeted by a roar. “Make way”, they’ll say, “and hold the door. The incoming batsman – the latest of the Blackledge clan at number four.”

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Poison pens, viral dates and Twitter overkill

by SAM BLACKLEDGE

IT has been a funny old week in Twitter land. Once again I was reminded of the extraordinary power of everyone’s favourite social network/timewasting tool.

On Monday I posted a picture of a reader’s letter from The Herald. The content of the letter, and whether we were right to print it, has already been debated to death. But what happened next made my head spin. The picture was picked up by one Jeremy Vine. Panorama, Newsnight, giant of journalism, housewives’ favourite.

Jeremy – for we are now on first name terms, naturally – is a prolific tweeter. With more than 201,000 followers, anything he chooses to promote has a decent chance of going viral. And so it did. For the next three days I stared at my ubiquitous handheld mobile device as the re-tweets, mentions and favourites just kept rolling in.

For a lowly regional journalist, Jeremy’s endorsement was the perfect storm. It contained an immediate visual hook for anyone idly browsing through their feed. It was contentious, playing perfectly to the gallery of eager punters just waiting to be outraged. But most importantly, it came from Jeremy Vine. Eggheads, Points of View, Radio 2, beast of broadcasting.

The relative mayhem sent my Klout score, the measure of social media influence between people who care about this sort of thing, soaring from a trifling 56.14 to a whopping 59.48.

On the same day as my viral Vine encounter, I came upon the tale of Plymouth singleton Ralph Ferrett. Ralph became an online sensation when his friends vowed to help him find love using the power of Twitter. He went along with it, and the campaign worked – he got himself a date.

But after a couple of days of media attention from the likes of Time magazine, the Daily Mail and the BBC, Ralph, who describes himself as “impossibly shy and totally lacking in confidence”, admitted feeling “completely overwhelmed” by the attention.

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What started out as a drunken bet among mates spread like wildfire. The #GetRalphADate tag was used by people in the USA who didn’t even know what was going on. Someone created a worryingly convincing spoof movie poster.

By the end, the man himself said he wanted to “built a fort at home and hide from Twitter in nervousness and embarrassment”. Ralph, I know exactly how you feel.

I first joined Twitter as a trainee reporter in 2008, and my interactions have always been fairly parochial. But this week I got a glimpse of a forbidden land, where there are an awful lot of people sitting around idly fiddling with their phones. It was as if I had been playing on a casino slot machine for the last five years and this was the day it decided to pay out. But the coins were all covered in a thin layer of regret. (At this point I may have run out of metaphor.)

I love technology. I love how it looks, I love how it feels, I love its potential, the electricity it generates – both literal and metaphysical – and its addictive nature. Nevertheless, all this freaked me out a bit. I felt like I needed a break.

In his superb Channel 4 show How Videogames Changed The World, Charlie Brooker referred to Twitter as simply another “massively multiplayer online game.”

“You choose an interesting avatar and roleplay a persona loosely based on your own, attempting to accrue followers by repeatedly pressing lettered buttons to form interesting sentences”, he said.

“Gamification means applying to rules of videogames to real life. Often this comes down to incentivising people to perform the same action over and over again.”

Brooker says the way Twitter is designed “compels you to interact over and over again”.

“These are games we don’t even realise we are playing.”

Perhaps it’s time to log off, go outside and take a breath of fresh air.

Mmmmm. #FreshAir.

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The dangers of fast fingers: Why we must all learn the basics of media law

by Sam Blackledge

If you are reading this article online, you more than likely have the tools to publish a response. You could leave a comment below the line, telling me how wrong I am about everything that follows. You could start a blog, expressing your dismay at falling standards in modern journalism. Or you could log in to Twitter, and instantly let all your followers know what a frightful cretin I am.

But before you jump at the chance to convert this wide open goal, take a second to reflect. Could your quick-witted insights land you in hot water? By all means, give it your best shot. Label me as the worst sort of stuck-up, patronising prig to ever to put fingers to keyboard. Go ahead, I can take it. But if you disparage my profession, by indicating for example that I am illiterate, corrupt or simply cannot write for toffee, then we might have a problem.

Do not panic, dear valued reader. I am not about to sue you for defamation. But recent events have thrown up a new slant on that old maxim – tweet with haste, repent at leisure. Last week Peaches Geldof – described so curtly by Marina Hyde as “model-journalist-whatever” – was the latest celebrity to be given cause to curse her fidgety fingers. Peaches tweeted the names of two women who allowed their children to be sexually abused by Lostprophets singer Ian Watkins, opening up the possibility of jigsaw identification and putting herself at risk of breaching a serious law.

The Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992 is one of the first things taught to trainee newspaper reporters. The act states that when a sexual offence has been committed against a person, “neither the name nor address, and no still or moving picture, should be published in that person’s lifetime if it is likely to lead members of the public to identify that person.” In other words, lifetime anonymity. This can be waived by the victim if they wish to tell their story, but it is rare and requires certain careful steps to be taken by reporter and editor.

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Peaches issued a mealy-mouthed half-apology, saying: “The question of whether or not to give anonymity to criminals in cases like this will go on forever.” She is right about this. It is a constant debate, along with the issue of whether defendants in rape trials should be named before a verdict. But at the moment the law stands, and Peaches could face a criminal investigation for naming the women, which could have led many people to identify the victims, their children.
This is hardly new territory. The rise and rise of social media has inevitably leads careless users to say the wrong thing. Just ask Alan Davies or Sally Bercow, both of whom were watching a BBC documentary last year when their enthusiasm got the better of them. Or the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of faceless tweeters who just can’t help themselves every time a famous face is arrested.

It sounds harsh, but the common theme here appears to be ignorance. Ignorance of how their comments might affect others, and how they could be misinterpreted. But also ignorance of the law. Media law is complex, but the basic points are pretty simple, and mostly common sense. A person is innocent until proven guilty. Nothing should be published that could cause a substantial risk of serious prejudice to a trial. Nor should anything appear that could lower a person in the estimation of society or expose them to ridicule without the required justification or proof.

Things get a bit more complicated when court orders are imposed, most commonly prohibiting identification of young people or key witnesses. But such orders are a matter of public record, and there is no reason why a member of the public shouldn’t be able to check before they tweet – or, if in doubt, don’t tweet at all.

Newspaper reporters recite these rules and regulations in their sleep, when not dreaming of our next big scoop. They are hammered in to us from the moment we step into the training room. This is not to say we do not make mistakes. Sticking with the Ian Watkins case, US website E!Online mistakenly used a picture of the Steps singer of the same name to illustrate the story. This was, as the perplexed star observed, “shoddy journalism”. If bona fide members of the media slip up like this, there are consequences. These should apply to everyone else too.

A study by Kinetic Worldwide earlier this year suggested that 28 per cent of all UK internet users are active on Twitter, more than double the number from two years ago. This would mean there are more than 12 million UK Twitter users, surely a conservative estimate. Only a very small fraction are trained in media law.

The freedom and sense of community that comes with social networking is a wonderful thing, perhaps the most wonderful thing of the online age. But it comes with responsibility. If you intend to write about current affairs, publishing your unmoderated comments to however many pairs of eyes around the world, you must have an understanding of what you can and cannot say. It is no longer good enough to simply say “I didn’t realise.”

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The Ashes: Media management and biting the hand that feeds you

WHEN Joe Root takes a wicket, he wheels around like a giddy schoolboy who has just scored the winning goal in a playground recreation of the FA Cup final. When Ian Bell reaches a century he removes his helmet and leaps into the air, throwing a wild punch in a violent release of nervous energy. There is such a lot at stake for these players and their teammates, who have dedicated their entire lives to succeeding at the highest level. It’s no wonder they get a bit excited.

Yet when they come off the field and line up to fulfil their ever-growing list of media requirements – TV, radio, print, even a soundbite for the ECB’s YouTube channel – they sound like they’re rehearsing for their village am dram performance of the dullest show on earth.
The old cliches roll off the tongue in defeat – ‘Take the positives’, ‘Move on’, ‘Keep working hard’ and the much-hated ‘We’re a young side and we’ll learn from this’. Nobody expects a defeated captain to call his team an absolute shower or break down in tears a la Kim Hughes. But you would hope for a bit more when basking in the glory of another thumping victory.

Root’s interview demeanour could not be more at odds with his on-field antics. Chirpy and hyper one side of the whitewash, he seems to stare off into space when confronted with a microphone, delivering the same old rehearsed lines. His breathtaking debut Ashes century, converted into a matchwinning 180, was “nice”. It was “good to contribute” to the win. He paused slightly when asked about how the team would enjoy the victory, at which point a speeded-up montage of pedalos, dentist’s chairs and dwarf-throwing parties may have scrolled across his vision. But showing the maker’s name, he straight-batted the spitting cobra down the track. “I’m sure we will enjoy it.”
Root’s doe-eyed innocence is endearing, and he will have to grow more comfortable in the limelight if, as many are predicting, he is to occupy the top of the order for many years to come. He may even be next in line as captain. But let’s hope he has a bit more charisma than his current boss.
Alastair Cook is clearly a very driven, determined cricketer. His powers of concentration are remarkable, and he has already shown a quiet authority and ruthless streak as skipper. But like Root, his post-match briefings leave a lot to be desired. He ends every monotone sentence with pursed lips and a cocked head, as if to say “Next question, let’s get this over with”.

If all this is seen as a criticism of the players, it is not meant that way. They are professional sportsmen, paid to do a job on the field and doing it pretty well right now. They are not necessarily natural speakers. But over the last 20 years or so, since the advent of Sky TV and the growth of media power in sport, the public want to hear what their heroes have to say. And left to their own devices, they are liable to say something that might get them, or their colleagues, in trouble. Ian Botham was rarely off the back pages in the 1980s as he boasted of his sex, drugs and rock and roll lifestyle. The late Tony Greig is probably best remembered for threatening to make the West Indies “grovel” before his England side succumbed to a 5-0 drubbing. And more recently Kevin “It’s not easy being me” Pietersen became a high-profile liability who threatened to destabilise the entire English setup.

The ECB has become much more professional since the turn of the century, and this approach – along with consistency of selection and central contracts – has transformed the national side. But like all good risk managers, they take a cautious approach towards anything that can be seen as a potential banana skin.

Players at the highest level these days are media trained to within an inch of their lives. They are coached in what to say and how to say it, how to deal with journalists and how to survive in the public eye. This often means that all their character, passion and personality is left at the crease, and we end up watching and listening to a bunch of corporate suits dressed in cricketing whites. Occasionally a player will resist the training – or maybe he will be encouraged to “be himself” to appease the press pack. Graeme Swann is a case in point. Reporters breathe a sigh of relief when Swanny is wheeled out for a press conference. He is funny, witty, self-deprecating and doesn’t take himself too seriously.

Just as the players’ dead-eyed responses are a result of media training, they are also a sign of their distrust of the fourth estate. Not too long ago pro cricketers in England would be on friendly terms with all the regular journalists on the circuit, and would think nothing of a quick interview for tomorrow’s paper or a soundbite for Test Match Special. Not so nowadays, it would appear. Last week the Sun’s John Etheridge said: “It is almost impossible to speak to anybody in the England team away from press conferences without paying money or plugging a sponsor.” This is partly due to the fact that the game is increasingly controlled by cash. But it could also be because the tabloid media – and sometimes the broadcasters too – don’t help themselves.

When Stuart Broad edged a ball to slip in the first Test and was given not out, he didn’t walk. This ‘incident’, of which there are dozens every day in every form of the game, from international to village, was blown out of all proportion. The headline on the back page of the following day’s Daily Mirror was ‘BAN STU’, a reference to comments made by Sky’s Michael Holding. The wheel comes full circle. The media appears to be undermining the interests of the national side in the pursuit of a sexy story, quoting itself. The players see the headline and retreat further into themselves and their group. And the next time that reporter approaches a player for a quote? “Very pleasing. Put them under pressure. One game at a time.”

The whole ludicrous situation was neatly demonstrated by Broad himself this week. After James Anderson was sent out to bat at number eight on day one, apparently protecting the more competent Broad and Swann, the vultures began to ask questions. Responding to Simon Hughes on Twitter, Broad quipped: “Wasn’t a nightwatchman. Swanny and I banged heads while making a brew and were dazed so Jimmy took it on”.

Hyped up on Ashes fever, many journos fell for it hook, line and sinker. An amusing and telling moral victory for the embattled all-rounder. No doubt he will take the positives and move on.

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