There’s a saying that news reporters like to spout:
“We don’t stop covering the story just because YOU won’t talk to us.”
It sprang to mind recently when I read that two high-profile organisations had decided to refuse to give direct interviews to specific journalists.
The first “ban” came from the Head of Media at Newcastle United and was contained in a letter to the local newspaper, The Chronicle.
It said: “…the three NCJ Media titles, The Chronicle, The Journal and Sunday Sun, will not be permitted access to any media facilities, press conferences and player interviews at Newcastle United indefinitely and with immediate effect”.
The second concerns the Birmingham Mail. According to that newspaper, “Police Commissioner David Jamieson’s office has banned a Birmingham Mail investigative reporter from asking it direct questions after we published two investigations into its activities. Jeanette Oldham has been told that the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner (OPCC) will now only answer queries from her submitted via Freedom of Information requests”.
Regardless of the background of either case, as a journalist, I’m astonished any public-facing organisation thinks they have anything to gain from such a strategy. In reality, such a move can be a swift way to achieve the opposite – even more negative articles.
- a ban is a great news story. If a company is looking for more favourable coverage, it’s just given reporters a brilliant excuse to write a bad news story about them. (A “Google search” for “Newcastle United media ban” gave 1,650,000 results);
- anything perceived as an attempt to hobble the media can appear defensive. It’s like trying to win a soccer match without leaving your own half. We live in an age when transparency and openness are highly prized corporate values. It’s one of the reasons why the owner of Alton Towers, Merlin Entertainments, has come through the recent rollercoaster accident so positively;
- journalists instinctively hate anything than curbs what they might view as a “right to roam”. So if one source dries up, they’ll look for others, no doubt with added determination to root out a good story. (Oh, by the way, that’s “good” to them, but usually “bad” for the business involved);
- yes, companies can control who speaks to the media from within their organisation, but they will never control who speaks to the media about them from without. Fully expect the “banned” media to root out disgruntled ex-employees, commercial rivals, social media commentators and that particularly risky interviewee, the so-called expert, who will often prattle on endlessly, filling the vacuum the ban-issuing company has created. Meanwhile, the audience or readers learns that, “We approached the company for a response, but they declined.” Who wins?
I accept journalists can be rude, and yes, we can ask very awkward questions and poke our noses into places they’re not wanted and yes, we sometimes get things wrong. But plenty of times we get things right.
Look through even the smallest newspaper and you’ll see many examples of people expressing views on cuts to public services, redundancies in the private sector, poor practice by an airline, or disproportionate charges by an online ticketing agency etc… These people probably have no other means to make those views heard so widely. Indeed, the newspaper is probably their last hope.
And you might not agree with all they have to say, but I bet you’re glad there’s somewhere they can express those views…and not just because it might be you with something really important to say next week.
Newcastle United and the OPCC might think they’ve “played a blinder”.
Here’s another saying you might hear reporters spouting:
“The easiest way to make a journalist ‘see red’ is to show them a ‘red card’.”