Good sources versus press releases

The term ‘Off the Radar’ has become part of the Fitba lexicon.

Rather like ‘Succulent Lamb’ it has assumed a wider meaning than the original source of the phrase.

Last night Fitba Twitter reacted to this piece.

Then on the social media platform, there was an award-winning allegation Levelled at me that my story had been fabricated.

That I had invented it.

That is utterly untrue, and it goes against everything I try to do here.

I take my work seriously.

Consequently, fabricating a story is a complete abdication of what matters to me professionally.

phil-mac-giolla-bhain-press-card-2016

The information came from an impeccable source who has an excellent track record of accuracy and reliability.

For the avoidance of doubt, it didn’t come from a press release.

Several of the putative attendees flatly denied that any such meeting had taken place with Mr Traynor.

You can make up your own mind dear reader.

For now, I’m sticking with the source of my story.

The wider question it raised though is the role of PR in framing the dominant narrative within the mainstream media.

I think there are many reasons for the rise in the influence of PR professionals in what the public gets to read.

One of them is due to the downward spiral of cuts that the traditional media sectors have suffered for over a decade now, perhaps longer.

In the course of my NUJ duties last year I came across a statistic that there are now five full-time PRs in the UK for every staff journalist working in the newspaper industry.

In the age of information overload, it was a fact that made me sit up.

It made sense of a lot of the churnalism that I saw in the course of my work for this blog.

In the Rangers story, especially in 2010 and 2011, there was very little fact checking going on.

Then with the creation of Sevco firstly Charles Green and then Mr David Cunningham King have received the Pollyanna treatment from the sports desks in Glasgow.

On Friday night I attended a meeting of local journalists in Donegal.

I was there as part of the committee of my local NUJ branch.

The journalists we were meeting work at a locally owned title.

They told an all too familiar tale of the long-term effects of swinging cuts to the staffing establishment in their workplace.

The picture they painted to the branch committee was one of being overworked to an appalling degree.

For the frazzled, overworked journalist, spinning far too many plates, the arrival of free publishable copy into your inbox from a PR firm is something that is hard to turn down.

In such a situation the perfectly polished press release often gets pasted straight into the page set up.

The employers have cut and cut until the working journalist simply doesn’t have time to check the facts on a press release.

Then there is a dominant view in many of the journalism schools now.

The students are taught that the press release itself is a trusted source.

Good grief!

I recall speaking to one of Mr Craig Whyte’s PR chaps back in the summer of 2011.

At this point, Whyte had handed over his £1 to Sir David Murray and had purchased Rangers Football Club.

This, dear reader, was in the days before there were “Holding Company Vehicles” or that wonderful creation of Martin Williams the “Engine Room Subsidiary.”

The man, who was an ex-tabloid journalist with a Scottish title, stated to me that he didn’t know what I was about.

He stated to me that I didn’t fit within his plan of how he would manage the news around his client, Mr. Craig Whyte.

Moreover, he said that realisation gave him a problem.

I told him that I was simply after the truth about Mr Whyte’s reported wealth and his plans for Rangers Football Club.

At that point, as I recall, he rather abruptly hung up on me.

It was undeniable that I was seriously off message apropos Mr Whyte and his putative riches back in 2011.

Then there were whispers in the Glasgow sports desk village that I was a crank and a fantasist and not to be taken seriously.

Perhaps those were PR generated too.

Of course, I can’t be certain, it doesn’t matter anyway.

Perhaps the originator of the smear thought I would take this personally and just go away.

Bless…

The dominant narrative in the summer of 2011 was that Rangers FC was in rude financial health.

The journalists were assured that this was the case and they were happy to take the word of the PR folk on that one.

The newspaper buying public was told that Mr Whyte had lots of money and would spend it on Rangers Football Club.

Indeed, terms like “front loaded” were used.

It was all so exciting.

In the summer of 2011, the mainstream assured their readers that all was well at Rangers.

Consequently, The People were in buoyant mood.

Their club (it was just a club in those days as there was no need for any of this Holding Company thingy) had been delivered into the hands of a very rich Bear.

craig

Rejoice!

The message was relayed by obedient journalists that Mr Craig Whyte would bankroll the sporting dreams of The People.

Now, I believe that it was the PR firm that I spoke with in 2011 who had created the legend for Mr Whyte in November 2010.

The script was that he was a billionaire and the journalists provided with this ‘scoop’ duly obliged.

My information is that the “wealth of the radar” was a creative flourish from a promising young chap.

Of course, that debacle should have been the end of any reporter’s time in the trade.

However, there is a good living to be made spouting feel-good nonsense to the Ibrox demographic.

Quite simply this is what makes The People feel good.

I think that the dominant editorial belief is that Ibrox orientated folk won’t buy newspapers full of bad news stuff about their beloved Engine Room Subsidiary.

Since the Office Licence Putsch of March 2015, the “courageous journalism” of the Daily Radar has been almost unfailingly succulent in their gushing praise for the Sevco High Command.

courageous-journalism-by-the-record-no-seriously

Since then I have observed The People being regaled with tales of doors being kicked in at the Sports Direct HQ at Shirebrook in May 2015.

ashley-doors

The fact was that a very courteous call was made by the Police, it was hardly a scene from the Sweeney.

However, the spin was that Mike Ashley was in some sort of serious trouble.

Moreover, he would need to take a step back from his conflict with the Sevco High Command.

He wasn’t and he hasn’t.

It is a strange “backward step” that has Big Mike in court next month suing Rangers International Football Club (RIFC).

Of course, the most effect PR professionals work in the shadows and never become the story.

traynor-in-presser-october-12th-2016

My information is that a very high-Level PR firm has been tasked with managing the media landscape in the run up to the RIFC AGM this week.

Now, there are many important questions to be asked of the RIFC directors this Friday.

If any of the journalists who will be at the RIFC AGM presser on Friday have no idea what to ask, then please try these:

 

The recently published accounts did not set aside any monies for any major contingencies.

Does the Joey Barton pay off put a hole in those calculations?

Has the financial impact of the Barton pay off been raised at Board level?

Are there any directors who are concerned about this unforeseen liability?

Are they concerned that this payoff impacts of the cash flow calculations within the next twelve months?

What is the club’s relationship with the Lion Brand merchandising company?

Is the board aware of the claims made by this company regarding their monetary contributions to the club?

Is the club in receipt of monies from the Lion Brand company?

If so can the directors point to where this revenue stream in included in the published accounts?

How much external finance will the club require to make it to the end of this football season?

Has the Barton pay off had any impact on that figure?

Why does the club not have a credit line from a bank or a financial instruction?

 

Now, those of ye who have read Downfall: How Rangers FC self-destructed (2012 Front Line Noir) will know that I have been in AGM pressers at Celtic Park.

Asking difficult questions is what you are there to do.

Your task is to hold the powerful to account and not be a plant in the crowd for the PR guy.

Orwell and jaournalism

25 thoughts on “Good sources versus press releases

  1. Allymac

    I suppose the easy way for the “journalists” who decry your revelations to prove they are the seekers of truth is to ask some serious questions of the current regime. Prove to the outside world that you are in fact true to your profession and are not going to be tarred with the “puppet” moniker.

    As things stand, the silence from the SMSM in regards to the ongoing situation at Ibrox is quite alarming and the fact that the accounts are publishing the need for external finance should have alarm bells ringing. I mean this is the club with 40k+ every week, a shirt deal, tv money…a lot more than they have had in the last few years and yet they are still trading insolvent!!!

    I think the reason most sensible people will side with you Phil is that you ask the questions, you report the truth…..so IF our intrepid sports media are serious about what they do then follow the lead that Phil has set you, I mean he has even given you some questions to get you started..

    Over to you Mr Jackson……..

    Reply
  2. Dead Mousche

    Excellent stuff Phil…..I’d say at least 30% of your site traffic is Scottish ‘journalists’ and Sevco fans. Obsessed I’d say.

    Reply
  3. Rob O'Keeffe

    This fascination with Sevco is beginning to overshadow all things Celtic!! Do we want to cruise to league titles year after year? We won’t get praise for this.The detractors will turn round and say the success was due to an overwhelming budget compared to the other teams.We really need to think seriously about what direction the Club is going in and where we want to play our football.Rodgers will leave and players like Dembele and Sinclair will not hang around in a one club league.Cmon Celtic fans,think Celtic.

    Reply
    1. There is No Old Firm

      Glad to see Celtic have got you on such a high! What do you suggest we do then? Downsize to match the screaming plies of mince currently offered as opposition in Scotland?
      Tomorrow we play perhaps the best team in the world, thanks to many years of cheating by a now defunct, embarrassment of a club, Scottish football was almost destroyed and although Celtic are miles ahead of the rest of the stinking garbage in Scotland, we are many, many miles behind the top European sides. This can be blamed largely on the rancid behaviour of a filthy cheat.
      Do I want us to stroll to honours? Yes!
      You can forget Celtic getting praise for anything they do anyway, so screw the rest of them.
      It’ll be a pleasure to watch Barcelona tomorrow no matter the score. Hopefully, we are now going to improve after years of mediocrity and have a chance to become at least relevant in Europe.
      That’s thinking about Celtic!

      Reply
      1. Rob O'Keeffe

        Glad you’re looking forward to watching Barcelona,I prefer Celtic.Stroll to trophies against mince opposition? No thanks.I want us to go down the road DD and PL are looking at .Massive investment from overseas,an exit strategy from Scottish football and have Celtic become a team feared throughout Europe.If we stay and the tax dodgers collapse again,players will leave and the upper tier will be closed again.The current Euro regime doesn’t want us at the top table! I say,budge up ,we’re becoming massive and give us a seat.Hope we can at least do as well tomorrow night as Malaga did.HH

        Reply
        1. There is No Old Firm

          Rob,

          I agree with most of what you say, save for a couple of points.
          1) I too prefer Celtic. That doesn’t stop me from enjoying the quality of Barca and their ilk from a purely footballing perspective.
          2) The “tax dodgers” can’t collapse “again”, their collapse was fatal which means they do not exist, they are stone dead therefore unable to collapse. The most irrelevant team in Scottish football however…..Sevco, may very well collapse and I hope they do as they appear to be shaping up as a particularly vile invention.
          We are where we are in Scottish football due to circumstances we had no hand in and have to cope with it until, hopefully as you say, we find a way out to better fare.
          For the moment, I say stroll on…..surely you wouldn’t want to see us struggling against the very poor Aberdeen, Hearts, St. Johnstone, and that’s before we get to the real garbage like Ross C, Partick and Sevco.
          Hope we enjoy some entertainment tonight and a good result would be very welcome.
          HH

          Reply
          1. Rob O'Keeffe

            Thanks for your comments.I take your points on board.When I mentioned tax dodgers and again,I was mainly talking about the glib and shameless liar who was already involved at the Crumbledome before and in a certain African court.I of course want us to win everything but I want certain quarters of the MSM to have to choke as they praise us as a top class European team.We can keep the faith.Hope we enjoy the game tonight.HH

  4. Luke`s Grandad

    Noticed that the cheeky chappy fat salary had an interview for the QPR job, it sure as feck would not have been as manager, probably something he might be good at ie, cutting the grass.

    Reply
  5. Pat Nevins' Barnet

    Sounds like you’ve lit the (Royal) blue touch-paper there! I’m sure though that you won’t be ‘walking away’ to a safe distance…

    Unfortunately for the deniers and Sevco polit-bureau … Newcastle United are in cruise condition and Big Mike can look even further north for things to pique his interest.

    As for the AGM…. There will surely be a ‘world class’ PR guru there to ensure any Q&A session goes just the right way?

    Reply
  6. Agrajag

    They can PR away as much as they want.

    4 years in existence, 4 years trading losses.

    Already admitting to needing more loans to see the season out, so that’s a 5th year of trading losses.

    Predicting the 6th year will need further funding (ergo trading losses).

    They can spin it any way they want. A loss making business with no credit line from a financial institution and relying on “soft loans” from directors and wealthy supporters.

    That’s not a business, it’s a hobby. There is no way they will get investment from outside, even if the special resolution on pre-emption is passed.

    Reply
  7. Pedrok

    If anyone wants to see how journalism is working, you should have had a look at the Herald online earlier today. They had a story along the lines of Labour calls into question Shona Robison as Cabinet Secretary for Health. Unfortunately they forgot to remove the ’embargo’ line at the top of the ‘story’ and instead very clearly published a Scottish Labour party press release.

    Reply
    1. redetin

      Likewise, I saw an article in the Record some years back finishing with the word “Ends” on the following line. As clear evidence of cut and paste from a press release as I have seen.

      Reply
  8. Cassandra's Cat

    Jabba has turned confirmation bias into an art form for the hard of thinking. When this bubble bursts it will make the failure of the holding company feel like a birthday party.

    Jabba will be studied as a master of Public Relations in the same way Rangers, in all its forms, are studied as a bastion of financial probity.

    The greatest fun in yet to come!

    Reply
  9. 1jaybee

    Chris union Jack of The ET is a true blue, through to the core.
    If the fact that The Rangers are a new club is made in a way that demolishes the continuity myth…like magic, hey presto its deleted.
    I suppose he has his friends in blue to placate but surely he/they should accept the truth. If they did, and the corrupt SFA amend their website to show that this new outfit really doesn’t have 54 titles etc, then peace, of a sort, could be declared.
    When businesses, and football is a business, go into administration and be liquidated owing £millions upon £millions that’s it…gone, dead.
    Another business pops up under a new name, eventually changes its title to sound like the original club/business all fair and well….maybe….but when it claims the history of the business still going through the liquidation process then whoa…..
    How can this happen?
    A compliant media and the blazers have shed Scottish sport, well done Phil for exposing these cowboys, HH.

    Reply
    1. Steven R

      I know what you mean about ET censorship, Jay…

      Union Jack posted a wee quip at the end of the “rangers agm” story yesterday, trying his best to be a modern-day Shakespearean (fuck)with, along the lines of “now is the winter of our discount tents” which, to be fair, raised a titter. In keeping with his Shakespearean theme, I suggested that perhaps the “rangers” signing policy was along the lines of ” an arse, an arse… my Kingdom for an arse!”.. Go see if you can find any trace of my comment -I double-dare you! Likewise, I kindly suggested to somebody who was unaware of Club1872 that they are, in fact a holiday company offering vacation packages to teenagers that want to take their grandparents on a wee holiday in their twilight years. That comment also sleeps in the crypt alongside Count Dracula, and will never see the light of day! I though we lived in a democracy, not a dictatorship?

      Reply
  10. Jim Bollan.

    Excellent piece Phil and gets to the heart of the matter in the broader picture…cuts in the newspapers budgets being filled by pr companies spinning what their bosses want.

    Reply
  11. Mr Smith

    Phil, totally brilliant article.

    Sadly this sort of churnalism is not just present in the SMSM not is it confided to football.

    We, in the UK, are in the midst of a “housing crisis” ( one where the government give the bankers Billions of ££££, unlimited support and allow them to drive up house prices via what can only be described as a pyramid scam ) yet the spin meisters are out telling us how great it is the queens hoose is getting a refurb.

    We have a publicly funded TV channel broadcasting homes under the hammer telling people to invest in bricks and mortar and elsewhere a fat bird and a bankrupt telling us how to get the best deal on a “pwopatee” ( i.e. pay well over the odds ).

    Meanwhile the London housing bubble is collapsing and everyone man and his dog know that the value of a house needs to collapse, the cost of living needs to come down, but still the the churnalsits churn, telling everyone they are getting richer and they should “invest” now, before they miss out.

    This is much worse than the SMSM churnalism, this is state driven churnalism being used to profit a small group of mem/companies.

    Our only saving grace is the internet, the facts, the real news are there for all to see, if you choose to look.

    Reply
  12. Cortes

    Nice piece. Thanks again.

    The dumbing down of journalism was well described by John D. MacDonald in his Travis McGee novels set in Florida in the 1960/70s and coincided with consolidation of media ownership into a few corporate hands. Foul as they may have been (and often were) independent titles could reflect the passions of their owners which left some space for narrative rivalry to exist. Nowadays we’re in the process of developing the information dystopia of Pohl and Kornbluth’s “The Space Merchants.”

    Reply

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