The changes in political journalism that Tony Blair deplored in his ‘feral beasts’speech last year also apply in sports journalism according Manchester United’s director of communications.
Phil Townsend, a government press officer before moving to Manchester United, said the severe pressure newspaper sports reporters are under to justify their jobs covering a club like Manchester United was leading them to exaggerate coverage of even the most minor stories from Old Trafford.
His words echoes those of Alastair Campbell speaking about journalism in general this week at the London College of Communication on Monday.
‘It’s not just us who spin on this side of the fence, it’s the journalists who spin as well, and that’s what creates this cycle of mistrust,’Townsend told the Journalism Leaders Forum at the University of Central Lancashire.
‘If you look at what Blair said last year and what Alastair Campbell said last night, there is a certain amount of truth to it, certainly looking at it from this side of the fence, and we have to have a serious debate about it,’Townsend said.
Townsend was responding to comments made earlier in the discussion by BBC sports editor Mihir Bose, who said Premier League managers had become skilful manipulators of the back pages.
‘Alex Ferguson doesn’t need any lessons in how to spin,’Bose said via a video link.
‘In fact, Alex Ferguson could have given an even better lecture than Alastair Campbell on how to spin the back pages, he’s been doing it absolutely marvellously.”
But Bose acknowledged that newspapers’ football coverage had change tremendously, with match reporting in the following day’s newspapers having been replaced with reporting of events off the pitch.
Townsend said: ‘Let’s face it – newspapers are dying. Every time you look at the circulations, they are going down. They are combating that by going online, and there are some excellent online newspapers these days responding to that challenge.
‘But as a thing to pick up and read, they are more viewspapers that they were before and impact is much more important than checking the facts.”
Townsend continued: ‘We see it in the guys who write about Manchester United every day of the week – but there isn’t a story at Manchester United every day of the week. I’ve worked there fore four years and I know there hasn’t been 1200 stories out of Old Trafford in that time.”