The quality of rugby writing can vary a lot from insightful to down right wrong and that’s just the paid press. The amateur or want to be paid writers are equally hit and miss. Here I’ll look at some of the reasons why.
The “good” old days
Not that long ago the only way to read about rugby was to pay for it in the form of a newspaper or magazine. So there was a clear income stream complimenting advertising to pay the writers. Also whilst there were clearly deadlines to meet, so that the paper could be printed and delivered on time, there wasn’t the instant reporting that we get today. That left time for some level of proofreading and editing of the pieces.
The digital revolution
Today things have totally changed, even if you are buying a paper to read, the chances are that the piece has been online for hours beforehand. So even if there are the physical delays there for the printed press, the real content doesn’t have the same delays as it has been used online already. Secondly you don’t have to pay for most content online and finally the barriers to entry to publish (cost of printing press, paper and distribution network) have disappeared. For example whilst I do pay a little ($26) each year for the customised URL, I could have the blog hosted totally for free.
With all of these changes we have more information and views available to us quicker than ever before. But how much of it is worth reading? In theory this competition should raise the bar to make the writing standout. In practice what we are seeing is regurgitation of press releases and rushed match reports from reporters. There appears to be volume over quality and a “we must cover everything” approach. I think that there are three main drivers behind this:
A) Wanting to be THE source for rugby news and so the first place people look each day.
B) An expectation by the readers that writing is available for free online.
C) Writers getting paid so little per-word that they have to produce a large volume to have a decent income. This rate is getting driven lower by there being so many writers doing it for free.
Obviously there are exceptions, but there aren’t many of these and to be the exception you must have a brand to sell along with the content. In other words a reason for people to come and read what you have written other than just the title. Many of these are ex-players but there are also writers that have built-up a following. These people can get paid more per article or word as they bring readers to the site. Also they have more time to write and latitude about what they write about.
For most writers to pay the bills though they need volume. Not only that but they need it now or someone else has already written about it and it’s too late. This leads to people writing about stuff they don’t care about and not fact checking.
I remember reading match report about Wasps v Exeter where the writer didn’t even know how long Exeter had been in the Premiership. For that matter a rugby writer got it wrong in a season preview piece for this season.
On the fact checking side, the time that sticks out in my mind, is the IRB announcing that it had sorted the issue of rest days between games for the non-tier 1 teams at the upcoming world cup. All the news outlets reported it as per the press release. A quick look at the schedule showed that there still are quick turnaround times for the lower ranked nations, so good luck to them. This regurgitation is the norm not the exception. Next time you see an announcement on the rugby news website of your choice, go to the clubs website and read their version. Many times they will be very similar if not using nearly the same words.
We are in this all together and if us as the readers are not prepared to pay for the content, then it has to be paid for by advertising. From what I have read, for a blogger to earn a living they would need hundreds of thousands of views a day. As an example if I wanted to change this from a hobby to a living, it would mean adding at least three zeros to my viewer numbers. So you can see why sites need the volume of posts to generate the traffic and can’t afford to pay much for it. As an example there was one site that I liked, but over time they have increased the number of posts that are just a link to a cool video of rugby or repeating an announcement, such as an intentional squad for a match. I still check in occasionally but for me there is too much noise to get to the good articles.
I guess the point I’m making is that unless there is a big change, we are going to have to put up with rushed and regurgitated posts. Also there will be a lot of noise to get through to find the quality posts.
I find it funny how the press as a group, I’m including the amateur press as well in this, act a bit like a shoal of fish. All going along with one view and then switching on mass to another one. This seasons previews and knee jerk reaction to week 1 have been prime example. Most of the season previews were biging up the clubs that had made high volume of signings and particularly headline ones. After there were a couple of big losses in the first week there was a change to lauding the continuity of clubs instead.
Who knows what will be the flavour of the week or month coming up but you can bet that there will be a consensus and not a couple of camps with different views. I don’t know what drives this. Is it the pressure to publish a view quickly and so people are heavily influenced by what they have just heard? Are we not used to sitting down for a moment and thinking things through anymore? Do I just not read widely enough to see the other view points?
It’s a mans game
Thankfully the message seems to be getting through on the concussion front. It’s becoming more accepted that players should get off the pitch after head knocks. Unfortunately incidents like George Smiths’ during the Lions tour last year go to show that we are not all the way there yet.
I think that it’s also equally wrong that the press are praising Nonu for staying on the pitch with a broken arm. He could and may well have done more damage to himself, PlanetRugby that’s not hot. I do understand that you have to play through pain as you can’t have that many “car crashes” without it hurting. But players need to come off as soon as possible when they have serious injuries.
If you follow cycling you’ll be familiar with the term PEDs but if you just follow rugby maybe not. PEDs stands for Performance Enhancing Drugs, yup doping. It’s a topic that seems to be taboo amongst rugby circles. I assume that rugby follows WADAs code as it’s been accepted into the olympics, but are all the players on whereabouts so that they can be tested at anytime or are tests just after games or at training? Is the IRB considering taking on the passport program where tests overtime can show up abnormalities. In tennis you hear about the top players complaining about not being tested often enough so at least the conversation is going on. The only time I have heard it talked about in rugby was with Matt Stevens who was banned and then on return got random tested after his first game back.
There have been recent cases in Australia with Rugby League and Australian Rules clubs. In American football there are questions being raised about the use of therapeutic exceptions or their equivalent as they are not signed up to WADA. So there clearly is president in similar sports for PED use.
Everybody knows that the players have got bigger, quicker and stronger with professionalism. I hope that this is all due to players being able to train full time and better education around nutrition etc.. The problem is that I have to hope and don’t have full confidence that the authorities have suitable controls in place. So a bit more of a conversation/transparency with some journalists at least asking the questions would be good.
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The same pressures are on all sports journalism, all journalism for that matter, and it is generally shallowing out I agree. There are glimpses of hope though, I have become a big fan of Jarrod Kimber’s gonzo cricket journalism http://cricketwithballs.com . The writing is great, very funny sometimes, and with a tremendous amount of knowledge and passion hiding behind it. Is there anything like that for rugby?
I’ve not come across anything like it for Rugby.
The Inner Ring http://inrng.com is a very knowledgeable cycling blog that also takes some interesting different views on the sport. Not attempting to be funny but also not heavy weight.
You are right that a lot of what is said applies to all media writing but for more popular subjects that get more views it’s not as bad an issue as there is a higher income there.