Footy journalism gone to the dogs

By Simon Dobbie

This is going to be a whinge. Maybe even a rant. I’m not entirely sure, but I think a rant is a whole level above a whinge. Yep, let’s call it a rant then.

And the subject of my rant? Well, its footy journalism. AFL journalism to be precise. It’s a not profound subject matter then. No existential ponder on the really big things in life. But a rant with quite some justification nonetheless. By my reckoning anyway.

I’ll start with the nature of my rant then. Basically, there’s so many footy journalists (maybe reporters is a more apt description) out there that they all need to justify their existence by creating controversies and making everything out of absolutely nothing. All in the name of showing their editors that they have an important contribution to make and that a large ‘team’ of footy reporters is needed to cover such an intrinsically complex segment of the community. That’s sarcasm by the way.

Yes, there’s only so many football related stories every week aren’t there. What do we have? Results. Yes. Injuries. Yes. Team selection. Yes. Performance speculation. Yeah. There’s not a lot else that really matters therefore but there’s media space to be filled people and it will be filled no matter what. No matter if it’s silly and vexatious. No matter if it’s simply untrue. No matter if its mindbogglingly irrelevant.

This matter has particular resonance for me as I am a long suffering Melbourne Demons supporter. I’ve been waiting for a Premiership my whole life and it seems like I will now have to live through another ‘rebuild’ in our quest for success. With performances being so lowly, you have to expect the media coverage to focus on the bad and quite a bit of it is actually true and hits the nail right on the head.

A big part of the footy press though can be relied upon to run any and every story they can on the most minute of issues. And then claim they know all and are ‘on the inside’ just because some troll on twitter told them so. A fine example being just on the weekend when all of a sudden there were reports that the Melbourne Football Club Board were meeting to discuss Coach Neeld’s future. It was crap from the beginning but the story was reported as fact across all forms of the media and given a profile it did not deserve.

And then yesterday, The Herald Sun runs a report that David King, ‘a respected commentator’, is scathing of Neeld’s appointment and called for the Dees to sack him after only eight games because ‘he had lost the players’. Not sure why or how the ‘respected’ tag came about, because King has a history of trying to create controversy and doesn’t have the best form in terms of predictions for the future. All last year he told anyone and everyone that Geelong couldn’t win the flag. Wow. I wonder how that turned out.

On the ‘he’s lost the players’ claim, as a Dees supporter I can say maybe that’s not a bad thing. The senior players at Melbourne have never been challenged before and some of our young high draft picks have never had to work hard for their position before. So to me it’s not a bad thing if some of them have their noses out of joint about being asked to work harder and perform better.

Mediocrity has been accepted for too long and only the ones that take it on the chin, knuckle down and work to contribute to the team and not just to themselves should remain. The ones that don’t, well, maybe it’s time they thought about doing something else. What I’m trying to say then is that Neeld should not be sacked for doing exactly what he was brought in to do. Restructure the place. Sweep a broom through the list. And institute a game plan that is required to play tough, hard finals-type football.

And it’s not just Melbourne either. I’m just raising these examples because they’re most prominent to me. This week has also seen a massive outpouring of derision against Josh Hunt of Geelong because he hesitated and didn’t crash headlong into a marking contest.

Ex-players in the media jumped on it straight away and he’s had to cop suggestions that he’s weak and feeble-minded because of it. Coming from some of those ex-players, you’d think none of them had ever made a mistake on the footy field or hesitated for a split second in the face of a physical onslaught. Especially someone like Matthew Lloyd whose footy career wasn’t exactly a virtue of selfless and courageous acts. A fine footballer and goal scorer yes. But maybe someone should ‘audit’ everyone of his games and see if he didn’t occasionally hesitate or make a mistake from time to time.

Yes, footy reporters want more and more ‘controversy’ so they have more and more to report. But they don’t want to look at some of the more complex matters in the footy world or come up with anything new to get an exclusive or highlight something none of us already know. Instead, they trot out the easy stuff and give it to us ad nauseum day after day. A team suffers a 100 point loss so the coach must be sacked. A player baulked in a marking contest so he must be weak. A club administrator doesn’t host a game show so he must be hiding from the media.

Would we get all this if we didn’t have ‘teams’ of footy reporters sitting around trying to find something to write about or something to film? I doubt it very much. Very, very much. So we get this situation where minor issues are turned into major ones and all manner of rumour, innuendo and just plain lies are reported on and presented as educated opinion or fact. And the phrase ‘a source close to’ should never be used anywhere. If someone won’t put their name to it then maybe it’s not worth reporting at all. Yes, even you Grant Thomas.

It’s not a great situation for us footy fans then is it. We get the sensationalism of the tabloid press and television or we get so-called ‘exclusives’ from the AFL themselves on their own website. I don’t know about you but I’m craving something different. Sometime new. Something real. Something like the Footy Almanac. So thanks one and all for the quality of your words and contributions. It keeps me sane in this footy world of insanity.

Herein ends my rant then. It’s being brewing for quite some time and I must say I feel better already getting it off my chest. I just better get back to my life so it doesn’t look like I’m sitting around here trying to justify my existence.


  1. Ben Footner says

    This is less of a comment on your points re the media (which I whole heartily agree with BTW!) but rather about your beloved club – I read that they are now talking about the fact that they are going through a ‘rebuilding’ phase. I have to ask – rebuilding from what??

    Surely after so many failed ‘rebuilds’ it’s time to question the foundations upon which this club continues to be ‘rebuilt’. Like the old biblical proverb, if you keep building on sand, then there’s no way your structure will hold up under any sort of pressure.

    Jim Stynes gave the club a rock to build on (a mighty large one at that), but he was only one man and unfortunately his sad passing seems to have only been filled by more shifting sand.

    I had hoped that the passing of the great man would steel others resolve, but now I fear that his departure might well be the death knell for this club.

    Their history will only ensure their survival for so long, and I worry that as the AFL looks for resources to fuel their expansion the Melbourne FC may well find themselves on the end of a razor gang, or a forced merger.

    Do you and other supporters have similar concerns Simon?

  2. Incisive rant, Simon. Journo’s have caused more witch-hunts and lynch mobs than anyone. And all in the name of getting an angle on a stroy. I don’t know how some of them sleep.

  3. “Hastiness and superficiality are the psychic diseases of the 20th century, and more than anywhere else this disease is reflected in the press.”

    I think this quote was made in the 70s – or possibly the 80s. Not much has changed.

    Guess who it belongs to.

  4. Andrew Starkie says

    Spot on, brother.

    Polllies, sportspeople, average Joes caught in a sticky mess, who don’t, or won’t. or can’t be stuffed, or are too busy to talk to the media have ‘gone to ground’ or ‘developed a siege mentality’, or ‘have something to hide’. Until when tired of being bullied or having their families harassed, they finally speak, or should I say, ‘break their silence’.

    Even John Faine, on ABC Radio does it. When a pollie won’t talk to him when John wants them to, he turns on them. I’d prefer the pollies to spend the working day doing their jobs.

    Melbourne’s sports media outlets employs so many journo/reporters, they have to do something to justify their wages.

    Last Summer was a quiet one for the Herald Sun; no Cuz, Fev, St KIlda school girl to harass. So quiet, they hung outside Arden St – desperate, or what – for a few days because Majak Daw didn’t go to a rehab session. It wasn’t Watergate, that’s for sure.

    I often find myself wondering if these journos, when young children and dreaming of being prize winning reporters, ever thought they would be parked outside a hungover footballer’s townhouse, practising their fallen star cliches. I actually feel for them, as in the back of their minds they must know what they’re doing is often bullshit. Complete bullshit.

  5. Andrew Starkie says

    keep the rants coming

  6. Ben Footner says

    A couple things that give me the shites are:

    – Novelty photo’s (for example Dangerfield in a hard hat surrounded by warning signs, what the??).
    – ‘Hook’ article titles (mainly on news websites) that end up being a play on words and nothing to do with the news reported.

    All I can say is thank goodness for this site and it’s excellent perspectives on the game.

  7. Drowning in information and thirsty for knowledge…

  8. pamela sherpa says

    Newspapers and journalists will continue to print rubbish as long as people keep buying them and reading it. TV is the same .Crap shows continue to be shown because people actually watch them -the answer is simple. Don’t read or watch it. Find alternatives.

  9. Jeff Dowsing says

    This is an excellent rant on a topic that I’ve vented on myself.

    I think the sensationalist bent of the football media is really just a symptom of the industry in general. To use Andrew Bolt as a barometer, he has gone so far down a certain path there is no turning back. Just to maintain his following and status he has to keep turning the dial further to the right and tweak the volume higher.

    Of course social media has exacerbated the churn. In between the odd bytes of interest is a steady stream of rehashed tedium – not unlike TT & ACA’s fortnightly exposes on dodgy minced meat. When you get the clubs & AFL coming over the top you then have a war on your hands. And that’s why they also bore us with crap about themselves and their competition.

  10. Mark Doyle says

    I agree wholeheartedly with your comments Simon. Your comments also apply to the coverage of politics, current affairs, the arts, economics etc. by most of the mainstream media. Most of the retired AFL footballers who work in the media and other media people are inarticulate buffoons whose written and spoken comment is generally illinformed and meaningless opinion and speculation. Most of their questions at press conferences are either trivial ‘dorothy dixers’ or loaded to get a cheap headline. Most of the sports writing in the newspapers is also illinformed and meaningless opinion. The ABC used to provide a better coverage than the privately owned commercial radio and TV. However, in the past 15-20 years the mainstream ABC, which includes radio 774 and TV stations ABC1 and ABC24, has been dumbed down with most of their content being trivial, irrelevant and celebrity nonsense. This dumbing down has also affected Radio National this year with a number of changes and new presenters. Coverage of AFL football by both radio and TV has become reality radio and TV with a focus on irrelevant peripheral content. The TV telecast is more enjoyable with sound muted.
    The only quality TV sports program which covers AFL and NRL is ‘Barefoot Sports’ on NITV.
    If you want quality information and informed comment on political and social issues, you need to listen to community radio stations such as 3CR in Melbourne and ABC Radio National programs such as Late Night Live with Phillip Adams. There is also some good quality TV news and current affairs produced by DW TV and shown on channel 31; these programs include ‘Journal News’, ‘In Focus’, ‘Euromaxx’, ‘Global 3000’ and ‘In Good Shape’.

  11. Daryl Sharpen says

    Good work Simon. By chance the only sense I heard this week was the dissection of a few current coaches records by Chris Grant on 360 – a show I have quickly grown to hate, Mark Robinson well ahead of himself and should stick to boxing. Gerard Whately loves the sound (of hi sown voice). King is simply a galoot.

  12. Rick Kane says

    In the Age Magazine today the main article is entitled, The Footy Power 50. What follows is an exploration of the so called 50 most influential men and women in football. The report uses a quasi socio-scientific scale but the list is as subjective as the holding the ball rule. My first reaction was how could an article about footy reduce the inherent excitement of the sport to business babble. This article might be about power but it wasn’t driven by energy. My second reaction was dismay. Only three footballers in a Power Index about footy! Oh dear.

    (It reminded me of a Rolling Stone cover story from a few years ago identifying the 50th wealthiest people in rock and roll. The smallest number was taken up by rock artists themselves. The money is in the laundry as KAOS used to say.)

    I can’t put my finger on my unease but it’s there. I don’t know if it’s the distrust of layer upon layer of structure of a basic tenet finally obscuring the original idea to such an extent that it is unrecognizable even to its most ardent followers. Or if it’s a concern that the media charged with examining the value of the game become so much a part of its business structure that they can’t recognise the wood for the trees. Or if I’m slowly turning into my dad and want thing the way they were when I identified with them best. My gut tells me that the game is disappearing into a business model that has more interest in profit than the reason fans come to it in the first place.

    Ranting feels good.


  13. I love it when someone (especially Caro) says “it is the opinion of this column”.

    I may not be an expert journalist, but how can a column have an opinion? Shouldn’t it be a columnist?

    Cats are too old, Buckley can’t coach, Bombers are certainties for the flag, Crows are certainties for the flag, Blues are certainties for the flag, Blues are too soft, Eagles are only winning because other teams can’t tackle, etc, etc. These are some examples of the drivel being served up as “news”. And that is leaving the Dees coverage to SD’s astute and deserved rant..

    As an aside, it appears to be an expert HS footy journo, you need some silly name of your column. Hard Boiled, The Grill, The Buzz, The Tackle, Mick’s Grill, Panic Room, etc, etc. The People’s Elbow and The Wrap were clearly pioneers.

  14. Mark Doyle says

    It is bemusing to see that people are starting to understand that the AFL coverage by the ‘Age’ newspaper is garbage. Someone referred to yesterday’s ‘Age’ article about the most powerful and influential people with respect to AFL football; this article was anti-intellectual and simplistic. The ‘Age’ consultant panel for this mickey mouse exercise are intellectuall morons and I suspect that their decisions were based on a numbers game of mentions in the ‘Age’ over a period of time.
    The ‘Age’ article did not provide any information about the nature and dynamics of power and the relationship between the various stakeholders.
    I believe that the most powerful and influential people in AFL football are corporate ‘leaders’ of both the AFL administration and sponsor companies such as Toyota, Foxtell etc. The primary aim of these corporate leaders is to encourage consumption of their products such as AFL/club memberships, ticket sales, cars, beer, betting, trivial games of dreamteam and tipping competitions etc .It would appear that these corporate leaders have been very successful and are laughing all the way to the bank because of the gullibility of football supporters.

  15. Alovesupreme says

    My comment is related to Rick K’s and to a lesser extent Mark’s contribution. Ron Tandberg in his characteristically incisive fashion produced a cartoon for the Age some thirty years ago, which reflected an earlier concern about the game’s being taken over by big business – a development which has proceeded apace in the subsequent period. It featured three club presidents (then identifiable, but since mercifully disappeared into obscurity) sitting at a dinner table. Their discussions and meal are interrupted by a bouncing football, which prompts one of the company to ask “what’s that?”

  16. Peter Flynn says

    Apply the retrospectoscope to newspaper articles.

    I bet most of it would be treated in ways best described by acolytes of the Doylian movement.

  17. Jeff Dowsing says

    The 50 most influential lists are simply the latest craze doing the rounds. Mike Sheahan should ask for royalties.

    What frightens me is how many seem to drink the AFL’s Kool Aid. And how many journos are compelled to play the game.

    Grant Thomas says some weird & wonderful stuff but he’s one of few prepared to call a spade a shovel.

  18. Rick Kane says

    After the bagging we have given the footy media in this strand, I should acknowledge what is good about same said media.

    Rohan Connolly’s report on the Tigers demolition of the Hawks yesterday was reasonable, accurate, interesting and humorous. I didn’t enjoy reading it but I was taken with his efforts.


  19. Great rant! There is a lot of crap on TV (Fox Footy) and in print now. I used to watch most of it but can’t be bothered now. Agree with most of the comments above. If there was never another edition of AFL 360 it wouldn’t bother me a bit.

  20. Andrew Starkie says

    I never read top 50/100 richest, best, most powerful lists. How can they be accurate? It’s the story you write when yo can’t think of anything else. I’m disappointed in the Age for doing it; thought it was more HS territory. Having said that, were ‘the fans’ on the list? We should be the most powerful.

    Surviving modern day footy media saturation is like surviving Catholicism. Just pick the bits you like and ignore the rest.

  21. Daryl Sharpen says

    Couldn’t agree more with Starks, above. It is about time we had a supporters/fans Hall of Fame.

  22. I find that the worst aspect of most sports journalism is the assumption,possibly and sadly accurate,that the reader is chauvinistic,in its original sense, short-sighted, unthinking and totally lacking in any rational faculties whatsoever.
    I’m writing this in Sydney,with no digital TV, needing the internet to find out that the Lions beat the Eagles with the last score of the game.It’s almost worth being here in an AFL-poor state in order to stay away from the fevered pages of the West dissecting the falling from grace of “the premiership favourite” and other unmemorable phrasettes.
    How I don’t envy the unfortunates in Melbourne seeking moderation or just a week of sense from the media.

  23. Greg, I went to Darwin for a week last winter and escaped the 24/7 coverage. Highly recommend it.

  24. Apologies to Lennon/McCartney (I think it was the latter)

    Dear Sports Ed, won’t you read my stuff
    I can make a sentence, so I’m good enough
    Never really played much footy before
    Failed first-year law
    And now I wanna be a football writer
    Football writer

    Irony drips from my poison pen
    I can do cross-promos on SEN
    Join real players on a TV show
    That promotes me, so
    I’ll be a credible football writer
    Football writer

    Melbourne’s hurting on and off the field?
    Do a hindsight piece blaming Mark Neeld
    Always knew he couldn’t do the job
    So I’ll join the lynch mob
    With every other football writer
    Football writer

    Josh Hunt falters at a critical stage
    So I’ll put his picture on the back page
    That’s a mistake that I never made
    ’Cause I never played
    I’m a typical football writer
    Football writer

    If there’s no story for a week or two
    I’ll just do Andrew Demetriou
    The tribunal’s always there to write about
    It’s an easy out
    For the lazy football writer
    Football writer

    In the olden days Alf Brown they say
    He went to the footy every Saturday
    He just reported what he’d see and hear
    Had no idea
    What it takes to be a football writer
    Football writer

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