Predictable news reports for an unpredictable game

TV coverage of football on the nightly news has not improved since the 1960s; in fact if you take colour out of the equation  it has hardly changed at all.

In that same period, game-day telecasting has taken  giant strides with multiple cameras and more skilled operators giving us incredibly sophisticated pictures.

But the wrap of the day’s play on the nightly news is incomprehensibly boring, particularly given the quantity and quality of the footage available to the stations.

The match report will invariably open by telling us which team took the early lead, accompanied by footage of players taking set shots at goal.

If someone has taken a mark-of-the-year contender, that might make it to the highlights reel. Otherwise,  the only upfield action likely to get a run will involve either a  brawl or an  incident that gives the presenter  an excuse for a mostly feeble pun.

So if somebody has his shorts pulled down in a tackle the voiceover will say, “the Hawks fell behind early’’. Or if somebody crashes into a point post, the comment will be along the lines of  “the Demons’ fortunes took a turn for the worse’’. Hilarious.

Even the  blues that used to provide so many highlights of TV coverage are becoming a rarity, partly because  the camera work is so good that any off-the-ball incident is likely to be captured on tape, ensuring the offender heads off to the tribunal, calculator in hand, to decipher his penalty.

But other than puns and punch-ups, the rest of the coverage is shots of players walking in to kick goals accompanied by score updates.

Press reports of VFL games used to be like that in the 1940s and ‘50s,  but with good reason.

At that time, apart from supporters who had attended one of the six games played in Melbourne or Geelong that Saturday afternoon, most people’s knowledge of events was confined to radio updates and fans  devoured every scrap of information they could get.

So the Herald, and even more notably the  Sporting Globe, that used to arrive on doorsteps about seven o’clock on Saturday nights, came  complete with kick by kick descriptions of the games  and a stats breakout consisting of  goalkickers and best players.

The major reason for that approach was that the reporter had to file within minutes of the end of the match so had to write things as they happened and tag some sort of mini-overview on at the last minute or, at least, once the result was clear.

From memory you even had to wait until Monday night to get the three, two and one votes in the Herald.

That level of coverage doesn’t sound much, but when nothing else was available, it was pretty good. And given the technology available at the time, it was a mighty effort to get these papers out on the streets two hours after the matches finished. And don’t forget all games finished within a few minutes of each other.

The early days of television didn’t do much to dent people’s enthusiasm for these press reports as the  best you could hope for most weeks on TV was a quarter a two of one or two games at most.

As the years rolled on and coverage of the game became more sophisticated,, the press reports changed to reflect the fact that most people were aware of the score fluctuations and principal stats, so  the writers looked to  identify patterns in the games and the factors that produced momentum swings.

They talked about individual efforts, but always in the context of the match and how they influenced developments.

Any budding football writer who rocked up to a match nowadays  and recorded a blow by blow account would quickly be shown the door.

So, why do television stations continue their archaic practices?

In most cases, you ask question such as that because you have a particular answer in mind, but I have to confess I have no idea.

It’s not that they don’t know better, for the footy review shows that follow make outstanding use of file footage.

They focus on pivotal moments in the game and highlight individual efforts that contribute to scores rather than focusing only on the end product ie the shot on  goal.

It is also  not as if the TV stations  are facing massive time constraints, for video footage is available almost instantly and the editing process is quite  sophisticated.

They also have the advantage that games are spread over the weekends so they aren’t under anywhere near the time pressures newspapers were, and to some extent, still are.

I realise news grabs aren’t mini-replays and goals are important when you are attempting to sum up a game, but surely there is room for a more balanced and intelligent coverage of  what basically is maginifcently exciting action?




  1. N eil Anderson says

    Ah…memories. It’s good to get a nostalgia kick, especially about such things as the spoting globe landing on the counter of the local milkbar (remember them?) at seven o’clock on Saturday night. The crowds were ten-deep waiting for news from the football front. Whenever we talk about getting the football bug and belonging to a footy tribe from an early age, it’s scenes like those that come flashing back. As far as news reports of matches being a bit shallow, maybe it’s a case of ‘overchoice’, to quote Alvin Toffler. There are so many follow-up review shows that programmers want people to tune in later for the indepth analysis. Also the TV-news people would be trying to appease the percentage of non-football followers, the one’s that write in and complain about half the news being taken up with that ‘horrid’ football business. I suspect TV stations also play funny-buggers with the amount of footage they can or cannot show depending on who did the actual filming of the matches. I seem to remember that the non-Olympic broadcasters did a similar thing when they showed Usain Bolt for example, lining up to race and then saying we’ll show you the result later…much later.

  2. Pamela Sherpa says

    “balanced and intelligent coverage” Wouldn’t that be great? Why are we not getting it ? Like everything else in society, football has been dumbed down because it is easier to control and manage that way .

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