For those of you that follow me on Twitter, you may have seen a greater level of frustration in my comments towards cricket journalists over the past six months or so.
None of it is personal. I’m yet to meet one face to face where I didn’t enjoy their company. Typically, these are well travelled and worldly individuals who are excellent at story telling. What’s not to like?
However, my issue stems from the fact that I sense that we are currently in a malaise of same-same content, and apart from some wonderful rare examples, I perceive there is a lack of want to truly examine important issues facing the game.
It culminated last night in the first ODI match between Australia and England at the MCG. Jason Roy made a big ton. I expected the media to plough out a raft of “what if Roy was in the Test team” pieces. I also expected a “where’s Maxwell” piece and a whole lot of commentary of “what ifs”, referring to English selections in the Ashes Test team.
So here is what I tweeted:
Challenge to all journos at the MCG:
Instead of writing about Roy, no Maxwell or what ifs, how about writing that you’ve wasted your night watching a match that means nothing and will be forgotten by tomorrow?
Be brave. Write the truth. There is no context in ODI cricket. None.
Predictably, here is what the ABC led with:
I’ve never met nor interacted with the author Dean Bilton and I’m sure he is a wonderful bloke. But his piece perfectly encapsulates the issues I have with cricket journalism today. It is in the mainstay, predictable, safe and lacking much that challenges the reader.
We live in an era where Roy’s performance will be forgotten in a matter of hours. So why aren’t we exploring why that is or how to solve it?
Now, I am not saying that there aren’t pockets of brilliance either now or in the past that give us a sighter as to what could be.
Let’s use Geoff Lemon as an example.
Four years ago, he showed us a side of him that made him instantly relateable.
He beautifully embodied the thoughts of a nation in such an Australian way. No fear. Just an eloquent gush of emotion that we could all understand.
A few years back, he shone again with his deeply researched and pointed takedown of the Channel Nine commentary team . Again, no fear. Just a bloke presenting an issue that was bubbling away in the subconscious of cricket watchers in Australia.
A renaissance is being had by Jonathan Lieu. Here he questions his peers front on about how far the media will go to support their team. But perhaps his biggest challenge for us readers was this one on Henry Blofeld and white privilege
Brett Geeves at Fox Sports hasn’t pulled a punch all summer. Happily using his experience as a player to give us insights that others can’t.
Perhaps the piece that took the most risks was this one by Jarrod Kimber, openly relating his working relationship with the ABC and it could be argued, betraying professional confidences. Interesting that it didn’t appear at Cricinfo, but instead on the blogging platform Medium.
Kimber should be a beacon of light to all cricket journalists who see risk in challenging players or administrators. His movie Death of a Gentleman saw him take on the biggest names in cricket administration. He is still employed and still has his access.
Now, I’ve highlighted this sample of what I consider properly tackling the issues (whether I agree with the arguments made or not) because it shows what the press box is capable of. It is full of talented story tellers. Absolutely chocker-block full.
But this year, we’ve seen the worst of this mob. And I’m not sure what is causing it although I have my theories.
By worst, I mean that we are seeing predictable opinion pieces, cheer-leading and boring match reports with little to no analysis. However, I contend that all of this stems from the death spiral of quantity over quality.
With staff writing jobs falling by the way side year after year, the main way forward for those that want to be involved is freelancing. An exchange of pieces for dollars. Not an exchange of quality for dollars. Well, not currently.
In this scenario, it is unfair to totally blame the freelancer for the quality of the work that they produce. Who has time to dig properly into an issue when by the end of the day’s play you need to lob a written piece over here, a match report over there and film a quick video or record a podcast? Because if you don’t, you risk losing your next paycheck to someone that can.
Yet this type of output is causing issues.
For example, no one challenged Darren Lehmann recently when he called out that he would retire in 2019. Not one journalist that I could find asked him why he believed he felt entitled to choose his departure date. It was the same stunt that Michael Clarke pulled before the 2015 World Cup and it puts administrators in a difficult place.
Where were the arguments supporting the Cricket Australia Board during the player’s strike? All we got was the boring drone of journalists regurgitating Ed Cowan’s propaganda backing the players against the brutal capitalist Cricket Australia regime.
I highlight these two issues deliberately as to interrogate the other side of the argument in either of these cases would have meant either going against “a good bloke” or being seen to be against the players. I fear that the reason no-one took these on was a fear of losing access or some other right, rather than because no one in the press box wanted to ask the questions.
I remember the 2014/15 tour of Australia by India. I asked one well known journalist if they would ask Dhoni about his thoughts on the “secret envelope” of names that the Indian Supreme Court was holding and the impact on his team. I was told that to do so would be viewed as “grandstanding” and therefore frowned upon by this person’s colleagues. Yet, this was one of the biggest stories of the day.
We have seen what happens when the press box ferociously prosecute an issue. There was the end of the Big 3. The birth of Afghanistan and Ireland as Test nations. The ICC mandating that DRS be mandatory for everyone including India. Better focus on the quality of pitches including penalty regimes. The support of the women’s game. The end of Cricket Australia overpricing tickets.
These are just a few examples. There are many more issues out there that are screaming for similar attention.
For example, where is the disgust about the over-corporatisation of KFC, leading to pre-teens wearing fast food buckets on their heads. What about the inseparable bond between Cricket Australia and the gambling agencies? Where’s the pieces searching for answers into the broken domestic Shield schedule or the planning for the next World Cup? Why is Nathan Lyon not in the ODI squad? Who will succeed James Sutherland? What does Australian cricket look like in five years time? What responsibility does Cricket Australia have to grow the game outside of just its national teams? How do we fix Zimbabwe or open up the US market?
Please forgive me if I continue to lash out on social media about the state of cricket journalism at present. But in my opinion, it is lacking a critical mass of bravery. In a sense, it has become lazy. Boring questioning of players. Everyone agreeing with everyone else.
It is fair to ask “if it bothers you so much, why don’t you just lead the charge Dennis?”. The answer is that I’m not a full time journalist. I’m hardly even a freelancer in the traditional sense of the term. I’m probably more consumer than content creator at this point in time. Maybe this shift has made me cynical?
But at the end of the day, I’m not hating the journalist. I’m hating the rules of the game that they currently have to play under.
So can I ask this of you?
When you see a piece or a video or hear a podcast that tackles something other than the scorecard, please share it. You don’t have to agree with the arguments. But by making noise around opinion pieces and investigative journalism, we continue to both encourage the creator to do more of it and for the media houses to support them in this very important quest.
The skill sets are definitely there. Maybe our current cricket writers just need a little more encouragement?
What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments. I’m curious to see if I’m on my own here or not.