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The Herald’s “Signings” Of Hartson And McCulloch Are Why Sports Journalism In Scotland Is Dead.

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Neil Cameron, pat yourself on the back today.

What a swoop.

As head of at the Herald Group I can only imagine you signed off on this.

What pride you must have in securing the signatures of two unemployed former players whose won’t get gigs as managers, to offer “insight” and quality sports writing which will be matched only by your IQ.

In other words, if we were measuring it with a thermometer none of it would spike room temperature.

I’ve heard John Hartson talking on the telly; he’s mildly entertaining at times but I’ve yet to hear anything from him which made me want to run to the computer and praise him for imagination and providing a different perspective. Lee McCulloch has all the intellectual dexterity of the Piltdown Man. How is anyone supposed to read his column, where he will second guess managers, impart his tactical and strategic wisdom with a straight face?

What’s his managerial experience again? Oh yeah, two spells at Kilmarnock, 30 games in total, 14 of them defeats. A 26% win ratio.

Remind me again how that bloke who replaced him is doing?

You know, I was talking to a mate of mine earlier and lamenting, as usual, the deplorable state of Scottish journalism, and not just in the sports section. But the section is instructive because it didn’t used to be populated by such dreck. Kevin McKenna, hanging in there as one of our best national writers, was a sports editor once at a when giants like Hugh McIlvanney and the great Ian Archer were manning desks.

What a that was. What a pleasure it would have been to read their own insights and views on the days we’re living in right now. Would they even have been allowed to approach these matters with their customary poetry, intelligence and not a little wit?

Of more recent vintage was Alan Davidson at The Evening Times; I used to love that guy. He would always start with a wee parable, a wee piece of historical insight which illuminated the subject he was thinking of on that particular day.

When did standards begin to slip?

I don’t know, but I do know that when Hugh Keevins was asked to contribute a chapter to a book about sports journalism, and to choose a defining moment in his career, that he didn’t bother with a scoop he had made or a big story he had helped to break into the world; he wrote about the he was chucked out of The Celtic Club in London Road. I know too that Jim “Succulent Lamb” Traynor’s valedictory piece before he slipped into Ibrox under cover of the darkness he had helped to create was not about his career but a vicious attack on the handful of good journalists and the bloggers who had tried to write honestly about what was going on in the game.

So it must have been a while ago.

I am going to do a piece on Phil’s latest article later on tonight; there’s clearly a big story there. I never cease to be amazed that a guy living in another country can write so much on-the-nose stuff about Scottish football from Donegal.

I mentioned Kevin McKenna earlier; it was his review of Downfall which included the following lines: “If Mac Giolla Bhain had been employed as a staffer on any of Scotland’s dozen or so national newspaper titles he would be a certainty to be crowned sportswriter of the year, news reporter of the year and journalist of the year for his work on the Rangers story.”

The one problem I have with those lines is that if Phil had been employed as a staffer on any of those titles he would probably never have been allowed to pursue those stories in the first place. Kevin’s review of that book takes issue with the idea that news would deliberately ignore major stories; with the benefit of hindsight, I wonder if he still feels that way?

Sports in Scotland have ignored major stories time and time again where the Ibrox basket case is concerned and that’s not just my own opinion but a demonstrable fact.

There have never been more serious sports stories to write about than there are right now; I can make a living doing it as a blogger, so I am not exaggerating when I say that. I get up every single day and find stuff to write about, and some of it is stuff the mainstream media won’t touch for whatever reason, despite a lot of it being highly newsworthy.

Some of it is conjecture; since when did that stop the press? I wrote an article today about Davie Provan’s assertion that Brendan will be on his way soon because there is rumoured interest in him from people at Arsenal. It doesn’t come close to being a stand-up news story; it’s innuendo, it’s gossip and no different from the Morelos nonsense or “Team X wants Kieran Tierney but hasn’t made a bid for him yet”. They write tittle-tattle all the time.

But they won’t sully themselves with monumental stuff about club licenses and collection firms sniffing around or banks asking for meetings with club officials … this is all familiar ground; they were telling us how wrong we were about Craig Whyte too and there wasn’t a tenth of the public proof that he was a liar and charlatan that exists with Dave King.

Why isn’t some of it deemed “newsworthy”? It can only be a result of editorial policy; there are certain stories the press just won’t touch, no matter how much fact there is in them. And yet if they did their jobs what would be the point in people like me?

Phil and I had a laugh about this a while ago; how can it be that he’s managed a successful career as a prominent blogger and writer, including two books, largely as a result of these events and myself and numerous others can get by on the scraps of them? If there were real journalists at some of the newspapers our work would be largely redundant.

And the reason there aren’t real journalists at those papers is that their and owners would rather give money to out of work footballers. They won’t fund graduate training schemes to craft real writers, but will fork over what I’m sure must be enormous salaries to guys who certainly don’t need the cash, except to top up their retirement pots.

Every time I write something like this I’m acutely aware that I might be doing myself out of a job one day. That someone in the head offices at those media organisations will decide that the bloggers are onto something, and start hiring professionals capable of doing real work.

But I know that the risk of it is vanishingly small. These people are not in the news business, they’re in the entertainment business now and there is clearly an audience for former footballers’ opinions, or those guys wouldn’t be able to get big advances on their book deals.

But the death of journalism of the sort you used to get saddens me nonetheless. The skills required are no longer there in the newsrooms; it’s a cut and paste job now, one based on press releases and regurgitating PR. I was actually told that by someone who’s spent time in a Scottish newsroom; they actually teach journalism graduates how to re-write press releases, as if someone who’s worked their way through a good school needs that sort of guidance.

I have a media degree myself, and I worked on a website once where that’s what I did.

It’s mind-numbing work, and not an appropriate use for my skill-set. God knows how many talented people there are out there, trying to make a living on national titles, having the life strangled out of them, their aptitude dulled to the sharpness of a spoon, working on soul-crushing stuff like that, because well fed, pampered celebrities are earning the big bucks writing vacuous columns, turning out chum, without a fraction of natural talent or journalistic ability.

I crave good writing, full of knowledge and insight. I despair at the poor standard of it that I see in the mainstream press every day. Yet the bloggers are full of passion and verve and humour and I read numbers of them beyond counting and not just about football, but about my other great passions like politics and music and film and great TV shows and books and video games … all of it a thousand times better than what’s on the news sites.

It’s with that in mind that I want to close out this piece by paying tribute to some of our own; the annual Football Blogging Awards are upon us again.

I have no real interest in being nominated far less asking for people to vote for me.

You, the readers, are all the affirmation I’ll ever need and I thank you, all of you, for the support you give me.

But I do like to promote the guys I admire and respect, and that’s why I’d ask that if you are going to vote you consider voting for Phil, first and foremost, in the category of Best International Football Blog and for the quite brilliant Celtic By Numbers in the Best New Football Blog categories.

In the first instance it should go without saying; Phil has been the go-to-guy on these events for over ten years now … yeah it’s been that long. His blog is a decade old this year and the quality has never flagged.

For the second instance, amidst the overflow of sites that offer more or less the same content, what Celtic By Numbers does is truly unique and worthy of your support. It is a great source of information to researchers and stats geeks like me alike.

You can use this link to cast your votes;

Please do so and the very best of luck to those guys and to everyone who’s taking part in the competition this year.

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