I KNOW, I know. Writing two columns in a row about the media is a bit much. So don’t think of this as a column about the media – think of it as a chat about players.

To be honest, the debate caused by the Dally M awards a couple of weeks ago is one we feel duty-bound to join.

Here at Big Issue, we started off the season discussing social media. Then we took on the way NRL clubs interact with the fourth estate. And last week we outlined the decline of tradition media budgets and its impact on what you read.

So it will probably complete the set if we now address the way the players themselves behave in front of the camera/microphone/crappy, almost broken voice recorder with flat batteries.

The outcry of the Dally Ms was basically that players were either painfully inarticulate or even rude in accepting their awards and that this reflected poorly on them and on the sport as a whole. The head of Fox Sports, Gary Burns, told the Sunday Telegraph the situation was so bad he didn’t want to broadcast the ceremony anymore.

Now, firstly, I want to say Sam Kasiano was charming. He was shy but genuine, and his picking-up of the running bricklaying gag was comedy gold – an actor could not have done it better.

When people talk about media training, do they really want Sam Kasiano to say: “Yes, it’s a great honour and I only have my team-mates to thank. There are so many other good props out there and I am very fortunate.”

Now, maybe television producers do want that – but the rest of us would prefer a glimpse of someone’s real personality. It’s when they put up walls against that we get annoyed.

More than one person has commented since the ceremony that if Wayne Bennett is your coach, and you see him being laconic and refusing pre-match TV interviews, you’re going to see that as the done thing.

Maybe that’s true but I think the players completely misunderstand what we are after in the media. Now, there are slightly different requirements for television, radio and print but I can sum things up in one sentence that saves the game thousands of dollars in “media training”.

That sentence is: Tell us something we don’t know and we won’t continue hammering you for something you don’t want to tell us.

It’s that simple. It doesn’t apply in all situations, of course. If you’re sitting down with someone for a feature or you’ve just committed an atrocity on or off the field, a reporter is not going to smile and walk away when you say: “The halfback threw up twice at halftime”.

But generally, “the halfback threw up twice at halftime” will fascinate everybody – fulltime interviewer, press conference attendee and midweek ‘media opp’ hack!

Andrew and Matthew Johns always had an angle in mind as soon as the fulltime siren sounded. They would say that Paul Harragon had played injured, Adam MacDougall had talked to his thighs, they had targeted Steve Edmed – straight away, without thinking.

Living in a football mad town like Newcastle, they knew they were talking to their fans when they told these stories and the reporters were just the conduit. They wanted to share their enthusiasm for what had just taken place with the people who had supported them.

Today, many players seem to think of reporters as opponents – there to be palmed off, stone-walled or outwitted. They make no connection between the journalist and the audience.

Wayne Bennett’s maxim of “give ‘em nothing, take ‘em nowhere” might work  – but not as well, as the nameless politician’s expression about “feeding the chooks”.

What makes you enthusiastic about being a footballer, what makes you enthusiastic about your team or your club? What do you tell your mum and dad about your job – that’s a good litmus test. You wouldn’t tell them the same unsavoury things you wouldn’t tell a pressman.

If big Fred is the strongest man you’ve ever seen – say so. If little Jimmy lost his car keys and only showed up five minutes before the warm-up – say so. These asides make you seem more human and will make fans feel closer to the game. They’ll also save you from having to answer questions you don’t want to.

I know coaches today want to keep even positive things quiet. They don’t want the media to know about the AFL coach who came in to speak to the side or the space on someone’s chest for a premiership tattoo.

That’s got to be hard for a player to process and deal with – he must seem weighed down by secrets when he is interviewed and I appreciate that.

Some players change when they are getting to the end of their careers and realise they want a job in the media. Some are nice to the media all the way through – and end up working in the mines. But your ten years in footy sets you up for the rest of your life and your time in front of the microphone has as much or more to do with the outcome than your minutes on the field.

Instead of keeping a list in their heads of what they can’t say, the time has come for players to THINK about what they DO want to say. Devote a couple of minutes to it – that’s all it takes.

For the sake of the game, the Bennett mantra must change from “Give ‘em nothing, take ‘em nowhere’ to “Give them something and take them where you want to”!


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