Media mayhem in the QPR vacuum - guest column
Monday, 11th Jul 2011 23:29 by Colin Speller
No signings, no shirts, no sponsors, no real clue whether Adel Taarabt is ever coming back and nothing from the club’s communication sources other than pictures of a new media suite. Colin Speller on life in QPR’s information vacuum.
I am a great fan of the Simpsons. When all else fails on my 200 channels of shit television there is nothing like the joy of finding a decent episode tucked away on the Sky planner. There is very little from real life’s experiences that the series has not covered one way or another, and the wry and often meaningful observations earn the support and respect of a wide range of opinion, even including elements of the church.
There is one episode in which Homer becomes the subject of a media storm. Sadly, my daughter Harriet is in the USA until mid-August and will not be here to put me right on the detail or the quotes (she is word perfect on at least 250 episodes) so you will have to accept this as the gist rather than the actuality, but in essence he is falsely accused of groping the teenage baby-sitter’s bum as she gets out of her car when he drops her off at home. In fact, he was actually attempting to retrieve a sweet that he spots stuck to her bottom as she got out of the car.
She raises the alarm and within no time at all Homer is at the heart of a full-blown media circus. His story is featured in the press, on the radio and on the TV where women who have never met him share their fears of him on Oprah-style talk shows. The family ends up besieged in their home with the press pack baying outside. Local news hound Kent Brockman is to be seen trying to examine the interior of the Simpson house with a thermal-imaging device. Focusing in on a chicken rotating in the oven, the incompetent Brockman concludes it is a naked Homer churning in his guilt. “He is quite literally stewing in his own juice,” he intones seriously.
I’ve had two direct experiences of a media storm - fortunately neither of which had anything to do with groping someone. The first was over 20 years ago in sleepy south Lincolnshire. It was back in the day when Afghanistan was a Russian problem and the Taliban were Mujahideen freedom fighters. Under some circumstances I cannot recall in full detail an Englishman was arrested, or shot, or both in Kabul with the local authorities accusing him of being a spy. The English media investigated his background and discovered he was associated with a private company of which a south Lincolnshire farmer was a director. The entire mob – minus Kent Brockman and his thermal-imager – descended on his farm in the arse end of nowhere complete with long-range lenses, stepladders, binoculars, etc, desperate to capture a picture of Farmer Bloggs. Within 48 hours they had gone leaving nothing but litter and flattened crops, with no resolution of the issues they had set out to investigate. It was yesterday’s news and tomorrow’s chip papers needed a different lining.
Scroll forward to 2011 (and I’m getting to the point, here – honest) and thousands of QPR fans who thought we had secured promotion at Watford, were subjected to a week of the most amazing media storm as one idiot after another opined at great length about how we were certain to lose 15 points and, thus, automatic promotion. Whilst with hindsight, and the FA’s report to hand, it is fair to say that a points deduction was more of a risk than any of us might have wished it to be, but at the time what characterised the stories was an almost complete absence of facts or, indeed, analysis of the process through which the FA was attempting to determine QPR’s guilt. This did not stop speculation fuelling rumour that was reported as fact. I am a huge fan of the internet but the pace of the cycling and recycling of stories through Twitter and the various websites was astonishing. ‘You know what they said, and some of it was true...’ sang the Clash. Sadly, very little of it in practice.
To digress for a moment, how did rumours become fact before t’interweb existed? I remember back in the day (cue Harriet here with one of her favourite Grandpa Simpson’s quotes ‘It was the forties, I wore an onion on my belt, it was the fashion of the time...’) a rumour spread around that during a 60’s drugs raid Mick Jagger was caught consuming a Mars Bar that was apparently lodged in Marianne Faithfull’s vagina – the result, no doubt, of her having been walking naked near the sweet bowl. I suppose someone had to get it out and Mick, showing all the style and invention for which us lads from Dartford are famed, decided that eating it was the best way. Except that he didn’t – because it never happened, as confirmed by Faithfull herself in her autobiography. But how on earth did such a rumour spread? Carrier pigeon? These days it would be public knowledge (I actually typed ‘pubic’ there originally in some ghastly Freudian slip) before you could utter the words ‘super-injunction’.
The internet is a wonderful thing, but the speed of information flow creates issues for media professionals and information ‘consumers’ alike. Rumours started by innocent or malevolent sources soon wing their way back and forth across cyberspace with increasing speed. The more plausible the story, the quicker it grows. We all know the drill by now: “Ace Dutch striker Jan van de Thumpermijn is likely to move from Ajax to QPR because he is married to an English woman and has just bought a house in Holland Park.” Particular momentum is added when rumours are blasted into a vacuum.
In the FA Enquiry fiasco there was an inevitable and understandable absence of information given that both sides had agreed not to comment and the matter was otherwise to all intents and purposes sub judice. In those circumstances, rumours alleged to emanate from within the FA, or comments from someone once associated with the FA, were seized upon by a QPR fan base desperate for news, or better still reassurance. And then wound up, and up, and up...
The final resolution of the matter on the morning of the Leeds game brought overwhelming relief and we all went out and got mightily drunk. But, as ever with QPR, joy is a fleeting sensation. Barely a blink of the eye later we are but a few weeks away from the start of our first Premiership season in fifteen years with no shirts, no sponsor, no signings, our best player apparently determined to leave and increasingly little hope of anything other than a disaster of a season played out in the glare of the spotlight that is the coverage of the Premiership season. So far, then, there’s every prospect of scant reward for me shelling out over £1600 for two season tickets in the Ellerslie. Apropos the price of which much has been said already, but I would like to point out to our owners in an example they might understand better than others – this year’s price rise is threatening to cost me the moral high-ground in cost of hobby arguments with a wife who keeps no less than three horses.
In the middle of this mayhem sits the ‘organ’ (and I use that word advisedly) that is the QPR Official Web Site, known colloquially as the Offish or the Offshite. Whilst acknowledging its difficulty in the light of everything I’ve said above about the modern media world it does rile me when I read its frequent pleas to be treated at the sole source of credible news. Interestingly, the laughable ‘first and fastest’ banner has been dropped in favour of ‘news is only official when it appears via our communication channels, including www.qpr.co.uk’. That at least is consistent with the fact that in all the years I’ve been following QPR through the web I have never, ever seen a piece of significant news first or fastest on the site. But, what are the reliable ‘communication channels’? WATRB? The Fulham and Hammersmith Chronicle? Or even, God forbid, the bloody Sub-Standard which last week carried a Warnock pronouncement about Adel that seemed credible?
Whatever the situation at the club, and whatever the challenges of the modern media, I cannot imagine the lack of credible news from the club’s official channels in any way, shape or form represents a media strategy.
During the height of the FA inquiry crisis, Warnock was to be seen and heard making reassuring noises quoting ‘his barrister’ or ‘the club’s barrister’. I bought the aforementioned learned gentleman a pint in the midst of the Green Room piss-up after the Leeds game and he confirmed that Warnock was referring to the formal legal advice the club had received about the case. Within the ‘no comment’ scenario, it was a clever way to dispense as much reassurance as they could.
But at the moment, in a dreadful echo of the ‘win Jedward tee-shirts’ item on the Offish at the height of the Paul Hart/Mick Harford farce we are now being treated to more than we would like to know about the building alterations at the stadium. What do I care if the media has somewhere more comfortable to sit? I’ve paid over £800 for my season ticket and membership and I will still have to spend at least ten of the 15 minutes at half time fighting to get to the gents for a piss.
The problem with the official silence is that a vacuum is a great medium in which to grow further rumour and speculation. A Russian billionaire has now appeared (ironically at the same time the BBC is carrying a story about corruption in the Russian oil industry) although he may be a fiction. The Mittals have apparently bid more, but it’s not enough. There will be a big announcement on Thursday, or maybe not. I bet someone will mention 2pm before long – it’s always bloody 2pm although I can’t for the life of me remember anything that has broken at that time.
Returning to the Simpsons episode, Homer is eventually saved when Groundskeeper Willie comes forward with a video proving his innocence – a video that is only available because Willie is a voyeur. The media circus switches to Willie and Homer is soon to be found glued to the TV lapping up everything that is being said about him. Marge reminds him of the presumption of innocence, but Homer is not to be put off. “Listen to the music, Marge” he insists, as a dark theme blares from the TV, “listen to the music.” Marge is angry. “Homer!” she yells at him “have you learnt nothing from what happened to you?” Homer assumes his most patronising voice: “Marge my friend, I haven’t learned a thing...”
With a fan base all too ready to ‘listen to the music’ and more than one source ready to create it, it’s high time the official channels at QPR learned a thing or two from their previous experience, of which they’ve had plenty in recent years. Silence just makes it worse – at least try to say something that acknowledges the lack of shirt, sponsor, signings, etc and what may or may not be happening to address the issues. Or perhaps, even start to articulate the strategy for the club now that it finds itself in the big league in a stadium that holds barely 18,000 people. You may have my £1600 tucked in your pockets, but that doesn’t mean you can do nothing but prattle trivia at me between now and 23 August. But, sadly, I expect that’s just what you’ll do.
Oh well, back to Twitter to see if there’s anything brewing...
Photo: Action Images
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