This is a brave new world for media practitioners and that was no better illustrated than by the reaction on Friday to speculation which linked David Beckham with a move to the A-League.
The first I heard of the story was on Friday morning when several Tweets from a variety of media outlets advised that Football Federation Australia would make a major announcement at 2pm.
I was preoccupied at that hour, so it wasn’t until late afternoon that I saw Beckham’s name plastered over every major news outlet online.
Several prominent names were soon talking up Beckham’s chances of moving to the A-League, including new FFA chief David Gallop.
Much as I’d love to see Beckham in Australia, I can’t vouch for the veracity of the rumours because I simply don’t possess the contacts to confirm whether or not they’re true.
But judging by his bemused reaction when the question was put to him at an LA Galaxy news conference, one glance at Beckham’s body language suggests the rumours may have been little more than fantasy.
That didn’t stop Gallop from keeping Beckham’s name in the headlines by stating on Fox Sports that he’d spoken to his agent to say “it would be fantastic” if the former England star enjoyed a stint Down Under.
It certainly would be fantastic, just as it would be fascinating to note whether such a deal emerged because of the sheer weight of media interest.
It’s hard to know whether Gallop was being naïve or shrewd by keeping Beckham’s name in the headlines.
But one thing is certain: virtually every news outlet in the country ran with stories about Beckham’s ‘interest’ in the A-League despite no discernible attempt to verify whether or not it was genuine.
Only commentator Simon Hill – one of the best-connected journalists in the business – admitted on Fox Sports News to making some phone calls to try and uncover the story.
The reason for that should be obvious – in the online world, no news outlet can afford not to run a story published elsewhere.
Immediacy is paramount, so even the websites of major newspapers – once afforded the luxury of thorough research before their copy appeared in the morning edition – now often base reports on hard-to-verify Twitter rumours or otherwise react to what has been published elsewhere.
Which makes the weekend’s little tête-à-tête between Central Coast and FFA all the most interesting, during which the Mariners accused the FFA’s website of leaking details of Mat Ryan’s potential move to English club Hull City.
“For FFA to leak that the way they did, I think is totally wrong. What else are they going to leak?” Mariners’ coach Graham Arnold said after the story broke.
FFA hit back through Head of Corporate Affairs and Communications Kyle Patterson, who insisted Arnold was mistaken in thinking that FFA operations staff had leaked the story.
Instead Patterson said the story had been uncovered by the footballaustralia.com.au editorial team.
“The website employs independent journalists in conjunction with our digital partner Optus,” Patterson said. “They don’t work in the FFA offices.”
I can vouch for that because I write a weekly column for the site and have never once heard from anyone working inside FFA headquarters regarding its contents.
What was perhaps most interesting about the way the original story broke is that it was penned by Mike Cockerill – a Football Hall of Fame journalist and Fox Sports commentator who recently became Associate Editor of the FFA site after a 28-year career at the Sydney Morning Herald.
If anyone’s got contacts inside the game, it’s Cockerill, and though he sounded a bit croaky at Hunter Stadium yesterday it seems his news radar regarding the Ryan rumour was spot on.
Yet in an age when investigative journalism seems to be dwindling into irrelevance, perhaps it’s no surprise the Mariners were angered by the report.
When reactive reporting becomes the norm, it’s easy to dismiss the expert practitioners of what appears to be a dying craft.
As football consumers, we should ask ourselves if that’s really the path we want to head down.