AFL should be about the game, not media

Dan Lonergan Columnist

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Tom Clurey has performed well in a Port side lacking height. (Photo: AFL Media)

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The AFL is a huge business and is getting bigger by the minute, with saturation coverage this off-season greater than ever before.

While there was no footy, the longer trade period, introduction of free agency and the anti-drugs investigation that has engulfed Essendon were all big news items.

It could be argued that the AFL would have been delighted with all the coverage of the draft and the free agency recruiting extravaganza.

They could probably have done without the performance enhancing substances issue.

However, with investigations regarding the matter continuing and so many people employed solely to cover the game, there will be many different angles brought up as the various media outlets try and stay ahead of each other to get the next exclusive or breaking story.

It’s the job of many of the individuals at these organisations to break stories and it can’t be denied that these are pressure filled roles with editors and news directors breathing down their necks to stay ahead of the opposition.

But as a long-serving member of the media I am concerned that the game is becoming more about media personalities, their egos, conflicts and clashing with other high-profile members of the media.

In recent years there has been too many examples – in fact one is too many – of football journalists or broadcasters criticising each other because they didn’t like the way a story was covered, or they got the exclusive before them, or even made it about them instead of the game.

We all got into the industry in the first place our love of and passion for footy – well I think that was the reason, wasn’t it?

All of us who work in the media covering the footy need to remember that we are lucky to be doing what we are doing.

It’s a pretty good life to go to a sporting event and not pay to get in and then actually get paid to watch it or write on it or talk about it.

However, chief football writers or reporters have had a tendancy to make it about themselves.

I am not sure why the Herald Sun’s Mark Robinson needed to criticise Damian Barratt, Craig Hutchinson and Channel Nine for the Dane Swan interview on the first edition of the season of The Footy Show last week.

‘Robbo’ is well-respected within the industry as a leading AFL journalist, but in some circles his column may have seemed like sour grapes.

Barratt on the Austereo Radio Network the next day certainly thought it was and was personal in his attack on him as the new chief football writer of the Herald Sun, saying he wasn’t in the class of the man he replaced, Mike Sheahan, or words to that affect anyway.

Ok! That’s his opinion and in the words of the late and great rugby league player, Arthur Beetson, opinions are like backsides! We’ve all got one, but it’s getting coverage and shouldn’t.

We have a great game and product and if it’s the role of the reporter or journalist to go out and break stories and get a scoop, well, that’s great. Good on you.

Your direct opposition then has to up the ante and find the next exclusive.

I know that’s easier said than done from an ABC sports broadcaster and journalist, whose main role is to broadcast sport and I am very lucky to do it, but I still have the responsibility of trying to find a new angle for every on or off field story in the game.

However, it’s not my sole duty and as outlined earlier it would be tough with so many journalists accredited, if that is your main role.

The people who are in the position such as Caroline Wilson from The Age, Mark Robinson, Mark Stevens from Channel Seven and Damian Barratt wouldn’t have been given that duty if they couldn’t do it.

There are many other experienced journalists and broadcasters, who have gained fine reputations for their news breaking in AFL footy along with their analysis and storytelling.

But maybe even after 16 years in the game achieving my dream, I am still too ignorant to think that we could all leave our egos at the door and not get involved in public spats with each other.

Just break the story or find the exclusive if that’s your go in the media or cover the best part of it, what happens on the field, if that’s what you do best or are employed to do.

Like the onfield competition in the AFL, the media is extremely competitive, but that should be behind the scenes, it shouldn’t be the story.

Dan Lonergan is one Australia's most respected and versatile commentators. In more than 16 years on ABC Grandstand he has covered AFL footy (including four Grand Finals), cricket, tennis, and three Olympic Games, including London 2012 where he commentated 16 sports.

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