There is no real way to prove it, but there is an undeniable feeling that 2018 is the year a large portion of the rugby league community said “enough” to News Corp journalist Phil ‘Buzz’ Rothfield.
Though hard to quantify without an expensive study into the topic, it’s difficult to deny that there currently seems to be a groundswell of increasing criticism of Buzz, and backlash against his brand of rugby league journalism.
It’s worth pointing out that Buzz has long had his detractors. It would be disingenuous to suggest that suddenly this year, everyone has turned on him. Firstly, not everyone has. And secondly, given his penchant for controversial and polarising opinions, he’s always had vocal critics, not just recently.
However, it does seem like the volume of critics has increased tenfold this year.
Buzz, to his immense credit, has very thick skin. He’s fully aware that some of the things he says and writes won’t be popular, and is prepared to cop the consequences. Whether you agree or disagree with Buzz and his individual opinions, that boldness and conviction should be applauded.
It’s brave to express a view when you’re completely cognisant of the fact you’re going to be criticised for it.
The truth is, Buzz has a responsibility to help sell papers, get clicks, and improve ratings. He’s said a number of times that he’s giving the public what they want, and that’s his job.
However, is Buzz really giving rugby league fans what they want?
When it comes to Twitter, Buzz is renowned for being extremely prolific on two fronts: blocking people that criticise him, and retweeting those that agree with him. I’m also willing to bet the former far outweighs the latter, which doesn’t really suggest he’s listening to the fans; or if so, is being extremely selective.
Last week, colleague AJ Mithen quoted that the Daily Telegraph’s cross-platform audience had dropped by 5.1 per cent from June 2017 to June 2018. Now, of course, that’s far from just Buzz’s issue alone, but the numbers don’t lie: almost 175,000 fewer people are reading the publication. Does that sound like the Tele is really giving people what they want, Buzz?
Fox Sports commentator Warren Smith received a lot of support when he called out Buzz – and others – for the media’s role in ‘ref bashing’, but Buzz’s reaction was simply sarcastic and childish tweets, so he clearly wasn’t taking Smith’s feedback onboard either.
Boys, boys. Until we in the media are prepared to put our hand up and admit we are are part of the problem, nothing will change.
WE set tones. WE help create the atmosphere. WE influence discussions. pic.twitter.com/n3s2TiN8ej
— Warren Smith (@WarrenSmithFOX) August 4, 2018
On Monday’s Controversy Corner, Buzz was torn to shreds by fellow panellists Graeme Hughes, Steve Roach and Bill Harrigan, over the Tele’s coverage of the Bulldogs Mad Monday celebrations.
Though a small sample size, that’s three out of four people on the panel that were critical of the story being covered. Did Buzz heed that criticism from his media peers? No, he staunchly defended his organisation’s coverage on the story, and then doubled down on Twitter afterwards.
If you’d like a larger sample size than four people, then fair enough. How about 75 per cent of the Tele’s own readers believing the Bulldogs behaviour wasn’t bad and that “boys will be boys”. Is Buzz digesting those numbers?
While Buzz can claim that he’s simply giving the people what they want, there is growing evidence that this is simply not true. At the very least, there is a large percentage of people that actually don’t seem to want a lot of what Buzz serves up. If that number continues to rise, Buzz will need to change, or he’ll be out of a job.
Given this is an opinion site, it would be remiss of me not to finish with my own opinion.
I have nothing personal against Buzz Rothfield, but I do think he is, currently, largely bad for the game of rugby league. I don’t deny he has an enviable list of contacts and sources, and he therefore has a tremendous ability to break a story because of them.
However, far too often those stories are mere muckraking, rather than about player movement, coaching dramas, or anything to do with the on-field action.
Combined with his propensity to have opinions that are negative and agenda-based, it ensures that Buzz is often actually hurting the sport he professes to love.
As such, he’s certainly not giving me what I want, so a few weeks ago I made the decision to stop “feeding the beast”. I have blocked Buzz on Twitter, refuse to read his articles, and no longer watch any show he’s on.
It’s my version of ‘voting with my feet’, because I’d like to see a change in the way rugby league is covered in Australia.
It does feel like I’m far from alone in that viewpoint, and should that actually be the case, hopefully Buzz has enough self-awareness to recognise that the tide might be turning, and that he should adjust accordingly.
Or more succinctly, give the people what they want . . .