I am an online football journalist and have a history of mental health issues and constantly fight with my demons.
The Caroline Flack story, which broke at the weekend, hit home to me in a very personal way. Although there would have been a myriad reasons which would have led to her taking so sad an action, I could never claim to know how hopeless Caroline Flack would have been feeling. However, given my job for the last nine years, this news has really hit me hard.
As an online football journalist, I take news stories from around the globe, provide my spin on them and also produce opinion pieces. In my job I cover so-called ‘Twitter reaction’ articles. This is when an article is crafted from fan reactions about teams or players across the social media platform. These type of articles can be very positive, but they also can be extremely negative pieces, which can be poisonous and may well have a very negative impact on the individual who is the subject of the article. And, as sensational headlines are often those that get picked up more effectively, online journalists usually manage to find the most sensational Tweets to form the basis of these kind of stories. This cannot be right. We as professional journalists must not use these kinds of tactics simply to generate more hits. We have to realise that there can be personal consequences because of how we present these kind of articles.
Here’s a story: A while back, I wrote an article about a Premier League player. He had just been released after a difficult spell at his club. In the article, I described him as a flop. A few days later, after some correspondence, I received a phone call. The player in question was on the other end of the phone. He protested he was not a flop. He was angry, forthright and most upset. I could hear him quivering at times. At that point it dawned on me what I had done was wrong. I also realised that this footballer and I were the same age. We have the same frailties, same insecurities, same chronological path through life. I told myself I had to try and be more positive going forward.
But the Caroline Flack situation has really brought it home to me. From now on, I will do my absolute best to be balanced in the content I produce. I won’t excuse mistakes, poor team or player performances – or fan opinion – but I will do my best not to cross the line from being constructive to being blindly vindictive. I will no longer give a voice to the groups of so-called football ‘fans’ who can be so cruel behind their keyboards.
So to the long list of players I have called a ‘flop’, a ‘dud’, a ‘misfire’, ‘a waste of money’ – I am sorry. Although it was never personal, therein lies the problem. I, and most everyone else in the football content game – from the grunts like me, the esteemed journalists or the talking heads on radio and TV / cable – have stopped putting ourselves in the boots of the people we write about. Without that empathy, many of us have become vindictive, cold, and calculating. If the hit counter is going up, who cares who it hurts? Well, I do care, and I am going to do my best to do something about it.
Mat Nash works with GRV Media Limited, which owns a number of football websites. We are also going to try to do the right thing across our network and follow Mat’s example.