There’s a question I’d like to pose to our readers. It’s something that’s been a source of internal conflict for me, and no doubt for other supporters.
Over recent weeks, the Parramatta Eels have featured regularly across mainstream and social media over a variety of topics.
From the stadium deal, to salary cap dilemmas, shopping players around and of course the Jarryd Hayne issues, it’s all been fodder for those who ply their trade reporting on rugby league.
This is nothing new to Parramatta supporters. We’ve long known that casting an Eels related headline into NRL waters is genuine clickbait – but we seem to gobble it up regardless.
Back in 2016, the media coverage of the salary cap breaches was relentless. Before that, the mess surrounding the recruitment of Foran, the departure of Hayne to the NFL, and Ricky Stuart’s “Projectorgate” shone the media focus on the Eels – and that was only the tip of the iceberg from the last 6 years.
Undoubtedly supporters want to be in the know. Back in the days of my childhood, I grew up on a diet of Big League, Rugby League Week, The Rugby Leaguer (for a season and a bit) and four daily newspapers. The “gossip” content wasn’t as high back then, but it was becoming popular.
A passion for footy, a love of the Eels and an ambition to be a rugby league journalist drove my reading. I’d exhaust my pocket money on nothing but footy, with newsagents reminding me that I wasn’t in a library when I’d look through such publications in their shop when the funds were limited.
These days, television and the Internet have become the domain for rugby league journalists. There might be paywalls to prevent quick access, but in reality newspaper columns are easily accessed online, especially through supporter websites.
There’s always been quality to be found in the media – brilliant investigative journos who research and write on important issues. Chris Masters was a prime example of the impact a journalist can have. He literally changed the rugby league landscape in 1983 with his report on the malpractice surrounding dismissed fraud charges against then NSWRL Executive Secretary, and ARL Chairman, Kevin Humphreys.
However, the appetite for gossip and speculation has also produced journalists who seem to “specialise” in this endeavour.
And then we have greatest consumer and facilitator of rugby league speculation – supporter forums. Let’s be honest, we might bitch and moan about how inaccurate certain columnists are with their “mail”, but their columns are read nonetheless. And reacted to. The latest gossip is discussed in forums, at work and in pubs. And the rumours gain a life of their own.
In other words, we, the supporters, literally drive the very thing that we complain about – inaccurate rumours and innuendos about players, coaches and clubs.
Which brings me to my question. Do we get Eels related news, regardless of whether it’s good or bad, simply because we provide unqualified demand?
I would suggest that Eels supporters would be unsatisfied if Parra didn’t feature in rugby league news, regardless of its nature.
You could literally imagine the response of “Nothing about Parra?” being uttered in the homes of supporters after episodes of shows like NRL360 if the club wasn’t mentioned.
What do we crave?
Inside news is always at the forefront. Whether it be about the players themselves, team selections, their preparations, the uncensored opinions of players or coaches – we enjoy reading something unique about our team.
It’s this quest for something unique that likely inspires rumours on forum sites. You’ve got those who want to be seen as having “scoops” and you’ve got readers looking for something that they may not find in mainstream media. And of course, everyone has an opinion.
Player recruitment is unquestionably a big ticket item. The rumours will often get bigger reactions than actual signings, given that the rumours always seem to feature big name players, and the signings are often a previous rumour.
And when the club “misses out” on a big signing, whether they were actually pursuing the player or not, look out because the fans are going to react.
Player retention probably sits just below recruitment, unless that player is Jarryd Hayne. People have their favourites and people have their scapegoats. Interestingly, Hayne seems to polarise fans along those lines. (I regard him as a must to retain.)
Of course a season such as 2018 throws coach rumours into the mix in a big way. Coaches are the easiest target in a poor season and the recent merry-go-round of coaches only serves to add credibility to the countless whispers that mostly fail to come to fruition.
Away from the football itself, rugby league is a soap opera with a never-to-be-exhausted script. Social media faux pas, player behaviour scandals captured on phone cameras, and the occasional drink driving along with other run-ins with the police, are a source of headaches for administration and the gift that keeps on giving for journalists.
Players and clubs do plenty of good in the community, and supporters would probably respond well to good news stories. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, the balance falls more on the negative than the positive.
Maybe, this is just the nature of news. I challenge anybody to tune into the evening news programs and find a bulletin featuring more good news than bad. It seems that the importance of information is measured by potential negative impact.
So, do we get the news we deserve? Can clubs do a better job of controlling that balance or is it completely out of their control?
As we head into the NRL pre-season, whether it be Parra or any other club, I’m hoping for more good news than bad.
But I certainly want my news.