David Higgerson, left, Trinity Mirror’s digital publishing director, has argued such bans can in fact have a positive effect, in light of recent data which shows supporters prefer to hear about their favourite teams from independent news brands rather than ‘in-house’ club journalists.
Last week the National Union of Journalists wrote to FA chairman Greg Dyke urging the sport’s governing body to act on the “worrying trend” of clubs handing out bans to sports journalists.
Earlier this month Will Watt, of The Gazette, Blackpool, called on the FA to outlaw the practice altogether.
On his personal blog, David wrote: “In recent years, it’s become increasingly hard to be a fan-first sports journalist and maintain good relationships with a football club.
“That’s mainly because many clubs are desperate to control the flow of information out of their club, and the prospect of a ban for writing something the manager/PR person/chairman/other vested interest didn’t agree with seems to loom large at most clubs.
“But it’s often because football clubs believe they are increasingly competing with the local press for the attention of football fans.
“In one sense they are, but data I’ve seen recently on search clicks from football terms shows increasingly, it’s the news brand which wins in the battle for the attention of football fans. Why? Because fans know that news brands are independent.
“So I don’t think a ban is something to be feared by football writers. Of course, it will make life harder, but does it actually make what the fans read weaker? I’d argue in many cases, it’s the opposite – it makes it better.”
Earlier this month Swindon Town extended its current media ban by announcing it was culling pre-match press conferences, while Rotherham United, Newcastle United, Southampton and Port Vale were all involved in media access disputes at some stage last season.
Last week The Gazette was barred from attending a match between Morecambe FC and Blackpool FC, in the latest incident of a summer of wranglings between the newspaper and the latter club.
David added: “There are times when a ban can perhaps even be a blessing. While it’s remarkable that Blackpool FC – a club which seems to have spent the last year at loggerheads with fans – feels it can afford to cut off relations with the local Blackpool Gazette, surely it gives the Gazette the chance to demonstrate its independence from the club.
“As any club writer will tell you, fans don’t hesitate to say you’re in the club’s pocket the moment they feel you aren’t being as critical as they want you to be.
“Being banned doesn’t mean going native with the angry fans – but it does reinforce the point which shouldn’t need to be made, that you’re objective.
“And it’s that objectivity which will resonate with fans far longer than any ban, any managerial term and any blow-out with the PLC board.
“As any sports writer knows, it’s easy to build a following online writing about football – but far harder to build up a reputation for being reliable, accurate and an authority. But once you have, it’s something fans value, something fans trust.”