Papers should do a few Olympic focus groups and listen to what people are saying
Posted on 21 July 2012 | 6:07am
Greetings from France, where this weekend Bradley Wiggins will write himself into the list of great British sportsmen. The Tour de France is one of the greatest and toughest sporting events in the calendar, and to be the first ever Brit to win it, just five years after British Cycling genius Dave Brailsford set that ambition, is the stuff of legend. If Wiggo was a golfer or a tennis player, UK media mania would be going into meltdown.
Here in France, though they resent the paucity of French winners in recent years, there is genuine recognition of Wiggins’ talent and achievement. Of course they don’t particularly want a Brit to win, but there is a real respect for him that comes through the coverage.
I am not saying the UK media has been negative about him. Far from it. But within the UK media, much more than in other advanced democracies, there is always that tension in the papers born of their not being sure if they want something to go well or badly.
As I never tire of saying, the positive to negative ratio in British papers (which hugely influence the broadcasters) has gone from broadly positive to wildly negative in recent years, at a time when most people have seen considerable improvement in their lives.
The public are onto this, and it is coming through in their assessment of coverage of the Olympics.
I was recently at a focus group being organised by a company that had nothing to do with the Olympics. The talk however, when people were asked what they had noticed in the news, quickly moved to the Games, and then to media coverage. This was just a snapshot discussion, but if I can sum it up,it came out something like this – we the people are desperate for the Games to succeed because we need something to cheer us up; and the media re desperate for them to fail because they see their mission to make us more miserable than we already are. And there were only two Mail readers in the group. This feeling goes beyond that particular putrescence.
As the Leveson Inquiry has unfolded, the strong sense of denial about the state of their industry by its leaders has come through strongly. They continue to labour under the illusion that they somehow speak for their readers. In fact they are out of tune with them in lots of ways, and the tone on the Olympics is one of them.
A specific example raised was the story of the Australian sail that went missing. On one of the busiest days in Heathrow’s history, as thousands of extra Games passengers arrived, there was a story to be told of the remarkable logistical success. Yet the slightest thing that went slightly wrong – and in the case of the sail was quickly resolved – was deemed to be news.
The delivery of the Games is one of the most remarkable stories of our time – just go and see the new stadia, reflect on the speed with which they have gone up, without a single death among the people involved in the construction. Just take a moment to reflect on the amount of preparation that has gone into, and continues to go into, transporting, housing, feeding, training great athletes in many sports from around the world. Then think about how many hours of top level competitive sport are about to take place, and how much happiness and entertainment they are going to bring to people all over the world.
The G4S shambles was serious, newsworthy and a genuine issue. But there are so many other stories from these Games, even before the action has started, and if my focus group and many other chats I have had with people are anything to go by, the public would like to hear more of the good ones.
Of course there are some who wish the thing wasn’t happening, who cannot see beyond queues, Olympic lanes, tube congestion and the rest of it. They are a minority. It is time, in the tone of coverage, that the media reflected the views of the majority, who want the Games to go well, and want to see and hear they are doing so as we go along.