The centre will provide ICT training, employment support, health advice and support, services for young people and a preschool nursery right in the heart of one of the region's most disadvantaged communties.

On sport and the media

Posted: Mon, 30 Jan 2017 12:13

On sport and the media

Against some pretty stiff competition, the concept of 'fake news' was one of the most depressing phenomena to emerge from 2016.

Fuelled by the desire to attract ever more viewers and consumers, we've finally got to the point where it doesn't matter if news is true or not.

As a former national sports editor raised and educated on the fine traditions of the Press Association and the BBC, I feel we've sunk pretty low. To the point where people in Cornwall and north Wales are voting en masse to get rid of their EU funding. To the point where American women are openly endorsing a misogynist.

Traditional media types will, of course, point the finger at social media running amok and cry foul as they valiantly defend the last bastions of principled journalism. Except that this 'read me' mentality pervades many of our print titles too – from headlines shouting about everything from immigration to celebrity high jinx. It's a frustrating time for many of my former colleagues, who are talented and creative people worried about the future of their industry.

This brutal, Darwinian fight for survival going on amongst media platforms old and new does nothing to help cultivate objective journalism. Whether it's trying to combat the declining sales of newspapers, or just driving bigger audiences online, where does this all end? Clickbait is the most tawdry example but even higher-brow brands should be asking themselves: when did entertaining and titillating people become more important than informing them?

At least in sport some media organisations are trying to present a more balanced outlook. The emergence of platforms such as BBC Get Inspired, BT Sport's Supporters Club and Sky Sports' Living for Sport are genuinely focused on achieving social good.

None of which means, of course, that they are promoting objective journalism either, but at least their programmes and stories are helping to level the playing field.

I'm not asking for some kind of philanthropic miracle from the media barons. Of course the media has a duty to report bad news and confront difficult social issues, but it can also do so much to challenge the status quo and champion solutions. Take BBC Scotland's recent documentary 'The Medal Myth' which examined the link (or lack of it) between Olympic success and grassroots participation in sport and physical activity. What really matters is coming together and finding out how we get it right next time, not nursing someone's bruised ego in Whitehall or Wembley.

There has never been any academic evidence to back up the claim that major sporting events will precipitate a surge in participation amongst the general populace. Yet for decades politicians and governing bodies have been trumpeting the social value of elite sport. Like everybody, I love, and occasionally feel briefly inspired by elite sporting success, but it's time to stop the expensive, empty rhetoric and focus on the real bottom-up solutions, as articulated in the Government's new sports strategy 'Sporting Future' which aspires to forge social equality and improve the health of the nation through physical activity as much as sport.

So the point here is not to sell more newspapers by blaming people, but to ensure accountability in the future, and that decisions are made based on evidence. Let's showcase solutions and reward innovators with the oxygen of publicity. That's how we can help them flourish and grow in their own communities. As journalists and story-tellers, we can't solve austerity and social inequality – but we can shine a light on how and where great things are being achieved with relatively modest finances.

With limited funds Sport England, and indeed local government in times of austerity, have their work cut out in turning the Government's vision into a reality, but at least they should be applauded for committing to it.

It's the right thing to do, and the media can play its part in helping to make sure it happens.

Simon Lansley is the founder of ConnectSport, a free media platform and directory committed to showcasing and sharing news and best practice from community sport and sport for social development. He previously spent 15 years at the Press Association, the UK's national news agency, where he was Sports Editor and Editorial Director. After leaving the mainstream media in 2011, he spent four years as Head of Marketing and Communications at Street League, the national charity which uses sport to tackle youth unemployment across the UK.

Twitter: @ConnectSport

Tags: Local Government, London 2012, Olympics, Sport, Sport for development, sport england

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