Perhaps the most ominous line in the disciplinary verdict on Mark Allen is that he must attend media training.

I’ll admit a prejudice here: I’m suspicious of media training.

It has been prevalent in politics ever since Margaret Thatcher was taught how to lower her voice to sound more substantial. In modern politics, it seems to exist to teach politicians how to get around answering difficult questions.

I think the public relate better to people who are their natural selves than polished clones from a PR production line.

Despite my antipathy to media training, when World Snooker asked if any journalists were interested in providing this service to players last year I declared an interest. I wasn't asked but my method would have very simple.

In my opinion, the best media training you can give a player is to have them spend time with snooker journalists: to get to know them, to de-mystify the way the media works and to build up relationships.

I think this should be a must for all new professionals: spend a day in a press room somewhere, learning how it all works. There is more to being a pro snooker player than pitching up with a cue on day one at the qualifiers.

You can teach them various tricks of the media trade but only by developing relationships with the people who will be interviewing them will players relax and be themselves.

During Sky’s coverage of the England v West Indies Test series there was a very good set of programmes following young England cricketers in their training. They had a media day with cricket journalists in which they got to know them, chatted about themselves and generally broke down the barriers between sportsman and media.

Because the only way you will get anything interesting out of a player is through establishing trust. If the players trust that the journalists will not stitch them up or misreport them then you get better media coverage because they will be naturally more open. They will be themselves.

When I first became a freelance there was a small, established group of regular reporters out on the circuit. Far from trying to keep me out, they could not have been more welcoming or helpful.

There was Clive Everton and Phil Yates, my colleagues on Snooker Scene, John Dee, who primarily wrote for the Daily Telegraph, and Trevor Baxter, a remarkably industrious freelance who covered any sport that moved.

Together, we went to pretty much every tournament. Players would come down to the pressroom, often just for something to do, and informal relationships would be formed. It meant when the players came to press conferences they were more relaxed in our company.

Phil and Trevor covered the Norbreck qualifiers in the early 1990s. They pretty much trained Ronnie O’Sullivan, John Higgins and Mark Williams in how to deal with the media through their constant interviews over the course of many weeks.

The most important thing is for a player to be honest and open within the confines of remembering their professional responsibilities to the sport itself.

“I’m obviously disappointed but he played really well and I wish him all the best for the rest of the tournament,” might sound gracious but it’s of zero interest to journalists because it doesn’t provide a story.

Many stories that do get in the newspapers are about arguments and bust-ups but not all.

I used to write for a few Scottish papers. The Scots players were all excellent in providing in interviews something more than just a blow-by-blow account of how they played.

Stephen Hendry had done so many interviews that he was a great pro. When he won he spoke properly and with authority. When he lost he didn’t pretend it didn’t matter. If he said nothing at all it was a story in itself.

Higgins often chipped in with some family news or something about Celtic, knowing it would be helpful to journalists and, as it got him press coverage, helpful to him too.

Alan McManus, Stephen Maguire, Graeme Dott: all very honest. Chris Small was straightforward about the extent of his back condition.

O’Sullivan has almost always given more than just the basics and Ken Doherty and Steve Davis are examples of senior players who understand what the press want.

There are other players who not only don’t understand what the media want but quite obviously don’t care. These should be given media training before Mark Allen.

Will the media training make Allen more interesting? I doubt it.

Some of his comments have got him into trouble but the last thing we want is a succession of identikit players who all sound the same, all have the same mannerisms, all trot out the same bland phrases.

That isn’t going to do anything for snooker.


Ron Florax said...

I would suggest taping up his mouth, but that's been tried.

thelhc.tf said...

I've got to be honest, if it shuts Allen up I'm all for it. Yes, we want to hear interesting stories from the players but Allen's comments are just childish and it does nobody involved with snooker any favours at all.

Peter said...

I agree with the above, it's like he tries to undo the positive new image that Hearn is cultivating-cutting off your nose to spite your face!

Monique said...

Good article (as usual) David.
I totally agree with you that reducing the players to well behaved clones who don't dare to express their own feelings or opinions is not going to help the public to relate to snooker and its exponents.
Although I totally disapprove of Mark Allen's comments under this particular circumstances, I'd rather have the occasional faux pas than an army of identical and sterile "good boys".
More than a "media training", one thing that would probably help to get better and more thoughtful stories would be to give the players, in particular the losers, some time, if only a few minutes, before they are interviewed, so that they can get a hold on themselves and deal with their emotions before being exposed to the press. They are only human. They are competitive boys and it's very hard sometimes for them to think clearly when they are caught in a turmoil of various emotions: anger, disappointment, self-doubts, anxiety … Ding's outburst at the Crucible was the perfect example of a very "evitable" incident.
I know that this might be easier to write than to organise practically but really, I think some thoughts should be given to that.

Anonymous said...

The golfers have the balance right, snooker players want to be compared to golfers but you can't turn a chav into a chap.

Dave H said...

Monique - good points. In an ideal world there would be more of a pause before post match interviews but the reality of newspapers deadlines is that journalists often need players immediately.

Anonymous said...

Yeah those golfers look dead chavvy with their caps on I agree

Anonymous said...

Dave, call yourself a journalist, why didn't you tell us Barry had got darts and snooker into the olympics:


kimball said...

Monique good points. Dave, deadlines for printed and resultoriented news are old news out the window.For TV,settled
losers will not provide any
unprovoked funny material, like whining about Wenbos bowtie f.ex or
blaiming the tablefitters when losing 3-10.
Mediatraining doesn't work on O'Sullivan neither seem journalists
since he is his worst enemy in 19 out of 20 encounters and comes a cross as mostly terrified with the whole thing.