Editor’s Column: What being involved in the Toxic World of Transfer News Journalism is really like

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I’ve been writing about football for quite a long time, now. Some things have changed dramatically. The manner in which footballers use social media, for example, has created a route-to-story in a faster, easier manner than a press-conference ever did.

Lionel Messi starts following all of PSG’s players on Instagram last summer? Well – that’s a story – because it suggests something; just like an agent linking his client to certain clubs would have previously.

One thing though has not changed in online football journalism: the never-ending churn of transfer gossip that keeps many websites, reporters and Twitter accounts afloat.

Being part of it is occasionally exciting, like when you get a legitimate scoop, or when your club signs a player out of nowhere (like Fabinho in 2018), but more often, monotonous and soul destroying.

So why do we do it? Well, simply – it pays the bills. Believe it or not, but summertime, when there is NO FOOTBALL ON, is when most football websites, blogs or social-media accounts get their highest traffic, clicks and engagement of the year. Weird, right? In fairness, with Liverpool being brilliant over the past few years under Jurgen Klopp, there has been a gradual lean towards readers paying attention to match-related content on Empire of the Kop rather than transfer stories; but across the board, transfer news trumps football news when it comes to reader attention. And with internet ad revenues far, far worse than they were between 2013 and 2016, there is a greater need for traffic to generate profit.

More traffic means more promoted posts, more interest from betting affiliates and effectively drives the business. So incessant transfer news is essentially a product of its lure.

The problem is, it’s unregulated and to those outside of the industry, very difficult to decipher in terms of what’s real news and what’s clickbait.

A primary issue is that news is recycled and rehashed instead of researched.

Let me explain what I mean.

A Bola, in Portugal, could pen a story about Darwin Nunez being a target for Manchester United, and because it will then draw more readers, throw in a few other English clubs who are interested, based either on the fact that a scout had been present (scouts from big clubs are present all over Europe, the entire time – it means very little bar due diligence) or absolutely nothing. After all, who polices this claim? If they say, ‘Arsenal are also keen,’ and Arsenal don’t end up signing him, it doesn’t prove the original statement was false.

Then, A Bola’s story is picked up in the English football media by multiple publications and reproduced to suit their readership. For example, an Arsenal blog will pick up on the Arsenal link and use that in their headline. A few days later, the Express (probably the biggest culprits for this of any big newspaper) will lazily reproduce the Arsenal piece as an original piece of journalism, even though it isn’t. No research has been done – it’s essentially words being rearranged with a juicy headline – but it keeps the cycle of the news spinning.

Now, the nothing-story from the Express will head back to Portugal and be reproduced by A Bola (or any other outlet) as the next phase of the transfer saga. The truth is no journalism has been done. It’s been a week, the story has grown, but zero actual information has been discovered by any party who wrote about it.

This is why fans become confused and disgruntled. ‘We’ve been linked to Player X all summer long! What’s happening!’ Well, nothing has happened – you just keep reading it has because you want it to have – and the cycle lives on.

Take this story from Fabrizio Romano. There is no news on Mo Salah’s deal. There hasn’t been for months and months. But by repeating the message with slightly different wording, the story is reborn and it will be then be deciphered and rehashed elsewhere on the basis of fresh information.

This brings me quite nicely onto Twitter’s strange role in the ecosystem. There are multiple accounts who survive simply on this pattern. They are not journalists. They are just people who are very good at repeating something they’ve just read and then telling everyone they got it spot on. You have the parody transfer accounts like @IndyKaila (who is actually owned by a company, but marketed as an individual) and the even stranger case of @NicoSchira – someone who pretended to be a reporter until he got so many followers that he now seemingly works as one. Fake it till you make it, right?

EOTK is not innocent in this climate, either. Sometimes, our stories don’t add enough value and are part of the reuse problem. As Editor in Chief, I tell our writers to be very clear about where a transfer story comes from – and most importantly – to add value. When we’re writing about Christopher Nkunku links, give the reader more information. Where would he play? What’s he good at? What’s he bad at…? Do some digging – find some news nobody else has yet.

But, with Liverpool notoriously silent with reporters when it comes to transfer links ever since Southampton claimed we tapped up Virgil van Dijk, it’s not easy.

Often, the best bet is to look abroad, and speak to agents, journalists and clubs in Europe, as Liverpool (quite fairly) give you nothing.

The kind of transfer piece we like to do is featured below. It took actual research and provided readers new information. The problem is it takes hours rather than 20 minutes to reproduce a story based on something Paul Joyce said, so the key for me, is that EOTK provide up-to-date news from a biased, Liverpool-angle, while also putting the effort in to find nuggets of transfer information that enlighten our readers. Of course, this stuff then gets blurted out by the Twitter-brigade and it’s then open game to enter a cycle of its own.

So, my advice? Don’t get too invested in any potential arrival until definitive claims and not just speculation is out there. Don’t get too angry with Liverpool for not buying players, because they’re always working in the background, even if it hasn’t come to light let. And most importantly, don’t always assume what you’ve read has come from a place of research.

Enjoy the summer! Remember… Liverpool play Manchester City in the Community Shield next month!