Give Post a Chance
Over the last few years, the Evening Post
has come in for criticism from Bristol City
supporters on a number of occasions.
Sports Editor Steve Mellen accepted the
Trust’s invitation to discuss the paper’s coverage of the Club at a Trust meeting on Thursday 2nd October. Steve, accompanied with reporter Andy Sloan, responded to all questions in an open and honest way, while pointing out that he is not responsible for the content of the news pages.
By the end of the meeting, many present felt reassured and willing to give the Evening Post their continued or renewed support. After all, it’s important for our community that we have a strong, independent and impartial local paper.
Rovers 200 v Accused City 1
The Trust’s first involvement with the Evening Post related to an edition in May 2006 when the paper ran a front page article about an unsupported allegation of one Bristol City supporter making racist remarks at a football match (an event which occurred two weeks prior to the story), while tucking away behind the cover an article about 200 Bristol Rovers fans threatening away supporters on the pitch (after their weekend’s match). Many City fans felt the choice of front page story was a deliberate attempt by the Post’s editors to distract attention from the behaviour of a mob of Rovers fans, at the expense of muddying the reputation of our Club.
Steve felt that while he might not have made that editorial decision himself, that it was made from an innocent perspective of what was newsworthy and that the paper is right to be critical of racism at football matches.
The Romeo Brown 4
In September 2006, on the day three City players were sentenced to prison, the paper lambasted the Club and the players in a sensationalised article.
The Trust’s research had shown that the likelihood of imprisonment for all but one player was extremely low (rated at about a 5% chance). Interestingly Steve confirmed that on the day of the sentencing the paper itself had all but dismissed the prospect of imprisonment. Had the paper included some comment that these sentences were unexpectedly harsh, or raised the topic of whether it was appropriate for society to make examples of high profile footballers, then readers would have had a more balanced view of the players and the Club.
Steve felt that the paper had to run with this as a lead story. He also said that the conclusion of the court case had enabled them to report the incident in full for the first time.
In February 2007, City fans had been outraged when the Evening Post ran a front page story relating to a “supporter” attending a City match who had taken a swing at City player Bradley Orr in which a third of the article was dedicated to raking up the player’s past.
Steve felt this was a case of a reporter without any football bias looking to find background to the story. He agreed that it should not have been included in the report in the way it was and pointed out that the paper had printed a full apology.
Innocents on the Green
In April 2007, the Evening Post ran a story playing down trouble at the Rovers v Swindon derby match. By contrast, the Swindon Advertiser ran a front page story under the heading “Swindon Town fans attacked by baseball thugs” and reported the beatings of Swindon fans having a drink at the Inn on the Green pub. Many City fans felt this demonstrated a desire for the paper to perpetuate the myth of Rovers as the “family club” with City fans ever to be cast as the villains.
Steve explained that living in the Gloucester Road area, he had informed the news desk of the trouble that had been taking place but that the news desk, after checking with the police and being told that the day had passed relatively trouble free, and in the absence of any other eye witness reports, had run with the story they ran. As more information came to light, the paper covered the Inn on the Green assaults in full the next day.
Sinclair for Wembley
The last Evening Post bought by one City fan attending the meeting had run an article ahead of the City versus Crystal Palace play-off semi final which seemed to suggest that because of Scott Sinclair’s roots at Bristol Rovers, it would be good if he could make it to Wembley with Palace. Had the Post lost its sense of balance, cheering on the opposition in such a key match?
Steve pointed out that the whole paper was cheering on Bristol City in the play-offs, and even some of those with an allegiance for Rovers were upset when we lost because Premier League football would have been a huge boon for Bristol and for the paper’s circulation.
The Evil Post
On the City fans’ internet forum www.otib.co.uk, many supporters have re-named the paper the Evil Post and are quick to aim criticism at reporters and the paper whenever the opportunity arises. Where does Steve feel the line should be drawn?
Stating that a reporter is failing at his job can approach defamation when it affects the wider perception of the ability of that individual to carry out his job correctly, Steve said. He asked attending fans to imagine how it would feel if someone told the world that you were rubbish at your own job and if this were to impact on your livelihood. He also argued that it was unacceptable to report details of family members.
Trust chair Stu Rogers explained that the forum has a team of moderators who carry out the thankless task of monitoring the site and do an excellent job at removing comments such as these. If they have missed any defamatory or personal comments they will always remove them as soon as it is brought to their attention.
On the topic of bias towards the blue few, Steve explained that there were no Bristol Rovers supporters on the sports desk.
He stated that it would be commercial suicide for any paper in a divided football city like Bristol to actively support one club over the other. While in the light of the topics previously discussed he understood why many City fans had reached the view they had, he was adamant that the paper wanted success for both clubs equally.
All those who attended remarked on it being a valuable discussion and the Trust would like to put on record our thanks to Steve Mellen and Andy Sloan for coming along. The series of reports highlighted at the meeting has left many City fans with a low tolerance threshold. We trust that the paper will take care to report on our Club in a fair and consistent manner and we’re sure that this will in turn result in City fans reciprocating the support.