It’s difficult to know what Newcastle United Football Club hopes to achieve in banning the local media from access to players and the press box during games.
The move came about last week when Newcastle banned ncjMedia-owned Chronicle, Journal and Sunday Sun from the press box and post-match conference.
The Chronicle has reported on the club since it was founded in 1892. During this time, there have, of course, been plenty of highs and lows between the club and the paper.
‘A United We Stand’ campaign and regional rallying cry to get behind the club when it came close to relegation last year was a major high.
Recent lows include refusing to rename the club’s St James’ Park ground to reflect sponsorship deals, the appointment of Joe Kinnear as director of football and a protest march by fans in mid-October prompted the ban.
The trio of ncjMedia local papers aren’t alone in being banned from the club for offering a critical voice. The Newcastle United Supporters Trust (NUST) has also had its place on the Newcastle Fans Forum removed.
Tom Chaplin, a lifelong Newcastle fan and co-author of two stage plays about the club wrote a guest blog for my site on the Kinnear-saga. After the latest events a follow-up play must surely be in the works.
A media ban at a time of saturated media coverage for Premier Clubs makes no sense and simply draws attention to an already antagonistic situation.
Public relations is the business of developing a mutual understanding between an organisation and its audiences. Cutting off access to a primary intermediary and significant influencer won’t help the cause.
Increasingly football clubs are using branded and social forms of media to communicate directly with fans. In Newcastle’s case it has built significant communities on Facebook (525,000 likes) and Twitter (304,500 followers @NUFCOfficial) but conversation is strictly one-way.
Knowledgeable local journalists play an important role in the relationship between a club and its fans, calling the organisation to account and asking awkward questions. They are as much a part of the community around the club as the owner, directors, manager, players or fans.
But herein lies the issue. Clubs such as Newcastle need to manage their reputation and awkward questions aren’t helpful.
The papers have each shared extensive details of the ban. Inevitably fans have been quick to rally to the cause arguably creating an even larger reputational issue for the club.
The relationship between and organisation and its audiences and intermediaries must be two-way.
The financial link between the club and local media could not be more apparent for the media. Chronicle editor Darren Thwaites wrote on Saturday, “As a media business we sell stacks more papers when United win.”
The Chronicle posted a full match report this weekend after Newcastle’s 2-0 win against Chelsea. Reporters paid and went through the turnstiles like other fans.
The ban is the latest in a series of dramas that characterise the club. The only possible outcome for the club will surely be ill will in the city for the club’s owner Mike Ashley.
Please do the right thing Newcastle and invite the local media and NUST back into the club on equal terms with other media.
This blog first appeared in Two Way Street, by Stephen Waddington
Wadds is chairman of Admiral PR, European Digital & Social Media Director at Ketchum and President-Elect of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR). Author of Brand Anarchy and Brand Vandals.